Crafting a New Trail

Black Button Distilling founder Jason Barrett organized the original Rochester Craft Beverage Trail in 2014
by Christen Smith,
Finger Lakes Visitors Connection

When local distiller Jason Barrett began seeing the success of craft beverage trails around New York state, he didn’t just sit idly by. He knew there wasn’t such a trail in Rochester, so he decided to create one.

“When I see an opportunity for collaboration and growth, I like to jump on that and make the best of it as soon as possible,” he said.

Barrett founded Black Button Distilling in June 2012 at only 24 years old. Its tasting room and retail store opened in January 2014, offering spirits tastings, distillery tours, craft cocktails and a unique event space. He is head distiller and owner.

While Barrett had every intention of turning the trail into a viable, self-sufficient entity, he found it to be tough.

“The original trail really lacked enough cohesion and size to effectively market itself. After all, the whole goal of a trail is to combine the power of many to advertise each other’s business collectively. You have to get to a certain size to be an attraction,” he said.

Barrett reached out to Finger Lakes Visitors Connection, the official tourism promotion bureau for Ontario County, for some help and marketing guidance. And a new partnership was born.

It has resulted in an expanded trail called the Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail, or the “ROC/FLX Craft Beverage Trail.” The marketing partnership connects breweries, brew pubs, distilleries, wineries and hard cideries from Rochester through Ontario County and parts of Wayne County.

This newly formed craft beverage trail had been in the works for a while. Legislation for its support was introduced by Senator Rich Funke and Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle in 2016. The legislation would allow for signage to support the trail.

“The Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail supports and promotes our craft beverage industry, bringing attention to the hundreds of great locations in our communities,” said Senator Funke. “New York’s craft beverage industry is a major contributor to our economy, and I’m proud to say our region is making some of the best beers, wines, and spirits anywhere.”

“Our community boasts a long and proud brewing heritage which has been bolstered by the recent growth of local craft breweries, brew pubs and distilleries. I am proud to support the growth of these breweries which are not only making significant contributions to our local tourism and agriculture economies, but also exposing locals and tourists alike to some of the best beer in the world,” said Assembly Majority Leader Morelle.

“This trail will build awareness of this burgeoning sector of culinary tourism, and lets visitors know that they can take the trail and have a unique experience,” said President of Finger Lakes Visitors Connection Valerie Knoblauch. “Wine and grape juice is a $4.8 billion industry in New York, while breweries contribute $3.5 billion to the state economy. Both industries bolster tourism throughout the state, but especially in the Finger Lakes Region.”

John Brahm, founder of Arbor Hill Grapery and Winery in Naples, and a founding member of the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, thought it was important to join the craft beverage trail. Plus, he liked the collaborative spirit.

“We wanted to join the Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage trail because of the promotion and recognition that comes with being a member,” said Brahm. “It’s nice because we recommend each other; we play well together.”

Brahm says he sees the trail as a way to help craft beverage lovers expand their tasting horizons.

“When you follow a trail, you meet interesting owners and guests of like mind. This is particularly true for us along the Canandaigua Lake Wine Trail, because we’re only six wineries. By having more stops, it makes it more interesting for all,” he said. “Without a trail to follow, you have to pick and choose where to stop. This makes it easy – it’s all laid out for you. It takes the guesswork out and makes the journey more enjoyable.”

Arbor Hill’s brew pub, Brew & Brats at Arbor Hill, purchases craft beer and spirits from seven trail members.

Black Button’s Barrett says the new partnership promises to be a win-win for everyone involved. “There’s more strength in marketing together,” he said. “This will allow a strong partnership between the Craft Beverage Trail and the Canandaigua Wine Trail. You see a lot of collaborations between producers making special products and we help each other out when we can.”

Dave Schlosser, co-founder of Canandaigua’s Naked Dove Brewing Company, joined because he liked the idea of being part of an organization in which he would have a say.

“The Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail is predominantly run by producers,” said Schlosser. “It’s not somebody else’s ‘pay to play’ trail. It’s our own trail, our marketing. Decisions are made based on what we think.”

Schlosser and co-founders Don Cotter and Ken Higgins opened Naked Dove in 2010. They met in 2001 at High Falls Brewery in Rochester where Don was head of sales and Dave was head brewmaster. Schlosser had previously been head brewmaster at Rohrbachs in Rochester and at Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls.

Since the craft industry started, some 400 breweries have opened in New York state. The market is crowded, said Schlosser, but depending on the brewer’s business plan, there is room for everyone. “You have to know where you fit in the market,” he said.

Schlosser said he likes the mix of breweries, distilleries, cideries, and wineries that make up the Rochester/Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Trail.

“Our trail gives visitors so many different opportunities to sample wine, distilled products, cheese, and beer — it’s not one or the other. We offer a little bit of everything,” he said. “A formalized trail gives legitimacy to our efforts, plus it offers a larger group of producers for people to visit.”

Barrett agrees. “We make it easier to identify and plan a day of experiencing unique local beverages made in your backyard. A lot of the smaller operations are hard to find and the trail helps highlight them — because you want to make a day of it. People want to try different beverages, see different atmospheres, learn new things. It’s a sense of adventure and exploring your community with friends. And you get to try some great locally made beer, spirits or wine in the process.”

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