Beer mecca in its third decade
How Beers of the World shaped the tastes of Rochester drinkers more than thirty years ago
I can remember it clearly. I was a child of maybe ten or twelve, staring up at a sign that said “Beers of the World.” Its carnival verbiage and bright colors called me, but it left me with one question: “Okay, there’s Genny and Old Milwaukee, and Molson from Canada. Um—what else?”
Long before I had cause to ponder the deeper meaning of suds, Tony Angotti had a vision. An international traveler himself, he knew that there were immigrants and their descendants in Rochester with a taste for the beers of their homelands. Despite Corporate America’s concerted effort to homogenize and commoditize the American palate, Angotti also knew there were adventurous souls in search of something new.
“It wasn’t about what type of beer it was,” says the retailer. “It was about where it was from.”
His resulting vision was Beers of the World, a sprawling empire of beer distribution and retail sales. His stores are a wonderland of barley pop: lagers, stouts, and ale to which no Rochesterian is a stranger, not even the non–beer drinking community.
Sitting down with Angotti in his office, I can sense the quiet pride he has for his empire. He leans back in a yellow buttoned-down shirt behind an old desk scattered with the paper from whatever minutiae and particulars keep his business running. He tells his stories with slow satisfaction over hands clasped with fingers stitched neatly together.
The seventies were a bad time to be a real estate agent. Unfortunately for the young Angotti, that was precisely the profession he found himself in. Those who were alive then know that the recession of that year drove interest rates up above a staggering twenty percent range. American minds were on just about anything but buying a house.
Still, the advantage for Angotti was that he was able to find an affordable place to start his next venture: selling international beers in an old, rundown former garage in Batavia. The place had only one light in the center of the room to keep it lit, and he stacked case after case of exotic beer in this humble new abode.
By 1982, Angotti had a full-fledged business on his hands. He opened a second location closer to home on Winton Road. Along the way, he had gained a reputation far and wide as the distributor that was going to get you the taste of the old country that most American bars and beer merchants were missing.
Unlike our modern socially networked world, where a Twitter account gets you international reach, Beers of the World had to earn its broad appeal through the hard slog of print and radio advertising, word-of-mouth, and in-person connections. In particular, ethnic restaurants have been a staple of the company’s growth. That’s because, in order to get the authentic taste of, say, Vietnam, you have to serve the Vietnamese beer that goes along with it. And to find just the right suds, you’ve got to know Tony Angotti.
With an estimated seventeen to eighteen hundred brands in the store, each selling multiple varieties of the old brown bottle, Beers of the World will have what you’re looking for.
Dem Jones, a beer connoisseur and now distributor of craft beers to Beers of the World describes his first impressions: “When I moved to Rochester in 1997, I asked friends where to go for craft beer. Everyone told me Beers of the World. I was blown away the minute I walked through the doors at the old store on Winton Road.”
He points out that craft beer was just starting to become possible in this state around the time Angotti opened his doors. While the store brought the world to America, the art of craft beer making was only just becoming legalized by Jimmy Carter. That’s one thing we can all thank our peanut farming president for.
Angotti believes it will be the craft beer community that will carry the banner for the next thirty years of beer. “Micros are taking over,” he says with a smile. Beers of the World does sell some brews by the big boys, but not very much.
Meanwhile, the more health-conscious consumer today is also looking for preservative-free, natural antidotes to the chem lab creations of the majors. The chemicals that allow American beers to be fermented and ready for market in a fraction of the time it takes traditional German breweries are no longer welcome in American microbreweries. A healthier, purer, and, above all, different taste is what we’re looking for.
Angotti tells me with obvious excitement that soon, Rohrbach Breweries will be providing Beers of the World with its first-ever custom brews, to be sold in kegs and bottles. These include a keg-only porter and a bottled wheat beer that uses a unique brewing technique.
All those years ago, staring up at that sign, I was well under the legal age of consumption. One can easily excuse my ignorance to the wider world of international beer. But at the same time, it speaks volumes about the dearth of beer options in a culture where men of my father’s generation identified themselves by their lifelong beer choice.
The modern beer drinker of Rochester was shaped in large part by Tony Angotti and Beers of the World. This beer drinker does not confine his or her identity to a single brew but rather boasts about how many beers he or she is familiar with and where to get the best stuff.
Bars? There are lots of those. But when it comes to picking up a sixer for home, the only serious choice is Beers of the World.