Genesee Brew House to open next week

ImageThe new Genesee Brew House pub and small-batch brewery is now ensconced in its renovated building overlooking Rochester’s High Falls. The official opening is September 8. 

Rochester beer lovers have wanted more connection with their principal hometown brewery for years, but until North American Breweries began calling the shots, the building remained an impregnable fortress. The Brew House will change that. What goes on tap remains to be seen, but with a portfolio full to bursting with brands like Pyramid, Kona, Dundee and Blue Point, expect a wide gamut of style and flavors.

Those brands, however, won’t offer much to excite the more dedicated craft beer lover. Let’s hope the brewers at the new microbrewery will show off their chops with the occasional beer that’s a little bigger, a tad more aggressive, and flavorful enough to make us Rochesterians proud. You can’t get away with that in gigantic four-story brewkettle, but on the smaller system, specialty beers should be no problem at all. 

 

 

The place looks pretty sharp. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of their kettle.

 

Hair of the Dogfish

ImageAs you probably know, Dogfish Head has a thing for producing whimsical beers with the common trait of an alcohol content high enough to sterilize barber’s tools. Because of this, I prefer to attend DFH tastings on nights where I’m not hosting my own beer event first. You can’t have everything. So, slightly buzzy from running a roomful of drinkers through a gamut of craft beer at Monty’s Korner, I tottered on down to The Old Toad to remind myself that Dogfish Head owner Sam Calagione made it his mission in life to damage morning worker productivity wherever his beer is sold.

One of the things I love about DFH is how much of it I hate. Sure, I’ll never order most of their beers, but that’s no skin off the backs of Caligione and his crew. When it comes to their specialty products, they have a vision, a creative obsession to find out what beer can be, and they’re not swayed by lowest common-denominators and market research. They listen to their passionate fans, traverse the ends of the earth for ingredients, and they’re not afraid to make a mistake.

OK, sometimes their marketing is a bit much, as was the case for the Ta Henket, ostensibly an Egyptian ale, the recipe for which was gleaned from heiroglyphs, using an Egyptian yeast strain captured by Indiana Sam in Cairo. Not sure I buy all that, but nonetheless it takes a brave brewery to boil up an ale that tastes like oat bread, honey and chamomile, in a nearly successful way. It goes to show, fear doesn’t pay, but chutzpah does. And thank God for aspirin.

In Flanders Fields

Imageby Mark Tichenor

I write this column with a bellyful of giddy anticipation about attending Brewery Ommegang’s annual Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival. Of course, by the time you read this, Belgium will be on an Airbus A330 headed home. Still, the excitement is focusing my attention on Belgian beer, and how, curiously, we Americans are starting to take it for granted.

Not long ago Belgium, a nation in which you could see from one border to the other with a good pair of binoculars, was the giant of the beer world. Out of its abbeys, town breweries and farmhouses poured more individual, strange and diverse brews than anywhere else on the planet. Before the craft brewing movement gathered steam, American beer lovers widely considered the Belgian stuff to be the finest in existence.

It stayed that way for a long time, mostly because American craft brewers were crap at copying Belgian beer styles. But then some things happened. Instead of doing the sensible thing and giving up, brewers kept trying to make Belgian beer. Equipment got better, so did yeast and hop strains. Eventually, our small breweries did to Belgian Beer what Japanese electronics companies once did to American TV manufacturers: They beat them out of the market with beers that ranged from almost as good to better, and generally with a much gentler punch to the lucky drinker’s wallet.

Being the creative little devils that they are, some craft brewers took Belgian style cues and ran with them, conjuring up entirely new hybrid styles like Belgian IPA, in which spicy Belgian yeast and extreme Pacific Northwest hoppiness marry so well that breweries in Belgium started producing examples of their own.

Some US breweries make only a halfhearted stab at Belgian styles, but others, such as Lost Abbey and Brewery Ommegang, do nothing else, and thrive in rarefied territory at the top of the luxury beer chain. A quick peek at their facilities indicates that these brewers are not starved for business o r revenue.  

So now, Belgian brews are on the beer lover’s back burner here in the USA. We’re so inundated with choice, novelty and marketing stuntage that there’s less reason to look overseas than ever before.

And yet, it can’t be said that Belgian beer is rendered irrelevant. The country’s unique geography and tradition still allow for the creation of beers that can’t quite be duplicated on these shores, and, for some styles (sour ales and lambics, for example), American brewmasters have very much to learn.

Thus, there will always be a place for the beers of Belgium and American beers brewed to Belgian style guidelines to coexist and actually complement each other. The alluring hint of spice in an American-made tripel or witbier might pique a drinker’s curiosity enough to delve into the imported stuff, read the stories, learn the history, and find a new, impossibly small world of big beers merely one ocean away.

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.

Belgium is coming to Cooperstown again.

It’s that time of year again, time for Cooperstown, New York’s Brewery Ommegang to throw what very well could be the best beer festival in the nation. This weekend, tons of the best breweries in the nation will offer their Belgian styles up for sampling, and as an Intrepid Beer Journalist, I feel it’s only fair that I undertake the harrowing journey down and cover it for you. 

My thoughts before I leave: Belgian beer has lost the national part of its identity, becoming instead just a style categorization that grows looser with each iteration of “So n’ so’s Black Belgian Amber.” No longer does the word ‘Belgian’ evoke romantic baroque town squares and footfalls echoing through a monestary cloister. It no longer speaks to the pride and bloody-mindedness of a tiny nation that not only rejected the prevailing beer styles of its neighbors, but also came up with hundreds more individual styles than a nation of such diminutive proportions ought to dream up.  Today, the term ‘Belgian’ mostly means ‘brewed with Belgian yeast, and probably coriander.’

So, as I sup my way through more high-gravity beer than should be physically possible to consume, I’ll be paying attention to who’s offering homage and who’s pumping out a gimmick. Fortunately, given the overall high quality of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, I can expect a pleasant surprise. 

 

-Mark