Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Drank, drink, will drink: the revival of Buffalo’s beer industry

The Queen City currently has five breweries that provide beer for local enjoyment, and each is successfully expanding in a growing market of interested craft beer drinkers. But there was a time when Buffalo not only drank more, but produced more beer as well. 

There was also a time when Buffalo didn't produce any beer at all.

The golden age

From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s, Buffalo was one of the largest beer brewing cities in the country. The Gerhard Lang Brewery, the largest brewery Buffalo ever had, had a capacity of 300,000 barrels per year (at 31 gallons per barrel, that is approximately 9.3 million gallons of beer annually). This, combined with Buffalo’s other top breweries at the time, such as the German American Brewing Co. and the William Simon Brewery, led to Buffalo producing a combined total of more than 31 million gallons of beer in 1908. According to Stephen Powell, author of “Rushing the Growler: A History of Brewing in Buffalo,” all of that beer would have taken two minutes to flow over the Niagara Falls.
The Phoenix Brewing Co. located on Washington & Virginia,
photo courtesy of the Buffalo Historical Society
“It was the height of beer culture in both drinking and manufacturing. The breweries were at their largest capacity in that time frame,” said Powell.
What’s even more significant is that the majority, about 98 percent, was consumed locally, Powell said. With a population of over 400,000 in 1908, that would mean a per-person beer consumption of 77.5 gallons for every man, woman and child living in the city.

So how did Buffalo become the powerhouse of a brewing center that it was during this time? Powell attributes the rise to two main reasons:
  1. Buffalo was one of the 10 largest cities in the country prior to the turn of the century. With a population of over 350,000, the thirst for beer was high.
  2. Buffalo also had an enormous immigrant population of predominantly Germans. When they came in the mid-1800s, they also brought their beer and their beer culture with them.
These two key characteristics led to the establishment of more than 32 breweries in Buffalo by 1919; second in the country only to Brooklyn, N.Y., which had 35. At the time, it seemed that Buffalo’s brewing culture was well on its way to becoming one of the best and brightest in the world.

Then Prohibition went into effect in 1920.
“Prohibition was the most significant and devastating event in the history of the American brewing industry,” Powell wrote in “Rushing the Growler.”
Although the dry spell that the 18th Amendment caused was ultimately repealed in 1933, Buffalo never overcome the damage that was created. As the smaller, pre-Prohibition era breweries attempted to rejoin the beer brewing market, they were met with larger, multi-plant breweries that were more competitive and could serve a larger geographic area. These breweries made distribution less difficult and cheaper, which led to less expensive beer cost that Buffalo’s smaller breweries couldn’t match. By 1972, Buffalo’s William Simon Brewery closed its doors, ending a 161-year history of hometown breweries.

Buffalo Brewery Timeline:

  • 1937 – Iroquois Beverage Corp. closes
  • 1949 – Gerhard Lang Brewery closes
  • 1951 – Schreiber brewery goes bankrupt and closes
  • 1959 – The Phoenix Brewery Co. shuts down and transfers to Iroquois
  • 1971 – Iroquois Brewery closes
  • 1972 – The William Simon Brewery closes

When bisons fly

With the William Simon brewery closed, the Queen City experienced a beer brewing drought unlike any other. For almost 30 years, Buffalo’s only choices at bars and pubs were the light and pale lagers of the larger brewers that drove the local breweries out of business.

It wasn’t until 1995 that Tim Herzog and Phil Internicola decided that Buffalo should once again become the major brewing center it once was. At the dawn of the new millennium, their vision became a reality.

Inside the Flying Bison Brewery, photo courtesy of Brandon Waz
The Flying Bison Brewing Co., established in 2000, became the first stand-alone brewery to operate since 1972, effectively ending Buffalo’s 28-year dependence on imported beers. Along with Herzog and Internicola, many others were hopeful in Buffalo’s brewing future.
“It was a group of private share-holders that [Herzog] brought together. Close to 40 people bought into this business,” said Ryan Coleman, a brewer at Flying Bison.
After Bison, other companies including the Pan-American brewery, Community Beer works, and the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery caught on to the idea. Buffalo is now ushering in a second era of beer brewing, boasting five breweries that continue to expand and work together today.
“We get along,” said Coleman. “Buffalo has become more aware of what’s going on. It’s helped that there are good beer bars that feature things that you used to not see three or four years ago.”

Buffalo Brewery District

With Buffalo’s brewing culture quickly gaining traction and sales of craft beers on the rise, it seems certain that Buffalo’s brewing culture is once again secured.
“I think it’s going to continue to expand for the next five to 10 years based on the emerging social culture of younger people, where you’re interested in the craft as much as the benefits of drinking alcohol,” said Powell.
Breweries, like Pearl Street, are already laying the foundations for future expansion by uniting together and creating what has been coined, “The Buffalo Brewery District.”
“We purchased the domain name a few years ago and pitched the idea of this inclusive district,” said Josh Ketry, the director of front house operations at Pearl Street. “We have recently just begun developing the Brewery District brand and look forward to seeing where it will lead. Hopefully it can create a synergy between all brewers in the area.”
Together, along with the Pan American Brewery and many craft brewers around the area, Pearl Streets hopes to attract beer lovers from Toronto, New York, Rochester, and Cleveland to visit Buffalo and experience the growth and success of our new local breweries.
“We want to be inclusive with the other breweries that are either starting up or already existing in our area, as well as create an umbrella brand for our locations,” said Ketry.
It was only a few decades ago that Buffalo went dry and an entire golden-age of Buffalo brewing went pale. But with recent start-ups like the Flying Bison Brewery and Pearl Street’s future plans for a unified beer brewing community, local beer brewers and enthusiast alike are more excited than ever that Buffalo can regain what it once was: a proud, beer brewing city with an enthusiastic beer drinking population.
“We are a centrally located waterfront city rich with history and brewing history, and if the brewing community embraces our reality and works together there is plenty of room for success for all who are involved,” said Ketry. “The future of our entire brewing community looks very bright!”

Buffalo Beer Goddesses: a hymn to beer enjoyment

The Buffalo Beer Goddesses, photo courtesy of Sara Rosenberry
Middle-aged men with facial hair: that’s how many would describe Buffalo’s beer community. Whether it’s the casual consumption or celebration of brewing techniques, beer clubs locally and throughout the nation tend to feature only men as the beer-lovers and brewers. But one Western New York group plans to change that.
“Beer events can be really male-dominated, and it’s not on purpose,” said Sara Rosenberry, a Buffalo Beer Goddesses’ member.
The Buffalo Beer Goddesses were formed locally by Julia Burke, and associate editor of “Buffalo Spree,” and have since grown to over 170 women who meet regularly to enjoy and discuss beer. Their mission since conception has been to reclaim women’s lost place in the beer world.
“Women were the original brewers,” said Beer Goddess member Parrish Gibbons. “It was a very domestic chore if you think about it and made sense.”
Beginning at least since the 5th millennium BC, beer was brewed by women and recorded in the written histories of Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. The first recorded beer recipe was a poem titled, “A hymn to Ninkasi,” which described a Sumerian process of combining bread with malted grains and fermenting the resulting liquid. Ninkasi was significant for being the ancient Sumerian goddess of beer, and she’s also the source of the Buffalo Beer Goddesses’ name.
“[Beer brewing] happened at home; it happened with cooking and was invented before bread,” said Gibbons.
The Beer Goddesses’ members range from casual beer drinkers to veteran brewers, with taste as unique as the women that drink them.
“We have really serious hop-heads that love serious IPA’s,” said Rosenberry. “But other people that are getting more into it start on the lighter side, like fruit flavored beers.”
Although the Goddesses are primarily a women’s only group, they do allow men to many of the social events. Planning meetings and some special events are the only times the Goddess’ maintain their spirit and remain only for women.
“We had an event at Nickel City Cheese, a fondue tasting,” Rosenberry said. “It was just for women and our boyfriends and husbands were really upset. They were really jealous.”
If you’re interested in supporting the Buffalo Beer Goddesses, joining is an easy process. Just join their Facebook group or follow them on twitter and start showing up to posted events. Any women with a love for beer or home brewing experience are welcome.
“Come and meet us,” said Rosenberry. “We’re really welcoming!”

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

From water to beer: a homebrewing guide

Many of the modern luxuries we experience on a daily basis were developed with a sole purpose in mind: convenience. The television brought movies home, the treadmill brought running indoors; so why not beer?

Home brewing can be a fun and fulfilling hobby that is delicious to enjoy. Although it may seem like a complex science made only possible with equipment and ingredients on a large scale, most of the beers featured in bars and big time breweries can be made at home in smaller, 5-gallon batches.

“My parents bought me a home brew kit when I was young…I made browns, some lagers, lots of ambers,” said Community Beer Works founder Greg Tanski, a 15-year homebrewing veteran.
A batch of beer wort fermenting, photo courtesy of Seth Rios
Since becoming federally legalized in 1978, homebrewing has become the leading method for amateur beer lovers to create fresh, personally-made brews. It also allows homebrewers a chance to experiment with flavors and apply their own outside knowledge to brew a blend pleasing to their palate.
“My best friend bought me my first kit as a wedding present,” said Seth Rios, a chemical engineer graduate from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with more than three years of homebrewing experience. “His reasoning was that I’m a chemical engineer, and this is engineering.”
Homebrewing is a relatively easy hobby to enjoy. To get going, many experienced brewers recommend buying a kit. These start at around $80 and include all of the necessary equipment and ingredients to brew beer at home.
“It’s probably the easiest way to go,” said Tanksi. "Start off with the malt extracts, like most people start off with. Moving into full grain allows you to experiment more."
Each batch of beer will cost about $25 to $45 in ingredients per 5 gallons, depending on the style being brewed. When finished, this will typically yield about 48 bottles of 12-ounce beers.

Rios warns that mistakes are bound to happen.

“I was brewing a bourbon vanilla stout when the fermentation lock blew off while it was fermenting,” said Rios. “This introduced bacteria into the brew, which skunked it. What made it worse was that the wort (the beer liquid before fermentation) tasted awesome and it would have been a great batch.”
Throwing away 16 hours of work and over four 4 weeks of patience may be tough to overcome, but experienced brewers recommend to avoid focusing just on the end product.
“You have to like the process of it, not just the beer,” said Rios.
As long as you have the patience, a love of beer and the determination, homebrewing can be a unique experience that yields a delicious result.
"Read up online or any of the books out there about it," said Tanski. "Learn to be a tinkerer, build your own brewing kit, join a local group; everyone's out there to help each other."

Blue and gold make green

It’s game night at the local tavern and the Buffalo Sabres just pulled off an impressive win in the last seconds of the third. After a few celebratory rounds you asked the bartender for your check, only to find that the final amount is more than you anticipated; a lot more.

Sports fans have long enjoyed beer as the beverage of choice while watching their favorite teams compete. It pairs well with arena food and can transform an average night into an energetic experience. What many may not realize, however, is that a team’s performance can directly influence the generosity and beer choices of their fans.
“When the Sabres play well, customers definitely tip better,” said Katherine Glaser, a concessions worker at First Niagara Center.
The effect isn’t limited to the fans. Suk Lema, a waitress at First Niagara’s Lexus Club, regularly works with the Sabres’ staff and said the results are similar.
“The [players] are more generous after wins,” said Lema, “they’re happier and more excited at lunches and it shows on the bill.”
When asked the reason for this phenomenon, both Glaser and Lema agreed that people with positive attitudes tend to be more lavish with their spending habits. Glaser also said that it’s a matter of urgency.
“When [the Sabres] are winning and fans are buying food, a lot of them leave twenty-dollar bills for $16 purchases,” said Glaser. “They’d rather tip more than wait the extra time for change.”
And those tips add up. On a winning night, Glaser said, she receives almost twice the additional income as opposed to nights that end in losses.
Along with the Sabres’ home arena, local bars and restaurants notice the effect as well. Melvin, a bartender at “Indulge,” shared his experience when Buffalo hockey fans witness a loss.
“The mood seems to turn upside down. It’s hard to sell to a group that can’t celebrate and wants to go home,” said Melvin.
Although the team’s performance may be less than satisfactory this season, Lema said that fans continue to enjoy their favorite beers at games. She also said the wins now have an even greater affect on spending than ever before.
“The Sabres are really lucky,” said Lema, “even with [their] record, fans come to every game to support them like we were winning every time.”
But supporting local restaurants and bars when the Sabres are losing? That's another matter.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Drink beer to your health

We’re all familiar with the three main parts of a healthy lifestyle: eat fresh, exercise often and sleep well. There could, however, be a forth element to this health trio that is both effective and enjoyable: drink beer.
“Beer is all natural and fresh. It’s not just a party drink anymore,” said Jason Fitzpatrick, a bartender at the Tappo Restaurant in downtown Buffalo.
Until recently, the common conception of beer has been that it makes you fat and unhealthy. But recent studies have shown that, when consumed in moderation, beer potentially has many health benefits.

For instance, beer may promote good cardiovascular health. In a study conducted by Emory University in Atlanta, elderly men and women who consumed at least 1.5 drinks daily had up to 50 percent less of a risk of suffering from heart failure.

History has also revealed the benefits of alcohol consumption. France, the country with the highest per-capita alcohol consumption, also has one of the lowest rates of coronary heart disease mortality worldwide.

The ingredients of beer have proven to be full of potent antioxidants. At the annual international conference ‘Beer and Nutrition,’ hosted by the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, scientists concluded that hops contain a number of nutrients that appear to prevent a variety of diseases. These include Alzheimer’s disease, obesity , and depression.

But before you celebrate this proven health trend with a few pints, keep in mind that anything above moderation can be harmful.

Carol DeNysschen, an associate professor of nutrition at SUNY Buffalo State, warns that if drinking in excess, the risks of beer can well outweigh the benefits.

“Beer has health benefits on lowering blood pressure (potentially) with one can,” said DeNysschen, “but other than that, it has alcohol (empty calories), it is a diuretic, it can impair one's judgment in making wise food decisions and is often abused.”
According to scientists and nutritionists such as DeNysschen, to see any benefits from beer the consumer must drink in moderation. This is about one to three glasses a day with a healthy meal to help absorb alcohol. This intake must also be consistent, meaning that the consumption is spread evenly throughout the week.

Also, these effects have only been studied in men and women over the ages of 30. Scientists indicate that drinking beer for any benefits is only advisable at a later age, when the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and high blood pressure increase naturally.

So yes, drinking beer under some circumstances is beneficial to your health. Is it the secret holy grail of healthy living tips? No, but as long you drink in moderation and enjoy responsibly, beer can be another method to maintain a healthy lifestyle and truly give meaning to the classic toast: “to your health.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Food & beer: A recipe for delicious

There’s a special moment that occurs when taking the first bite of food at a restaurant. Immediately your taste buds organize a collection of flavors to create a single, mouth-watering experience that is unique and satisfying in every way.

But after a few more bites, the sensation begins to lose its potency. The flavors your mouth once enjoyed are now taken for granted, so you reach for your beer to fill the void. Then the sensation returns, and with vengeance.

Good beer doesn't just go well with food; it enhances it. Finding the right brew to pair with food isn't always easy though. With thousands of craft breweries in the U.S. producing hundreds of beer varieties, it can be tricky finding the right one to compliment your meal.

“People discovering what they like to eat and what they like to drink is unique,” said Tammy DeLong, a bartender at the Pearl Street Grill & Brewery.
“Pearl Street” is unique because it offers both in house-made food and beer. This puts bartenders like DeLong at an advantage, making beer pairing a sixth sense for employees.
“Anytime you work with food and alcohol, you take in more options,” said DeLong. “You get a greater knowledge of both.”
To find good pairs, DeLong recommends that you trust your senses and decide what flavors make up your beer. Smell, look, and taste are all key components in this step of the beer pairing process.

Next, decide what flavors from your brew complement flavors from similar foods. Maria, a waitress at Pearl Street, said pairing a beer and food can be much like a tight rope balancing act.

“The two need to be equal,” said Maria, “otherwise one will overpower the other.”
If you allow one to dominate the other, many of the subtle flavors from the lesser will diminish, which could potentially ruin a great meal.

Lastly, DeLong believes that you must take risks. Many of the best beer pairs were created by breaking the rules, so you need to be adventurous when creating good combinations.

“I always ask people what they like to drink; then you can’t go wrong,” DeLong said.
Below are some of DeLong’s personal pairing recommendations to give you an idea of a few beers that compliment certain foods. She warned, however, that these tastes are unique to her own palate and should only be used as guidelines when searching for pairs of your own:
  • Blueberry Blonde Ale with Buffalo hot wings.
  • Pearl Street’s “Trainwreck” German Amber Ale with any burger.
  • Pearl Street’s “Lighthouse Premium,” a Blonde Ale, with any sauce-dense pasta.