The Genesee Tap Room sits on the best restaurant real estate in Rochester, and each week hundreds of people, both locals and visitors from out of town, flock there to gawk at the waterfall and the gorge. By all accounts, the 5-year-old pub is a stunning success, a large part of which is due to the little 20 barrel brewhouse that sits in the back corner, in the shadow of the main brewery’s monolithic vats.
It’s brewer Dean Jones’ playground, where he’s left alone to make the beer he wants. He wouldn’t let it be any other way.
Jones is everything you’d want in an artisan. You couldn’t picture him in anything other than a Dickies work shirt. He’s talkative and not one to mince words, and he weaves expletives into his conversation in a way that hearkens back to his Military days. Still, Jones brings a big smile, a bigger heart, and a roll-upyour-sleeves earnestness to the Rochester brewing community.
In 1987, freshly out of the Marine Corps, Jones followed his wife to State College, Pennsylvania and took a job in a gun shop, where he befriended the owner of the Happy Valley Brewing Company, one of the first microbreweries in the country. He left the world of firearms to apprentice in beer, then went on to study brewing at the Siebel Institute prior to unleashing himself upon the brewing world.
After brewing school, Jones took a job at G. Heilmann in Florida, then worked his way across the country, from Florida to New Hampshire to Michigan. He rode the first wave of craft beer through the ‘90s as a brewery equipment installer, brewer and industry consultant. One day, while working in Detroit, he heard about a job offer at a small brewpub in Rochester called “Bru”, where his blonde ale won a World Beer Cup. He hasn’t left the area since. From Bru, Jones went on to a 5 year stint at the Wagner Valley on Seneca Lake in Lodi, before coming to Genesee five years ago.
When he took the job, Jones didn’t expect to make a big splash on the local beer scene. For one thing, it was a much smaller community. Also, Genesee didn’t exactly know what to do with this new, comparatively miniscule pilot brewery. “The initial plan was just to do pilot brews, see if something took off, and make it just for consumption in the building,” Jones explains. “We wanted to bring people into this building and expose them to beer that makes them say “Wow, this is from Genesee. How cool is that?’
The beer scene then took off. Rochester’s craft beer mania created a market too tempting to ignore. Genesee Tap Room beers now sell from supermarkets and tap handles all over the city. And Jones uses both his facility and knowledge to help fledgling craft breweries as they start up. “What I find really, really cool is the love we get from our craft brewery, the 585 Brewers’ group, and the collaboration.”
Perhaps Jones’ most well-known beer is his Salted Caramel Porter, which is a highly anticipated release every year. Still, it’s not the beer that brings him the most joy. Jones’ heart lies in the Scotch ales, oatmeal stouts, and pilsners that formed the core of his brewing experience, and connect him to the larger historical brewing traditions of the world. He expresses an enthusiasm for German brewing tradition that borders on reverence, and remains committed to brewing in that style, and to keeping the majority of his beers culturally accurate.
It takes a lot of time and commitment, and that mentality doesn’t always jibe with the mindset that many new breweries and new craft beer fans share. Still, Jones views that respect for tradition as vital to being a good brewer, even at a time when the market prizes the extremes of hoppiness and alcoholic punch. “There’s so many brewers out there going ‘I have the best IPA,” he says, and I think they’re really cutting off their noses to spite their face. When you think you know it all, in 10 seconds, you don’t know shit.”
Needless to say, Jones won’t be jumping on the New England IPA Craze. “I really don’t care about being relevant. I’m a firm believer that, if you make good, clean beer of a good, historic style, you’re going to survive. The beers I make might be old school, but they’re of historic relevance, they taste spot-on, and they’re made with our water and our grain, which makes them different from anybody else’s. Is the Salted Caramel Porter the beer I’m proud of? No. I’m proud of the pilsner that came out in the bottle. If you forget where you come from, you’re lost.”