Monday, June 8, 2009

It Reminds Me Of Home

As I may or may not have mentioned here before, I'm not a native Madisonian - having moved here a few years ago from, most directly, Chicago - but having grown up all over Northern Ohio. It wasn't until I moved out of Ohio that the concept of "regional" beer really meant anything to me. Because some brands were so pervasive, it was hard to believe that they simply weren't available everywhere. Of course, today Great Lakes is a good example of this, but when I was in Cleveland, Great Lakes was a good brewpub and that was about it. They didn't, as the kids say, "blow up" until I had left.

For example, I had a keg of Leinenkugel's Red at my 21st birthday in Toledo, OH. Because Leinie's was so widely available, it didn't really occur to me, at that time, that Leinie's was as rare of a treat as it really was. That maybe the people of Kentucky or even Pennsylvania had no idea what Leinie's was. Even today, Leinie's brews somewhere in the neighborhood of 200K bbl of beer a year - a significant number to be sure, but, for the most part its distribution doesn't leave the Midwest (though, as we've discussed in the past, this is rapidly changing as Miller is looking to exploit Leinie's for every last dollar it can possibly provide).

Another example of the opposite idea - a close regional brewer that I had no idea existed until much, much later - is Yuengling. Originally from PA, Yuengling never made it into Ohio, instead choosing to remain on the Atlantic Coast and into the South. Here I was, one state removed from a regional giant and I had no idea it even existed. As an interesting sidenote to my discovery of Yuengling, when I first ran across it I was in the deep South and had heard of their Florida brewery. Until last year I didn't know it was even a Pennsylvania brewery and the Florida location was just a satellite.

Other regional breweries abound: Alaska, New Belgium (recent expansion notwithstanding), Harpoon, Shiner, and Saranac just to name a few.

And, now, again, the first regional brewery I was aware of as a regional brewery: Genesee Brewing Company, Rochester, NY. Before Leinie's Red, my first beer experiences almost all involved Genesee Cream Ale. My uncle, living in Canton, OH, had (probably still has) a kegerator that was always stocked with Genesee Cream Ale. Light, sweet, and creamy, we would go down to the basement to ... ahem ... "check on ... uhhh ... something" and sneak a quarter of a pint glass of Genesee before anyone would think we were up to no good. Later, of course, we dropped the pretensions.

I have no idea if Genesee was brewing in the intermediate period between, say, 1996 and today. According to the article, in 2000 it was bought out by a regional brewing group called North American Brewing, which also owned Labatt's USA and Seagram's wine-cooler-like-things called "Escapes". The name was changed from Genesee to High Falls. Like Schlitz here in Wisconsin, Genesee is making a comeback. Where Schlitz was the go-to beer for millions of college students in the 50s and 60s here in Wisconsin and the Northern Midwest, so Genesee was the go-to beer for young adults in the Eastern Industrial Midwest of Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The $10M renovations to the brewery are expected to boost the local Rochester, NY economy. A marketing push will remind those who paid $.25 for cans of Genny Light in the 60s that Genny Cream Ale and Genesee Brewing Company are a point of industrial New York pride at a time when Kodak (also based in Rochester) is hurting and Buffalo, just a few miles East on I-90, is devastated. Indeed, just in recent weeks the renovations have added dozens of new jobs in Rochester and Buffalo to the over 200 jobs that the brewery already provides.

1 comment:

  1. My first exposure was also Gennie creams 7oz bottles at the family reunions in Ohio. I had a Uncle who was a beer distributor. Burger, Hudepold, P.O.C. Genessee, Rolling Rock and others I also drank Little Kings, I miss the Little Kings.


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