What a ride it’s been over the last year! Rochester’s breweries have experienced tremendous growth as we now have ten craft brewers located within the city limits alone! Livingston County has been making waves with the opening of Mortalis and Rising Storm, while New York’s Other Half and Lockport’s New York Beer Project are preparing to open their satellite “destination breweries” in the coming year. With more breweries slated to open in the coming year, local beer enthusiasts will have more choices than ever before.
To get a better idea of where we are headed, I asked each area brewery two simple questions: What do you want your brewery to be known for? Where do you see the Rochester beer scene headed in 2019? While each has their own perspective, I think you’ll find there’s a common thread running throughout their responses. (NOTE: Not every local brewery was able to respond by my deadline, and some comments were edited for style and clarity.)
Andy Cook, Swiftwater Brewing
Swiftwater will keep pushing new IPAs, find more uses for fruit, add more variety to our stout game, and continue to pump out unique mixed-culture sours. I always hope that we’ll see a return of traditional session styles, such as pale ale, pilsner, and kolsch. We’re seeing our customers gravitate to this trend slowly, and I think that will continue into the future.
I think we will continue to see breweries in Rochester innovate by mixing in more fruit and other flavors. The India Pale Ale will of course remain the driving force behind craft beer for some time to come.
Scott Denhart, Triphammer Bierwerks
I want Triphammer to be known for quality, first and foremost. We are going to explore more Belgian styles next year, from table beers to tripels. Look for more experimentals in our weekly test series that we are going to bring back to life. Above all, my focus is constant improvement.
Chris Spinelli, Roc Brewing
I want Roc to be known for exciting, quality beer. I want people to be excited for the great beers brewers Ashley McCaffrey and Nick Mesrobian are producing here. We have some really fun ideas planned for this coming year and we hope people really enjoy them. After eight years, we looking forward to introducing some crazy fun new styles to play with!
Rochester is at an interesting point in the beer scene, much like the rest of the industry, with many challenges and opportunities ahead. Yes, craft beer has exploded and Rochester is no exception. However, I think it is at a critical time for all breweries to really focus on consistent quality and look to the future of our industry. Craft beer has changed significantly in the years since we brewed our first batches. We are excited for 2019! We have a lot of room to grow, and now we just need to seize it!
John Boothe, Brindle Haus Brewing
Although we are branching out into distribution and canning we still want to be known as Spencerport’s brewery. We want people to think of Brindle Haus as a comfortable place where everyone is welcome. We pride ourselves on offering a variety of styles, all well-crafted and true to style. Being a year old, we are still learning ways to improve our product. One of our goals in 2019 is to solidify our core offerings and limit our recipe tweaks to ensure consistency. We want those who say, “good beer doesn’t exist on the West Side,” to be convinced to visit Spencerport and enjoy what we have to offer!
As Monroe County surpasses more than 28 breweries and other 50 within reasonable driving distance, perhaps the region is due for some consolidation. Most breweries must rely on tap room sales to support operations. While distribution gets your name out there, tap room sales pay the bills. This past year, we’ve seen craft beer sales level off, meaning newer breweries are eating into existing sales. The Rochester area has been able to maintain sales, but we’re no long seeing the runaway double-digit growth seen previously. As the industry continues to grow, the war for shelf space and tap handles is only going to get more brutal.
As the local craft beer scene matures and consumers become more educated about their choices, I believe we may see some smaller breweries close that were either unable to, or unwilling to keep up with quality control and the demand for trendy varieties such as New England IPAs, sours, and barrel-aged variants. I believe quality of the product will be the first factor in where consumers choose to spend their money in 2019. Mediocrity is no longer acceptable. In my opinion, most local breweries have answered that call.
Being a traditional brewer I keep telling myself lagers and session ales are the future, but our local beer drinkers seem to be saying otherwise. With breweries like Other Half and Mortalis coming onto the scene, I think consumers expect one or more of these trendy beers to be on tap everywhere they go. I know when we opened we had one or two taps dedicated to those styles, now we have three or four. So I think those styles are no longer “trendy” and are here to stay. I also think traditional IPA’s will make a small comeback. We went through a period of minimizing the bitterness, but I see that balancing back out. West Coast IPA variants will be well received as refreshing alternatives to the aforementioned styles.
Dean Jones, Genesee Brew House
I would love for people to experience Genesee Beer and truly find out what we are all about… Love for Rochester and our local brewing community!
The local beer scene is growing and getting cooler by the day! We have some really neat breweries with tons of unique personalities that are putting out awesome creative brews. I always encourage everyone to “Drink Local” here in Rochester, you don’t have to go anywhere else!
Jeffrey “Oz” Osbourne, Stoneyard Brewing
In 2019, I’d like Stoneyard to be known for our increased production of world-class, inventive beer, with increased regional distribution helping to put Rochester on the map as one of the Northeast’s best cities for craft beer.
In my opinion, Rochester’s beer scene will continue to excel through 2019, producing high-quality beer with more and more local brews becoming available in stores. We are finally getting to the point where not only is the beer delicious, but it’s actually available to consumers. It’s a great time to be a beer lover!
Mortalis has always been about exploring creativity and embracing the non-traditional. We hope to continue to fan that flame in 2019 by not only pushing the boundaries of craft beer but also understanding the needs and wants of our patrons. The people who enjoy our beer understand our need to experiment, and provide support. They make us who we are.
This is an exciting time for the local beer scene! You can see it in so many breweries over the course of the past year. Many exciting new styles are being brewed, using strange and fun ingredients. This is just the beginning for many embracing that change. Mortalis is super excited to be on the forefront of that movement!
Paul Guarracini, Sager Beer Works
We want Sager Beer Works to be known as the place for great beer and food, and a comfortable place to enjoy both. As we say, “Drink, Eat, Relax!”
For craft beer consumers, retailers, and distributors, 2019 should be another banner year with more brands available, new breweries opening up, and more choices. With ever-increasing options, consumers will become more particular in the beer they consume and the venues they visit. Retailers will also need to make some tough choices as increased brewery production competes for a limited number of tap spaces and store shelves. For some breweries, it will not be rosy. It won’t be enough just to just make “good beer.”
Location, environment, and packaging will play a larger role in consumer purchasing decisions. I feel like the trend driving people to prefer brewery tap rooms over traditional bars will continue. Look for local breweries to enhance their retail experience, while breweries with a traditional “wholesale” focus should be concerned.
The number of new brewery openings will probably continue in the Rochester area at the current pace and the market should be able to absorb these, though some established locations will see their growth slowing. Of special note will be the opening of two new operations from established breweries from outside the area. The fact that Other Half and New York Beer Project have chosen to invest here versus just expanding their distribution speaks volumes about the strength of Rochester’s local craft beer market and the attraction of destination breweries. The success of these ventures will be interesting to watch in the coming year!
Jacob Andrew, Knucklehad Craft Brewing
We will continue to create new recipes and experiment with some more progressive styles. Also, we are slowly working towards our expansion plans to make Knucklehead even better. I think the beer scene in Rochester is going to continue to get better, which benefits us immensely.
K2 Brothers Brewing
We want K2 Bros. to be known for our barrel-aged beers. We would like to step up with bigger stouts and break into barrel-aged sours in the coming year. All these new emerging breweries are going to perfect their craft and we’ll see some pretty cool beer coming out of Rochester in the next year.
Bill Blake and Jeff Reidl, Rising Storm Brewing
In 2019 Rising Storm wants to be known for being a destination with great beer, great people, and a great location. We opened just after the summer season ended, so we didn’t really get to maximize our outdoor space potential. In 2019 we’re encouraging people to make a day of visiting us with friends and family to enjoy the 12.5 acres of green space surrounding the brewery. We expect our lawn to be filled with people playing yard games, sharing laughs, and enjoying some great beers. We’re planning some music and beer festivals, and we look forward to offering folks on Conesus Lake with party and picnic facilities as well as a rainy day destination. We’ll also begin hosting private outdoor events like rehearsal dinner and reunions. Rising Storm will continue to make great beer and keep the taps rotating so our guests always get to try something new.
We expect the Rochester beer scene to continue to mature, and see more local collaborations building upon on our strengths. We’re looking forward to working with some of our partners to put some awesome new beers out there. We have so many great brews and so many good ideas in this community, imagine how insane it’s going to be once we start to combine all that expertise and vision! We can’t wait for 2019 and our first full year in operation. Watch out, the storm is rising and we’re going to do some awesome stuff this coming year!
Keith Owens, Iron Tug Brewing
Iron Tug‘s goal for 2019 is to start offering a variety of can releases on a regular basis. We are currently working out the logistics to make that happen, and hope to have fresh cans regularly available in the tap room. We also want to start experimenting with some wild fermented ales, and circle back to some classic styles such as pilsners and other clean fermented lagers.
I think we will start to see an increasing number of breweries offering their products in cans, which proved to be true towards the end of 2018. I also believe we will start to see more and more canned collaborations between local breweries.
Dan Western, Lost Borough Brewing Co.
I want Lost Borough to be known as a location people come to enjoy a diverse line up. Each beer is crafted to style that will bring out the rich history of beer. It’s not just a place for the “beer of the moment,” instead it’s a place for beer across time, showcasing old and new styles alike.
I see the Rochester beer scene really raising up its quality and diversity. Each brewery has honed in on styles that fit them. Good beer will continue to be crafted here and improved upon.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond to my survey. I look forward to exploring on the expanding Rochester beer scene in the coming year! I hope you’ll join me along the way. Cheers!