High Falls Brewery and the split personality
By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish
The old joke goes, “how’s American beer like having sex in a canoe? They’re both fucking close to water.” For a long time that was true. After World War 2, American tastes had shifted toward light, thin, pale beer, and this style was produced by hundreds of regional breweries.
Most of those breweries are gone now, either swallowed up or forced into insolvency by the giant conglomerates. Many of the remaining regionals, like Utica’s F.X. Matt Brewery, have survived by repositioning themselves as craft brewers.
In Rochester, the High Falls Brewery straddles the line between artisan brewery and producer of mainstream lager. The former name of the brewery is still emblazoned on what’s been the signature beer of Western New York for most of the 20th century, and for us at least, no trip to Frontier Field is complete without a liberal amount of ice cold Genesee.
Sales of Genesee and Genny Light have declined, however, thanks to the huge marketing budgets of larger American and Canadian mega breweries. So under the watchful eye of Head Brewer Dave Sclosser, the brewery is reconciling the marketing of its traditional Genesee brands with the finding of new markets for its J.W. Dundee’s brand craft beers.
Currently, the Dundee’s line consists of Honey Brown Lager, American Pale Ale, American Amber Lager, and a rotating seasonal (currently Hefe-Weizen ). As well as sin-store availability, they’re going over huge in PaeTec Park and Frontier Field.
With its distinctive aluminum bottles, widespread presence, and a major award or two, the J.W. Dundee’s line of craft beers is carving out a Saranac-like niche in the Northeast. J.W.Dundee’s IPA, which made its debut at the Flower City Brewer’s Fest last weekend, should win some major street cred for the High Falls Brewery.
“This IPA should silence more than a few people who think that we can't/won't make some really hoppy beers,” says Dave Schlosser, High Falls’ head brewer. “I think all beers should have a balance to them, and our IPA is no different. It is certainly dominated by the hop aroma, flavor and bitterness, but there is a strong malt backbone to the beer that carries the hops nicely.”
While satisfying the beer snobs, High Falls refuses to abandon the beers upon which the company was built. Greg Stacy, Vice President of Marketing, sees tons of growth potential among the young hip crowd for that staple college campus generator, Genesee Cream Ale.
Stacy is taking a grassroots approach with the Screamer, personally holding tastings in bars, brainstorming with his team to develop new drinks (anyone for a cream and tan?), and giving away tons of cool promotional stuff. As a history buff himself, he’s trying to remind consumers that Genesee isn’t just a brand name, but a part of Rochester’s character and culture.
It’s working. According to Stacy, sales of Genny Cream Ale are on the upswing. Schlosser notices it too. “The funny part about it too is where it is growing,” he points out. “It certainly has grown in some of the younger more hip bars as a retro product, but it is also available in bottles at places like 2 Vine and Black and Blue”
High Falls has just launched a Cream Ale website, www.geneseecreamale.com.
It’s heartening that, as the brewery makes its transition to craft beers, it’s still optimistically growing the “beers of Rochester.” Whether you’re drinking a Dundee’s, a Cream Ale, or straight Genesee Beer, you’re patronizing a brewery that, while quite large, remains Rochester owned and operated, and more impressively, still here. When you consider the economic battery that our area has endured in recent years, that cold Genny starts to go down pretty smoothly.
Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org