Rochester’s newest brew house is 108 years old. Or 134. Or a few weeks. It depends on where you start counting.
Which is appropriate, since the brew house is located in the oldest section of the city, a neighborhood Rochester has been trying for decades to make trendy.
It’s the High Falls District, named for the 96-foot-high waterfalls in its heart, the place where the city’s earliest residents settled, because they could use the water power to turn mills to grind wheat into flour.
The Genesee Brew House – the new place – is on the east side of the Genesee River, and everything else you might want to visit while you’re there is on the west side. The banks are connected by Pont De Rennes, once a two-lane vehicle bridge, now a pedestrian bridge that offers a great view of the falls (as does the roof of the brew house).
The first floor of the Genesee Brew House contains a small museum, a gift shop, brewing tanks and a sampling bar. The second floor houses a restaurant and includes a porch where, in good weather, you might want to dine. Or you can eat and drink on the roof. The second-floor porch and the roof, especially the roof, offer spectacular views of the falls. And you can hear the pleasing roar of the water above the annoying roar of traffic.
The museum contains artifacts, photos and interactive displays of the history of brewing in Rochester. Highlighted, of course, is the fact that the owner of the brew house, Genesee Beer, was founded in 1878, or 132 years ago.
Perhaps the most memorable item in the museum is a Prohibition era sign: “Closed by United States of America as a Nuisance Under National Prohibition Act, Joseph Fritsch Jr. United States Marshall.”
The building itself was constructed in 1904 (108 years ago) as a bottling plant for the now defunct Standard Brewing company (a victim of Prohibition), and was for a while used by a plumbing supply company. Genesee purchased it in 1982.
In order to turn it into a brew pub, a neighboring building was demolished, much to the chagrin of the city’s preservationist community, to make room for a parking lot. Part of what is now the parking lot will be converted into an outdoor performance space. That should be completed in 2013. The first outdoor concert was actually held in early September to mark the official grand opening, although the establishment had been serving food and drink for a couple of weeks prior to that.
On the first floor, toward the back, is a sampling bar. For $2 you get four samples, from a choice of eight.
My first sample was an English-style ale, and I was surprised when I was handed a full glass that held, I would guess, seven or eight ounces. For my next three – Oktoberfest, Dundee IPA and Porter – I asked for a third of a glass each time. It’s hard to compare flavors when you have too much of any one kind.
My friend, Eileen, who doesn’t like beer, lit up when she heard the barkeep tell me the Oktoberfest had chocolate in it. She snatched the glass from my hand and took a long sip.
Back in the museum, I pushed buttons on an interactive map that told, with little red lights, the locations of the several dozen breweries that have operated in Rochester over the last century and a half.
Most of the items in the gift shop – T-shirts, caps, glasses – say Genesee on them. A typical T-shirt was $16. A ski cap $17. Beer glasses $3 or $5.
Once on the second floor, Eileen and I split an order of wings for $9 (nothing on the menu is more than $9). We had no trouble getting the waiter to ask the kitchen if the order could be split, half hot for me, and half country sweet for Eileen, and the kitchen agreed.
Since I already had the equivalent of a beer and a half in the sampling bar, I decided on Diet Coke to go with the wings. I recommend that, unlike me, you eat before you visit the sampling bar.
When you’re done eating and drinking, walk across Pont De Rennes and visit the High Falls Museum. One block in from the river, turn left, and walk a few dozen feet. This museum costs $2 to get into and could occupy a half-hour of your time. It has exhibits showing how Rochester was transformed from a flour city, thanks to three waterfalls within city limits, to a flower city, which at one time, in the late 19th and early 20th century, led the nation in growing flower seeds to put into little packets sold around the world.
Inside the same building, but outside the museum are a used book store, with many books focusing on Rochester history, and a gift shop with lots of items that say Rochester on them.
If you stay long enough for a second meal, you might want to try the Caribbean Chateau, immediately on the west side of the pedestrian bridge.
If you go
To get to the Genesee Brew House from Buffalo, take the Thruway east to Interstate 490; I-490 to downtown Rochester and the Inner Loop. Exit the Inner Loop at St. Paul Boulevard, go north a few minutes, and the Genesee Brewery is on your left. It’s well marked. The Genesee Brew House is in a smaller building just to the south of the brewery. There is free parking next to the brew house.