The Cream Ales of Genesee

Writing earlier on the American brewing executive Louis Wehle, I dealt with aspects of Rochester’s Genesee Brewery post-Repeal. In a 2018 post I explained that when Genesee started up again in 1933, it hired a brewmaster who had worked in pre-Prohibition brewing. He stayed in that role until retirement in the 1950s.

That information was obtained from Louis Wehle’s c. 1960 memoir This was my Life, which I discussed in the post. Wehle was the main shareholder and driver of Genesee for decades following its restoration of brewing in 1933.

Examining the book again, on p. 41 Louis writes that he hired Charles Fromm as brewmaster of New Genesee.

He states that Fromm, a graduate as Louis was of the National Brewers Academy in New York, was brewmaster of the American Brewery in Rochester before Prohibition. Its formal name was American Brewing Co., and it operated from 1889 until 1920.

Louis is very complimentary to Fromm in his role to help restart Genesee, and states he only retired in 1959:

Charlie retired in 1959 and has been succeeded by his assistant Carl Myers, capable and efficient, who has been with Genesee for years.

Brewer Clarence Geminn, mentioned recently by Jeff Alworth, and others who have written on Genesee Cream Ale, is not referred to in Wehle’s book that I can see, but evidently was on the brewing team. Perhaps he became head brewer in 1960.

The nicely bound hardcover book bears no publication year, seemingly odd but it was issued privately by Louis, in about 1960. At one point he refers in the book to the elapse of “twenty seven years” since New Genesee was founded, which would make the year of writing 1960.

One of the post-WW II beers introduced by Genesee was a cream ale. This is not the current Genesee Cream Ale, which originated in 1960. For its arc, the recent post by Jeff Alworth is informative.

A Cream Ale at Genesee seems first to have emerged in 1948, or at least, it’s the first year for which I can find evidence. An ad on October 28, 1948 in the County Review stated, in part:

Linger over the malty-rich smoothness of GENESEE 12 Horse Ale and the clean, creamy taste of Genesee Cream Ale.

Many ads followed through the early 1950s, e.g. a 1950 ad in The Glens Falls Times:



The last evidence of Genesee’s pre-1960 cream ale I can find is this ad of December 10, 1954 in the Altamont Enterprise. It reads in part:

Genesee Lager Beer, Genesee 12 Horse Ale, and Genesee Cream Ale are available on draft in King-size Quarts, 12-oz. bottles, and flat-top cans.

It appears the brand name is Genesee Cream Ale, the term used in the 1950 ad copy. But “Light” is shown prominently too, a buzz word of the day – and still with us – so Light Cream Ale is a possible alternate name for the pre-1960 brand.

These early Cream Ale ads, as so much beer advertising then and now, avoid brewing specifics. Friendly-to-consumer superlatives conveyed the message: something rich, mellow, old-fashioned, and smooth.

Hence, we can’t tell how Cream Ale #1 was brewed or how it differed from the Genesee Cream Ale originated in 1960.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Louis Wehle’s book does not deal with brewing methods except for a Burton-style ale he went to great trouble to bring to his New York State breweries in the 1930s.

The terms cream ale, sparkling ale, present use ale, and lively ale have been subject to many interpretations and opinions. I’ve outlined before a plausible schema, based on expert brewers’ opinions published in the mid-1930s, but it is no sure guide to how the pre-1960 Genesee cream ale was brewed.

I think it’s interesting though that Genesee’s longtime head brewer, Charles Fromm, departed the company in 1959. When came time to bring cream ale back, I would assume new blood in the form of Clarence Geminn was assigned the task, with evident long-term, successful results.

As to the merits of modern Genesee Cream Ale, I liked it on draft in 1980s Rochester when it was probably, in that form, unpasteurized. A deli called Fox’s, still going strong I believe, served it ice-cold in solid glasses with a thick head. That was good, with a corned beef sandwich alongside.

In the Monroe and Goodman Streets district the clubs served oceans of Cream Ale, along with Genesee Beer. I always ordered the Cream Ale, or another regional beer before the craft period started in earnest.

A red or white hot with Genny, nothing better in that line.

Genesee Brewery has a large line of products today. Line extensions for Cream Ale have included a strong Imperial version, a dry-hopped, flavoured beer, etc. I haven’t tried these.

For my money though, I’d like to see a revival of what Louis Wehle brought to Rochester and Syracuse in the mid-1930s: a Burton pale ale brewed (at least) with 100% English ingredients. I described that beer with reference to period ads in this post.

Who better to do it than Genesee?

Note: source of image above is NYS newspaper archive as identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.






8 thoughts on “The Cream Ales of Genesee”

  1. Gary,

    While searching for more about my great grandfather, Charlie Fromm, I was thrilled to come upon your post! It is surprisingly difficult to find out any information about the relationship between Charlie and Louis Wehle. We’ve grown up hearing a different version of their history together and the formation of Genesee brewery following the prohibition (and Charlie’s role in that). We were told that they were close/best friends and partners in the brewery. My grandfather, Norman Carl Fromm, Sr., was also a brewmaster at Genesee for his career. He passed away in the 90’s so we aren’t able to get a more complete history on the Fromm involvement in Genesee. I wish I had thought to ask my grandparents (and my dad, who also worked at the brewery as a teenager, also deceased) more about the history of that relationship! Any further information you have on my great grandfather, Charlie, would be greatly appreciated as I’m trying to learn more about this part of our family history.

    Thank you so much, Lucinda (Fromm) Flowers

    • Thanks for your comment, it’s always nice to receive comments from descendants of those mentioned in my articles. Let me check back again on this and I’ll revert here soon.

      All best.


    • Lucinda, sorry for the delay to get back you. I checked the book, and Wehle did say too ” … hours meant nothing to him. He knew every phase of his business, and was a man who could be relied on to do a first-class job. Old Genesee for New Genesee needed men like that”.

      So that’s really all I could see or know of this gentleman but as Wehle mentions many people in the book, the lines on Charlie Fromm clearly show a strong admiration for his qualities. He doesn’t mention being a partner in the business, but it is quite possible that he had gone in with Wehle when New Genesee was set up. Wehle states many of his friends did invest in the new enterprise, and some had made money with him earlier, when Wehle owned the bakery business (sold in 1929).

      So that’s all I can add but hope it is of interest.

      Best wishes.

      • Gary,

        Your research is VERY much appreciated – I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to look back for any more mentions of Charlie Fromm. What you’ve provided above is very helpful!

        Thanks again, Lucinda (Fromm) Flowers

  2. Of my dozen or so posts on the ales – not just the cream ales, but excluding 12 Horse Ale – of Genesee since 1933, this can be said in very general summary:

    – Wehle’s Zett’s Brewery in Syracuse initially made a sparkling ale, out of the gate that is from Repeal in 1933 but Zett’s foundered in the late 1930s despite a rescue attempt by Genesee in 1934-1935

    – the re-organized Zett’s c. 1935 produced a genuine Burton pale ale using Burton Unions imported by Wehle and large casks for aging and dry-hopping. The malt and hops also were imported from England, as was a Burton brewer, Arthur Vaughan. That beer was called Old Stratford Ale.

    – With the closing finally of Zett’s some time in the late 30s, production of a similar beer shifts to Rochester, but using Genesee’s own malt. The ads (reproduced in my earlier posts) stress the light colour, so perhaps lager malt was being used or of similar colour. That beer is called Genesee Light Ale.

    – After WW II, seemingly first in 1948, Genesee Cream Ale, styled Light Cream Ale in some ads, bills itself in a way similar to prewar Light Ale. Perhaps it was the same beer, or at least similar. I doubt Burton Unions were still being used, but it is possible.

    – This Cream Ale seems to exit market by 1955.

    – a new Cream Ale is devised in 1960, by Clarence Geminn by many reports who was a brewmaster at Genesee although possibly not yet head brewer (see my discussion in text above).

  3. Genesee Cream Ale is something I’ve had only twice. The second time was in college when a friend bought it.

    The first time was at Ft. Sill when our gun crew training NCO bought it for us. That seems fairly remarkable looking back now. I wouldn’t have recalled that but for this post.

    • An interesting recollection, thanks.

      Fort Sill is out in Oklahoma, not at the time I believe a usual market for Genesee. I’d think the Services might have arranged for different regional beers to be available in the post exchanges, to reflect the differing origins of personnel.


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