A Sit Down Chat with Dean Jones, Brewmaster at the Genesee Brewhouse by Paul Leone
With over 6000 breweries nationwide, it’s hard for most to stand out, unless that is, your brewery is tied to an iconic brand like Genesee.
Dean Jones is the brewmaster at the Genesee Brewhouse, which is the pilot brewery for the Genesee Brewing Company (owned by North American Breweries). Opened in 2012 as pilot brewery, museum, gift shop and restaurant, the Genesee Brewhouse has become much more than a small in-house brewery, it now has a huge influence on new styles, and creative twists on a few old styles, that are often upscaled to the “big” brewery next door. These are known as the Pilot Batch Series of beers, and Dean is the driving force behind them all.
With nearly 30 years of brewing experience, Dean has a tremendous amount of wisdom and knowledge to share with the new breweries just opening up, and he often does share that knowledge with anyone and everyone in the Rochester New York region and beyond who asks.
So with that in mind, I sat down with Dean and asked him a few questions knowing that his expertise, wit, and overall brewmaster coolness would resonate with everyone. As Dean often says, “never trust a skinny brewmaster”.
When did you first get into the brewing industry, what got you into beer?
I joined the brewing industry way back in 1989. I was in State College, Pa. and was hanging out at the Happy Valley Brewing Company for their wood fired pizza and got hooked on the Scotch Ale. I met the Brewmaster there and we became friends and I soon was hired as his apprentice and then went to Siebel in 1992 for the Diploma Course.
How did you end up at North American Breweries/Genesee?
As you can imagine brewing is a very small tight knit community, while I was visiting a local Rochester Craft Brewery (Rohrbachs) I ran into Jim McDermott who was working at Genesee at the time, but he had previously worked for Rohrbachs out on Buffalo road where I had help him years earlier. He then told me of the opportunity and I interviewed at Genesee a few weeks later.
What’s it like making small batch craft beer for an iconic brewery like Genesee?
Really, Really, Cool !! I am seeing and brewing recipes from 1878 and then turning around and making Orange Honey Cream Ale…fun cannot even describe my job!
What are the challenges, and how have you been able to take a popular small batch and upscale it to the big brewery?
Upscaling the batch size is a challenge for sure. Designing the beer and brewing on the 20 bbl is the fun part. Steve Kaplan and his team in the main brewery have all the challenges of scaling up my recipes to the 500 bbl mark with extremely different equipment and efficiencies.
Genesee Cream Ale is an iconic brand, how have you modernized that style at the Brew House?
Cream Ale is the first beer I ever drank in my life and I still love it to this day. Being able to play with that recipe and make different craft versions has been extremely rewarding. We are releasing our Cream Ale Variety pack in late April with Mosaic dry hopped, Imperial and Orange Honey Cream Ale. All from our flagship beer with a new modern twist.
What has been the most successful beer to come out of the Brew House so far?
I would have to say the Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter. That was an extremely popular beer and one you would have never expected from Genesee.
You’re making videos more often, why do you feel this is an effective way to communicate the brand?
Videos are just fun and I get a chance to convey my passion for the beers we are releasing and I hope that message comes across when people watch them. Genesee is a fun cool brand and I want to share that with the beer consumer.
You’ve been in the industry for a while, if you had a crystal ball, what would you see?
27 years to be exact….craft beer will have its ups and downs but still continue to grow. I don’t think it will ever take over the American Pilsner style in the US but I think we will eventually see a 40/60 mix or somewhere close. People are realizing that beer comes in all colors and flavors and they are trying them all as their pallet develops but always will have a go to lighter beer. Mine is Cream Ale.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to open a brewery, or get into the business?
Opening a brewery is tough. Just ask any of your local brewers that had the entrepreneurial guts to do so. Some say it was well worth it and some say had if they had known what sacrifices it really took to do so they never would have done it. We are very lucky in NY state to have the New York State Brewers Association that is consistently striving to help our industry. That is always a good start to business research. As far as getting into the industry, start home brewing, reading everything you can get your hands on and start knocking on some brewery doors, and expect to start at the bottom…..with a shovel and a mop…. It’s no joke when I call myself “The Janitor”