The 139-year-old Genesee Brewery will be using the nearly 200-year old Erie Canal to transport 12 gigantic fermentation tanks to its Rochester facility, proving that old and seemingly outdated transportation methods, at least in New York state, are still a viable and modern-day option.
“It’s what the Erie Canal was built for, to get products from the coast to western New York and some of the other areas inland, so it fits its purpose 190 years later,” said Mark Fabrizio, director of project management and continuous improvement at North American Breweries, which owns Genesee.
The new tanks will be installed as part of a $140 million modernization project at Genesee’s Rochester brewing facility.
Each tank is approximately 60 feet in length and 20 feet in diameter, and each is capable of fermenting 62,000 gallons of beer at a time. Fabrizio said company officials initially wanted to transport the tanks via surface roads, but quickly realized such an option wasn’t feasible because of their size.
“Once you pass about 18 feet in diameter it’s virtually impossible to get an over-the-road permit,” he said.
The company charged with getting the tanks to Rochester had another idea: What if we use the Erie Canal?
Fabrizio and other company officials quickly saw that the Erie Canal was the best option.
“It’ll be very interesting, you don’t see something like this every day,” said Fabrizio, who is overseeing the modernization project at the brewery.
The tanks were set to start their trip on May 9, but but due to recent rainfall in western New York the water levels are high enough to create problems with passage along the canal. The 12 tanks are currently sitting on four 150-foot barges at the Port of Coeymans in Albany County, waiting to receive word on when they can begin their trip along the canal.
The tentative date for beginning the trip has been pushed back to Tuesday. The journey will take 6 to 8 days, said Fabrizio, traversing over 200 miles on the way to Rochester.
Genesee wanted to modernize the brewery in order to improve its operating efficiency and reduce the brewery’s environmental impact on water and energy usage. The work won’t actually add any jobs to the 600-member workforce or increase production capacity to the brewery, but it will position Genesee for future growth.
“When it’s completed, we’ll be in a position to expand in the future as demand and sales and business grows,” said Fabrizio.
The brewery currently produces just shy of 1 million barrels of beer per year, with one barrel representing 31 US gallons. Their signature brews are the Genny Beer, Genny Light and Genny Cream Ale line of beers. They also produce craft suds at their microbrewery, which they serve on draft at Genesee’s taproom and restaurant.
Fabrizio said when a craft concoction sells well at the restaurant the brewery will brew it on a larger scale for distribution.
As part of the modernization project, Genesee will build a new brewhouse, where grain is converted into sugar and ultimately hopped and fermented. They're also building an outside fermentation center and installing a dry hopping system, which will add hops to the beer after it’s been brewed but before it’s packaged.
Genesee is commemorating the Erie Canal transit with a #toastthetanks hashtag, and are asking people to visit the canal and lift a cold one once the journey is underway. The brewery will update the public when the tanks are set to leave port. Check back on The Daily Gazette’s website and social media pages for more updated information.
For Fabrizio, one of the coolest things about the entire project will be seeing the tanks traverse such an old and historic piece of state history.
“If you live around the Erie Canal or grew up in New York State you learned about the Erie Canal, but you don’t really hear too much about it these days,” he said. “Well we’re certainly going to be using it.”