From ale to weisse, Rochester brews it 

click to enlarge beer.jpg

The Flower City loves beer and there's no shortage of fresh, local brews. From the trendiest haze bomb IPAs to the tried and true staple German-style lagers and Belgian-style farmhouse saisons, you can find it in Greater Rochester.

In fact, Rochester is one of the biggest beer towns in the Northeast. The 26 breweries in Monroe County outnumber those in any other county in New York state save Suffolk County on Long Island. In 2018, breweries had a $679.5 million economic impact in Monroe County, the highest figure of any county in the state, according to the  New York Brewers Association.

By comparison, Vermont, while number one in the nation for breweries per capita, saw $362 million in economic impact from breweries in 2018.

Like any good beer town, Rochester is stylistically diverse and does many things very well. But there are five styles that define the region's beer culture, and some breweries making standouts of each.

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED

Cream ale

The words "cream ale" are enough to make pretentious beer geeks across Rochester roll their eyes.

Cream ale is a polarizing beverage, but it's a local staple. This light, straw-colored ale with a sweet, malty backbone has been brewed at the Genesee Brewery since 1960. It's easy-drinking, smooth, and clean, placing it at the pinnacle of "lawnmower beers."

Some Rochesterians lovingly refer to the classic as Genny Screamers, apparently for the rather unfortunate gastrointestinal effects brought on by overindulgence.

Even with Rochester on the cutting edge of craft beer, the city still maintains a steady love affair with the humble cream ale. For the past two years, Roc Brewing Co., 56 South Union Street, has hosted a Celebration of Cream Ales. The events, held in May, have brought together a slew of Rochester breweries, each of which puts its own personal twist on the style. Last year's interpretations ranged from the subtle English-influened Devon Cream Ale from Sager Beer Works, 46 Sager Drive, Rochester, to Mortalis's Poseidon's Revenge, an 8.5 percent variant reminiscent of bananas foster.

Where to drink: Genesee is still the way to go for a classic cream ale. It's widely available in grocery stores and gas stations, and at $14 per 30-pack, it's by far the most economical beverage you'll find on this list.

For further cream ale exploration, hit Roc Brewing for Roc Candy, a cream ale laced with watermelon; Knucklehead, 426 Ridge Road, Webster, for the slightly hoppier Kathy's Kreme Ale; and K2 Brothers, 1221 Empire Boulevard, Webster, for its Jalapeno Cream Ale or its aggressively fiery XXX Cream Ale, the latter featuring Trinidadian scorpion chilis.

Scotch Ale

Scotch Ale is the yin to cream ale's yang. It's a style that has defined the local beer scene since the oldest craft brewery in Rochester, Rohrbach Brewing Company, first rolled out its version in 1994. Rohrbach has two locations, one on Railroad Street near the Public Market, and one at 3859 Buffalo Road, Ogden.

A Scotch ale, also known as a wee-heavy, is typically a dark ale with a higher alcohol content. The style features a prominent, sweet malt backbone with notes of toffee, caramel, and lightly roasted coffee or chocolate. It's a robust beer well-suited for warming up on a cold winter night or pairing with hearty stews. 

click to enlarge PHOTO PROVIDED

Where to drink: Rohrbach's version is not only a classic, but a pitch-perfect introduction to the style. Rochestafarian by Three Heads Brewing, 186 Atlantic Avenue, Rochester, offers a slightly more robust, roastier version while Canandaigua's Naked Dove, 4048 State Route 5 and 20, Canandaigua, makes a classic interpretation with an 8.2 percent alcohol level.

For a truly special, rare treat, keep an eye out for Truce by Knucklehead and Wayne County's Apple Country Spirits, which pops up every so often and doesn't sit long on the Knucklehead's shelves. Blended with applejack, a brandy-like spirit made from apples, the 2018 version was aged for 26 months and hit a hefty 23 percent alcohol. 

Milkshake IPAs

Rochester did not start the milkshake IPA trend, but the region's breweries do have some of the best you'll find anywhere. The style was even highlighted in a 2019 Matador Network article on Rochester being the northeast's best beer town. While hazy, unfiltered New England IPAs tend to have juicy, sweet notes, milkshake IPAs kick it up to another level with the addition of lactose, which adds more sweetness and creamy characteristic. Typically, these beers feature liberal additions of fruit, spices, or other adjuncts.

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO

Where to drink: K2 Brothers keeps up a consistent line of milkshake IPAs, with constantly changing fruit and adjunct additions, from the relatively tame raspberry to chocolate peanut butter cup. Three Heads Brewing serves up Guava Sutra, brewed with guava puree, and Roc Brewing Co. makes different versions of Swillshake — from horchata to Fruity Pebbles — exclusively for Swillburg's Playhouse bar and arcade. 

Fruited Sours

Whether it's a Berliner weisse, gose, kettle sour, or wild ale, sour ales conditioned with fruit are some of the hottest beers on the market, and there is no shortage of local options.

These beers feature tart notes accented by additions of virtually any fruit you can think of, and some you've never heard of before. Intense and often unrecognizable from what most folks consider beer, these beverages are designed to be palatable from the most discerning drinker to anyone who cringes at the thought of a plain old lager.

Where to drink: The Hydra series of sours from Mortalis, 5660 Tec Drive, Avon, Livingston County, is a must try. With its ample fruit pulp, expect to be picking seeds from your teeth after drinking one of these beers. Other essentials include the aptly named "Is This Beer?" cranberry lime Berliner from Swiftwater Brewing Company, 378 Mt. Hope Avenue, Rochester;  the regularly rotating line of sours from Iron Tug, 360 West Ridge Road, Rochester; and the Crunchee series, a pastry-esque, granola take on a Berliner Weisse, from Other Half, 6621 State Route 5 And 20, Bloomfield, Ontario County.

Golden Stouts

The style name seems like an oxymoron, but golden stouts are a style gaining momentum in the local market. These beers feature a pale, straw color yet with all of the roasty and deep, complex flavors you'd expect from a traditional stout. They are often complemented, like a regular stout, with additions of coffee, chocolate, and pastries.

Where to drink: Careful Man, There's a Beverage Here — Swiftwater's homage to The Dude's beloved White Russian — is a decadent and exquisite representation of the style. Mortalis's Icarus and the occasional take on the style by Three Heads are also well worth seeking out. 

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO

In This Guide...

  • Mark Your Calendar

    ...but use a pencil
    As of the printing of this publication, 2020 hasn't unfolded as expected. We hope the health crisis is short-lived and that, when it's all over, Rochester will get back to its routines and showcasing its treasures.

  • Shelf-aware

    A peek into Rochester's literary scene
    Rochester's got many organizations and literary centers that support its crowd of authors, poets, and lit-loving audiences.

  • Exhibit A+

    A survey of Rochester's museums, galleries, art studios, and public art
    Rochester is regularly called a "city of the arts" by politicians and cultural movers and shakers alike.

  • A renters' rights run-down

    Some recent, high-profile cases of negligent landlords, along with an explosion of new high-end apartment complexes with equally high-end rents, have brought issues of housing and renters rights to the fore.

  • A guide for all seasons

    You might think you know all there is to know about your hometown, but you can live in a place your entire life and learn something new about it every day. That's what CITY's Annual Manual is all about.

  • For the kids

    Family-friendly options in Rochester
    If there is one constant theme to greater Rochester, it's that the area is a great place to raise kids.

  • Take me to your leader

    Greater Rochester saw a lot of changes in its political scene in the last year.

  • Moving the needle

    As the third-largest city in New York, Rochester has a rich local media scene, with a daily newspaper, a feisty alternative news weekly, three network television news affiliates, and dozens of radio stations.

  • The sites for sounds

    A curated guide to essential local concert venues
    Location is everything when it comes to seeing music performed live.

  • Welcome to the neighborhood(s)

    When we talk about "Rochester," we're not just talking about the city.

  • Dive into the nightlife

    As the old Willie Nelson song goes, "The nightlife ain't no life, but it's my life."

  • Susan B.'s Big Year

    Rochester has grand plans to celebrate its favorite daughter — Susan B. Anthony — and her accomplishments throughout 2020, a year that marks a trifecta of important anniversaries.

  • House party

    Rochester's off-off-really-off-Broadway performance venues
    For a city of Rochester's population size and general distance from the Great White Way, there's an impressive amount of talent and options for theatre lovers.

  • Weed in the Flower City

    Let's make one thing clear off the bat: Recreational cannabis was not yet legal in New York as of this guide's publishing.

Prepare for the 2024 eclipse!

Prepare for the 2024 eclipse! @ Winton Branch Library

This April, Rochester will be in the path of a total solar...
Winter Wednesdays: Cold Mountain

Winter Wednesdays: Cold Mountain @ Little Theatre

In this classic story of love and devotion set against the backdrop...


Come waltz to live acoustic music. A few tunes will be for...

View all of today's events »

Website powered by Foundation     |     © 2024 CITY Magazine