From ales and IPAs to stouts and sours, Rochester, NY loves beer. And we have a bunch of awesome breweries to help quench that thirst. But don’t just take our word for it. Matador Network called Rochester the “best city for beer in the northeast” and Smarter Asset ranked us on the list for best cities for beer drinkers in the U.S.
To understand what makes Rochester a great beer city, we need to go back in history.
Rochester’s first brewery, Aqueduct Spring Brewery, opened in 1819 within the home of its brewer, Nathan Lyman. Shortly after, Rochester’s beer scene flourished – reaching 50 breweries at one point due to the city’s German influence – before dwindling down to only nine breweries in the early 1900s.
One of those nine was Genesee Brewing Company, which was founded in 1878 and is still around today. This staple is the oldest brewery in New York State and one of the oldest continually operating breweries in the entire country. For nearly 150 years, Genesee Brewing has made itself home in the High Falls district, named after the massive, 96-foot-tall waterfall in the middle of downtown Rochester. That waterfall serves more than just great sightseeing – the brewery once stored its product in the cool, dark caverns and gorges surrounding it.
In 2012, the Genesee Brew House opened next to the brewery as a beer destination. For the first time, Genesee lovers could truly experience the liquid gold. The 9,200 square-foot space tells the story of the iconic beer through interactive exhibits and multimedia content. Visitors can grab a meal at the restaurant which serves pub favorites or try experimental brews at its on-site pilot brewery. And good luck leaving the gift shop without a t-shirt or beer koozie in hand!
The popularity of homebrewing gave way to the emergence of craft breweries.
Rochester’s first craft brewery, Rohrbach Brewing Company, was also one of the first craft breweries in New York State! Rohrbach was founded in 1991, taking its name from Rohrbach, Germany, which inspired founder John Urlaub to bring craft beer to Rochester.
In an interview with Rochester Real Beer, Urlaub joked that the hardest part of starting the brewery was getting his brewer’s license. “There were so few breweries in New York at that time; no one at the State Liquor Authority could find an application!”
The brewery started out in the German House on Gregory Street but has since grown into two restaurant locations – its Buffalo Road Brewpub Restaurant with a large beer and food menu that includes some German specialties, and the Railroad Street Beer Hall, which includes a delicious list of wood-fired pizzas next to its production brewery.
Being around for over 30 years, Rohrbach Brewing has noticed the evolution of craft beer in Rochester. “In the beginning, we did all we could just to get people to try a flavorful beer,” said Urlaub to Rochester Real Beer. With the popularity of craft beer today, beer drinkers care about the beer’s quality, flavor and ingredients – as well as the atmosphere of a brewery. “We’ve always had a great crowd in Rochester. People here have always embraced good beer.”
Monroe County is now home to over two dozen craft breweries.
Thanks to Rochester’s craft beer trailblazers, there are over two dozen craft breweries to try. One of the newest is Strangebird, which was named the 2022 New York State Craft Brewery of the Year! Located on Marshall Street in downtown Rochester, Strangebird describes itself as “a place where you can drink hand-crafted beers and eat made-from-scratch food.” Its 24 rotating taps feature flavorful beer in a variety of styles, and the food menu has assorted seasonal snacks and sides, a few burgers and sandwiches, and an extensive list of pizza options.
The award-winning brewery opened its doors in late 2021 but tips its hat to the beer greats before it for laying the foundation. “I think the sense of community among Rochester’s breweries couldn’t happen without Genesee. They have been here from the jump, and they help many of the small breweries out by running analytics, troubleshooting, and giving general brewing advice,” said Strangebird founder and brewer, Micah Krichinsky.
Krichinsky graduated from the Master Brewer’s program at U.C. Davis and previously brewed at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware, providing industry experience – and perspective – from across the country. “There is a great community here in Rochester. We get together and have fun and help each other. That doesn’t happen everywhere,” said Krichinsky, explaining what makes Rochester’s beer scene different from other cities.
“This is a beer town. The community is filled with beer drinkers that have supported better beer stores for decades, and that is unique to Rochester,” said Krichinsky. “The beer drinking community helps sustain the breweries, but they also push us to be better.”
The craft beer community continues to grow – with Nine Spot Brewing anticipated to open right around the corner from Strangebird in November 2022.
Raise a Pint to Rochester
Whether you’re looking for a dog-friendly patio, family-friendly taproom, or perfectly paired pint with a tasty meal, our craft breweries have you covered. To help you sip your way across Rochester and Monroe County, we’ve put together a list of breweries by location.