Every brewery starts with a great story. That’s actually one of the reasons I launched the Rochester Beer Blog back in 2016. I have always been interested in learning how our local bars and restaurants thrive, and I have really enjoyed the access that many have given me as they lift the curtain and give me a peek behind the scenes. While every story is unique, you won’t soon forget the story of Rochester’s newest craft beer start-up… Imagine spending years finding the right partners who share your dreams, developing great recipes together, and perfecting your business plan. Just as you’re getting ready to launch, your head brewer suddenly passes, followed by a devastating fire that destroys your house just weeks before your wedding, leading right into a global pandemic that forces the entire world to shut down for nearly a year.

Welcome to Nine Spot Brewing.

Marina Nothnagle is a Buffalo native who has a strong passion for just about any fermented beverage you can think of, whether it’s beer, wine, or hard cider. While her foundation is in graphic design and art, her interest in the craft beer industry led to earning a post-graduate certificate in Brewing Science and Service. Over the years she has built up a portfolio of industry experience including New York Beer Project, Swiftwater Brewing, and Gensee Brew House. When Marina relocated to Rochester, she immediately noticed how far apart the two cities were culturally, despite only being an hour apart from one another. One of the goals of Nine Spot Brewing is to bring together the diverse regions of New York State under one roof, drawing inspiration from the regional influences of food and drink, whether it’s New York’s pizza, Buffalo’s wings, Utica’s chicken riggies, Binghamton’s spiedies, or Rochester’s classic garbage plate. That also goes for ingredients, drawing especially upon New York State sourced hops, barley, grain, and malt. Even the brewery’s name and logo has meaning: the nine-spotted ladybug is the official state insect.

Marina and Chris Nothnagle enjoying beers at Joey’s on Main

When Marina met Rochester native Chris Nothnagle, she realized they shared more than just a common passion for New York State food and drink. In 2017, they brought in Gary Rodriguez and also Edd Taylor as head brewer to help develop recipes. No stranger to the craft brewing scene, Edd was also one of the earliest members of the Upstate New York Homebrewers Association, one of the oldest groups in the country established in 1979 when home brewing became legal again. Throughout 2018, the team traveled to other breweries, researched ingredients, and worked a simulated brew day schedule as they tested recipes on their home brew system. Together, the team had created four strong recipes that were ready for production testing, relying on mostly New York State grown ingredients to comply with the spirit of the Farm Brewery license. Momentum seemed to be pushing in the right direction, and everyone felt pretty confident about moving forward with the business plan to make Nine Spot a reality.

Edd Taylor
Former head brewer Edd Taylor, who passed away in January 2019.

Tragedy struck in January 2019 when head brewer Edd Taylor suddenly passed away. The remaining partners decided it was time to regroup, and consider next steps. But before that could happen, a fire displaced Marina and Chris from their home in April, just a month before their wedding. When thoughts turned to dusting off the business plan and considering bringing on a partner and getting a fresh start in February 2020, global pandemic restrictions set in, putting a temporary halt to those plans.

One positive that came out of all that was Chris deciding to get out of his old job in retail marketing and dedicate himself full time to getting Nine Spot off the ground. When the Red Cross resettled Marina and Chris after the fire, they ended up in Fairport, specifically, across the street from Triphammer Brewing. Seeking a new tap room manager at the time, Chris won the contest for shortest daily commute. Working at the pioneering local craft brewery gave Chris valuable first-hand experience that would shape the future of Nine Spot Brewing.

The story took another turn in the spring of 2021 when he was laid off. Instead of feeling defeated, Chris used it as an reason to dive into the brewery project with both feet. With a stronger, revamped business plan in hand, the partners began to investigate funding sources in earnest and seeking out potential investors. A meeting with the City of Rochester revealed there were grant opportunities available to help fund the new venture, but many of them hinged on the company having a lease in hand for a location to move into. While checking out a possible space in the Culver-Merchants neighborhood, they learned they were about a week too late in securing a lease for that location. However, the owners had another building they thought might be better suited for the brewery. The old Towner Bike Shop at 190 Monroe Avenue, across from the Marshall Street Grill, and located between Strangebird Brewing and Roc Brewing, right in the heart of the “Neighborhood of Play” will be an ideal setting for this new craft brewery.

The old Towner Bike Shop at 190 Monroe Avenue will be the new home of Nine Spot Brewing, opening in 2022.
The old Towner Bike Shop at 190 Monroe Avenue will be the new home of Nine Spot Brewing, opening in 2022.

Originally built in 1940 as a small car dealership, the the 5,000 sq. ft. building has been home to a number of small businesses over the years. As I write this story, the building is being gutted by the owners to get ready for the planned brewery build-out. “There’s this really cool old hydraulic lift left over from the days when it was a car dealership,” Chris explained, “Unfortunately, that has to be sealed off for our purposes. But we’re looking at ways to preserve the history of the place in other ways.” Construction will begin in the fall, and the brewery is expected to open in the spring of 2022.

Aside from uniting New York’s diverse cultural regions, having an inclusive and diverse employee base is very important to the Nine Spot partners. “Rather than struggle the first few years to offer our employees a living wage and great benefits, we’re budgeting for that right from the start,” explained Chris, “We think that kind of investment will not only help us retain people, but also set a benchmark for the industry for others to follow.” That inclusivity includes recognizing the contributions of women to the craft beer industry. Marina doesn’t sugarcoat her feelings on the subject: “It’s extremely difficult being a woman in this industry and earning the same recognition as my colleagues.” This is one of the reasons earning her Cicerone certification has been so important. “I love learning about beer, I love talking about beer, and I love teaching other people about beer.”

Built in 1940, this building has been home to a number of small businesses over the years.

Nine Spot Brewing’s core concept is to celebrate New York. This includes reserving guest taps for great beer from small breweries across the state you may have never heard of. Closer to home, Marina is excited about some of the recipes already developed for production beers that highlight New York State ingredients. There’s Unique New York, which is a ginger lemon hibiscus ale. El Barrio (“The Neighborhood”) is a dark honey wheat ale, along with an unnamed American Stout. Stuyvesant Pale Ale (named for the last Dutch governor of the colony that would become New York) made from 100% New York State ingredients.

The next big step for Nine Spot is hiring a new head brewer to take Edd’s recipes, and use them as a jumping off point for further development. “While we have already talked to some candidates locally, we’ve expanded to a pretty broad search outside the region as well,” said Chris. They’re looking to hire six employees to start, with an eye toward expansion as business increases. Right now, Nine Spot is in the middle of a successful fundraiser to help upgrade the brewhouse to an expanded 5-barrel system and pay for a portion of the taproom construction.

Start spreading the brews…

Every craft brewery start-up story has bizarre twists and turns, extreme highs and lows, successes and defeats. But that’s what makes them great. Despite the odds, they claw their way through to meet their goals. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes years. When a group of like-minded people come together with the goal to shake up the status quo, there’s bound to be some bumps along the way. Others might crumble in the face of such overwhelming odds. Chris and Marina simply roll up their sleeves welcome the challenge.

Nine Spot Brewing will be located at 190 Monroe Avenue, in Rochester, slated for a mid-2022 opening. Follow them on Facebook and consider contributing to their fundraiser.

Rochester Beer Blog