The history of the Genesee Brewing Co. is both unique and fortunate. The brewhouse was one of five breweries in Rochester that survived through prohibition, and the only one that still exists today. Currently, the Genesee Brewery is not only a trademark for the “Flower City,” but also a symbol of the rich history of breweries in Rochester.
According to “The Register of United States Breweries 1876-1976” by Manfred Friedrich and Donald Bull, the first brewery in Rochester was the Aqueduct Spring Brewery, established in 1819. Throughout the 19th century, 50 additional breweries opened up in Rochester, a reflection of the city’s vibrant German heritage. In particular, three large Rochester breweries played an integral part in the development of the city's brewing industry: The Cataract Brewing Company, Bartholomay Breweries, and the Genesee Brewhouse. At the end of the 19th century, Bartholomay Brewing Company employed 150 men, making it the biggest brewery in town.
“Breweries were large employers,” then City Historian Ruth Rosenberg-Napersteck wrote in the Spring, 1992 edition of Rochester History, “Not only in the breweries, but in support industries. There were bottlers, salesmen, teamsters, ice cutters, farmers, tavern keepers … When brewing ended, hundreds of men in the city lost their jobs.”
When the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920, all American breweries, including Genesee, closed. Rochester resident Louis A. Wehle, who worked at breweries throughout his life, turned his talents from brewing to the baking business. The Wehle Baking Company pioneered the home delivery of fresh baked goods. Despite this success, at the end of Prohibition in 1933, Wehle sold his Buffalo-based baking business to Boston’s Hathaway Bakery for $1.3 million in order to re-invest in brewing beer. Eager to return to the beer business, Wehle used profits from the sale of his bakery to purchase the former Genesee brewery and parts of the Bartholomay brewery, which was adjacent to the brewhouse.
The new Genesee Brewing Company was incorporated on July 8, 1934. The company began to ship and distribute their product across New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, expanding their business and brand. In 2000, the brewing company was sold to an employee investment group who changed their name to High Falls Brewing Co. High Falls Brewery was then sold to a New York City investment group to be run as part of its North American Breweries subsidiary. In June 2009, North American Breweries announced that the name of the brewery would be changed back to Genesee Brewing Co. to reflect the company's long history.
Today the Genesee Brewing Company is an integral part of North American Breweries, the largest independently owned beer company in the United States.