rhbt_120You wouldn't know it was only the first hour.  The beer tasting room at the Rogue's Harbor Brewing Company had a party vibe as a group of tasters stood around the bar, laughing, chatting and sampling the beer.  The very first growler of the brewery's unique root beer also sold within that first hour.  All indications were that the new tasting room will become a popular staple of the Finger Lakes Beer Trail.

"There is a very devoted crowd of people who come and seek this stuff out," says Brewer Chris Williams.  "I see this place now as a waypoint in the beer trail and the wine trail and the cheese trail.  From Route 81 they can come off and they get to go to Cortland Beer, Hopshire, Bacchus, Scale House, and come here.  I call this the Beer Trail spur.  Then they can keep going and they're on the wine trail.  Maybe we'll see a lot more people hanging out here around three and staying to go next door to the restaurant when it opens at four."

rhbt_tastersA festive crowd came during the first hour to sample the beers made at Rogue's Harbor Brewing Company

Rogue's Harbor Inn owner Eileen Stout says she opened the brewery because she wanted something unique for the bar and restaurant, branded with the inn's identity.  When she met Williams she was thinking of opening a brewery, and he was looking for a place to open one as well.  Though they met for an unrelated reason, the outcome was a brewery that has produced a popular line of local beers.

"It was overdue," Stout says.  "Chris had been talking to me about it for a while and a lot of people stop by during the day.  The inn isn't open during the day.  They want to see the brewery and they want to talk to Chris and try the beers.  So here we are."

The beer has been for sale in the Rogue's Harbor Inn restaurant and bar since the brewery opened.  You can also take it to go in 32 or 64 ounce growlers.  Owner Eileen Stout says she has no plans to can or bottle the beer, but the brewery already has the ability to distribute beer in kegs.

"I would like to distribute it on a very small scale," she says.  Treleaven is going to start carrying our beer for the non-wine drinkers who stop in for tastings, and Izzo's White Barn Winery as well.  The point of this is to have a house brand identity.  We would like to wholesale in the future, but we would need a larger system."

Visitors can expect to taste five beers including a cream ale, a red ale, a pale ale, a Belgian wheat style beer and a special beer of the month, currently a rye stout. 

And root beer.  Williams says that root beer offers a choice for people who don't like beer, or who bring children.  His root beer recipe is a unique blend that has a bit of a bite to it, plus after nice and surprising after-tastes.

"I've been dying to make root beer for a long, long time," he says.  "You use the same equipment that you do to make beer.  We have five beers all the time.  Most breweries make root beer, but it's an item that would mean sacrificing a tap in the restaurant.  When we built the tasting room I decided to put in a sixth tap for the root beer."

rhbt__coolerandchrisBrewer Chris Williams showing the cooler he adapted to dispense beer

Those taps are in a jury-rigged beverage cooler that Williams converted into a beer dispensing unit.  There are six kegs inside the cooler with tubes running to the taps, attached to the side of the cooler.  There is still room to store hops and other raw materials that need refrigeration, but that part is hidden by the back wall behind the bar.

The team scrambled to get everything ready in time for Saturday's opening.  While Williams crafted the cooler and taps, Stout's husband built the bar, while the others scrambled to paint and prepare the space, which is a corner of the brewery.  That means that the tanks and equipment are in plain view, so tasters can see the beer being made and smell the hops and yeast.  Williams says that having the tasting bar right in the brewery is unique.  On Saturday visitors watched Assistant Brewer Alex Schwartz working on the next batch as they tried the beers that had been brewed only a few feet away.

"Alex is a very talented person," Williams says.  "Occasionally he will bring samples of his own beers, and the Belgian wheat beer is Alex's recipe.  He brought that in and I said 'this is a great beer and we're going to make it'.  It's such a good beer that it's going to be around every year."

rhbt_tanksWhile beer is consumed at the tasting bar the next batch is being prepared in the tanks

Williams says he has been brewing beer himself since President Carter signed a law in 1979 that allows home brewing.  He worked at a brewery near Rochester for about a year before signing on with Stout.  He had been looking for a place to open a brewery when they met.

"We got talking and she said 'I'd like to have a brewery.'  And I said 'I happen to have one.'", Williams recalls.  I see the tasting room as more than a place to come experience beer.  It is the beginning of tourism in the area.  You see it in other places where their tasting rooms are busy.  You see that here on our first day and I don't anticipate it changing.  People will be coming to this section of town for the beer and they will be looking for other things to do, or they're on their way to do things.  It plays into this desire for the Town Of Lansing to try to cultivate sustained tourism."

Since purchasing the inn, Stout has added many features to the bar and restaurant on the ground floor.  She restored and decorated rooms upstairs for what is now a thriving Bed & Breakfast business, and in 2008 reopened the historic third floor ballroom for special events.  She and Williams opened the brewery in 2011.  Williams says he anticipates the tasting room will exceed Stout's sales expectations.  He says it is the newest step in the brewery's evolution.

"Every year we've added something," he says.  "The first year we were getting our feet on the ground.  The second year we got another fermenter to add to our capacity and the consumption started to go up and up.  We talked about a tasting room last year, but other plans got in the way.  There is an investment involved, but I just knew in my gut that this would pan out.  It's always been in the back of our minds, but this is the time for it."

The small building next to the historic Rogue's Harbor Inn has had a varied history.  Since Stout purchased the inn it was a jewelry shop, two coffee shops and a sandwich shop before it was transformed for making beer.

"It's going to stay a brewery," Stout says.  "We're happy with it.  It's just the right size."

Her own favorite beer is the White Dog Wit.

"It's a little on the sweeter side," she says.  "It's summery.  And it's got my two super-cute dogs, two white boxers, on the label."