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“What are these towers of silver?”
“They are lights to guide us in the land of shadow, were all other lights may fail, pale reflections of the two trees, and memories of a lost kingdom.” – Celebrimbor, Shadow of Mordor
All right, so the 2014 Game of the Year doesn’t have a whole lot to do with a jaunt into New York’s Finger Lakes region, but the temptation was too great to pass up, since today’s post does concern a Lost Kingdom.
Saturday, 28 June
It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and much as it has all month, an overcast sky threatens rain. Both Ben and I are itching for a road trip, preferably with a good pint at the end. So after a brief discussion, we hop in the car and head south on I-90, towards the area between Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. We have a destination in mind, a brewery we’d visited early last fall. But as we’re passing through the Town of Ovid, just a few miles from our journey’s end, I notice a sign that wasn’t there in September.
“We just passed a brewery,” I remark.
“What? We should check it out,” is Ben’s not-too-surprising answer.
Lost Kingdom Brewery and Firehouse Distillery
The sign is located in the parking lot of an old firehouse, on Ovid’s Main Street. The garage door is open, so we stroll in and claim two red stools at the bar. It’s still fairly early in the afternoon, and the place isn’t hopping yet. Conditions are perfect for chatting with the friendly proprietor, Bobby Massarini.
They’ve been open since last October, and have already gone from producing nano-sized batches of twenty-five gallons, to fifty gallon micro-brewery batches.
The building really is an old firehouse that has been there since 1957, complete with a fireman’s pole in the middle. They’re on the Finger Lakes beer and wine trail(s), and often get tour bus and limousine groups coming through. Bobby confides that the insurance company made him put some little merchandise shelves around the fire pole, to discourage tipsy clientele from, ahem, making use of it.
Beers and Spirits
There are six beers on tap, but since only two of them are house made (at the moment. I don’t think that’s always the case), Ben orders the IPA, and I brave the Strawberry beer.
(Ben) The IPA is very dry. Almost like it was made with distiller’s yeast. The color is surprisingly dark. It has a reasonable hop presence, with possibly a hint of booziness. The very dry character is a bit distracting from the hop flavor.
(Meagan) Brewed for the town’s recent strawberry festival, the strawberry beer is extremely fruity, and pink. After I get some of it down, Bobby offers to cut it with Doc’s Draft Cider. That makes it easier to drink. Fruit beers aren’t my favorite at the best of times, and this one is far too…strawberry-y for my taste. A fruit lambic—which is soured with a special collection of bugs from the Senne Valley, etc. etc.— is generally quite good, but this is not that. However, when mixed with hard cider, the result is an almost shandy-like, berry-flavored draft cider.
The same building is also home to the appropriately named Firehouse Distillery. Bobby has plans for a more expanded line of spirits—I believe Corn Whiskey and Apple Pie Corn Whiskey are next—but for the moment, they produce Firehouse Girl Vodka. I am not usually a big fan of vodka, particularly not straight. But this one is surprisingly smooth, even by itself. I’d bet that it makes a great martini.
Drinking beer and sipping vodka in a 50s-era firehouse is a cool experience, and I can imagine it would be a fun place to work, too. But Lost Kingdom seems an odd name for a brewery in a firehouse, so I ask Bobby about it. He explains that they were originally looking at a site somewhere in the Waterloo or Seneca Falls area, I forget which. Between the two, there used to be a village called The Kingdom, which, according to a 1976 article in The Geneva Times, was “a tavern center with a reputation for sporting contests where boaters and local residents would compete in racing, jumping, wrestling and weightlifting contests.”†
There seem to be three main competing theories for how the town got its name, but the most titillating, that it was short for “The Devil’s Kingdom,” is the one that our host relates. Given that moniker, I’d expected to read about something more scandalous than “sporting,” but I suppose that’s scandal enough, for some folk. Or, there may well have been racier goings-on, and no one wanted to write about it. I’d guess that the village’s name, like so many other things in the Empire State, derives its name from pre-Revolutionary War ties to Great Britain and her monarchy.
For a while, The Kingdom was a booming mill town with plenty of canal traffic, and the Great Western Distillery—by all accounts an impressively large example of the breed—was built in 1841. But it burned down just five years later (I blame that devil alcohol).
At about the same time, or shortly thereafter, the locks were eliminated from that stretch of the canal, and that was pretty much the end of The Kingdom.‡ There’s not much left of the town now; even the Kingdom Bridge is gone.‡ There’s a historical marker for the cemetery, but that’s pretty much it.‡ And now, a brewery in Ovid whose name commemorates “a lost kingdom.”
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
“About.” Firehouse Distillery & Lost Kingdom Brewery. Accessed July 9, 2015.
‡Gable, Walt. “Once thriving Kingdom drew revelers.” Finger Lakes Times, December 18, 2011, Sunday ed., Arts and Entertainment sec. Accessed July 9, 2015.
†Scharf, Chris. “FL Hamlets Once Bustling Hubs.” The Geneva Times, July 2, 1976.
“”The Kingdom,” Once Thriving Little Known.” The Crooked Lake Review Blog. November 27, 1924. Accessed July 9, 2015.
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