AUBURN | Benjamin Maeso was looking for the opportunity.
Dawn Schulz was looking to grant it.
Maeso, of Rochester, is head brewer at Schulz's new Prison City Pub & Brewery, which opened Friday at the corner of State and Dill streets.
Though it's Maeso's first full-time brewing job, his resume runneth over with accolades and apprenticeships. Along with doing time at Rohrbach Brewing Co. in Rochester and Stoneyard in Brockport, Maeso was recognized as the New York State Home Brewer of the Year in 2011. His ales, barrel-aged beers and other concoctions have earned him more than 100 awards, as well.
At Prison City, Maeso oversees a five-barrel system whose first full batch will arrive early this week, he said.
"It's exciting and nerve-racking at the same time," he said.
Maeso has brewed every style in the Beer Judge Certification Program guide, he said, and is also working to become a cicerone — the beer equivalent of a wine sommelier. Among the many styles he's brewed, he specializes in Belgian (wild, sour), fruit-based and aggressively hopped American (pale ale, India pale ale).
More than any one style, however, it's adventurousness that characterizes Maeso as a brewer. He looks forward to taking patrons of the new brewpub on the ride with him, from cucumber saison and double IPA to barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts and sour Berliner vice flavored by local blueberries or peaches.
"We're gonna make some standard beers that are more approachable, of course," he said. "But I kind of want to introduce people to stuff where they'll drink it and go, 'Wow, this doesn't taste like beer at all.'"
Along with a spate of other craft beers, two to four of Maeso's beers will be on tap at Prison City to start, eventually followed by six or seven. For now, beer can be bought in pints or flight. But when Prison City's own beer starts flowing fully, growlers will be available, as well.
With his brewing space separated from the restaurant by swinging double doors next to the bar, Maeso also expects to be around often enough to answer patrons' questions about his brewing process, or craft beer in general. And if he's not there, servers will also be schooled in the house brews.
"We want to focus on beer education," he said. "It's really fascinating."
Schulz and her husband, Marc, both fans of craft beer and frequenters of regional breweries, found Maeso through mutual contacts.
"The kid can clearly make great beer," Marc said. "And that's paramount to everything that goes on here."
Dawn had ambitions to open a brewpub since before she and Marc sold their Bistro One restaurant on Genesee Street in 2010. With no breweries in Cayuga County as of the beginning of 2014, Prison City appealed to not only her own enthusiasm for local craft beer, but everyone's in the area.
As such, she tailored the brewpub's menu to the beer: burgers, pork belly tacos and other hearty fare.
"Our main focus is on the beer," she said. "And what we like from all of our travels is brewpub-style menus."
As 2014 draws to a close, though, Prison City is not the only brewery to pop on the Cayuga County map recently. With The Good Shepherd Brewing Co. in Auburn and Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co. in Weedsport, Prison City is instead part of a promising pattern, Maeso said.
"Three breweries opening up in the last year is pretty amazing, when you think about it," he said. "People go out of their way to visit breweries. If there's more than one in a town, they're going to hit up everything."