Rohrbach Brewing Co. near the Rochester Public Market (Photo by Gerry Szymanski)
By SALLY PARKER
When it comes to the Rochester area's signature drink, few will quibble: This region is best known for wine. Spread over 4,000 square miles of undulating hills, the Finger Lakes wine region produces more wine than any other east of the Rocky Mountains.
The climate and soil around the five biggest Finger Lakes are perfect for growing native, vinifera and hybrid grapes. In the last decade alone, wineries in the region have nearly doubled in number to about 100-and wine experts and travel writers are singing their praises.
Finger Lakes wines have an acidity and crispness that pair deliciously with food, and they regularly win gold medals at top international competitions. The rieslings crafted here are world-class; the cabernet franc, arguably the region's leading red, is fragrant and spicy. Among the wineries turning heads in the wine world are Chateau Lafayette Reneau, Dr. Konstantin Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars, Hermann J. Wiemer Vineyard, Heron Hill, Ravines Wine Cellars, Red Newt, Swedish Hill and Standing Stone.
Craft beer has a footing too. When John Urlaub opened a microbrewery in the South Wedge in 1991, he was tapping an unmet desire in the U.S. for more full-flavored, Old World-style beer. He named his brewery Rohrbach Brewing Co. for a town in Germany, where on a trip he was inspired to make craft brews.
Today the brewery and tasting room are in a renovated building on Railroad Street next to the Rochester Public Market. The brewery offers Saturday tours and samples of six brews; Rohrbach also operates a brewpub in Gates.
Other microbreweries have followed. Custom BrewCrafters arrived in 1997. It makes the Frog Grog at Jeremiah's Tavern and many other custom brews at its Honeoye Falls brewery, which offers tours and tastings of 23 beers and root beer. One of the newest to the scene is ROC Brewing. Launched on Union Street in 2010, the brewery makes 10 beers, from a golden pale ale to an oatmeal stout. Its location in the East & Alexander area returns microbrewing to downtown. Indeed, once upon a time there were many breweries in downtown Rochester. They perched on the banks of the Genesee River, harnessing the enormous power of High Falls. Of those, Genesee Brewing Co. remains as the eighth-largest brewing company in the U.S. Since 1878, it has overlooked the falls from its St. Paul Street campus, where in addition to its own beer it makes Mike's Hard Lemonade and other products.
Distilleries have made an entrance in recent years, many of them sister operations of Finger Lakes wineries-including Six Mile Creek, Knapp, Rock Stream and Hidden Marsh. They create small-batch distillations of wine-based and honey vodkas, smooth-as-silk liqueurs, brandies infused with seasonal fruits and-a special favorite in wine country-grappa. The fragrant Italian brandy is made from the leftovers of wine production.
© Rochester Business Journal