A few weeks ago, I was visiting Rochester for some Unlimited Brewing work and had some downtime to hang out with my friend and mentor Bill Belias. We decided to take a quick road trip out to the Finger Lakes to visit Three Brothers Wineries and their (on premise) brewery called War Horse Brewing Company.
During our visit, I had a chance to meet and later interview brewery manager Jon Mansfield. Speaking from personal experience, War Horse Brewing is doing a great job making delicious beer using local, New York-grown ingredients. My two favorite beers in their lineup were the Breakfast with Churchill Oatmeal Stout and the Lieutenant Dan IPA. Sooo good.
Here’s the interview with Jon:
So what’s the War Horse Brewing founding story?
Three Brothers Wineries was started in 2007 but War Horse opened as a contract-brewed tasting room in 2008. We only started brewing on-site very recently – June 2016. The brewery was started as something to give people a “break” from the wineries but now it’s turned into something that everyone seems to enjoy.
What makes War Horse Brewing Company unique?
We can combine the worlds of brewing and wine making to really create some awesome stuff. We also, thanks to the Finger Lakes and our winery, get all kinds of people from every level of “beer knowledge” so we get to chase any whim or whimsy we want and we can find someone who will enjoy it as well.
Distribution and sales is such a tricky game in beer. What is your strategy and how did you land on that?
We self-distribute and have a tasting room that’s open every day. We get a fair amount of people (100-125K per year!) through our doors at the wineries and brewery. We are very lucky in that regard – we get to have full control over what we have created – from the drive into the walk by the production brewery, to how the cooler is set up, and ultimately how we serve everything. We try and have some of the same control when we send the beer out. Connor, our Brewery Sales Director, is out there working to make sure what we’ve spent all this time making, gets shown the way we believe it should. The beauty of that is, when the beer, cider, etc., is shown off properly it works best for both us and the place that’s serving.
Our focus is on sharing our delicious beers with people and encouraging them to tell their friends. Kind of like how you visited us based on a recommendation from your friend Bill and are now telling others about War Horse. That’s our goal every time someone walks into our tasting room.
Tell us about the local beer scene and how that’s influenced you?
The western NY/Finger Lakes beer scene is really coming into its own. There has been a pride in local beer for a long time now, thanks to the Godfathers out here – F.X. Matt, Genesee, were a kind of first-wave, with places like Rohrbach and Wagner Valley coming in as second-wave. Now there is such a strong presence for not just beer, but really awesome beer, being brewed in our area, that people are seeking it out because it’s damn good, not just because it’s local.
Brewmaster’s Reserve fans are really into experimentation and unique brews. How do you guys come up with new ideas for beers?
We try and make beers with purpose, especially as it relates to a specific time or place. We do a lot outside when it’s nice so we make some beers for outside. We spend a good chunk of the year bundled up, we make beer for waiting out a storm. A lot of the folks we know run the farms around here, so we make beer for after putting the tractor away, brewed with local ingredients. Seneca Lake has a bit of a magical feel at night in the summer. There is an old legend of the Lake Drums that you can hear on a perfectly quiet night. We have beer for when you’re sitting outside watching the lake roll around, just as the breeze starts to cool. Purposeful beers and ciders that are both complex and approachable are our favorite.
What are some of your favorite breweries (other than your own of course)?
Seneca Lake has been killing it lately. Lucky Hare, Wagner, Seneca Lake Brewery, Lake Drum, and a bunch more are amazing. Locally we have been spending some considerable time talking about (read: drinking) the beers coming out of Prison City Brewing in Auburn.
Any upcoming news or new releases at the brewery?
We just brought out a Belgian Wit that we make in partnership with the National Women’s Hall of Fame out here in Seneca Falls, NY. We call it Inspiring Ale, part of the sales goes to them and the awesome stuff they do. We have a seasonal sour that we call Tarty McFly that uses whatever local fruit is in season whenever we brew it. The big one coming up in June is our 1 Year Anniversary beer – BARIS (Big Ass Russian Imperial Stout) that is barrel aged for a year and being released at our “Birthday Party”.
And on a final note, if people haven’t checked out what’s going on in the Finger Lakes, you definitely need to come up. It’s a beautiful spot for vacation, living, and especially growing things. The crops that come out of the ground here are so good and of such high quality – it makes it a complete pleasure to create things.
Learn more about War Horse Brewing Company through the links below: