For me, the most enjoyable part of drinking craft beer is geeking out about it. I love connecting with brewers and talking about their processes, but some of my relationships never go beyond the grocery shelf. If I could fly out to Fort Collins to enjoy the scenery with a New Belgium brewer on a Tuesday or hop over to Michigan to indulge in a Founders Breakfast Stout with the crew, I would. Sometimes, even driving twenty-minutes to CB Craft Brewers for a Joe’s Latte Nitro in Honeoye Falls, New York is tough.
It isn’t all hopeless for my beer relationships. Once a year, I reconnect with some of the country’s finest brewers for one night at Flour City Brewers Fest in Rochester, New York. This year, I perused the selection with 400 fellow VIP enthusiasts and tasted some great craft beer before the remaining 3,000 general admission guests filed in.
Celebrating its 22nd year as a festival, FCBF housed over 60 craft breweries under pavilions at the Rochester Public Market on August 18. The festival was hosted by Rochester’s own, Rohrbach Brewing Company and owner, John Urlaub, said his mission was to create an all inclusive event for local, state and out-of-state breweries.
“We try to focus on having the brewers here and we take good care of them. It’s really important that they want to come,” Urlaub said. “Having the brewers here means you can talk to them and we think the festival goers enjoy that too.”
So how did this smaller, Rochester-centric festival attract out-of-state breweries such as Founders Brewing Company, Uinta Brewing Company (Salt Lake City, Utah) and Great Lakes Brewing Company (Cleveland, Ohio)? According to Urlaub, it started by forging strong relationships with distributors like TJ Sheehan and Lake Beverage Corporation, who represent these great brands. Building and maintaining these connections are very important to Urlaub and his motto carried over to even the smallest details at this year’s event.
The festival was organized to encourage conversation between enthusiasts and brewers. Booths occupied the V-shaped pavilion, allowing tasters to easily find the establishments they were looking for. Music played by festival opener, Teagan Ward, and headliner, a bluegrass band from South Florida called, The Grass is Dead, flowed through the venue and provided lively tunes for the crowd to sway to. A variety of Rochester’s finest food trucks, such as Le Petit Poutine, Jeremiah’s Tavern and The Meatball Truck Co., cooked savory foods to satisfy the beer munchies.
But back to the beer line up. This year, FCBF presented its largest and most diverse group of breweries on its roster. Many establishments were festival veterans, such as Southern Tier Beer Co., Crafty Ales and Lagers and Saranac Brewing, who brought experimental recipes and old time favorites. Other institutions were newcomers, such as Young Lion Brewing Company, which opened its doors in June in Canandaigua, New York.
Bill Miller, assistant brewer at Young Lion, commented on how the young institution was approached by Rohrbach and prompted to reserve a spot at the 2017 festival.
“[The Rohrbach team] sent notices out to the local breweries because it is a Rochester beer festival first and foremost and being a new larger brewery, I think they [Rohrbach team] wanted to help us get our name out there,” Miller said.
Canandaigua is about a 40-minute drive from the city of Rochester, which could potentially categorize Young Lion as an outsider, but Miller said the team felt right at home at the festival.
“Everyone has been super welcoming and willing to help us get our name out there and learn the community a bit better,” Miller said.
Flour City Brewers Fest showcased a variety of institutions in terms of size and location, but it also casted a great mix of tasters and brewers. Kate Sharp, a sales representative for Founders Brewing Company for its Western, New York region, said the representation of women at the festival was up-lifting.
“Founders is very committed to diversity and hiring women, which is really nice in this industry because sometimes you don’t see a lot of women,” Sharp said. “If you look up and down, the amount of ladies that are here is so great.”
I went to the festival with my dad and we divided our palates to conquer at least a portion of the 150-plus brews. While my dad leaned towards darker and bolder beers, I drank fruity wits and sours. We both agreed on a favorite, however, which was Warlock Imperial Stout brewed by Southern Tier Beer Co. This dark beauty retained a frothy head and smelled like my favorite autumn spices. The brew had medium to heavy body and tasted like pumpkin pie, but wasn’t cloying to the palate. While we loved this brewery’s Pumking Imperial Ale and buy a six pack every October, we thought the subtle coffee notes in the Warlock added more depth to its flavors.
My dad and I had a wonderful time a this year’s Flour City Brewers Fest. I enjoyed speaking with representatives from my favorite breweries and getting to know the newer establishments was enlightening. I was born and raised in Rochester, but after attending FCBF, I think I got to know my city better. Urlaub’s mission was to give Rochesterians a chance to celebrate their hometown, but I think he achieved much more—he embraced a national community that contributes great products and now Rochester’s craft beer friend circle is a little wider.