John Urlaub

Meet John Urlaub, owner of Rohrbach Brewing Company. I recently caught up with John at Rohrbach’s Production Brewery & Tasting Room to learn more about one of the city’s first craft breweries. A Rochester native and graduate of St. Bonaventure University, he worked for Kodak before starting the brewery. His Kodak career included several relocations, including Los Angeles where he tried his first craft beer, Anchor Steam; New York City where he discovered Manhattan Brewing Company and fell in love with the brewpub concept; and eventually to Rohrbach, Germany after which his brewery is named.

Rohrbach Brewing Company, established in 1991, officially opened their doors in 1992 at the German House in Rochester’s South Wedge neighborhood. John laughs telling me that the toughest part of starting the brewery was getting his brewer’s license. But he didn’t have trouble getting approval… it was actually finding the application. “There were so few breweries in New York at that time; no one at the State Liquor Authority could find an application!”

The brewery expanded in 1995 when they opened their brewpub on Buffalo Road, serving great food alongside their award-winning line-up of craft beer. That location, still going strong, was joined by their new production brewery and tasting room in 2008, located at 97 Railroad Street in Rochester’s historic public market district. The brewery is bustling every Saturday with market shoppers stopping in for tastings, tours, and growler fills. Being near the public market is reminiscent of the European markets John remembers from his time in Germany. ”Over there, every town has its own brewery,” he explains. “The move to Railroad Street has been great. People come to the market to get fresh, local, quality produce… and now they can get fresh local beer too! The kids that come in enjoy our new root beer and orange cream sodas. The farmers take our spent grain back to feed their livestock. We love being a part of the community here.”

When asked about the evolution of craft beer in Rochester and across the country, Urlaub reflects, “It’s been an incredible revolution. In the beginning, we did all we could just to get people to try a flavorful beer.” Over the years, he’s seen a shift from “micro” to “craft” brewing. “It’s not just about being small; you have to make good beer. These days, it’s all about what’s in the bottle. But we’ve always had a great crowd in Rochester. People here have always embraced good beer.”

So what’s next for Rohrbach Brewing Company? Newly planted hops at their Buffalo Road brewpub are part of a plan to start sourcing more locally grown ingredients. The 60 rhizomes, planted in early May, will be used in a wet-hopped beer, where fresh hops are added during the brewing process. John says he’s also started looking into getting an on-premise license for the Railroad Street location and will be expanding to add a kitchen. But don’t expect the same fare you find at the brewpub. “We’re going to do it a little different over here.” he says, “I think people will be really surprised with what we come up with.”
Amy Penrose is The Craft Beer Girl. Follow her as she discovers the world of craft beer through brewery tours, beer festivals, homebrewing, and more!