When I tell people I’m originally from Upstate New York, it typically comes with a qualifier: an extra “up” tacked on as an awkward prefix to create Up-Upstate New York. If I just stick to regular, old “Upstate,” there’s a good chance people will assume I’m talking about some place in Westchester County.
It’s a never-ending discussion, trying to figure out non-specific geographic boundaries, but the real reason it has importance is because it paints the picture that there is so much more to New York than its namesake city. The area where I grew up offers plenty, and for generations, its drinking culture was based around wine produced in the Finger Lakes. Craft beer was Genny Cream Ale or Saranac Black Forest, a beloved Schwarzbier. But in recent years, the idea of what beer is and can be has rapidly changed as local production has come to be defined by small businesses.
As I visited my hometown of Geneva, New York this summer, I was excited to see how the beer scene has changed. One of the more recent additions was Bottomless Brewing, barely outside Geneva’s limits, built inside an old dairy barn and located amongst rolling farmland so ubiquitous for the area. Its name connects to the “bottomless” depth of nearby Seneca Lake, one of the bodies of water connected to the region’s Finger Lakes name.
I sat down with Jennifer Myers, head brewer, and one of the founders, Tom Thompson. Jennifer is something of a veteran of the very young Finger Lakes beer scene, having worked in beer for seven years and acting as brewer for six of them. Over the course of our interview, you’ll hear Tom pop in and out - a natural part of being the one running a business - as he takes care of opening the space, welcoming customers and tending bar. It was actually a good example of what it takes to run a small business: you’ve got to be a jack of all trades at all times.
Throughout our conversation, the three of us talk about what it takes to open a brewery and, most important, change minds and succeed in a region where some people are still figuring out what “craft” beer means to them.