In keeping with its image as a hip and lively city, Rochester has a booming local drinks industry. It’s mostly craft beers, but you’ll find vineyards and distilleries too. And there are plenty of places to enjoy cocktails, both traditional and locally-crafted. In fact, I seem to have spent much of my recent visit drinking my way around Rochester!
Craft Beers in Rochester
With more than 20 breweries in and around the city, Rochester has been named one of the top cities for beer in the United States. A law passed in 2013 granted licences to small breweries who purchased most of their raw materials from local farms, and the business took off. What is astounding about the craft beer scene in Rochester is the level of experimentation and innovation, resulting in a massive variety of styles and flavours to suit every palate.
Our first stop was at Rohrbach’s, close to the Rochester Public Market. Founded in 1991 – when craft beverages were still largely unknown – the Rohrbach Brewery was the first craft brewery in Rochester. Visitors can choose from a range of ales and ciders – I enjoyed the blueberry ale – as well as delicious German and American food. You can also take a tour of the brewery (Saturdays 11am-4pm, every hour on the hour).
The Genesee Brew House
Dating back to 1878, the Genesee Brew House is the oldest brewery in New York State, and one of the oldest in the country. Its production is too large for it to be classed as a craft brewery, but it is a microbrewery with some well-known labels such as Genesee Cream Ale. Again, there is lots of experimentation, often in collaboration with other local breweries.
Take a tour of the brewery (see website for times) before trying a flight of different beers. My favourite was the Happy Pilsner, which had a slightly fruity flavour. And, before you leave, climb to the top of the building for a fabulous view of Rochester’s High Falls.
Distilleries in Rochester
Distilling is not as widespread as brewing but there are some small distilleries in the Finger Lakes Region. In the city of Rochester itself is the Black Button Distillery, the first distillery to open after the end of Prohibition. Like the local breweries, Black Button uses local ingredients: 100% of its raw materials are sourced from within New York State. The main product is bourbon, but they also make gin and vodka.
Tours take place at weekends when there is no production. After we looked round the production facility we stopped for a tasting. We started with the gin, which had a slight citrus taste, and then it was bourbon, made from at least 60% corn. The next one was Apple Pie Moonshine – my favourite, quite sweet, with a strong apple flavour. We finished with a bourbon cream, a bit like Baileys and popular for adding to coffee.
Vineyards… and a Wine Festival
Although not part of the main Finger Lakes wine region, Rochester has two wineries of its own, and several others within easy reach. We visited the Casa Larga Vineyard, which has been producing award-winning wines since 1974.
It was the day of the Purple Foot Festival, which takes place each year at harvest time. There were hayrides around the vineyard, wine tasting and a craft fair. And there was grape stomping, where children – and adults too – could take off their shoes and trample grapes in a bucket (hence the name “Purple Foot”). A perfect day out for the whole family.
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