A Plea for Genesee

When was the last time you strolled into a Buffalo bar, surveyed the bottle display and said, “Boy, could I go for a Genny now?”
Judging by the lack of local advertising and brand-hoisting, it wasn’t recently. Many younger Western New Yorkers’ tales featuring the Genesee’s white cans or infamous Cream Ale “green screamers” vary from hilariously cataclysmic to gastronomically regretful, void of the Beer Advocate-like technical prose that accompanies nights of Great Lakes or Southern Tier pints. Settings for nights of blue-canned Genny Light have been known to include a Hamburg playground picnic table or South Buffalo golf course, places adequately suited to host a chill of empty cans surrounding one’s Chuck Taylors or Timberlands. It’s a regrettable local image attached to our most affordable and maligned canned beer, and it’s an image that we need to move past. One reason for this need?
Because Genesee is primed to pass Pabst Blue Ribbon as the coolest beer in America.
If you’ve walked into a dive bar or rock club across the country over the last 10 years, you’ve probably noticed that beers once considered avoidable have gone from a poor man’s necessity to a hipster’s accessory. With the help of The Strokes, beards in Williamsburg, and a renewed interest in our country’s once frightening dive bars, PBR went from a beer you stole from your grandfather to swill cherished by Grizzly Bear fans. The Boston, Massachusetts-based Paradise Rock Club–which boasts the first American club appearance by U2 in 1980–usually goes through over 100 cases of 16-ounce Pabst per week. And, when they run out, their clientele usually switch over to regional canned favorite, Narragansett.
Why does The Paradise blow through beers once exclusively sipped by longshoremen, steel workers and the reclining elderly? Is it because they taste delicious? God, no. Is it because they’re four dollars-a-pop? Not really; there are plenty of beers inside the Paradise that retail for the same price. According to club general manager Bill Guerra, it’s a combination of two factors.           
“It may have coincided with the mass migration into once-blue collar (drinking) establishments,” said Guerra, whose joint usually hosts five to six shows-a-week. “These were places where, at one time, five bucks got you a shot and a beer. Ordering crappy beers just made good economic sense. But, sooner or later, the Lemming effect took hold. Now, it’s just cool to drink things like Jack (Daniels) and PBR, regardless of cost.”
Tight t-shirts. American Spirits. Mustaches. Not eating. Many things have become standard fare for the up-and-coming hipster, and the drink in their hand is essential. Does it taste like foam simmering in an engineer boot? Doesn’t matter; the label on the can or bottles emits style and attitude. According to Paradise senior bartender Danielle Benson, that label is a flag every fledgling cool dude needs to fly.
“Beer is very important to a scenester’s image,” said the heavily tattooed Benson, who pledges allegiance to Miller High Life. “It’s a way for them to relate and recognize each other. PBR screams, ‘Hi! I like sh***y beer and wearing thrift store clothes resold to Urban Outfitters, too!’ It’s a way to show people how hip you are–even if you hate the beer.”
But how much longer can Pabst’s run of cool continue? Its new Hummer-driving ownership has vowed to capitalize on their image, with innovative marketing and flashier exposure–and hipsters hate flashy exposure. Before long, their culture could rise up against such mainstream advances and turn away from PBR the same way they disowned the Kings of Leon. In some of the same New York bars Pabst enjoyed its style resurgence, bespectacled youth have already started to react to these developments (and higher prices on PBR) by shifting their loyalties. Their new barstool standard?
The one and only Genesee.
And this is how restoration of a brand begins. For dudes in skinny jeans and floppy knit tuques at Brooklyn holes like the Pit Stop Bar and Mission Dolores, Genny Cream Ale is their new, working class throwback. But, for certain sects of Buffalonians and Rochesterians, it will always be the warm beer you pounded while shivering inside your friend’s Chevy Reliant. According to former South Buffalo resident and current filmmaker Kevin Meegan, no trend or scene is ever going to change this historical depiction.
“No way,” said Meegan, who now owns and operates Rust Belt Productions outside New York City. “I don’t think Buffalonians are into fad drinking or changing their brand to suit what’s cool. Cream Ale will always be what your dad drank before anyone knew any better.” 
Sure, some locals will always describe Genesee’s fleet of gas station-case beers as concoctions of river water, foot sweat and grass clippings. This is an unfair stigma attached to a brand that’s won multiple Great American Beer Festival gold medals; an unflattering characterization attached by a populace who’ve progressed to fare from the Ellicottville Brewing Company, Saranac or even Genny’s North American Breweries brethren, Labatt. But, in the wake of Genesee’s ascent from the forgotten to dive bar favorite, maybe its time for a new generation of local minimalist drinkers to reevaluate and rediscover the majesty of the High Fall’s finest creation.
With a glance, you might just see an alignment between the gritty, overlooked brand and its Western New York surroundings. As of 2010, Genesee was quietly the eighth largest brewing company in America by sales volume. With parent company North American Breweries, they’re revamping their century-old Rochester facilities into a tourist-attracting brew house and pumping millions into regional marketing (to hopefully produce more ads like these). It’s attempting to resuscitate a swagger while paying homage to its history–just like its host community of Rochester and drinking neighbor Buffalo are trying to do.
You might appreciate its role as our region’s bare-bones, neighborhood beer and honor it the way Chicago claims Old Style and Baltimore boasts National Bohemian. Both of those areas have an abundance of microbrews and craft beers, just as Buffalo and Rochester do. But, if they want to showcase a beer inside Wrigley Field or Delores’s Bar on The Wire, they go with their canned classics. We have Genesee. North American Breweries has blanketed Buffalo with Labatt advertising, so why can’t its other local brand be brought into the exposure fold? Along with a revamped local ad campaign, 12-Horse and Cream ales could be made more accessible and encouraged in places like Coca Cola Field, Ralph Wilson Stadium, First Niagara Center, and at the window of Clinton’s Dish on Canalside. Considering Senator Chuck Schumer’s recently announced, “I Love NY Brew” campaign, this development might even be encouraged by state government.
Finally, maybe y
ou just want to be associated with Genesee’s burgeoning sense of understated cool in places as close as Allentown and as far away as Portland, Oregon. Maybe you want to start a trend with flannelled masses and hold a beer that adds to your ever-evolving image. Maybe you want to hoist a Western New York-brewed tallboy inside Mohawk Place or Water Street Music Hall as some animal-named act or Mac-infused band creates squealing noise they consider music. Who cares? It’s your local swill, so do with it what you choose. 
And, with one smooth sip, you might realize its not nearly as bad as you’ve heard it is–or remember it to be. You’ll eventually find your way to the bottom, then shake the foam remnants at the base of the can. When the bartender finds you waiting and ready, he’ll give you a nod. For whatever reason, whether it be aesthetic aspirations or local loyalty, you’ll know what to order. You can now look back at that bartender and simply say the following:
“Give me a Genesee.”
Author’s note: This entry was finished while listening to Common’s “The Food.”

Mike Farrell recently started The Farrell Street Blog - an educated ramble on topics such as sports, music and his return to the mean streets of western New York. He may also mention things about his novels “Running with Buffalo”, or the yet-to-be released “When the Lights Go Out.”

*Mike’s original BRO post titled The Idea of Buffalo has reached 829 shares

About the author  ⁄ buffalorising

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28 comments
LI2Northpark
LI2Northpark

Local does not equal admirable. Take, for instance, Carl Paladino.

Greg
Greg

In one of the old pictures of the Erie Canal in Downtown, I remember seeing a building called "Buffalo Co-OP Brewery."

It's a shame a regional beer can't stem from pooled resources of people who just want a great, simple beer, on the cheap. No need for a winter ale or crazy cool titles, just one or two solidly good brews from the community.

SBSHEMP
SBSHEMP

I never stopped drinking PBR & Genny what's the fuss?

FYI Anchor bar has Genny Cream on Tap!

LI2Northpark
LI2Northpark

This is some seriously bad beer folks. If hipsters want to drink it then it's their problem. There is an abundance of delicious, local, quality beer in WNY and Upstate NY as a whole. Southern Tier, Ommegang, and Ithaca come to mind. Throw in Great Lakes in Cleveland and Victory in Pittsburgh and you have to ask yourself why anyone who actually likes the taste of a good beer would want to drink Genny or PBR.

Dan
Dan

Three words that will strike fear into the heart of any beer lover from Buffalo. Brace yourself.

Koch's Golden Anniversary. Dunkirk's gift to the world. Millions of barrels of Southern Tier products still need to flow out of Chautauqua County to make up for that swill.

Dan
Dan

Ask some of the old timers about Simon Pure.

"Yeah, dat Simon Pures der could clean out out. Kept ya' regular. Genny Creams ain't got nuthin' on it der."

I saw a full bottle of Simon Pure at an estate sale a couple of years ago. $4. It was tempting.

Dan
Dan

In the early 1990s, when the distribution of Genny was still limited to upstate New York, it wasn't uncommon to see cases of Genny Cream tumbling around a baggage carousel at distant airports. I always said the taste of Genesee seems to improve the further one gets from western New York.

MrGreenJeans
MrGreenJeans

Most of the crap spewing from this dump is poison. (Wait, did I write most? ALL!) ... It ALL tastes like melted plastic, watered-down to various degrees. Avoid, at all costs.

rustbeltcity
rustbeltcity

There is a fine line between Hipster and Trendy. Hipsters are wannabe's who think they are trend setters but don't have the means. Trendy people are the ones who years ago would of been called the "Cafe Society" type. They have the means to move from designer to designer, cocktail to cocktail. A Hipster will be in their used clothing and call PBR or Genny cool and hip becouse thats what they can afford. A trend setter would be in their 300 dollar jeans and shoes that they probably "scored" on Bluefly for 200 bucks no longer drinking a cosmo as that was so 5 years ago and Appletini's are pass'e. Today you will find them casually sipping a Gin Martini. Nothing wrong with either one, thats what makes people watching so intersting.

dcoffee
dcoffee

I rediscovered Genny Light this year too. Now that I actually like the taste of beer, Genny light is good stuff.

GOLFCHAMP43
GOLFCHAMP43

Wow. I remember having a Genny at the Central Park Grill when I was 15!!! (50 yrs ago)

The worst was Simon Pure - by a lot. No contest.

sobuffbillsfan
sobuffbillsfan

I switched to Genny about 4 years ago when I drink at home. Its tough to get out in Buffalo though, you end up just going with Bud light after a few weird looks, and we don't carry that crap.

The heritage packs were awesome!

davvid
davvid

Good article. I was at a bar that might be called a trendy place last week where I bought a can of Genny for no other reason than the price. It was my cheapest option and I enjoyed it. Really, thats the main reason PBR became so popular. I think the hip label was projected by much more pretentious observers onto what is basically young people drinking cheap beer. What does it matter if you wear tight jeans or dirty overalls? Some of us can't afford to blow $6, $8 or $10 on a single beer.

buffalofalling
buffalofalling

As a homebrewer and beer junkie (does that mean drunk) I've turned my nose to many a bad brew like Genny and PBR (the PBR just out of the pure preteniouness of those drinking it). Honestly, PBR, sucks. But in the search for a decent beer for hot summer days that was smooth and easy (unlike an IPA for example) about two summers ago I bought a sizer of screamers and have been buying it since. Not all the time, but often enough. The ironic part is, the Bud/Labbatt/Coors/Molson crowd of tasteless beer drinkers I hang with laugh, like somehow its garbage compared to what they drink. Hey, its an award winner in the cream ake category!

If it somehow because the beer of choice for tight jeab wearing, fixie riding hipsters, I'll find something else! You don't drink beer because its popular and you want to be seen with it, you drink it because you like and appreciate it.

Next summer, pass on the overpriced Mexican beer, crappy lime-flavored garbage, and over-priced and underdelivering summer ales and try a cold (and I mean cold!) screamer.

Kevin D.
Kevin D.

Iroquois beer sucked also!!!!!!...YUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Kevin D.
Kevin D.

I am sorry!..can't do it!..I think its ridiculous to think that it's the "New Hip Thing to do"!!!!!.Its lousy beer!, always has been,always will be!..You have Flying Bison,and Ellicottville to name a few local brews to enjoy,and they are very good!

PBR tates like crap too!..Narragansets are awfull!..as a wise man once said.."Life is too short to drink bad beer"

Lets just file this all away as trying to be trendy,like "American Idol" and skinny jeans!..both of which make me want to puke as if I just drank a Genny!!!!!!

PS..Its not Western Newe York Heritage anymore than Tim McVay and Love Canal!!!!!!!!!!!!

DTK2OD
DTK2OD

During my planning studio last semester we were touring the grain elevators along Childs Street and we got to see inside the old hop house that had produced Genesee up until the mid-90's. What a great setting that would be for a micro-brewery/restaurant complex with boardwalk seating along the river...

KangDangaLang
KangDangaLang

Southern Tier makes a great beer. No matter if it is brewed in my hometown or not. Ps it's made in Lakewood, not Jamestown :-)

TheRealBuffaloBill
TheRealBuffaloBill

I'm stationed in Manhattan KS and for the last few years Genny has been pretty popular out here. The Hipster drink the stuff like its free. Its not a bad beer at all, and its the same price as Bud. Between the two Genny wins hands down every time.

I was in the Old Chicago and the lady told me it was 'the best cream Ale in America" and it was a micro brew from Rochester NY. I had to laugh at the micro part but people like it out here. Its even in the Class 6 on base.

informedone
informedone

I had me some delicious Genesee over to the

R&L Lounge East Side Style!!!

townline
townline

Genny! Stupid autocorrect!

townline
townline

Had a Benny cream ale in Brooklyn last year. I think it was$1.75 for the can.

nick
nick

Most of the "heritage" brands are now just that, contract brewed and marketed but not actual breweries. Stick to the Genny and Utica Club if you want a true heritage swill.

paulsobo
paulsobo

I prefer Canadian Beer myself though Gennesee was nice and usually inexpensive too.

As a Buffalonian, my feelings are that I would like to see a Buffalo Brand of Beer well known in our region. Perhaps a revival of Iroquois Beer which was the most famous though Buffalo has many.

Are there any local microbrewers that we could help take the next step from a neighborhood beer to a local Beer or a local Beer into a regional Beer.

Jesse
Jesse

Everyone said "oh god, Genny? Yuck!" until someone brought a 12 and we sat after the game, sucking them down saying "You know, this ain't half bad..."

Not that the beer snob in me would ever BUY it, but if it's around, I'll throw back a couple.

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