Rochester, New York is a city rich in reinvention. Its initial founding provided the grain mills lining the Genesee River an opportunity for unprecedented growth that got carried along the Erie Canal. Later, railroad innovation would replace the canal, and then railroads were replaced by automobiles. The grain mills were soon replaced by a flourishing nursery market, which is how the city’s nickname went from “The Flour City” to “The Flower City.” The nursery market was later pruned to allow room for technology icons like Eastman Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb. But, in between the nursery and technology booms, a lesser-known history was being woven in Rochester’s historic Garment District.
Between about 1890 and 1960, the towering facades that line St. Paul Street were home to a neighborhood known as “Clothier’s Row.” At one point, as many as 10,000 garment industry workers packed into factory spaces and churned out men’s suits, ties, mittens, shoes, and textiles that ultimately would be worn around the world. International clothier brands like the still-thriving Hickey Freeman were born of this section of the city, just blocks from the river. With almost half of Rochester’s gainfully employed citizens involved in garment production, the stage was set for a revolution. During the 1910s, labor strikes, parades, politics, and even a couple of fatal mishaps helped to reshape legislation and would go on to change conditions for factory workers nationwide. Nearly a perfect century later, this same historic row of buildings is undergoing a new revolution. But, this time, it's a coffee revolution.
A local development company has plans to reinvent Clothier’s Row to attract growth within this section of the city. Residential apartments, office spaces, retail, and eateries will make up what is being dubbed The Hive. In deference to the community, residents of the neighborhood were allowed to vote in 2015 on which applicants for these mixed-use commercial spaces would be the first to inhabit The Hive. The community voted in favor of beer makers Fifth Frame Brewing, who in turn received not only prime sidewalk frontage in The Hive but also free rent for one year and free consultation work to get up and running.
Though coffee roasting is plentiful in Rochester and so is beer-making, the fact that Fifth Frame plans to roast their own coffee as an ingredient in the beers they brew on-site is uncommon. Coffee beers are nothing new, but using a brewed coffee—and a brewer's own coffee—directly as an actual fifth ingredient in beer is fairly cutting edge. This practice happens at just a few places around the world—including here in Rochester at Fifth Frame.
The team that makes up Fifth Frame is a trio of minds that has worked directly in some of the most noted areas of the city in their respective roles. Jon Mervine is one of the principal founders of the popular ROC Brewing Company and brings years of experience in making beer to the new project. Wade Reed honed his coffee roasting knowledge while working at the nationally-known Joe Bean Coffee Roasters. It was while working at Joe Bean that Reed first met the third member of the team, Jarred Foster, who also spent years at Java’s, one of the city’s most popular and long-standing cafes. Each brings his own experience in the beverage world and a unique palate, but their direction is unified.
They’ve begun with a few small batch sample roasts that have been made public, but ultimately they’ll be roasting single-origin beans in an ample Öztürk 15 kilogram roaster. While the majority of what gets roasted is planned for their in-house espresso/coffee bar and for making beer, they’ll have some bags available for purchase as well. What doesn’t get sold in bags or included in beer will end up in their pour-overs, nitro cold brew, and espresso drinks—pulled from a three-group volumetric Nuova Simonelli Black Eagle espresso machine.
Before their projected open date this coming December, the guys have been receiving the support of Rochester’s close-knit network of baristas. Though the current interior design of the Fifth Frame headquarters on St. Paul Street may still require a bit of imagination, the future vision of building community around Rochester specialty coffee and beer has already begun.
Chris Clemens is a freelance journalist based in Rochester, New York, and the publisher of Exploring Upstate. This is Chris Clemens' first feature for Sprudge.