Last winter, Genesee Brewing's Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter was everywhere. The porter became one of the bestselling beers at Wegmans locations across seven states, boosted by a feature in Wegmans' Menu Magazine. Beer drinkers around Rochester were eagerly talking about the porter because of its distinctive, successful combination of flavors.
It is not hard to imagine why sales soared. Rochesterians know it all too well: months of blistering cold and flurries are ahead, and nights on the lake are exchanged for nights by a fire. For many, the taste of a quality seasonal beer is enough to make those dreaded winter nights manageable.
Dean Jones, brewmaster of Genesee Brew House's Pilot Batch System, created the Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter after looking for artisan products to incorporate into his beer. The search led Jones to Hedonist Artisan Chocolates in the South Wedge. The tag-team of Genesee and Hedonist kept the beer local, which Jones believes strengthens the appeal to a Millennial audience. "The younger generation is what is buying all the craft beer," Jones says. "They want to support someone they connect with."
The success wasn't only because of that connection, though. "I think it was just the perfect storm," Jones says. "The right beer, with the right flavors at the right time."
This winter, the Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter is back, and Jones is going to the chocolate and beer combination again with Genesee's new Chocolate Scotch Ale, also made with Hedonist products. The beer is exclusively on tap at the Genesee Brew House (25 Cataract Street).
Additionally, Genesee Pilot Batch is hoping to replicate the shelf sales of last year's porter with the Winter Warmer Ale, a 9 percent alcohol beer that Jones describes as "smooth, rich, and caramely without the spices."
As more local brewers begin to see what sells well during the colder months, their offerings will tend to skew "a little boozier, a little darker," says Patrick Meehan, brewer at Swiftwater Brewing (378 Mt. Hope Avenue). Swiftwater itself will offer an imperial stout that has been aging inside whiskey barrels for six months. It may not have those holiday spices like anise, coriander, or licorice that are prominent in some winter brews, but Meehan labels it as a "very winter appropriate beer."
Three Heads Brewing is sticking with a more conservative offering this winter as well. Both its Hippy Holidays Red Lager and Baltic Porter are suitable winter beers — albeit for different reasons. The Hippy Holidays Red Lager is made with centennial hops, which gives the drink a pinier taste suitable for the season. At 10.4 percent ABV, the Baltic Porter is a pick-me-up for the days where your digits are about to freeze. Both beers are available on tap at Three Heads Brewing (186 Atlantic Avenue) as well as in 22-ounce bottles in various locations.
The Lost Borough Brewing (543 Atlantic Avenue) is also trying to diversify itself in an increasingly crowded winter market. The brewery will continue to have its normal rotation of stouts and porters, but will try to separate itself with two offerings this season. Cookie lovers might appreciate the Gingerbread Brown Ale coming around Thanksgiving, and December will bring an Apple Pie Ale, made in collaboration with Embark Ciderworks.
According to Meehan, Swiftwater sees an overall uptick in business during the winter months, and the trend is reflected at other Rochester breweries and bars — some of that can be attributed to popular "bar holidays" like the evening before Thanksgiving and December 23. Sometimes the only way to deal with a Rochester winter is by putting on some liquid layers.