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"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Beer Travel: Rochester, New York

This post comes from Matt, the Beer Baron. Follow him at @geekcanuck

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

We were recently planning  a weekend getaway and mulling over our go-to list of favourite cities in driving distance, including Lexington, Chicago, Montreal, Detroit and Toronto. However, we’d recently been to most of them and were itching for a new adventure, so the Clockwatching Tart had the bright idea to visit the Finger Lakes region of New York state, specifically Rochester.

It didn’t take much online research for me to realize that Rochester has a very good craft beer scene and where there is craft beer, there is good food (as well as bearded dudes, pun-named beers, and sparsely decorated concrete tap rooms with friendly vibes). Just like that, we were off to Rochester!

The drive from London, Ontario to Rochester, New York is really only about three-and-a-half hours but with the border crossing, it was more like four hours -- which meant we were ready for lunch! Our first stop on the way in was the Rohrbach Brewing Co. Buffalo Road Brewpub.

Rohrbach Brewing

The atmosphere inside was a bit of a throwback - less the aforementioned concrete tap room and more the wood-paneled, dimly lit and comforting bar you might remember from decades past. The service was friendly and the portion sizes were more than generous.

Rohrbach Brewing

I tried their Space Kitty Citra Double IPA and found it a little underwhelming. The most interesting beer I tried at Rohrbach was definitely their Rainbow Street IPA, which was meant to evoke rainbow sorbet through the use of milk sugar, raspberry puree, lime concentrate as well as tangerine and vanilla extracts. There was a lot going on and it was only lightly carbonated but the raspberry and lime came through clearly and it was a nice way to start our adventures in Rochester.
Final score: 2.5/5

AJ's Beer Warehouse

Our next stop was AJ’s Beer Warehouse, which was the mostly highly rated local bottle shop on - and for good reason. The shop itself was spacious, which isn’t as common as you might expect - some stores make you feel like you are going to knock something over any time you turn around. The staff also took the time to show me around and point out a lot of the most popular options from local breweries, which was a nice touch. They also had a very good craft cider selection, much to the delight of the Clockwatching Tart.

AJ's Beer Warehouse

I focused on choosing mostly local beer from New York State, which also meant I was able to stick to my guns and not buy any Founders KBS. While KBS (and especially CBS) stouts are lovely, there is enough great beer in the world not to have to buy beer from companies who might not treat their employees particularly well. Of interesting note to Ontario beer nerds, there was a really prominent display of Collective Arts gose with guava, which was further proof of their goal to expand into the U.S. market.

Beers of New York State

I was more than happy with the little collection of local cans we left with. The only exception to the local can rule was a bottle of B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher, an absolutely wonderful oatmeal imperial stout from Hoppin’ Frog in Akron, Ohio that I discovered back during our early trips to Chicago. Final score: 4/5

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

After we checked into our hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn, which we chose for its pool and downtown location, but also had inexpensive parking and brightly lit hallways thanks to a large atrium), we walked to Fifth Frame Brewing Co., which immediately made us feel at home. It is the type of taproom you’ve encountered countless times if you visit many newer craft breweries. You feel relaxed but also excited at the possibility of finding just the right thing from the draft list. Thankfully, Fifth Frame didn’t disappoint in that regard. There was cider for the Clockwatching Tart and I had Bounce House, a triple-fruited gose with guava, mango and pineapple that was just wonderfully aromatic and alluring.

Fifth Frame Brewing - Rochester

I followed that up with Pull Out Couch, a petite pastry stout with cocoa nibs and coffee that was really nicely balanced with lots of coffee up front. The coffee aspect was an important part of Fifth Frame, as they have lovely coffee bar and breakfast menu that tempted us to go back for breakfast (and cans of Bounce House to take home with us) the morning after. My only tiny complaint about Fifth Frame was that I couldn’t really figure out what their evening food menu was without looking at their website but overall it was fantastic.
Final score: 4.5/5

Nosh, Rochester

Dinner was proof of why the Clockwatching Tart and I travel so well together. She loves to map out places on Google Maps and make spreadsheets and itineraries; I just tend to just check out Ratebeer and be more spontaneous about things - but you definitely need both mentalities to have success. In this case, I think I just Googled “unique dining Rochester” and stumbled upon Nosh. A quick Lyft ride later, we were seated and had (very good) cocktails on the way.

Tuna Wonton Nachos

I don’t normally show photos of myself in these posts, but this one is fitting as I feel the dish is absolutely perfect. As you might remember, I’ve become an absolute nut for sushi-grade tuna and especially poke bowls so it should come as no surprise that I ordered the Ahi Noshos, which were a take on nachos using wontons instead of tortillas and covered with ahi tuna, cucumber daikon, salsa, seaweed and tobiko (fish eggs). It was only $14 and it seems to me that it should be on every menu in North America (albeit in smaller portion sizes) in the coming years.
Final score: 4/5

The Playhouse, Rochester

A few years back, we discovered our first retro arcade / craft beer bar in Lexington, Kentucky and ever since then, I look for them whenever we travel. Thankfully, Rochester once again came through, this time with The Playhouse. There was a combination of older fare like Frogger and Donkey Kong and more modern titles. The place was swarming with kids but made up for it by having Caffe Americano, a double stout with coffee and vanilla from Cigar City Brewing, on tap.

The Playhouse, Rochester

We ended up spending most of our time at a sit-down racing game before retiring back to the hotel for a well-deserved swim.
Final score: 3/5

Genesee Brew House

Before leaving Rochester, there was one last place I wanted to check out, the Genesee Brew House, which was equal parts museum, restaurant, pilot brewery, and tasting room. While not exactly a craft brewery, it was still an incredibly fun place to visit. We learned about the history of brewing in Rochester and checked out all the artwork on their cans and bottles over the years.

Genesee Brew House

We also had a flight at the tasting room where we discovered something the locals clearly already knew: that the Genesee Ruby Red Kölsch is absolutely wonderful. The ruby red grapefruit was fresh and strong on the nose and the beer itself was just really light and balanced and approachable, earning it’s “beer of summer” moniker. They had only recently released it and we’d seen people with the little, yellow cans around town, but this was our first chance to grab some for ourselves.

Genesee Brew House

The cans were sold out, but the next best thing was amazing deal on a filled growler along with two pint glasses for only $20, which I happily said yes to.

Clockwatching Tart

The Brew House itself is located right on the Genesee River and its High Falls, which made the stop all the more worthwhile.
Final score: 4/5

To cap off our trip, we were in a Wegman’s picking up a few things for friends and I stumbled upon 12-packs of the highly sought-after Ruby Red Kölsch. Given its close proximity to home, ease of getting around the city, emerging craft beer scene, good food, and location at the heart of the Finger Lakes region (spoiler alert: nearby Geneva, New York is adorable and awesome too), Rochester has now been added to my list of go-to cities.
Final score: 5/5  


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