A Sampling of Rochester Breweriesin BierBuzz Blog
What's brewing in Rochester, NY?
While the big, dominant brewery in the area is the Gennessee Brewing Company, there have been others popping up in recent years (by the way, Gennessee is doing some tasty brewing, themselves, and have a lovely facility, in operation for just a few years). An interesting conversation about how many breweries there are in Rochester concerns the geographical parameters: "What is 'Rochester' and what is not?" It would seem that a smaller sense of Rochester gives it a half-dozen breweries, with others in the suburbs and surrounding areas. Half of these breweries opened within a month or two of each other a year and a half ago.
The brewery that began this brewery-opening spree was Lost Borough Brewing, which opened for business in November 2014. With eight beers on-tap in their tasting room, they are a rapidly growing brewery that focuses on classic styles. Lost Borough will have "a lot going on by November" in terms of their expansion of brewing and fermentation capacity, according to Dan Western, the head brewer and one of the co-owners. Having begun with a three-barrel brewing system, they are hoping to have a seven-barrel brewing system by their two year anniversary this upcoming November. But their huge growth has been with their fermentation capacity, having started with a nine barrel fermentation capacity, then doubling, then doubling again, eventually reaching a 77 BBL capacity by this upcoming November.
Lost Borough prides themselves on trying to source their ingredients locally, with 20% of their hops as well as 20% of their grains coming from around the area. And their adjuncts, such as pumpkins for fall beers, are all grown locally. In addition to serving as the head brewer and one of the co-owners, Western is also a jack-of-all-trades, a resident handyman, as well as saving them a lot of money in putting together the brewery, which is a unique set of talents and very valuable to have in-residence. Each of the co-owners all handle different aspects of the operation.
While there, I was treated to a couple of their beers, so I naturally gravitated towards a double IPA at first, enjoying their Lunar Juice DIPA, which had a solid malt backbone to balance out the Mosaic and Citra hops. Going the opposite direction, especially since it is the summer, I enjoyed their Farmhouse Saison, which also had a solid malt body, accompanied by a slight tartness at the end of the palate. This latter beer was actually created by the suggestion of Zack Hill, the lead brewer.
Looking for sour beers in Rochester? You'll want to stop in at Swiftwater Brewing. Having opened up two months after Lost Borough Brewing, in January 2015, Swiftwater Brewing was the first brewery in Rochester to brew up a sour beer and they haven't looked back. While a few other breweries in Rochester have followed in their footsteps in terms of producing sour beers, Swiftwater always has at least one sour beer on-tap. Their most popular beers, however, are IPAs.
When I visited their gorgeous open-air tasting room (that also houses their brewing and fermentation action), I had the pleasure in speaking with Andy Cook, the co-owner and head brewer. Cook's father had been thinking about opening up a winery, but fortunately, the younger Cook was able to convince his father to open up a brewery. This decision was made easier by the younger Cook having won numerous brewing competitions in the area, so his brewing skills were certainly getting positive recognition.
With ten taps, Cook said they always have a German lager and a sour on-tap, something Belgian (whether a saison, dubbel, etc.), and "obviously, we have to keep an IPA and pale ale on-tap," said Cook. The IPAs are the fastest movers, as to sales. Swiftwater has a seven-barrel brewing system accompanied by four 7BBL fermenters, as well as a 20BBL fermenter dedicated to IPAs ("IPAs move", noted Cook).
While chatting with Cook, I had the pleasure of enjoying some of his creations while discussing them. I started off with the Barrel-Aged Sour, which was a Brett - funky farmhouse ale and very enjoyable. Cook was able to get a bunch of whiskey barrels from Black Button Distilling, so he is able to age the sours right there. I then had the Cherry Sour, which was a little Bretty, but darker and fruitier than the Barrel-Aged Sour. Having enjoyed the sours, I was ready to go hoppier, starting with the fascinating Thai PA, which had cilantro, lime, and ginger in it. I thought the greenery going on was lovely, especially with the ginger and spiciness going on. I enjoyed the IPA 13, which was a solid beer, which included white pepper, but the IPA 9, which I had immediately after it was quite delicious! With a lineup of simcoe, citra, and mosaic hops, this is quite the delectable IPA and it is no surprise that this is the beer they are bottle-distributing, as they are on the second run of bottling. I highly recommend visiting Swiftwater Brewing when in Rochester.
One of the lovely places to visit in the Rochester area is Pittsford, especially by the Erie Canal. So I stopped by Lock 32 Brewing's tap room, which is nicely located on Erie Canal. Lock 32 Brewing is the only brewery/tap room in Pittsford. While they have a one-barrel brewing system and 3-barrel fermentation pilot system upstairs, they mostly do contract brewing off-site at CB Brewing on 10-barrel brewing system, with a lot more space for the fermentation system. Lock 32 Brewing has been around for more than two and a half years in their location and, when I stopped in, had nine beers on-tap along with a cider from 1911 Spirits.
One of their special beers for the summer is the Golde Lock summer ale, which is a nice easy-drinking summer beer, that has lemon as well as key limes and crystallized ginger. While it wasn't available when I visited, they did have Four Knots, an extra pale ale, available. It is a gorgeous beer, with a lovely golden straw color, but it tastes incredible, as it is a very sessionable and not that bitter of a beer, coming in at 4.9% ABV. What makes this beer particularly delicious is the Citra hops (self-disclosure: I greatly enjoy Citra hops) and it was unfiltered for the first time at Lock 32 Brewing. In talking with Casey Dunlavey, one of the co-owners and founders of Lock 32 Brewing, he said they plan to continue serving this beer unfiltered, since it "amplifies the flavor." Moreover, Dunlavey said, this beer "defines what we're doing."
Since there "a ton of tourists" that come through Pittsford and "people stumble upon us", there are a lot of people who are less familiar with craft beer, nevertheless, Lock 32 Brewing's "goal is to appease every palate." One of the unique aspects of Lock 32 beers are the names that reflect the geographical location of the the tasting room being on the Erie Canal. So, the beers' names reflect different maritime and lock-associated nomenclature.
Beyond their core beers, they also put out some special beers, two of which I had the privilege of tasting when they tapped them. The first was their Blue Hinny, which is a Belgian blueberry beer, but, for this version, they not only added a bunch of local strawberry purée, but whole-leaf dry-hopped it with Citra hops and fermented it in a 10-gallon firkin cask. This was a lovely beer (and, yes, as a fan of Citra hops, I was partial to the dry-hopping), especially since it had a lovely little tartness at the tail-end of the palate and on into the finish. Fascinatingly, I didn't notice any conflict between the two fruits, which worked out nicely, especially with a grassiness, dankness and lovely strawberriness to the beer. Another beer they had just tapped was putting out their Irish dry stout, the Five 80 Five, but having aged it in rye whiskey barrel-aged for 6-months and serving it on nitro. It was Lock 32 Brewing's first-time aging a beer in rye whiskey barrels and then putting it on nitro. While they had had two previous barrel-aged iterations, they had previously served it carbonated. Furthermore, they have had beers on nitro, but this was the first time doing both barrel-aging and serving on nitro. This beer had some booziness on the nose and also on the palate, with some lovely nitro smoothness for the mouthfeel. There was a vanilla/chocolate taste that was prominent and accompanied by dark fruits, as well as some bitterness.
I came away satisfied from my trip to Rochester, knowing there are some good beers being brewed there and I can't wait to check them out again!