This country used to have thousands of breweries. During the mid-19th century, Germans emigrated to the United States en masse, many founding breweries that produced the lager beers of their homeland. For a while, the United States was a beer paradise.
Then prohibition and post-war consolidation shot everything to hell. The ‘20s decimated the ranks of American brewers, and the push to mass-market growth took care of those companies who couldn’t compete, either driving them out of business or pushing them to sell out to growing giant megabrewers. By the ‘60s, a few of these colossi would dominate the American beer scene with a thin, character-free lager that was nearly interchangeable from megabrewery to megabrewery. Beer became a commodity.
Still, a few regional producers, like Rochester’s Genesee Brewery (now High Falls Brewery), breweries managed to do a tidy business despite their comparatively small market share. In 1994, Genesee began to embrace the interest in beer cultivated by the craft beer movement with Honey Brown, a darker, sweeter lager that enjoyed substantial success in the Midwest and Southwest.
Building on this success, and following the trail blazed by the F.X. Matt brewery’s Saranac beers, High Falls now offers a full range of stylized beers that break the bland American lager mold, offering J.W. Dundee’s Amber Lager and well-hopped Pale Ale, as well as rotating seasonal beers: Pale Bock in the spring, Hefe-Weizen for summer, autumn’s IPA, and Porter for the winter months. 1n 2007, for the third consecutive year, the brewery will also offer their Festive Ale for the holiday season.
“I certainly believe the brewery had to find a niche in the marketplace in order to remain competitive,” states Head Brewer Dave Schlosser. “[the success of Saranac] allowed me to go to the next level.” The specialty beer strategy is showing results. In its first three years as a full brand, sales of Dundee’s have increased by 30,000 barrels anually.
Schlosser explains that the move by regional breweries such as Matt and High Falls toward the craft side of the business has followed a greater readiness on the part of the public to try different beer styles. Having joined High falls after working at the Rohrbach Brewing Company and Custom Brewcrafters, he understands how to bridge the gap between craft beer and the mainstream audience.
Still, it’s a pointy fence to straddle. Not only does Schlosser have to persuade die-hard American lager drinkers to try something new, but he must also deal with the stigma among beer snobs that his national-scale production brew “isn’t really craft beer.”
Schlosser acknowledges that the latter opinion will never disappear, but points out that he comes from a craft beer background and still uses the same ingredients he always has, albeit on a larger scale. “I still brew the same way as those guys. I just have bigger toys.
Results from competitions add to the beer’s rep, as well. In 2006, a ten month old batch of the seasonal Pale Bock was sent to the Great American Beer Festival, where it took the bronze medal. Six months later, the same batch won the gold medal for its category in the World Beer Cup.
But competitive success only goes so far when it comes to selling beer. Grunt work does the rest. Schlosser can often be found at beer festivals, yanking tap handles and talking beer with as many people as possible.
The future looks bright for J.W. Dundee’s, and it looks like the line will grow. “What I’d like to see is a big-beer series,” Sclosser says, mentioning the high-hops, high-alcohol beers that have become de rigeur in the American craft beer scene.
While his IPA and Pale Ale are definitely geared to less cultivated palates than those big bruiser brews, Schlosser seems itchy to put on his craft brewer’s hat and demonstrate exactly what he, and his J.W. Dundee’s brand, can achieve.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at https://beercraft.wordpress.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.