“Only the Devil and I know the whereabouts of my treasure, and the one of us who lives the longest should take it all.” –Edward Teach
By Meagan Wilson
Photos by Ben Wilson
Most of you probably don’t know this about me, but I love ‘sipping rums’. Recently, I discovered Solera-type rums. They’re aged in a multi-tiered system of barrels, and by the time the finest product is ready for market, it’s been through something like three or four different kinds of barrels, the color is a deep, rich mahogany, and the nose is heaven, assuming heaven is where the angels’ share goes to. I’d really like to write about Solera rums, but since I just discovered their existence—in much the same way that Columbus ‘discovered’ Hispaniola, but with far less rape and pillaging—I don’t feel that my knowledge is adequate for the task. So I’ll write about Three Heads, instead.
If you’re a Rochester-dweller who drinks beer, you’re probably aware that Three Heads Brewing—which, for the past five years, has contracted with CB Craft Brewers for their beer production—will be opening their own brewery and taproom this spring. Naturally, the guys are pretty busy with all that, but in December, I managed to pin them down for an interview.
7 December, 2015
Three of the four ‘Heads’—yeah, I know, the brand is Three Heads, but there are four main dudes—are sequestered behind a roll-up door in loading dock 3 of a nondescript warehouse in a nondescript Rochester neighborhood. It’s the driest brewery headquarters I’ve visited, and if not for a desire to get the story before the new place opens, I’d wait. I mean, interviewing brewers without any beer to drink; who ever heard of such a thing? But since they don’t actually make the beer in the warehouse (except for test batches that Todd Dirrigl cooks up on an old kitchen stove), there aren’t any taps. They do give me a bottle of Giant Panda later, though, so I ain’t complainin’.
With his bushy beard and bear-hug-worthy physique, Geoff Dale is the picture of a jolly brewer, ready to dispense hoppy and malty presents to everyone. Quieter, slimmer, and dressed in jeans, hoodie, and engineer boots, Brian “Skip” Johnson looks like he belongs on a motorcycle. His involvement with the group doesn’t go quite as far back, but he’s been working with the other Three Heads guys for a good while. “He is our secret weapon,” Geoff declares. “…It’s a huge part of why we are the way are, is that guy. He doesn’t get enough of the credit.”
Todd is off on super-secret brewery business (fine, probably not secret, I just don’t ask) so I don’t get to talk to him, this time.
Dan Nothnagle is definitely present, though. Former real estate mogul-turned-brewer, he’s the most ‘business-respectable’ looking one of the bunch. An image that, judging from the scruff on his face, he’s not exactly trying to keep. I’m pretty sure he considers wearing jeans to work to be a major perk of his new career. I’d be hard-pressed to disagree with him.
As it turns out, Dan was the one who got Geoff and Todd into craft beer, to begin with. Back in the day, he used to bring them all kinds of beers to try, and eventually, they all started kicking around the idea of starting a brewery; as Dan puts it, “We kind of asked ourselves…like, Rochester needs a kickass brewery….”
Then, of course, they had to learn to make beer. And as anyone who’s caught the homebrewing bug knows, that shit’s kind of addictive. Not in the “Our country’s less than 250 years old, and we still take an immature view of alcohol and accuse everyone who likes it of being an alcoholic,” sense, but in a “Hell yes, I just made my own beer,” kind of way. So they made beer. And then they made some more. And got some awards at the UNYHA (Upstate New York Homebrewers Association) and AWOG (Amber Waves of Grain) competitions. And then there was some stuff about the “financial meltdown,” funding, business models, and deciding to contract with CB Craft Brewers. Which seems to have worked out well for the guys.
So now, after five years of “building their brand,” which is business speak for peddling the hell out of their product, promoting it at beer events, and stuff like that, the Three Heads dudes are looking at opening their own independent brewery, right in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts. The new building is huge, with room for a 30 barrel system (16 fermentation vessels), a bottling line, and a spacious taproom, complete with a stage. After years of doing events at other venues, like Lovin’ Cup, they can finally host some of their own, too.
Geoff and Todd are big into the local music scene; they’re both in Extended Family, a Rochester-based band with, according to their bio on ReverbNation, “70’s rock roots.” Much more improbably, but true, nonetheless, the two of them are brothers-in-law, married to identical twin sisters, and live next door to each other.
The guys are very enthusiastic about Rochester. “There’s amazing culture here,” Geoff says, explaining that they’ve always wanted to be located downtown. “This city’s on the upswing, and we’re happy just to be part of it.”
16 February, 2016
The new building is built, and Three Heads took delivery of a bunch of the equipment last week. Oh, yeah. They’ve hired a brewer, too. I expect he’s learning the new system. Construction and fermentation schedules being what they are, it’s hard to know for sure, but they’re hoping to open the Three Heads taproom in April. Naturally, I’m planning to do a follow-up piece, when they do.