Another Brewery on the Genesee River
by Mark Tichenor
Somewhere along the line, every homebrewer dreams of selling his beer commercially. When Andy Crouch’s father, a dairy farmer in the Finger Lakes, started playing with the notion of opening a winery, Andy had his chance to make that dream a reality. He convinced his dad that a brewery was the way to go, and they set off in search of a suitable location.
Cook was no stranger to the brewkettle. An active member of the Upstate New York Homebrewers’ association, he shared techniques with friends, vaccumed up all the written material on brewing he could get, and avidly competed in beer judging contests. And he felt ready to make the jump from basement to brewery.
Cook seems like a man born to be in a brewery. His long, hippieish hair and facially encroaching beard belie his background as an athletics enthusiast and a college physical education teacher. He seems at home among the keg cleaning equipment, forklifts, and sundry equipment necessary to turn sacks of grain into craft beer.
“I started making beer in 2001, Cook says. “I’d treated it as a hobby for a long time. I’d grown up in small businesses and I knew how much commitment it took, and how much of a perfectionist you really have to be, and I didn’t know that I was. Five years ago, I was kind of underemployed at the time when my dad started talking about opening a winery, I knew it was time.”
Cook scoured the city looking for a building that fit the requirements for a brewery, going as far afield as Geneva, but his strong pregference was to stay in his own neighborhood.“I live in the South Wedge, I love the South Wedge, and I felt the area needed a brewery ever since Rohrbach left,” Cook enthuses. “Thanks largely to the Tap and Mallet, people are used to driving to this neighborhood to find good beer. We also have great neighborhoods and housing stock, and the people who live here really love great beer.”
Cook eventually settled on a run-down building at the corner of Hickory Street and Mt. Hope Avenue, a stone’s throw from the Genesee River, and began the arduous task of cleaning the place up.It took six months to change the structure’s zoning from residential to commercial, which afforded Cook plenty of time to renovate the crumbling interior. At first, he worried that the site might be a bit too far removed from the center of the South Wedge, but he since discovered that his location was a prime spot. Situated on an arterial street just down the hill from the University of Rochester, and right across the bridge from Corn Hill, Swiftwater straddles three neighborhoods full of thirsty beer lovers.
With the building renovated, all the proper permits on the wall, and a gleaming 7-barrel brewing system installed, Cook set to work. “I’m a little bit all over the place as a brewer. I really like making more historical styles, I think our Old Ale is pretty traditional, and what’s more historical than an ordinary bitter? It’s a style I like, that’s really easy to dring a lot of. But I also like to play around with ingredients, Grapefruit Saison, Thai Pale Ale, that sort of thing, As a brewer, I never want to do something that’s ‘just about as good’ as any other brewer in town. People in Rochester love Scotch Ale, but what’s the point in me trying to make a Scotch Ale that’s about as good as Rohrbach’s? I’d rather do my own twist on something, We’re going to do a Scottish 60 Shilling, which is about 2-3% alcohol, do something completely unique with it.”
To the visitor, Swiftwater shows itself as something of a throwback, a hearkening to the days when each neighborhood had its own local, unpretentious brewery. The space is simple and straightforward and, for the most part, so is the brew. The beers are rustic and free of the “novelty for novelty’s sake” that runs so rampant in this young industry. They don’t have cutesy names. There is no obfuscation or marketing veneer. Even the hoodies they sell are a simple, one-color design. It’s a refreshing reversion to the concept of the artisan’s shop, where the brewer’s goal is to make something he knows is good, and trusting that it will attract those consumers who understand his taste.
Currently, Swiftwater only sells beer in-house; Cook is awaiting completion of the byzantine licensing process necessary to purvey beer to pubs and restaurants. His growth plan, when the time comes, is simple: to expand first in the South Wedge neighborhood, then slowly from there, managing the pace in order to keep deliveries reliable and maintain consistent quality. For now, Swiftwater is humming along smoothly, poised to become something special on the banks of the river that inspired its name.
Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at beercraft.wordpress.com. Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org