Walk into a bar anywhere in the Northeast and ask for “Jenny,” and you’ll likely get a pint from New York State’s oldest brewery. Since 1878, The Genesee Brewery has brewed the same flagship Genesee Beer — also known as “Genny” beer — at its Rochester brewery. Along with this traditional American pale lager, the brewery is perhaps best known today for its Genesee Cream Ale, which set the standard for an original American beer style.
But Genesee has seen a lot of changes over the last 142 years, from Prohibition to the rise of craft brewing. Now part of FIFCO USA, the eighth-largest beer company in the United States, Genesee is keeping things fresh with trendy collaborations and dry-hopped variations of its classic beers.
Think you know Genny? Read on for 12 more things you should know about this classic American brand.
Genesee Cream Ale rises to the top.
Genesee Cream Ale, also known as Genny Cream Ale, maintains a bit of a cult status with beer drinkers. It’s hard to imagine a time when Genny Cream Ale wasn’t an option at your local watering hole. But the beer wasn’t actually introduced to the Genesee lineup until 1960, making it 82 years younger than the original Genesee Beer.
Looking for an alternative to the standard pilsner, then-Brewmaster Clarence Geminn turned to a classic American style. He developed a unique recipe (one that remains a secret but that Genesee has faithfully stuck to it) to craft the beer, brewed with ale yeast but fermented at lager temperatures. The result endures as the standard for all cream ales to this day. In the years since it first debuted, it’s taken home two gold medals from the Great American Beer Festival.
The brewery’s nickname, “Jenny” or “Genny,” has likely been around for decades but its 1952 ad campaign solidified it for everyone not already in the know. According to Genesee records, the original ad featured model and actress Daphne Dore (though some still question the identity of the first “Jenny”) balancing a pint of Genesee beer on a tray. A tagline invited customers to “ask for Jenny.”
The campaign succeeded and grew to become the brewery’s most successful ad to date. Over the years, several women stood in as “Jenny” to walk in parades or appear at events. While the last “Jenny” ad ran in 1962, the image of “Miss Jenny” still appears on brewery merchandise and patrons continue to ask for “Jenny” as they pull up a chair at the bar.
Genesee’s equipment draws crowds.
The original location in Rochester underwent a $50 million revamp in 2017. Construction lasted for nearly three years. The most exciting part of the project happened when Genesee’s 12 brand new fermentation tanks floated along the Erie Canal from Albany to Rochester, passing through the 35 locks that raised or lowered watercrafts as they flowed on through. Curious fans came to watch the tanks on their journey until they reached the brewery.
Turn left at the giant Genesee Beer sign.
In the early 1950s, Genesee gifted the people of Auburn, N.Y., with an iconic (and hard to miss) landmark. A 26-foot-high, 48-foot-wide Genesee Beer sign took its place atop a six-story building and lit up the sky every night until the 1970s when it shut off for nearly 40 years. In 2011, the brewery teamed up with local businesses to refurbish the sign with over 9,120 LED lights and relight it with a big festival in town.
Cream work makes the Dream work.
After fellow New Yorkers Other Half Brewing from Brooklyn launched a satellite location in Bloomfield, just a half an hour drive from Rochester, local journalist Will Cleveland had an idea: Other Half should brew a beer with its new neighbor, Genesee. Both breweries agreed, and got to brewing. Genesee brewmaster Dean Jones and Other Half’s Sam Richardson merged Cream Ale with elements of the Brooklyn-based brewery’s Dream and Daydream series. The collaboration resulted in Genny Dream Ale, an oat cream ale with lactose and a dose of Citra hops. The smooth, creamy beer came with a hoppy bite.
The Tri-State collaborations didn’t stop at Other Half: Genesee most recently concocted Hop State of Mind Cream Ale with Queens-based Big aLICe Brewing using hops from Chimney Bluffs Hoppery in Wolcott, N.Y. The beer blends Genesee’s classic Cream Ale with New York State artisan hops for another smooth brew that features a burst of hoppy flavor.
The original brewery bowled a strike.
Beer was a booming business in Rochester long before Genesee showed up. In 1857, one of the many breweries landing in the city, Reisky & Sky, opened its own saloon and bowling alley. This was the location that local entrepreneur Mathius Kondolf purchased and renamed Genesee Brewing in 1878.
While the bowling alley is long gone, the current Genesee Brew House still occupies buildings from the original Reisky & Sky brewery campus. In 2012, the newly refurbished location welcomed guests with lots of exhibits to show off the brewery’s past.
Its longtime brewmaster was born into brewing. Literally.
The Wehle family first stepped into the business in 1916 when Louis A. Wehle accepted the position of brewmaster and became the youngest person to hold that position in New York. That same year, Louis’s wife gave birth to their firstborn, Jack Wehle, on the property of the brewery.
When the brewery shut down during Prohibition, the elder Wehle opened a bakery and earned enough money to purchase Genesee Brewing in 1932, just in time to reopen it as the Genesee Brewing Company.
Jack Wehle, who joined the company at age 22, took over as chairman when his father passed away in 1964. Jack’s son, Ted Wehle, would later succeed him in 1993. When Ted passed away in 1999, that ended the Wehle family’s 67-year legacy running the brewery.
Genesee partied like it was 1933.
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1919, and while Genesee was forced to close, Louis Wehle took up a new career as a baker. His business was so successful that he was able to sell it in 1929 for $1.3 million, which he then used to purchase the old Genesee Brewery as well as a neighboring brewery just in time for the repeal of Prohibition. He even hired as many of the former Genesee employees as he could.
Genesee is one of the few breweries in the country that can say where it was when Prohibition ended. The company restarted shipping beer on April 27, 1933. To mark that milestone, Louis Wehle hosted a huge bash. The event brought 4,000 attendees to the Powers Hotel in Rochester.
Genesee’s post-Prohibition beer delivery rivaled the Clydesdales.
Wehle also marked the end of Prohibition with a new beer: 12 Horse Ale, an English-style ale. He even got fancy with delivery, designing a 12-horse hitch — the first of its kind. Twelve red roan Belgian horses hitched in rows of three pulled a red wagon from bar to bar. A businessman through and through, Wehle made sure to trademark his one-of-a-kind hitch, making it the first official stamp of ownership for the brewery.
Now only occasionally available, the beer itself was the first Genesee beer brewed with top-fermenting ale yeast, one that the brewery acquired from England that year and would go on to gain notoriety as Genesee’s proprietary yeast. It was used in the brewing of all Genesee’s ales from that day forward.
Another former brewmaster brewed there for half a century.
In 2019, John Fischer retired from his position as Genesee’s corporate brewmaster. He’d been brewing there since 1967, making him the brewer with the longest tenure at the company. And while he did take a three-year leave of absence to serve in the military, he came back and created Honey Brown, a golden amber lager with a malty flavor.
Genesee’s Christmas tree is two stories high, and made with steel.
A new holiday tradition was born in 2014 when Genesee stacked 300 kegs in the shape of a Christmas tree. The structure stood over two stories high. Each year, the brewery recreates the “tree” in front of the Rochester brew house. In 2019, the “tree” reached 27 feet.
Genesee races to the finish line.
The brewery’s longtime legacy extends outside of beer. Since the 1970s, Genesee has sponsored race cars and raceways, including Warren Agor, who drove car number 13 around stock car tracks all over upstate New York. Genesee Beer’s logo graced the side of the car.
That legacy races on as Genesee teams up with Watkins Glen International Race Track in Schuyler County, N.Y. The pace car for each race features the Genesee logo.
Published: October 23, 2020