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.
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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 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.
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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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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