The sleek black Escalade arrives at the Rochester Magazine office, and the driver—in a black suit and sunglasses—opens the doors.
One might think we’re heading to a movie premiere or maybe a state dinner.
But, no. Today, the Rochester Magazine team (well, except Steve and Anne) will be visiting the city’s six breweries in six hours. And with an equation like that, driving ourselves isn’t an option.
So why not arrive in style?
We’re a motley crew of beer drinkers. Among our team is someone who frequents craft breweries and likes to try new beers (Lisa). Someone whose idea of an exotic beer is Bud Select (Tessa). And someone who isn’t typically a beer drinker (me).
Joe, our photographer, says he’s open to trying anything. (I mean, that’s why you take an assignment like this, right?) And Laura, our host with Chamberlain Concierge—the company escorting us tonight—hasn’t said so directly, but appears to have a deep and personal knowledge of local breweries.
And so we head out to find drafts for us all, and check out the local brewery scene.
Stop 1 - Forager Brewery
1005 Sixth St. NW, foragerbrewery.com
It’s the hottest part of the day when we pull up to Forager, so instead of taking a seat on their greenery-lined patio, we opt for some comfy armchairs inside.
We ask our server for recommendations, and choose flight-sized glasses of the Dream Cycle (Laura), Tight Lips (Lisa and Joe), Forager Gold (Tessa), and Tiki Killers sour (me).
The result? A tray of glasses of varying colors so pretty it’s almost a pity to drink them.
“It’s like a tea party, but for adults!” says Laura.
Laura’s Dream Cycle has hints of tangerine. My Tiki Killers is just the right amount of fruity. And our most-difficult customer—Tessa, who rarely veers from her Budweiser—even says, “That is pretty delightful” when taking her first sip of Forager Gold.
That’s strong praise from a woman who said, and I quote, “I’m not so sure about this—I don’t like weird beer,” when we started the tour. (It’s probably also why she said, “Oh my gosh, it looks beautiful but it is NOT for me” when she tried my Tiki Killers sour.)
We order pizzas (the Margherita and the Piggy Pie) and the Pile of Fries—the latter mostly because it comes with two kinds of garlic aioli.
When it arrives, we eyeball the aioli and consider that we’re going to be sitting around tables and sharing an Escalade for the next six hours.
“Everyone has to have the garlic if anyone has the garlic,” Lisa says. It seems fair.
Stop 2 - Kinney Creek Brewery
1016 Seventh St. NW, kinneycreekbrewery.com
Lesson number one when we walk in? Don’t judge a book by its
cover—or, in this case, a brewery by its strip mall location.
Because I will tell you this: We collectively gawk when we enter Kinney Creek—at the décor, at the expansive metalwork sign above the bar, at the larger-than-life games (shuffleboard and Giant Jenga and Connect 4) peppering the surprisingly large taproom.
“This is NOT what I expected,” says Tessa.
Owner Donovan Seitz is at the bar to greet us and make recommendations. Lisa orders a Yellow Jacket Imperial. I opt for the Rah Rah Root Beer. Tessa, our resident skeptic, tries the Sunny Days and announces, “I like it!”
Back in 2012, Kinney Creek opened as Rochester’s first brewery since Prohibition. Seitz had toured Samuel Adams’ Boston Brewery while on vacation, and felt inspired to do something like it here.
The only problem? Rochester was still in its own Prohibition. The city still didn’t allow breweries.
Seitz worked with city council to get the law changed, and we’re standing in the result. Kinney Creek is a nanobrewery—which means it brews in small batches. Yet there are still 17 tap lines offering a range of beers behind the bar (including one that tastes like margarita) and non-alcoholic options like kombucha and root beer.
Seitz’s goal with Kinney Creek is a comfortable, exciting, and fun atmosphere—“the kind of place where Grandma can bring the grandkids and everyone can have fun. Just keep the kids away from the hammers!”
By that he means the Hammerschlagen.
Hammerschlagen is the German game where you take turns trying to drive nails into a thick slice of tree stump. You get one swing with one arm at a time. I’m ahead at the start, but ultimately Tessa wins.
“You totally nailed it,” Lisa says. Everyone groans.
Stop 3 - LTS Brewing Co.
2001 32nd Ave. NW, ltsbrewing.com
We’re in Lisa’s stomping grounds now. LTS—short for “Life’s Too Short”—is the brewery she and her husband Hal frequent most often. They like it for its casual, laid-back atmosphere, the food truck frequently sitting outside, and, yes, because it’s the closest brewery to their house.
At the counter, we order three flights of four beers—or, in other words, every beer on tap.
As the rest of the group grabs a bowl of popcorn and starts sampling, I seek out taproom manager Carissa Darcy. She tells me that LTS, which opened in August 2015, is a seven-barrel brewery—and that they always have 12 beers on tap plus the occasional infusion for limited release.
I ask Darcy about her favorite beer, but then worry that’s like asking someone to name their favorite child. It turns out Darcy has a favorite child. She doesn’t hesitate before answering, “Strawberry Wheat—it’s a good summer, refreshing beer.”
Back at the table, we pull The Game of Life from a large stack of games and try brews with names like Karma and Bock Bock Bock and End of the Hike.
We’re good at keeping track of the beers we’re sampling at first, referring to the name cards that come with each flight. But eventually, as the small glasses spread across the table, we don’t know if we’re trying Hazy Shade of Summer or Tequila Monkingbeer.
Instead, we guess the flavors, like mango and strawberry and coffee. And that’s good enough for us.
Stop 4 - Little Thistle Brewing Co.
2031 14th St. NW, littlethistlebeer.com
It’s just after 5 p.m. when our driver, Tom, pulls up to Little Thistle, and the post-workday action is already brewing outside. A few people sit at picnic tables. A man and his son order from the food truck.
We plan to get in on both of these activities. But first, beer.
I order the Foreign Culture. Lisa gets the Brave Woman. Joe, the Broosters Cream Ale. Tessa opts for The Doug. Laura, the Garth Brooks Juice Diet. Yes, that’s really what it’s called.
“It has New Zealand Nelson Sauvin hops in it,” Laura says, explaining that she’s found that particular ingredient hard to come by. “I’ve had conversations about this for hours, asking people where I can get New Zealand beer!”
The answer, apparently, is here.
Back outside, Tessa announces that The Doug has met her “normal beer” criteria. Joe calls his Broosters “smooth.” Lisa takes a sip of my Foreign Culture—a guava and passionfruit sour—and says that while it looks pretty, she’ll stick with her Brave Woman, a Scottish ale.
“To each her own,” I say, taking another swig.
Opened by Steve and Dawn Finnie in 2018, Little Thistle has a laid-back and welcoming vibe. And it’s clear that the community feels welcomed. Happy hour visitors laugh at a table next to us. A couple arrives pushing a stroller. A dog lounges next to his owner on the patio.
Before hopping back in the Escalade, we play a not-at-all cutthroat game of cornhole. It’s Lisa and me versus Tessa and Laura. Team Awesome—that’s me and Lisa, naturally—wins.
Stop 5 - Thesis Beer Project
1929 Second St. SW, thesis.beer
Thesis Beer Project isn’t actually in business yet when we stop by. But they’re close—expecting to open roughly two weeks after our tour (and they did open in mid-August). So we use our clout as Rochester Magazine (it’s gotta be good for something, right?) to arrange a quick tour with owners Adam Fredericksen and Allyson Palmer.
Married since 2018, Fredericksen and Palmer say that the brewery has always been a dream of theirs. Back in 2016, Fredericksen left a job in IT to work at Grand Rounds under current Little Thistle owner Steve Finnie, then later worked as a brewer at LTS. Now he’s ready for his own place.
Located next to Tyrol Ski & Sport on Second Street, Thesis Beer Project has taken up residence in the former Whitewater Wireless building. The renovated space includes murals, an open brewery room, space for live music, an in-brewery partnership with Café Steam, and—the one remaining vestige of the original building—garage doors that open to the patio.
We’ll be back when they open.
Stop 6 - Grand Rounds Brewing Company
4 Third St. SW, grandroundsbrewing.com
Driver Tom delivers us almost literally to our table—which we grab right outside Grand Rounds’ Historic Third Street sidewalk.
“What’s your most popular beer?” we ask our server, who tells us that the Easy A Minnesota blonde ale is always a hit. Tessa and I order that. Lisa orders the Jesse, saying she’d recently tried it on Thursdays Downtown. Lisa’s husband, Hal, who has joined the party, orders the same. Joe and Laura go with the Beer J.
Like Forager, Grand Rounds is not only a brewery, but also a restaurant. So of course we need to try their wares. We order a couple of hot dogs (the Brewpub Dog and the Rochester Dog), nachos, cheese curds, and tator kegs for the table.
Everyone—including Tessa—likes their beer choices. Laura says she would describe her Beer J as masculine, Joe says he wouldn’t, and they agree to disagree. Hal says he’d come back just to eat the Brewpub Dog.
Once we’ve polished off the nachos and cheese curds, head brewer Aaron Espy offers us a tour of the brewery’s inner workings. Grand Rounds’ is a seven-barrel system—and Espy explains the details of that process. He tells us that those 285 pounds of grain are used to make 235 gallons of Grand Rounds’ popular Easy A beer. That the beer sits in fermenters for up to 16 days. And that the resulting 13 or 14 half-barrels are then moved to the basement of the brewery’s 150-year-old building.
We walk down to that basement, where six cooling tanks and an assortment of half barrels feed the upstairs taps. Nine of these beers are on tap right now. And if we hadn’t already been to five other breweries today? We’d be up to try just one or two more of them.
Our tour concluded, our stomachs full, and our quest for the city’s best beers completed, we head back to our ride.
We’ve visited six breweries. Sampled 33 beers. Sent 27 rows of Giant Jenga crashing to the floor. We’ve been driven around our city like VIPs by a man who looks like an undercover agent for the CIA.
As Tom helps us into the Escalade one last time, we’re already making plans for our next tour. Wineries, anyone?
Thank you to Chamberlain Concierge, a dedicated black car service, for transporting us safely and professionally to six different breweries—and for being patient with a car full of people going to six different breweries. Chamberlain provides discreet transportation and services for both Rochester visitors and locals, whether you’re looking for a chef, shopping services, day trips … or a brewery tour.
Let Us Recommend...
It’s hard to pick favorites, but we did our best. Here are some of the most memorable beers from our brewery tour:
Jen: Foreign Culture (Little Thistle)
Lisa: Jesse (Grand Rounds)
Tessa: Sunny Days (Kinney Creek)
Joe: Mango Früchte (LTS)
Laura: Dream Cycle (Forager)