Situated at the intersection of Brockport’s Main Street and the Erie Canal, Stoneyard Brewing Company boasts an upstairs bar & grill, and a downstairs taproom. Their canal-side patio seating is only separated from the water by a low stone wall, sloped at exactly the right height for leaning, as I discovered last Saturday.
The building is old, constructed of wood and stone, and has exactly the right vibe for an old-school pub, as Ben mentioned a couple of weeks ago. †Well-established as the venue is, the brewery itself has only been open for about a year. Curious to see how they were getting on, Ben and I stopped in on a weekday afternoon to try the beers (naturally), and have a bite of nosh.
The waitress was quite friendly and accommodating; something you generally expect from someone in a customer service position, but don’t always get. And when I pulled out my pen and notebook with the explanation that I intended to write about the beers, she went hunting for tasting note cards, and had a word with the head brewer, Jeff “Oz” Osborne, to see if he had time to chat with us. He did.
Like most brewers I know, Oz is enthusiastic about beer, and could possibly be accused of being garrulous when asked about his. For a beer writer, this is gold. When I mentioned that they’d only had one house beer on tap—the amber—at our first visit, sometime last summer, Oz related that they brewed up three for the brewery launch in June 2014, “and blew through 15 half-barrels the first day.” Beer doesn’t just happen overnight, so they had to go down to one house beer for a while. But the astonishing thing about Stoneyard is not the low number of their own beers on tap; it’s that they manage any on premise brewing at all.
Currently, the Stoneyard brewery consists of a small setup from Psycho Brew, a Greenville, MI-based company that builds, as they put it, “tough ass brewing equipment” for home and nano breweries. Stoneyard’s system is strategically arranged in what used to be the building’s elevator shaft, with just enough room for Oz and his assistant, James—neither of them small men—to squeeze in there at the same time. It’s like my kitchen, but with even less maneuvering room and more stainless steel.
Like many other professional brewers, Oz started as a homebrewer, and seems pretty happy about doing it for a living. Soon, he’ll have a much larger system to play with, as plans are in the works to open a 30 barrel brew house in another location. If it were opened today, Oz informed us, it would be the second largest brewery in the Rochester area, after Genesee. He hopes to start production on the new system in 2016.
Oz had been checking on the fermenter’s contents—the amber—and he brought us a small sample.
Raging Redheads Amber:
(Meagan) It has a nutty character, with light hops, and a lovely tawny-red color. What I at first took to be Vienna turned out (to my chagrin) to be Golden Promise, accompanied by several varieties of Crystal specialty malts. It’s a very pleasant amber ale with medium body and, despite my blunder, plenty of British malt character.
(Ben) A pale with orange peel. Straw to yellow orange, cloudy. Nose is citrus and light hops. Flavor is crisp, 2-row, sweet orange, sea foam. Light nuttiness, rind, and a hop tingle graces the tongue.
Peabo Session Brown:
At only 4%, the “session” label is well earned. It tastes like an English brown; it’s mostly nutty hints and malt sweetness up front, fading to a roasty—but not astringent—finish. Oz tries to keep something dark on tap for the folks who aren’t into hoppy beers. He and his assistant like hops, but not all of their constituency are thrilled about them. Peabo pairs well with the delicious breaded steak fries they served with my sandwich—also delicious.
Smells of lilac, lavender (Ben mentioned an almost oil of bergamot nose), lemon, and a faint gingery note. The tasting card says it has lilac petal, lavender flowers, and lemon, so that all makes sense. It has a pinesap character that lingers on the back of the tongue. The appearance is cloudy, as is usual for a wheat beer. It has a very floral, strong gruit character. This is a very interesting beer that puts me in mind of the dry lavender sodas we sometimes get at Beers of the World.
Naturally, striking up a conversation with the brewer(s) is the best way to learn about a brewery and its beers. It also tends to yield other tidbits, like the fact that Stoneyard would be hosting the ROCbeer 3rd Annual Homebrew Competition the following Saturday. Of course, we had to attend.
It’s hard to say whether the best thing about the event was the homebrew contest itself, with no entry fee or style guidelines, or the amazing tap list that Stoneyard put together. Since it was the latter that kept us entertained while the judges deliberated on the former, I’ll probably go with that.
The event started at 2pm, and I think they were still accepting entries until right before judging started, at 3pm. A “beauty contest” style affair, rather than a formal BJCP competition, it attracted some hard-to-describe brews, including a pineapple-citrus beer. A list of attendees would read like a who’s who of the Rochester craft beer scene.
Since I wasn’t judging, I don’t have a whole lot to say about the entries, but oh, my, the tap selection was exceptional.
Southern Tier Choklat Oranj is a very dessert-like imperial stout that I think would make for an outstanding ice cream float.
Stoneyard’s own Stu’d is a well-made rendition of an RIS, with light barrel aged flavor.
Perhaps most astonishing of all, they had Sierra Nevada’s Barrel-Aged Bigfoot, and Ninkasi Ground Control—both excellent and rare (at least around these parts). And they didn’t charge an arm and a leg for a ten oz. pour.
Yeah, Goose Island are sellouts, whatever, whatever, but their Bourbon County Stout is still nothing to sneeze at. And then there were Greenport Harbor’s Hopnami, and Maine Beer Company’s Lunch; both reasonable East Coast versions of strong IPAs, with plenty of citrus and other hop character. At 7% ABV‡, I found Lunch a (comparatively) light and refreshing follow-up to the heavy stouts and barleywine.
And those are just the ones I remember. All in all, the ROCbeer Homebrew Contest was a great time filled with delicious beers, enjoyable conversation, and…more beer. Yep, that about sums it up.
† Kotula, Matt. “Erie Canal Monster Triple IPA.” WNY Craft Beer, August 26, 2014.
‡”Lunch.” Maine Beer Company. August 9, 2013. Accessed June 4, 2015.