Beer talk: A toast to local favorites

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Beer sampler at Roc Brewing in Rochester.(Photo: CARLOS ORTIZ/@cfortiz_dandc / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)Buy Photo

During my undergraduate days at the University of Montana, I lived right across the street from a brewery. That brewery, Kettlehouse, featured the beer that made me fall in love with craft, the beer that made me forsake the tasteless, yellow, fizzy stuff. (Though I still am the biggest proponent for Genny Light in Rochester.)
Kettlehouse’s Cold Smoke Scotch Ale was the beer that changed the game for me. At that time, I didn’t have anyone to share my newfound love of beer with. I had my small circle of friends, but they were relatively uninterested in my new passion. Fast forward 10 years and now it’s insanely easy to reach out to multiple people through social media, at various bars and breweries, and festivals. It’s easier than ever to form lasting connections, trade and discuss beer.
I want this space to be a place where we can discuss beer. I’m from Rochester and I know the local beer scene because I am a part of it. I’m a longtime member of the Upstate New York Homebrewers Association and an advocate for good beer shared with good friends creating good conversation.

Thirst for more: Brewing, distilling business is booming

Rochester features a thriving, evolving and growing beer scene. It’s a great time to be a craft beer drinker in this region. There are some excellent online forums where you can connect with like-minded people. There are also some excellent bars, breweries, bottle shops and restaurants where you can explore.
Monroe Avenue staple Acme Bar & Pizza is one of my favorites. When I need an after-work bite and drink, it’s usually a simple decision to go to Acme. The food is equally easy: usually a slice of broccoli pizza (maybe pineapple, if I’m feeling adventurous). But it’s never easy for me to know what I’m going to drink, because the stock in those wall-to-wall, bumper-sticker adorned coolers is constantly changing.
Making my decision really boils down to three factors: season, freshness and habit.
•You have to consider the time of year to figure out what might be available and what might be in season. In the winter, the selection often leans toward heartier stouts and porters. But as we approach spring, the selection lightens a bit. You will see more maibocks, wheat beers and pilsners. It’s easier to drink in season, and it’s hard to fight the calendar (even though breweries insist on moving up seasonals every year).
•Freshness must always be considered. You don’t want to drink some stale India pale ale that was bottled eight months ago. And it’s much easier to pay attention to freshness as many breweries are now dating their bottles. If an IPA is more than three months old, I tend to avoid it.
•Habit is usually the determining factor. It’s usually late at night. I’m usually drained. Therefore, I most often pick a known quantity, a beer I enjoy and one I’m familiar with. Comfort usually trumps everything else.
The Acme coolers can be perilous if you don’t approach them with a healthy level of respect and a plan of action. On a recent visit, I was confronted with some familiar faces and many new options. Let’s take a look at some options that I considered to wash down that delicious thin-crust Acme slice.
Genny Light
No joke, no snark. This is my all-time favorite beer. It’s what I grew up with. It’s always in my fridge. Every day when I drive to work, I pass the Genesee Brewery on St. Paul Street.
I don’t understand the scorn that Genny Light garners from many. It’s a classic American light lager. It’s miles ahead of Coors Light, Bud Light, Labatt Blue Light or Miller Lite. It offers more flavor than those other options, and it’s usually fresh and readily available. It can usually be found in the bottom left corner of the Acme cooler. It’s cheap and reliable.

Genny Brew House releases craft IPA

Naked Dove 45 Fathoms Porter
Canandaigua’s Naked Dove is quietly producing some of the best beer in this region. When it comes to dark, malty and German, it’s really tough to beat the fine beers being churned out by brewmaster Dave Schlosser, who had previous brewing stints at Genesee and Rohrbach. You can usually find some of his creations on draft at various locations in our area.
Naked Dove’s 45 Fathoms Porter is unquestionably my favorite. The body of this beer is thicker than the ABV suggests. It features a healthy amount of roastiness, some light chocolate, herbal hop bitterness, subtle coffee flavors and subtle smokiness. It’s a local winner. And like Genny Light, you can almost always be certain this one is fresh.

Try these Canandaigua brewpubs

Bell’s Amber Ale
I was among those who were super excited when it was announced a few years back that Michigan brewing legend Bell’s would finally be available in the upstate market. Like Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing or Oregon’s Deschutes Brewing, Bell’s brews some of the best standard offerings around. The Amber Ale is no exception. It offers a great balance of toasted malts, caramel notes, and a slightly citrus and herbal bite from the hops. When it’s fresh, it’s really hard to go wrong here.
Stone Brewing Enjoy By 3.14.15 IPA
This “devastatingly fresh double IPA” was available on Acme’s premium draft tower. The bar usually features four different limited or harder-to-find options on draft. This one comes from the hopped-up brewers in Escondido (San Diego County), California. The Enjoy By series is a brilliant stroke of marketing. Right on the label of the beer, it tells you that you need to drink this beer by a certain date to fully appreciate its awesomeness. I’ve enjoyed many of the beers in this series, but this current iteration has easily been my least favorite. It was syrupy (really heavy-bodied), almost cloyingly sweet, and super oniony. Others in the series have been brighter and danker.
So after all that, what did I pick? What would you have picked? I went with the Lagunitas New Dogtown Pale Ale. It’s a known hoppy quantity and it went really well with my pizza.
St. Paddy’s Day Picks
Irish Red Ales aren’t a particularly sexy style. The same can be said for Dry Irish Stouts. They don’t really excite most hardcore craft beer nerds and they don’t elicit frenzied reactions from most beer drinkers. But with the approach of St. Patrick’s Day, the one holiday where we are all Irish, I thought I would offer up some of my favorite beers to mark the occasion.
•Roc Brewing Cullinan’s Revival — Named in honor of Roc Brewing owner and founder Chris Spinelli’s maternal grandfather, this local option is a great choice for your St. Patrick’s Day activities. Coming in at 5 percent alcohol by volume, Cullinan’s is a well-balanced, well-rounded example of the style. It’s got some nice malt sweetness that is rounded up by an earthy hop character.
•Dundee Irish Red Lager — This example from the brewing behemoths on St. Paul Street is under-appreciated. It’s good, it’s local, and it’s readily available. It’s a really simple, well-executed beer. I generally appreciate all of their offerings, but this one is especially nice, offering a solid blend of malt sweetness and a tad bit of hoppy bite.
•Rohrbach Patty’s Irish Cream Ale — This seasonal favorite comes from Rochester’s craft beer pioneer. This beer is distinctly European as it features English hops and is a bit creamier than the other selections. Named after founder John Urlaub’s wife, this Rohrbach original is one that you can keep heading back to as you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
•Moylan’s Dragoons Irish Dry Stout — This is an American take on a traditional Irish style. Think Guinness but done by an American craft brewery. This one comes from California and is incredibly roasty, dry, and rich. And like the others on this list, it’s easily sessionable as it comes in at 5 percent alcohol by volume. It’s available in a 22-ounce bottle at area bottle shops.
•Great Lakes Conway’s Irish Red Ale — Our friends from Cleveland brew some of the most straightforward and accessible beers in this market. The Conway’s Irish Red is no exception to this. It’s a bit heavier than the other entrants on this list as it comes in at 6.5 percent alcohol by volume. But by being a bit heftier, it offers more malt complexity and is much breadier. It’s a go-to of mine for certain, and it should be readily available at most Wegmans.

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Beer columnist Will Cleveland. (Photo: Annette Lein/@bikebizzle/ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Beer talk
Let’s make this a conversation, let’s educate each other and let’s have fun. You can always reach me on Twitter (@WillCleveland13), email (, and Facebook (
Local pick
Beer writer Will Cleveland puts Roc Brewing Cullinan’s Revival at the top of his list for St. Patrick’s Day brews. See his choices on page 5C


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