Rochester, On the map

 

by Mark Tichenor

A few years ago, I was sitting at The Old Toad, polishing off a couple pints with British beer writer Pete Brown (author of Hops and Glory, and several other awesome beer-focused books). He mentioned his travels around the US in pursuit of great beer, and kind of offhandedly said Rochester wouldn’t be on that map as a beer destination.

Were Pete to visit today, he’d likely change his mind, especially if he were to come during Rochester Beer Week.

We just woozily put the 5th annual Rochester Real Beer week to bed. We just experienced a joyous seven days of beer festivals, tap takeovers, tastings, keg tossery, and enjoying the world’s most social beverage on a citywide scale. Looking back, it’s amazing that we’re all still alive. No, wait, I mean it’s amazing how far craft beer has come in this City, both in terms of its appreciation by consumers, and production by brewers. Since Rochester Real Beer Week 2014, four new breweries have opened in Monroe County, with more on the way. Meanwhile, our existing breweries have been expanding, adding larger brewing and fermenting facilities and canning lines.

Facilitating all this is the willingness of local retailers to, in many case belatedly, embrace the craft beer revolution. Rochester has long enjoyed pioneering beer outlets like Beers of the World, MacGregor’s, and The Old Toad, and a growing cadre of gastropubs spearheaded by The Tap and Mallet. But now more conservative, old guard bars are coming around to the fact that their patrons, the ones who’ve been coming there for years, have fallen in love with craft beer. They realize that the increased cost of artisan brew turns into profit in the end, and sets their establishments apart as worthy destinations for a new influx of thirsty, discerning people.

And that’s really what it comes down to. None of this would be possible for anyone without the public having found yet another thing about our mid-sized city that makes it eminently cosmopolitan and liveable. On any given day, it’s possible to choose from over a hundred beers made in or around Monroe County, some of which could stand toe to toe with anything coming out of Portland, San Diego or Philadelphia.

And here’s the best part: things are going to get even better. New breweries are ramping up, area brewers are improving in skill, and your neighbors show no sign of slaking their thirst. It’s exciting to think about what will be on tap for Rochester Real Beer Week 2016.

I think I might give Pete Brown an email, and invite him to come find out for himself. If he doesn’t remember exactly how to get here no problem. When it comes to beer, Rochester is now on the map.

In other beers:

If you happen to be driving down Atlantic Ave on the way to work, or Anderson Ave on the way to, well, wherever you spend your free time, you might notice the big empty lot full of construction equipment and port-a-johns. That’s a crew commencing construction on the new Three Heads Brewery.

Currently, Three heads’ recipes are brewed at CB Craft Brewery of Honeoye falls, and the guys have been pining for a brewery of their own. Slow and steady wins the race, and their new brewery is rising in the Neighborhood of the Arts.

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

Fusion is brewing at Ithaca Beer Company

by Mark Tichenor

Beer and HopFormed in 1997, after owner Dan Mitchell finally found an adequate brewing system in a defunct Texas brewery and shipped it north, Ithaca Beer Company Grew steadily on its reputation of solid beers and innovative ingredients, and the brewery is now redoubling their commitment to creativity in brewing, without losing sight of the cornucopia of raw materials that surrounds them.

Today, Ithaca Beer can be purchased in 18 states, and new Head Brewer Andy Hausmann is poised to add his own creative spark.

Hausmann learned craft brewing the grassroots way, starting as a homebrewer and working various craft beer jobs until he landed at the F.X. Matt brewery in Utica NY, where he brewed Saranac. “For my grad school work, I focused on the beer business and learning everything about making beer,” Hausmann says. “I was taught by four individuals that were, at the time, 25 year masters in the beer industry.”

Hausmann’s time to shine begins now, in a collaboration with major New York City area beverage Distributor Manhattan Beer. The company asked Ithaca to come up with a special limited-release series. The result: Ithaca Manhattan Project.

Manhattan Project is all about using the creativity afforded by Ithaca’s pilot brewing system, which allows Hausmann and his fellow brewers to experiment on a smaller scale, to get a little crazy without having to risk an entire production batch of beer.

The first Manhattan project beer, Java Power, is the brewery’s flagship Flower Power IPA brewed with coffee from Gimme! Coffee Roasters, also from Ithaca NY, While it’s not uncommon to find coffee in stouts and porters, you don’t usually see it in hoppy IPAs.

Currently out is SaScotch, a rye scotch ale fermented with oak spirals. Upcoming beers in the series will include CranBretty, a Berliner Weisse that gets its characteristic tartness, not from the traditional German yeast, but from Brettanomyeces, a key agent in the flavor of classic Belgian styles like Gueuze and Flemish red ales. This tartness is tarted up even further by the addition of fresh cranberry juice. Also coming down the pipe is Golden Secret, a strong, Belgian-style golden ale brewed with lemon drop hops.

Later this season, pumpkin beer lovers can delight in an offering brewed with pumpkins grown on the brewery premises, and roasted in their own pizza oven, then aged in rum barrels.

Half of each Manhattan Project batch goes to New York City, with the other half divvied up across the rest of Ithaca Beer’s sales region. Central and Western New York get the largest of the remaining share.

The Manhattan Project series illustrates what’s possible when creative brewers take their inspiration from their surroundings. Sure, you can make innovative beers anywhere, but the sunny hills of their city, not to mention the free spirit of the people that live there, Inspire Hausmann and his team to their own vision: to create beers that might be destined for the Nation’s largest metropolis, but retain a character that’s distinctly Ithaca.

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

 

Knucklehead brews up something good

 

by Mark Tichenor

 

Every homebrewer dreams, at some point or another, of going into business brewing their own beer, but most don’t have the capability to pull it off. In launching Knucklehead Brewing, longtime homebrewing buddies Len Dummer and George Cline show a rare affinity for both the business and brewing aspects of taking their hobby professional.

 

Dummer is outspoken about his beliefs, and refreshingly candid. “We have a passion for beer, a love of beer, but the number one reason we opened the brewery is to make money. We’re a family business, the Cline family and the Dummer family. Anyone behind the bar at any given time is family.” The brewhouse is as local as possible, sourcing furniture, fixtures and equipment from Webster, Monroe County, and the rest of the USA.

 

Originally planning for a 15 barrel brewhouse, Dummer and Cline made the decision to scale back after having difficulty finding backers, and wound up going with a 5 barrel system instead. It was a shrewd decision that ultimately enabled them to open for business free of the obligations or external stresses that come from having to please investors.“This place literally fell in our lap” Dummer says. We’re both Christian families, the Lord put it in front of us.”

 

That place would be the former Seitz’s Grocery Store on the corner of Ridge and Bay Roads, in Webster. The building has a colorful history, having served as a local general store, a restaurant, and, allegedly, a house of ill repute. After a thorough renovation, it’s now a brewhouse and expansive taproom, easily able to handle a crowd.

 

“We consciously opened the business wanting to be local,” Dummer continues.” I can tell you, everything in this building we purchased, except for a couple of iPods

 

Knucklehead primarily brews high alcohol ales, not shying away from intoxicative potential, but also not resorting to gimmick ingredients or novelty styles. They are simple, well-formulated brews that deliver balance and taste with no flaws or off-flavors. Out of their current range, there is not a single beer that should not be readily recommended.

 

“We don’t make light beers. We make the beers we like,” Dummer explains. “Will we ever make a rice beer? Probably not.”

 

Currently, Knucklehead is pouring Kick-It IPA, a chunky citrusy, resinous brew, 100% of the proceeds of which go to cancer research. “The Kick-It is my baby,” Dummer explains. “Both our families have been impacted by cancer, and we said, if we ever opened a microwbrewery, wouldn’t it be great to give it away?”

 

As new as the brewery is, Knucklehead is already pursuing growth. Their kegs are beginning to show up in area pubs, just a couple for now, but the opportunity is vast. “Our five-year plan is to go large. We’d like to have a large system, one that’s not so labor intensive. Brewing is a young man’s game.”

 

In other beers

The Rochester Taproom is no more. Owner Joe McBane sold the popular Corn Hill Landing spot and will focus on his principal pub, The Tap and Mallet. The space will reopen as The West Edge Restaurant and Lounge. It is to be hoped that the new ownership will respect her patrons’ love for craft beer, and keep it flowing in the new establishment.

 

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com.

 

Another Brewery on the Genesee River

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com

Beercraft print column: Empire strikes back

IMG_20141218_154806by Mark Tichenor

The craft beer revolution’s early days came with their share of turmoil. Everyone could see the potential, but it was still difficult to determine what the industry would look like. It was a period of crazy growth followed by instability. About a decade ago, Syracuse’s Empire Brewing Company boldly opened a stunning brewpub in Rochester’s High Falls district, across from the headquarters of Eastman Kodak. Market forces dictated a contraction, however, and the brewery retreated to focus on its main brewpub location in Armory Square, their beer being lost to Rochester consumers.

During the following years, however, Empire maintained a passion for their beer and the vision that New York would be a great brewing state again. In addition to shouldering the burden of growing his business Owner Dave Katleski also became president of the New York State Brewers’ Association, and in that capacity tirelessly lobbied the government of New York to ease antiquated regulations–some dating all the way back to prohibition.

The Brewers’ Association was instrumental in crafting the New York State Farm Brewery act, which lowers barriers to entry and taxes on breweries that primarily use New York State-sourced ingredients in their beer. This legislation enabled dozens of new breweries to move forward with their plans to open. Currently, Empire is poised to take advantage of the new benefits; This March, they are breaking ground on a new 22-acre farm brewery in Cazenovia, New York. In preparation for this, Empire beer is flowing through Rochester taps once more.

“We’re starting off draft-only, with four different beers,” says Dem Jones, Empires Rochester-area representative. “In the last two weeks, we’ve wound up in 50 places in Rochester alone. It’s exploding, faster than we imagined, and we’re very thankful.”

If the Empire IPA is any indication the warm reception is deserved. It’s well thought-out, skillfully balanced, and unpretentious; a beer that nestles comfortably into the glass without needing to proclaim itself the hoppiest or most outrageous.

In fact, it’s really rather bang-on to the textbook style guideline of an American IPA, which leads one to believe Empire is embracing the philosophy that, in order to make great specialty beers, it’s necessary to make great everyday beers. It’s really rather difficult to restrain oneself from ordering a second glass, I know I failed.

“I love it when I go to a place that has the Empire Cream Ale on,” Jones says. “That’s a bit of a challenge because it requires a nitro line to pour. It’s a true cream ale, sweet in a biscuity way, not a cloying way, and that’s usually the first beer I have when I walk into the brewpub in Syracuse.”

Jones is hustling to regain Empire’s recognition in the market, running special events all over Rochester. He’ll even be running a tasting booth at the fourth annual Homegrown festival, this January at Lovin’ Cup.

Empire’s staff remains small, and their growth plans still center on bringing their beer to Western New York and the Finger Lakes. As such, they truly represent our region, and should be a welcome addition to the Rochester Beer scene, and a pub near you, once again.

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com

Beercraft print column: …And in with the new

Beercraft_ROCBrewing_Photo

by Mark Tichenor

It’s the night before Thanksgiving and the room is packed. The seats are all taken, the echoing conversation and laughter so loud it borders on uncomfortable. The beer is flowing from these taps for the first time, and it flows in a torrent. It’s the first day of business for the Lost Borough Brewery and there’s a line out the door.

Five years ago, Rochester was a three-brewery town. Genesee was the big brewing icon, while The Rohrbach Brewing Company and Custom Brewcrafters handled the small-batch side of things. That’s how it’s been since the early 1990s, and that was fine with Rochester.

It’s not fine anymore. Rochester is going brewery-crazy. Seriously, new breweries are sprouting up everywhere.

Naked Dove Brewing, Three Heads Brewing, and Roc Brewing jimmied the floodgates open a couple of years back, proving Rochester to be a thirsty town with a keen interest in supporting local. Now, a new batch of entrepreneurs- homebrewers and craft beer lovers alike- could follow their dreams and make a go of it in this city’s craft beer scene.

Lost Borough is the first of a new crop to successfully navigate the byzantine State, Federal and local licensing maze and open for business. Knucklehead Brewery, in the former Seitz’s Market in Webster, is hot on their heels, with a projected December 20th opening. Over on the river near the Ford Street Bridge, shiny new tanks are visible through the window of the soon-to-open Swiftwater Brewing.

This tally doesn’t even consider the breweries opening around the Region. Nedloh Brewing started up a couple of months ago, and The Stoneyard Pub is pumping brew out of a 2-barrel kettle in Brockport.

So we’re awash in small-batch, independent beer. What does that mean to you, the drinker?

In a sense, these are challenging times to get into the craft brewing business. Beer distribution companies have been busy bringing premium stuff to the area. West Coast craft heavyweights are opening huge new breweries on the Eastern Seaboard. Space on retail shelves is finite; there are only so many taps to go around. And our breweries’ beers need to coexist bottleneck-to-bottleneck with some of the finest from around the country and the world.

Gone are the days when “local” is enough; beer also has to be awesome. It is to be hoped that each of our new breweries share this opinion, learning from those that trod this path, helping each other find the right niche, and at the same time challenging every other producer in town to step their game up, scrutinize the beverages they produce, improve with each batch and commit, not just to being Rochester breweries, but to making Rochester the incredible craft beer town we all very much want it to become.

One thing that’s evident when you look around these new breweries, with their gleaming metal and meticulously-appointed decor: you see passion, and that bodes well for the beer and for the joy of discovering what’s next on tap.

The only way any of our new crop of brewery owners can make their dreams to come true is to do their best to follow them. And it’s up to us beer lovers to toast them every step of the way.

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com

Abandon Brewing brings Belgium to Keuka Lake

by Mark Tichenor

 

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to become a brewer, unless you’re Abandon Brewing Company’s Jeff Hildebrandt, who got his degree in astrophysics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, only to discover he hated the corporate sector. Instead of slaving away on defense research projects, what he really wanted to do was make beer.

 

“I worked in that environment for four years. It was miserable,” Hildebrandt says. “I was homebrewing constantly, homebrewing more than I did in grad school. When they laid me off in 2010, I realized half my waking hours had been spent researching brewing schools and starting breweries. I figured it was time for a career change.”

 

Hildebrandt inquired with Custom Brewcrafters about doing an internship, signed on, and changed his life for the better. “I did that for six months. After the first couple of months there, I realized ‘this is it. This is what I want to do.’ Then I enrolled at Siebel Institute’s brewing school. It was the best three months of my life.” The Siebel program took Hildebrandt to Munich, Germany, where he learned from the masters who make classic German Helles, Dunkel and Oktoberfest styles.

 

A chance meeting with the brewing staff of Brewery Ommegang took Hildebrant to their facility in Cooperstown, NY, where he worked for a year, learning how to utilize the yeast strains and the various bacteria used to give Belgian beer such distinctive variety of character. This knowledge would serve him well in helping to found the Abandon Brewing Company, which occupies an old barn on a hill overlooking Keuka Lake, about an hour southeast of Rochester.

 

“Starting the brewery was extremely stressful, “ Hildebrandt says, “but it’s a good kind of stress because you’re working toward a dream.” He recounts the snafus and catch-22s inherent in obtaining a valid commercial brewery license, as well as preparing the facility for operation. “I remember looking at the property,” Hildebrant laughs. “The barn was half off the foundation, and there were huge gaps in the walls. I took one look and I thought ‘Belgian Beers.’”

 

A scant one year after its opening, Abandon Brewing built a reputation for carrying on Belgian farmhouse brewing tradition, and its excellent beers are on tap throughout Rochester and the Finger Lakes. Hildebrandt found himself pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which local residents took to his beer, and the brewery’s small tasting room hums with activity every day it is open. They feature live entertainment on weekends, and wine tourers pour in, sometimes by the busload, to get a change of pace from the typical vineyard fare.

 

Abandon’s standout is Harvest Porter, which melds the classic deep hearty flavor of porter with a peppery Belgian sass. Instead of clashing, these attributes intertwine nicely with each other, resulting in a roasty, deeply satisfying brew that somehow sits lightly on the palate. It’s unnervingly gulpable in its elegance.

 

The brewery already finds itself in a position where expansion is necessary, and they will shoehorn more tanks into the building in the near future. Longer-range plans also call for bottling. At this point, Abandon self-distributes their beer in kegs only, which means they haul it up to Rochester in their own van. As such, you may have to hunt a bit to find it. Johnny’s Irish Pub on Culver Road and J.B. Quimby’s on Jefferson Road reliably carry Abandon beers on draft. Even so, some beers are just worth hunting down. As their presence grows in the Rochester area, one thing lovers of Finger Lakes beer won’t have to abandon is their hope of finding some.

 

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 beercraft@rochester.rr.com.