The Genesis of Genesee Dream Ale

A collaboration beer so unlikely it made perfect sense.

The beers of cult Brooklyn brewer Other Half are fully loaded—bold and juicy and released with muscled-up names like Triple Space Diamonds and Cheddar Broccoli Imperial IPA. With these big flavors—and a little sly marketing—arrive the lines.

Beer geeks, Wall Street bankers, and people paid by Wall Street bankers to wait in line for them (really) all queue up on release day at the brewery’s Carroll Gardens location, often for hours. Really—bring your folding chair. For as long as the brewery has been releasing beers, the lines have been a consistent feature. For Rochester, New York’s Genesee Brewery—“Genny” to many Upstaters—this type of cult-craft hype was a foreign concept. Until it wasn’t.

Genesee is home to a roster of folksy brands including the iconic Genesee Cream Ale. Like Utica Club, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Miller High Life, Genny has deep roots in American brewing history. Originally released in 1960, cream ale is recognized as one of only three beer styles known to have originated in the United States—along with steam beer and light beer.

Over the last half century, Genesee Cream Ale has gained a cult following by beer fans who revere it for its throwback flavor profile—typified by a lack of boldness, counter to much of today’s craft brews—and resistance to change over the years. But, like Old Style and Lone Star, it’s also become popular with younger drinkers, sometimes ironically. Which brings us to Other Half, and their recent move into Genesee country to open a second brewery in nearby Bloomfield, New York. Soon after arriving, they reached out to their new neighbors, a move brokered by a local beer nerd and newspaper writer named Will Cleveland.

“When Other Half approached us as the OG to partner on a collaboration beer that paid homage to Cream Ale, we were very excited to brew with them,” says Dean Jones, brewmaster of Genesee Brew House. Soon after, Genesee invited the brewers from Other Half to visit them on their home turf, and a collaboration was set into motion.

“We basically adapted Genesee’s classic Cream Ale with a few ingredients from our classic Dream and Daydream series,” says Other Half brewer Sam Richardson of the collaboration that was christened Genesee Dream Ale. The beer fell into the category of oat cream ales—sometimes called milkshake ale—where milk sugar (lactose) and oats are added just enough to make the beer soft and slightly creamy without being milky. The result is smooth and round on the palate, with Richardson adding a “good amount” of Citra hops at the end.

The release was truly a limited edition: A single 20-barrel batch, yielding roughly 170 cases of 16-ounce cans, was brewed in February and released on March 22, 2019. By 11 a.m. on that bone-chilling morning (even for upstate standards), more than 500 people stood in line in the snow-covered parking lot of Genesee. Originally beer sales were limited to three four-packs per person, but that limit was soon decreased to one four-pack, to make sure as many people could get a taste of the dream as possible. The limited-run beer—exact figures were not released—quickly sold out, but you can still find cans lurking in bottle shops in the Rochester area. (Jones and Richardson are tight-lipped about the possibility of future collaborations.)

In beer, there’s traditionally a gulf between the large conglomerates and small craft brewers. Yet a collaboration like this proves that the two worlds can certainly coexist and thrive with the correct approach. Both brewers see Dream Ale as an important symbol of what can come of mutual respect for big and small, old and new—so long as quality reigns.

“My feeling is that you always win people over with goodwill and understanding,” says Richardson of teaming up with a large corporate brewing partner—a pairing that could have been scuttled by differences of opinion, but ultimately worked out because of a true love of the art of making beer. “Some of the big guys try to draw a line in the sand—you are either with us or against us, and it’s too bad for them.” Luckily for this collaboration between two new neighbors, it was all love. And a highly coveted beer that you probably didn’t get to drink.

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Christopher Osburn is a freelance writer located in Western New York. He primarily writes about food and drinks and has been lucky enough to travel all over the world from Taiwan to Tacoma sampling whiskey, vodka, rum and every other potion, tonic and potable in between.