Words and photos by John Mackowiak
We hoisted our glasses and said something sappy about what an amazing day we were having.
My girlfriend and I were sitting at a picnic table outside Nedloh Brewing Company with a flight of beer in front of us and my pup next to us. As we took in the laidback rural setting and prepared to indulge, we clanked the six-ounce tasters and pulled them close to our noses for a swift whiff.
With the first sip, my mouth puckered. I gulped down another mouthful of Funky FLX, Nedloh’s cabernet sauvignon barrel-aged saison and paused.
“I know I probably say this too often, but this is one of the best beers I’ve ever tasted.”
And if I hadn’t read the Insider’s Guide to the Rochester Craft Beer Scene a few days earlier, I wouldn’t have known to stop by the brewery. Created by Linh Phillips of Sir Rocha Says and Carolyn Stiles of Rochester Beer Gals, the guide delivers a compact yet thorough review of craft brewers in the Rochester region, including digestible descriptions to introduce people to new experiences and local beer.
The local brewing industry is rapidly expanding both locally and statewide. Since 2011, New York’s craft brewing industry has grown by 542 percent, according to Governor Cuomo’s office.
“With so many breweries popping up, it can be difficult to keep up with all the new spots,” Phillips said. “To build on that, the craft beer scene can be a bit intimidating to someone new to the beer world.”
And that’s where the guide comes in.
“When you’re trying to make the decision of where to go, it can be tough,” Stiles said. “It’s helpful to have someone decipher it for you. We wanted people to feel the vibe before they went and bring to the surface some of the breweries they might not have considered.”
An accurate description of the experience of visiting a brewery—bringing its vibe to life—can be just as valuable as glowing reviews of its beer, explained Three Heads Brewing’s "Minister of Mayhem" Geoff Dale.
“This guide talks about the ambience—and I think that’s more important in a lot of ways. Obviously, beer matters, but it’s also the experience,” he said. “That’s your identity, and you want it to be very clear to people. Know who you are, be who you are; this guide captures that sentiment.”
Andy Cook, owner of Swiftwater Brewing Company, relies heavily on word-of-mouth to drive people into the brewery, which is located in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood. “This guide will get people excited to cross each brewery off their to-do list,” he said.
Cook sees social media and online review sites as an extension of word-of-mouth in the digital space. The work of bloggers and online influencers to share breweries’ stories helps accelerate the process, getting the word out wider and faster.
“I always say that you can't start a beer trail by yourself,” Cook said, “and we need a lot of help from our colleagues at other breweries and from the greater community to achieve our goal of making Rochester a destination for craft beer lovers.”
The brewing industry in the Rochester region and across Upstate New York began its surge when consumers started demanding more locally made products and unique experiences. The catalyst was New York State’s work to update regulations, approve new laws and tax credits and provide funding.
However, to truly establish this region as a craft-brewing powerhouse, it will take sustained efforts to promote brewers locally and expand awareness of our industry beyond the borders of our region and state.
By introducing consumers to new local beer experiences, the guide has the potential to help shape brand ambassadors and Finger Lakes beer evangelists; the type of people who will post pictures of their beer in front of landmarks on Instagram and motivate their friends to expand their beer horizons.
“It took a lot of time and effort to build this guide,” Phillips said, “but we knew that in the end it would help contribute to the ultimate goal, which is for Rochester to become the next beer destination.”
However, the long-term impact of all of this work to create and promote Rochester-made beer has the potential to go beyond tourism.
“A lot of the breweries are located in different sections of the city and give people exposure to different areas,” Dale said. “Maybe some people who look at this guide don’t come into the city proper often, but when they see this description, they think, ‘I’m going to go to Three Heads.’ Then they come in, and they realize the city has a lot to offer.”
The guide itself is organized, easy-to-access, quick-to-read and mobile-responsive. It’s now another ingredient in the mix of activities, assets and activists brewing a vibrant craft beer industry and contributing to local economic growth.
“I hope people see it as their pocket guide," Stiles said. "They can pull it up on their phones whenever they want and wherever they are.”
That’s how I used it, and it worked—I found beer I liked and an experience I’ll remember, and a brewery gained both a customer and ambassador.