In a cluttered back office tucked away in an unseen area of Genesee’s modest Pilot Brewery, Brewmaster Dean Jones waxes poetically on their newest offering.
“It became my baby,” Jones laughed. “Actually, with about nine and a half months in the barrel, it really was like a baby.”
A variation on the Pilot Brewery’s popular annual Winter Warmer release, Jones’ baby is an old ale, aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels for nine months and then loaded into full pint cans, the first beer to be canned in-house at the Pilot Brewery. Named as an homage to Reisky and Spies, the brewery that stood at the site of what is now the Genesee Brewery from 1874 to 1878.
Originally, as the name implies, planned for a winter release, Jones is letting the ~10.5 percent alcohol brew out early, knowing it could not wait any longer.
“We’ve been slowly tasting it over time, and in the summer months, you forget about it,” Jones said. “And then I went down there in July and tasted it and said, ‘Oh my god, it’s done.’ This was supposed to be a winter or late fall release, but it was so spectacular, we had to do something to get it out now.”
For Jones, this release, being canned in house and holding that label, summarizes a long, storied history of brewing in the Flower City.
“That is our historic nod to the Rochester brewing history, back when Rochester had 51 breweries in the area,” Jones said. “Now, we’re really right back to that same phenomenon, where there’s 33 breweries popping up in our area, and more opening everyday.”
The choice to can the release, a “labor of love” featuring nine hours of canning for the 339 cases of Reisky and Spies, was one Jones described as a way to honor both the past and the present of brewing.
“When this brewery [Reisky and Spies] existed, everything was put in wood barrels, there were no aluminum half-kegs, or 1/6s or cans, so the brand team really was inventive with coming up with the idea to put it in a can,” Jones said. “As a nod to tradition of today.”
The canning was done through Iron Heart Canning Company, a mobile canning company which has done canning for other local brewers, including Roc Brewing. Marisa Giambanco, associate brand manager for Genesee’s parent company North American Brewers, said the option to small-scale can gives flexibility for a brewery dwarfed by its next-door neighbor.
“Like Dean said, this Iron Heart canning operation is much more pointed toward craft,” Giambanco said. “It lets us can on a much smaller scale.”
From mash to barrel to can in a process that Jones described, simply, as “whole lot of fun,” the end result is ultimately the most important factor. And quite a result it is.
Poured from the can into a pint glass, the Reisky and Spies emits an aroma of bourbon, tinged with vanilla and toffee alongside mild notes of chocolate and coffee from the first crack of the pop-top. Its color is a hazy, nearly opaque dark brown with a small head which fizzles away in a few seconds, leaving just a hint of lacing on the glass.
The taste mimics the scent in every facet; a rich, malty backbone serves as catalyst for strong notes of bourbon, vanilla and a more pronounced flavor of coffee on the finish. With a fairly high alcohol content, Reisky and Spies is deceptive, its thick overtones and near-cloying sweetness masking any boozy notes, aside from the eponymous warming on the finish. Mercifully, those thick notes also serve as a hard reminder this a beer meant to be sipped and savored. Ultimately, it is a giant ale, decadent and indulgent, miles removed from what one would typically think of from the Genesee brand.
And for Jones, with 27 years of brewing under his belt, that evolution of brands and ideas is the point.
“I could sit here for two hours and chew your ear off about the craft brewing industry, and Marisa could as well about branding, there’s so much happening at Genesee and in the Rochester market, and in New York State craft beer,” Jones said. “And it’s fun, I’ve been doing this for 27 years and it’s never been as good as it is now.”
Reisky and Spies will officially be released on Friday, Sept. 8 at the Genesee Brewhouse’s “Tap it Forward” festival. The festival takes place from 5-9 p.m. at Genesee Brew House, 25 Cataract St.