If you’re like me and you enjoy really good beer, I am the bearer of good news! We have a new brewery in the Rochester area, and The VB Brewery out on 6606 State Route 96 in Victor is truly something special. Owned and operated by Brewmaster Tom Bullinger and his wife, Catherine (who recently retired in order to assist Tom at the brewery), The VB Brewery is nothing short of a labor of love in the truest sense.
Tom has hand-built much of the brewery, the tasting bar, the taps, and the entire brewing system, which is computerized and temperature controlled. You may read this and think you caught me in a lie; however Tom’s 30-year computer science background would beg to differ. He programmed the brewing system, himself, in order to ensure consistency, as well as to allow him the time to converse with patrons about the beer he devotes himself to.
The brewery opened its doors on January 16th of this year, though an official Grand Opening is slated for this weekend (March 1st and 2nd), complete with a wonderful mix of live music, as well as beer/food pairings featuring food from local restaurants.
Currently, Tom has twelve of his brews on tap, with plans to add more to the rotation, including a Belgian Quad (14% ABV) and a Bourbon Barrel Porter, made possible by the donation of a bourbon barrel from a friend of his. Tom offers $1 individual tastings, flights of four samples each, pints, and growlers, with plans for various sizes of kegs to follow. Tom also aims to have his beer featured at local restaurants, though there is no timeline for this yet. His hours are currently Thursdays from 1-5 PM, Fridays from 4-7 PM, and Saturdays from 1-6 PM, and he says Sunday hours are forthcoming.
During my conversation with Tom, I tried two of his craft beers and, having no idea what to expect, was thoroughly impressed. The first was the Smoked Porter (6.4% ABV, 30 IBUs), and the second was his Citra Cream Ale (5.5% ABV, 20 IBUs). Both were nothing short of unique and absolutely delicious! From the initial sips to the finish, both of these beers were extremely well-balanced and I could sense, without hesitation, that Tom knows how to put together a fine craft brew.
The Smoked Porter had just the right amount of smoke on the nose and on the palate, and the perfect body for a porter. An ideal amount of bitterness followed the smokiness, and the alcohol stayed nicely hidden away throughout, thanks to a complex (and TASTY) malt profile. The Citra Cream Ale was aromatic and like nothing I’d ever had before. With a floral and grapefruity nose of Citra hops, I have become accustomed to experiencing a nice light to medium-bodied beer to follow. This one, however, had the mouthfeel of a Cream Ale with only a faint hop presence on the palate. This beer would be absolutely perfect for anyone looking to acquire a taste for hops, starting with small steps. As I sipped this beer, two words came to mind: delightfully simple.
There is nothing simple, however, about Tom’s path toward the inception of The VB Brewery. Tom has been brewing beer for more than three decades, and was inspired into the process by a trip to Europe years ago, which took him through Germany and Belgium. He says that both the German wheat beers and pretty much everything Belgian captivated him, and reassured him that good beer existed, but was not widely accessible in the U.S. at the time. Upon his return home, he decided that if he wanted access to quality beer, he’d make it himself. After 27 years of home-brewing and honing his craft, he transitioned into brewing professionally, which he’s now been doing for three years, parting from his previous career in computer science. His professional brewing days began at another brewery, where he gained “valuable experience” in learning how to set up and operate larger-scale brewery, as well as how to brew beer at that level.
Tom pointed out that he makes a concerted effort to keep things local, getting the hops he uses from Bluebell Hopyard just down the road in Farmington. They currently only grow American hop varieties, forcing him to go elsewhere for European varieties like noble hops (Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, and Saaz varieties), and he is anxiously awaiting a local presence of quality malt houses from which to acquire his malts in the hopes that his beer can eventually be an entirely locally-based product.
Though he has now reached the professional ranks, he still very much retains the mindset of a home-brewer, and has not in any way forgotten his roots. In my hour with Tom, I began to feel like I was conversing with a professor on the subject, a professor intent on brewing many different styles, and putting his own unique spin on each. He is still a student of the game, not willing to rest on his laurels, yet he undoubtedly knows what he is doing – and we’re all going to reap the tasty benefits of his knowledge and experience.
What I found to be equally as impressive as his beer was his unwavering focus on teaching the art of brewing to brewers of all experience levels. He has scheduled a number of events, bringing together beer tasters, home-brewers, and brewing experts to talk about brewing and the beers they bring to share. It is part of his goal to host and nourish an open forum where brewers and tasters, alike can discuss what can be done to improve upon the beers, as well as what made them great. Once a month, on a Tuesday, he has scheduled “Community Brew Nights” for just this purpose. The next of these will be hosted on March 18th, from 6-10 PM, featuring guest brewer Ansel Eklund, who will be brewing a traditional Saison.
Tom also talked about hosting “Beer Appreciation Nights” where people can meet for a couple of hours, talk about brewing history and the brewing process, as well as taste a half-dozen or so beers. As if this wasn’t enough of a draw to check this place out, Tom is also featuring both extract and all-grain brewing classes, with each being approximately three and six hours, respectively, to take brewers through the process of brewing from start to finish.
Though Tom is just opening his doors, it’s abundantly clear that he brings with him a wealth of experience and know-how, which is apparent not only in the quality of his beers, but in his obvious passion for teaching the craft of brewing, something he knows a lot about. What sets his brewery apart from most I’ve visited is his revolving-door policy in divulging the same knowledge and expertise that guides him in producing great beer. As a self-proclaimed “beer nerd,” he is a purist at heart, and his willingness to share his craft (and his beer) with others will surely be what defines The VB Brewery as a stand-out in the Upstate New York beer community for years to come.