Rochester’s Vibrant Brewing Past And Present

_57-1In the last week I discussed Bartholomay Brewing Co. of Rochester, NY in a couple of contexts. One was an 1884 “adulterants” brouhaha where the company led a robust industry response.

The other was the company’s continued pre-eminence in 1907, a time when nine operating breweries were still left in the city but the looming spectre of national Prohibition lent a memorial note to area brewing.

In fact, Bartholomay had amalgamated with Genesee Brewing and Rochester Brewing Company in 1889. The package was sold to British capitalists under a public offering. This was a period when some 80 American breweries were bought by British investors, hungry for rich profits in pre-income tax times.

The takeover winnowed beer competition in the city despite that nine production units still existed in 1907. At some point, Rochester Brewing’s facility separated from the merged Bartholomay as Rochester Brewing was one of five breweries which opened independently in 1933 after Repeal.

Louis Wehle, whose family had been brewers at Bartholomay, was a successful baker during Prohibition. He reinvested money from that business to buy the Genesee plant and part of nearby Bartholomay, and that became the post-Pro Genesee Brewery. It was family-owned for many decades. In the last generation it was sold to a management group and continued as High Falls Brewing, as many readers will recall.

A few years ago, a Costa Rican brewing and refrigeration company bought High Falls via its North American Breweries, a holdco which owns various craft operations around the country including Magic Hat in Vermont and Pyramid/Portland Brewers in the northwest.

High Falls resumed its old name, Genesee Brewery, after the last purchase.


Genesee still makes cream ale,  a genre discussed earlier on these pages and a tangible connection to 19th century brewing in New York State albeit the formula is a modern one. It’s still a good drink, on the sharp side, famously creamy at least on draft. Somehow it suits the local foods and provides a good foil to the sweet local (non-vinifera) wines in the region.

Genny also has an active craft line, continuing some of the High Falls innovations and introducing others. Its Genesee Brew House, a visitor centre and pilot brewery, is a noted attraction on the historic Genesee river and High Falls.

Genny is the sole survivor of that group of five to start up again in ’33. Cataract Brewing closed in 1940, American Brewing in 1950, and a merged Standard Brewing and Rochester Brewing in 1970. Further details are available in this crisp report by Alan Morrell from the Democrat & Chronicle, itself a survivor of the 19th century (and one in whose columns played out part of the additives commotion of 1884).

Today, there are many craft breweries and brewpubs in the region, indeed the state as a whole (almost 300). Brewing has revived to emulate if not exceed anything seen in the 19th century. An attractive feature is that old-established companies such as A-B in Baldwinsville (near Syracuse), Genesee in ROC, and F.X. Matt in Utica continue along with many more newbies. They are all in it together.

Note re images: the image of three bottles from Bartholomay Brewing Co. was sourced from this eBay listing, here. The second image was also sourced from an eBay listing, here. All trade marks and other intellectual property therein belong to their lawful owner or authorized users. The images are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.