Over the last few years, the craft beer and spirits industry in Rochester has grown into an impressive trail that will undoubtedly become a staple road trip in Upstate New York in the near future. Some breweries, like Rohrbach Brewing, have been in the area for a long time while many only opened roughly 5 years ago.
Our brief weekend itinerary was built around 3 breweries and 2 distilleries all of which have made my journey home a few bottles of beer heavier. Yes, I shopped. Unlike the Ontario craft beer market Rochester brewers are not as driven by the hoppy trend, the ROC continuously experiments with recipes and selections brewing up some interesting flavors like Chocolate Vanilla Porters and Blueberry Ales.
Genesee Brew House: a large warehouse space transformed into a 9,200 square-foot featuring interactive exhibits in the main store area, a tasting room overlooking the on-site brewery, a large restaurant, and a fantastic rooftop patio with a view of High Falls.
Tip: you absolutely have to try the pretzels at the restaurant, words can’t describe those.
Beer favorites: Genesee Cream Ale and Scotch Ale from the Pilot Batch Series.
ROC Brewing: a much younger microbrewery located in the heart of downtown. The younger character of the brand and the modern architecture of the tasting room attract a similarly fun audience to their location. The beer selection is inspired by German recipes, the flavors are simple and rich with super fun names.
Beer favorites: The Ugly Sweater, an English old ale with a complex caramel malt bill
Rohrbach Beer Hall: Rochester’s original craft beer is located in a factory-style building near the city’s Public Market. This brewery is a little more spacious with an on-site restaurant and occasional live entertainment. The beer selection is also quite fun: Vanilla Porters, Scotch Ales, and seasonal locals like Red Wing Red Ale. There is also a new line of beers called Neoteric Series 1.0 with a small lineup of beers like Space Kitty IPA and Penelope Imperial Pilsner. All beers are freshly brewed, canned, and bottled on-site. If you come in for a pint or to re-fill your jar the beer comes directly from the well in which it was cultivated. The case for almost all breweries in Rochester.
Beer favorites: The Blueberry Ale – that subtle hint of blueberry is very refreshing!
Black Button Distilling: located next door to Rohrbach, Black Button is a smaller, calmer space. We got to tour the distillery with the founder and owner Jason Barrett. Jason was nice enough to briefly share the distillery’s story with us before encouraging me to try some overproof samples from the ‘work in progress’ jars. The story goes like this: Barrett’s family made buttons for four generations but Jason turned out to be color-blind so the joke was that if he were to carry on the family business he’d have to make black buttons only. Realizing buttons were not his thing in more than one way Barrett went on to open a distillery. Black Button is now a staple in the Rochester craft spirits market.
While paying homage to the classic spirits Black Button keeps on reinventing its flavors, pointing out that no one wants to “be smacked in the face with a Christmas tree”. Their Citrus Forward Gin, for example, is built on subtle notes of juniper with orange zest and has been named “The official gin of summer” by the American Craft Spirits Association. The barrels from the liquors get passed on to other uses such as aging Maple Syrup.
Favorites: Bespoke Bourbon Cream and the previously mentioned Citrus Forward Gin.
Apple Country Spirits (ACS): a half-an-hour drive out of the city into the countryside Apple Country is a farm distillery that produces gluten-free spirits and ciders. The apples (and other fruits) are grown nearby, pressed, fermented, and bottled on-site. All ciders are made with real fruit juice, no artificial substitutes, which makes for crisp and refreshing flavors. Even the vodkas are infused with real fruit flavor, the Pear Vodka for example is dangerously tasty and even smells like fresh fruit.
Favorites: Pear Vodka, Sour Cherry Cordial, and Original Rootstock Cider (though all ciders are pretty fantastic).
For more information and to plan your own road trip visit Rochester Craft Beverage Trail.