Roc Brewing solid after two years

Image By Mark Tichenor

When Jon Mervine and Chris Spinelli opened the ROC Brewing Company in 2011 on the outskirts of Rochester’s East End, they didn’t have a ton of commercial brewing experience, but they did have a distinct vision, a truckload of chutzpah, and a plan to carve out a small niche in an industry dominated by much bigger regional and national players.

So far, so good. The brewpub is poised to celebrate their second anniversary, and their beer is better than ever.

If there’s one thing Mervine and Spinelli do not feel the need to do, it’s try and grow too fast. With most of their sales coming from within the brewpub, the current brewing system is adequate, if labor-intensive. One plan currently in the works, however, is the creation of an outdoor beer garden-style seating area.

Spinelli and Mervine have tackled the problem of limited in-house kitchen space in an innovative manner– by partnering with area food trucks to move the cooking, and a wider variety, just outside the brewpub’s front door.

Brewing commercially with a one-barrel brewhouse is like a never-ending boot camp. In order to produce saleable volume, Brewer Mervine has to make beer pretty much every day. When you do it that often, you get quickly get good.

“I feel extremely comfortable,” Mervine says. A personal quest for me is challenging myself every time I go to brew.”

For Mervine, that challenge can be in designing the unique “Don’t Fear the RIPA” (A silky India Pale Ale brewed with an absurd amount of Rye), or in tweaking ROC’s elegant and understated Golden Ale, with its hints of apple and biscuit.

The ROC Brewing Company’s standout, however, remains the Dark Mild. It’s a fluent crossing of mild ale and milk stout–two styles that just don’t find a lot of favor in the American craft world.

Dark Mild gives you the whiskey and vanilla notes of an oak aged imperial stout, but pulls the alcohol punch, leading up to a creamy, but clean finish. What really makes it stand out, however, is it’s surprising amount of body for a low-alcohol session beer. All too often, these tend to be thin, with bold flavors like vanilla just petering out to nothing. Dark Mild manages to stand up and really give the drinker some substance.

The brewery is celebrating its two year anniversary with a limited-release IPA series: Big DIPA double IPA, Li’l SIPA India Pale Ale, and Down Unda IPA, which will use all southern hemisphere (read: Australian and New Zealand) hops.

ROC Brewing is participating in two major events during Rochester Real Beer Week: The third annual Rochester Real Beer Expo, on Gregory Street June 15, and The Old Toad Cask Beer Festival on June 23, to which they’ll be bringing Union 56, a light, straw-colored, estery bitter based on West Coast pale ale, but decidedly more mild.

Mervine is bullish, not only on the health of his brewery, but on the growing number of craft area craft breweries and the creation of a real Rochester beer scene. “I think we really started pushing each other a little bit more, and we’re going to see twice the amount of breweries in the future.”

“Every beer has a story,” Mervine says with a smile. So far, the Roc Brewing Co. has had a pretty good story as well.

Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to


Fairport Brewing Company grows to fit its village

FBCThe Rochester area’s smallest commercial brewery is expanding.


The one-year-old Fairport Brewing Company, which produces its beers one half-barrel at a time, is renovating the old Pure Oil service station at the corner of Fairport Road and South Main Street in Fairport Village. The new facility will serve as a tasting and retail room, freeing up space at their existing Turk Hill Park facility to increase production capacity.


The expansion is a case study in how thirsty people are for local beer. In addition to making their own investments, and banging the turf hosting beer samplings around town, partners Tim Garman and Paul Guarracini turned to the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to raise capital for the new building and new brewing equipment. With six days to go at the time of this writing, the campaign exceeded its funding goal, leaving a smile on Garmin’s drywall dust-stained face.


So now it’s business as usual for the self-described “picobrewers,” as they continue to pump out six taps worth of beer at a time, along with the added responsibilities of opening the new shop and figuring out how to shoehorn a newly ordered  three-barrel brewing system into their current boutique-size space.


Nanobrewing (or picobrewing in this case) is the latest wave of growth in the brewing industry. Brewing on an extremely small scale obviates the massive capital investment costs of the typical craft brewery, but the low output of beer makes it hard to grow a commercial customer base and expand the business.


Fairport Brewing works on the latter problem by brewing several times a day. Guarracini, an award-winning veteran of the Rochester homebrewing scene, serves as the company’s brewmaster but is canny enough not to try to do it all himself. Unusually for a nanobrewery, FBC took on two part-time brewers, allowing for shift changes and extra hands to take care of unglamorous but critical tasks like cleaning and sanitation.


Garman and Guarracini have also learned to use the brewery’s low output as an advantage, using the small system’s flexibility to gush forth a dizzying array of creative beers and keeping them in a constant rotation in their six-tap retail area. FBC beers span a wide gamut, from powerful double IPAs to a soon-to-be-released Kölsch. Many of these are quite good, and almost all of them are solid, respectable craft beers.


The new retail space is a result of Garman, a lifelong Fairport local, staying true to his vision of slow, organic growth. Apart from the occasional guest tap at Fairport bars and restaurants, it will be the only place to buy FBC beer for the time being. The new brewery may change that however, more than tripling capacity. Even when regular retail keg distribution becomes a possibility, Garmin still holds to his “think Fairport” approach.


So far, that strategy paid off. Not only have Garman and Guarracini built the foundations of a dream for themselves, but they’ve earned the respect and trust of Fairporters who are proud to have their own local brewery, and they created a few jobs along the way. It looks like someone else is about to become New York State’s smallest brewery, because Fairport Brewing Company just got a little bigger.


Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at Find him on Twitter @beercraft. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to