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In a beer scene as young as Rochester’s, to say that a brewery produces clean beers without any obvious defects is a compliment. True, that should absolutely be the minimum standard to which all brewers—homebrew or commercial—hold themselves, but it’s not always the case. It ought to be nearly unheard-of, but it’s not uncommon to be served a local “sour,” “Belgian,” or “lacto” brew that tastes very much like something went wrong with the fermentation, and rather than toss the batch and start over, they decide to sell it.
This is a major beef with Justin Henderson, head brewer at Three Huskies Brewing. Located in the rear half of Dobbers Sports Bar & Grill, in Canandaigua, Three Huskies offers nine beers on tap in the winter, and closer to five or six in the summer. Not one of their beers is, or ever has been, a sour. Justin doesn’t like sour beers, and doesn’t believe in deliberately infecting his brews. And, despite what is likely a small profit margin, he refuses to sell any batch that doesn’t meet his high standards; “If it doesn’t pass my tastes, no one will ever see it,” he says while sliding a tasting glass in front of me.
At 4.7% ABV, this is the lightest beer on tap, and a big seller with the domestic crowd. But don’t worry, this is a real beer, not recycled horse water. Pale straw in color, with a hint of citrus in the nose and little to no DMS, this is one of the best Kölsch examples I’ve tasted.
Justin started brewing seven or eight years ago; his first batch, brewed with a Mr. Beer kit, was so bad that he dumped it after a few sips. Undeterred, he acquired better equipment—and more knowledge—and soon made the leap from extract, to all-grain brewing.
Cold as Helles
With a 6% ABV, it’s technically a bit strong for the style, but who’s counting? Three Huskies keeps one lager on tap at all times, and right now, it’s this one. It’s a good, clean lager, tasting of Noble hops, malt, and with a hint of German lager bite. Regulars at Dobbers, who grew up in Munich, have apparently praised this version highly, saying it’s better than the stuff they drank at home.
Wooing Wit Blackberry
Versions of this 6% ABV witbier are the only Belgians that Three Huskies produces. They do a traditional version in the spring, raspberry in summer, blackberry in fall, and for winter, a wit brewed with honey. Coriander and a light bit of wheat are evident in the nose, along with some notes from the blackberries, which Three Huskies obtains as puree from a company in Portland, Oregon (unsurprising, since that’s where most homebrewers get their brewing fruits from, too). The wit is pleasantly malty, with a light wheat and Belgian yeast bite, and some hops in the finish.
Dobbers and Three Huskies are very much a family concern. Now in their fourth year of owning the sports bar, Mary and Todd Henderson provide the space for the brewery, and all four of them—Todd, Mary, Justin, and his wife, Venessa—put in many hours running what is now a brewpub. “We’ve learned that at least one of us needs to be here at all times,” Justin explains while tending to customers on a busy Sunday afternoon. “No one cares about you as much as you do,” he says with a wry smile, and an admission that constantly being in such close quarters with family can be a “pain in the ass.”
And the quarters are close, especially when the place is busy, say, during Sunday afternoon and Monday night football, or a big NASCAR race. Three Huskies operates on a 3 barrel system; the gleaming stainless steel fermenters are right behind the bar, and all the rest of the brewery can be seen at a glance around the corner. But despite the slightly cluttered feeling that goes with operating out of such a small space (Stoneyard still has them beat for the tiniest professional brewing area I’ve seen), the equipment is meticulously maintained, and there’s not a speck of dust to be seen on any of it.
“We just finished brewing about an hour ago,” Justin explains when a customer comments on the warmth, and the malty smell lingering in the air. You wouldn’t know it, to look at the equipment. “You obviously take sanitation very seriously,” I remark, impressed with the clean taste of all his beers.
“Damned right we do,” he says with pride. Both Todd and Mary are military veterans, and the tradition of service goes back several generations, on both sides of the family. An only child, Justin did not join up himself, but his upbringing shows in the spotless brewing equipment, polished so often the welds on the glycol-jacketed, Portland fermenters are perfectly smooth and mirror-shiny, and in the lack of fermentation issues with the beers themselves. There’s no dog hair in Justin’s brews.
Arctic Amber Ale
Another entry in the 6-ish% range, this amber is roasty (but not overpoweringly so) with an almost surprising caramel-ness, considering the base is all American 2-row.
Strangely enough, in an area where it seems that new breweries are popping up with the frequency of fall mushrooms, brewpubs are still a rarity. The fact that Three Huskies is part of a brewpub, and their recent fundraising event for Dogs on Deployment—a non-profit that helps military members find volunteers to board their pets during deployments and emergencies—were what initially piqued my interest in writing about the brewery. The Hendersons donated 100% of the proceeds from last week’s fundraiser to Dogs on Deployment, “Not just 10%, all of it,” Justin declared. The military, animals, and breast cancer are the areas of emphasis for the family’s charity involvement. As you can probably guess, the brewery’s name isn’t a cute sales gimmick; the family have three actual huskies. Kiry’s Kölsch is named after one of them, Akira.
When produced by American brewers, Scotch ales are often one of my least favorite styles, but this 7.6% version is pretty good. It’s richly malty, nutty and toasty, with a beautiful burgundy color that Mary is justifiably proud of. There’s a slight alcohol warmth in the finish, but it’s cozy, not strong enough to be unpleasant.
In addition to being cleanly fermented, all the Three Huskies brews are clear, with lovely color, which you can admire in the authentic, unretouched photos.
West Coast IPA
With the fruity and slightly piney hop notes in the nose, and the lack of earthy dankness that I associate with some East Coast IPAs, this is a version I can get behind. West Coast it ain’t, but it is a tasty 6.2% IPA with 62 IBUs, well-balanced maltiness, and pleasantly lingering hop bitterness.
Sadly, I don’t wind up ordering any food at Dobbers, so a write-up of the place as a brewpub will have to wait. As a brewery, Three Huskies is doing well enough that they hope to expand into another location in the near future, “That’s the 24-month plan,” Todd says when I ask him about it. He and Mary are too busy to chat much, but they, and Venessa, are still warm and friendly.
Currently, both Justin and Todd work day jobs, spending their evenings and weekends at the brewpub. When they expand the brewery, both of them plan to go full-time with it. Justin’s thinking they’ll be moving the brewery into a bigger place, with probably a 10 barrel system, in the next six to twelve months. But even before moving, they expect to begin canning at their current location, and Three Huskies beers can already be found on tap at other area pubs.
Three Huskies is not a farm brewery, and while they do use local ingredients where appropriate, they also source ingredients from elsewhere to make the best product they can. For the 3 barrel batch of Iditared that went into the fermenter shortly before my visit, they “were just shy of 300lbs between base and specialty malts,” and “right around 1.5lb/bbl [barrel]” of hops.
7.2% ABV, with 72 IBUs, this guy is more piney and resinous than its smaller cousin. The color is a brilliantly clear amber, and the flavor has a good, malty backbone.
Slow, measured growth seems to be the modus operandi for Three Huskies. “We don’t care about quantity of product, we care about quality,” Justin says of their plans for incremental expansion. “We’ve held our growth back here…” instead of “growing exponentially and falling on your face,” he expounds.
TB Black IPA
Somewhat like a hoppier porter, this dark, roasty, strong (10.2% ABV) IPA is actually named “Three Bitches”—after the Hendersons’ four-legged family members— But gets shortened to TB on the menu. “We’re not politically correct here, we like to have fun,” Justin says with a grin.
As I watch the Nitro settle in the glass, Justin comments that this 5.7% beauty is his “absolute favorite on tap right now.” Not all beers benefit from being nitrogenated, but it seems to suit porters and stouts quite well. An eight-year-old recipe, this roasty, Nitro-smooth porter is a remnant of Justin’s homebrew days. Hey, it would be foolish to discard a good recipe.
The same attention to detail that causes a sparkling brewery also results in well-aged beers. Most of Three Huskies’ brews are in the 6% or 7% ABV range, with a couple dipping lower, and some climbing quite a bit higher. But regardless of ABV, they don’t taste boozy. For instance, I had no idea the TB Black IPA was 10.2%, until Jusin told me. He likes brewing big beers, but he doesn’t serve ‘em until he thinks they’re ready. “…you’re meant to enjoy the time you’re drinking, not fighting [it] back, just to say you drank a 13% IPA,” he says, before launching into a description of his latest big beer project: On December 19, they will be tapping Stella’s Russian Imperial Stout. It’s a 12.2% brew that’s been sitting on cocoa and Madasgar Vanilla for most of the year. As I’m something of an RIS junkie, I’ll definitely want to check that out. They’re launching a cask series too, so keep your eyes open for those.
All photos by Benjamin Wilson