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Ithaca Coffee Company: A "Hop" Off the Beaten Path

A retired engineer from North Dakota walks into a … gourmet coffee shop in Ithaca, New York? If you haven’t heard this joke before, then chances are you probably haven’t met Bryan Dietz either.

Dietz—like other newcomers to town—found a diverse, regional selection of beer at the Ithaca Coffee Co. Tavern, along with a group of avid beer drinkers (Jason Hannigan/Ithaca Week).

Dietz recently moved to the area, trading the sunshine of Orange County, California to be closer to family in Ithaca.

Dietz recalled learning to drive by delivering groceries across his hometown for his grandfather’s store that opened its doors in 1910. He laughed at the notion today that having groceries delivered is somehow unique.

However, upon settling into town and seeking out a spot to meet new people, Dietz says he was pleasantly surprised when he tapped into perhaps one of Ithaca’s best-kept secrets. His story is like many others that are being exchanged inside.

“I was startled to find that, here in Ithaca, the best place to enjoy really good beer is at the Ithaca Coffee Company,” Dietz said. “Who would have guessed? I certainly didn’t. I hate coffee!”

There, during one of Coffee Company’s free, weekly craft beer tastings, Dietz met a group of other customers, whom he now calls friends and brews beers with for the local Ithaca Homebrew Club at Liquid State Brewing Company.

“Some of my friends have custom-made shirts that have graphs on the front of them. They call it a Beer-iodic table,” Dietz said. “It’s kind of a gag, but there’s certainly some truth to it.”

Dietz explained the spectrum of beers, ranging from a traditional Budweiser or Heineken to a more bitter-tasting IPA, such as the Duchess du Burgoine from the West Flanders region of Belgium.

Each beer has its own flavor, which derive from the hops and barley that act as a preservative inside of them. Nearly every one of the beers Dietz mentioned is carried by Ithaca Coffee Company.

    • There is a variety of hops today, which are a staple of most gourmet beers
    • Each hop has its own “flavor profile,” with some being more bitter and others adding a sharper, citrus-like flavor

Like Dietz, the Coffee Company has had humble beginnings.

Rebranded in 2004 from The Gourmet’s Delight, a small gourmet market and coffee roaster, the Company has gradually expanded over time to include a Tavern that offers a diverse craft beer selection, weekly tastings, and a gathering space for avid beer drinkers and Ithaca transplants alike.

Kurt Wissing, operations manager at Ithaca Coffee Company, noted the similarities between coffee drinkers and beer drinkers, who happen to have more in common then most would think.

“We found that people who really enjoy good coffee, enjoy great beer,” Wissing revealed. “Be it a Kenyon coffee that tastes like cherry tomato or a New England IPA that tastes like grapefruit, the level of complexity that is found in both gourmet drinks attracts a similar crowd,” Wissing added.

Wissing, pictured above, brought attention to the Tavern’s impressive selection of regional and national microbrews that are available on tap, by the bottle or in cases. (Jason Hannigan/Ithaca Week)

Wissing said that there has been a noticeable increase in beer sales at the Coffee Company, particularly among the flavors that are presented to the public during the weekly tastings, which are held every Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Taking note of the influx of craft beers and IPAs to Ithaca and the surrounding area, Ithaca Coffee Company supports the growing, regional demand for gourmet drinks.

“We offer an atmosphere that is far off the beaten path from your general pub,” Wissing said. “Every beverage you are going to get here is going to be a notch above your general Budweiser or Coors Light.”

Pete S. is also new to town, and he happens to like his beers with a bite.

Pete recently moved from Buffalo to Ithaca to be closer to his daughter. Like Dietz, Pete wanted to find a place that offered a variety of gourmet beers. It was his boss who mentioned the Tavern at Ithaca Coffee Company.

Pete, pictured above, elected for a crisper, more citric ale from Bissell Brothers Brewing Company, which is located in Maine. Beers like this Substance Ale are not commercially available. (Jason Hannigan/Ithaca Week)

“Across Upstate, NY there has been a boom in breweries everywhere,” Pete explained. “In my experience hanging out in the Finger Lakes and drinking different beers, I believe Ithaca has a variety of great breweries, and I have found a lot of them here [Ithaca Coffee Co.].”

Today, the Tavern is a part of a larger trend of microbreweries and taprooms that act as a gathering space for people who drink not merely to drink, but rather drink for flavor and a connection to someone else like them.

“You’re able to come here and meet people who are at the same understanding of gourmet beverages,” Wissing explained.

“They know what they’re drinking, and they know what they want in a beer. I call them beer connoisseurs,” the bartender explained, pouring a glass of crisp, Substance Ale to a customer at the bar. (Jason Hannigan/Ithaca Week)

“Twenty years ago I knew that I enjoyed drinking beer, but after brewing it myself I appreciate it and understand it more,” Dietz said. “Beer is a wonderful thing, and it’s only in the last 20 years that people have come to appreciate all the different kinds of beer.”

“For me, it’s about exploring different regions, which have different tastes,” said Pete as he sipped a glass of Bissell Brothers Substance Ale. Pete prefers his from the glass rather than the metallic can it comes in.

“It’s like what my wife says, ‘it’s quality versus quantity,’” Dietz added.

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