During a walk across the Pont de Rennes in High Falls on a cool, early September afternoon, the saccharine scent of boiling wort hung heavy in the air.
It’s a scent that has been a part of daily life for people living in the neighborhood the Genesee Brewery, the 144-year old Rochester institution, calls home. Nowadays, the wort aroma mingles with the smell of french fries and burgers on the grill, alongside chocolate and fruit from whatever concoction Dean Jones, brewmaster at Genesee's Pilot Brewery, is cooking up.
The pilot brewery, a newer addition to the Genesee campus, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday. In its comparatively short lifetime, the Brew House has become a local institution, turning the brewery from a manufacturing site into a tourist destination. Its second-story balcony, which offers a pristine view of the falls, is a haven for countless visitors to Rochester, many of whom feature the view in Instagram posts. The first floor of the Brew House offers a walk through the history of the Genesee brewery.
“Over the past 10 years, we’ve invested over $100 million dollars into this campus,” Mary Beth Popp, vice president of communications and development for Genesee parent company FIFCO USA, said as she sat at a hightop table in the Brew House’s first floor museum. “One of the most important investments we made, one of the most significant investments, was the $4 million we used to transform this into the Genesee Brew House, and once you make an investment like that, you do everything you can to protect that investment.”
The Genesee Brew House opened in 2012 after the brewery repurposed an unused two-story brick building on the campus that was built in 1912. The opening coincided with a series of improvements to Genesee’s aging brewery space.
It wasn’t a novel idea: Large breweries around the country had already begun embracing new roles as tourist destinations. From Popp’s view, the Brew House served two distinct functions — it’s a restaurant and historical gateway to the brewery, but also a testament to the company’s commitment to the neighborhood.
“We started getting a lot more interested in the neighborhood and the community around the brewery once this opened,” Popp said. “We started doing small projects like cleaning up the park, getting to know our neighbors better. That had a ripple effect.”
After the Brew House opened, the city of Rochester began to pay more attention to the area surrounding it. When the city began its ROC the Riverway initiative, it included several projects in close proximity to the brewery. Among them were the $1.6 million into the Brewery Line Trail and improvements to High Falls Terrace Park
, which overlooks the falls and years back was mostly obscured by overgrowth, and improvements to the Pont de Rennes. This year’s state budget includes $6 million toward developing High Falls gorge into an urban state park
Rich Perrin, commissioner of the city’s Department of Environmental Services, said the Brew House set a precedent for economic potential in the neighborhood and prompted government investment into that area.
He also noted that representatives from Genesee, which he called a “great partner” with the city, have served on the advisory committees for the High Falls Terrace Park, Pont de Rennes, and High Falls State Park projects.
“Genesee Brewery’s decision to open a public Brew House showed a commitment to establishing a culture of vibrancy in the High Falls area in alignment with the city’s vision,” Perrin said.
Two people have been particularly instrumental in developing the Brew House into what it is today: Jones and Paul Constantine, retail manager and archivist for the Genesee Brew House. Jones set out to create small-batch Genesee brews, reviving beloved recipes of the past and introducing experimental takes on some stalwart beers.
Constantine, meanwhile, went to work setting up the first floor museum, which tells the brewery’s history from its founding to the modern era.
“I mention this all the time on tours, but I really feel like it’s part of the fabric of Rochester, of the city,” Constantine said. “People have stories, people have memories. That’s really what struck me nine, 10, 11 years ago, was how much people were invested in this and feeling for the brand. It’s a story of survival.”
Jones echoed the sentiment, describing the Brew House as a place where people revisit Rochester memories.
“The memories people now feel comfortable voicing in this establishment is amazing,” Jones said. “People tell me some incredibly personal stories — their dad was buried with a six-pack of Genny red eyes —and they’re crying when they’re saying this.”
In celebration of 10 years of the Brew House, Jones is reviving some classics from the decade. Among them are Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter, a collaboration with the South Wedge’s Hedonist Artisan Chocolates.
As city development in the neighborhood moves forward and Genesee toasts to its first decade, Popp hopes for a future where Genesee continues to serve as both a source of local pride and a gathering place for both those who call the neighborhood home and Rochester sightseers.
“We’re always going to continue to build our relationships with our community and beautify this area, so our employees can come to work at a place where they have pride,” Popp said.
When asked what the future holds for the city and Genesee’s plans for High Falls and the space around the brewery, Jones laughed.
“I don’t know, I brew beer,” he said.
Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or [email protected].