In terms of beer, 2016 was one hell of a year. New breweries popped up at every turn, new beers were released seemingly every day and, no matter what type or style of beer you’re into, you could easily find something tasty to imbibe. Yes, 2016 was indeed a banner year for beer, local or otherwise.
The Brewers Association reports that, as of June 2016, there were a record high of 4,656 breweries in the U.S. (with an estimated 2,200 breweries in planning), an increase of 917 breweries over the previous year, a number that now stands north of 5,000. Perhaps most importantly however is the fact that craft brewers currently employ an estimated 121,843 full-time and part-time workers throughout the U.S.
As for individual beer styles, the Brewers Association reports that IPA’s currently represent one-quarter of the craft beer market. And not far behind are golden ales, pilsners and pale lagers, which are up 33%.
So on that note, we spoke with a number of Buffalo beer luminaries, including a number of our friends from the scene as well as brewers, brewery owners and managers, about their favorite beers from the past 365 days, whether it be their own, other local offerings and even non-local beers.
Willard Brooks, Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association President: My number one beer of 2016 was the Wise PA. Beyond that, my favorites included Blackberry Farms Brett Fruit Blend, Kerkom Reuss, Old First Ward Streaker, Flying Bison Brindle Porter, Suarez Family Brewery Pilsner, Thin Man Thin Geist Adambier, Woodcock Brothers XPA, Ommegang Rossetta Flemish Red, Industrial Arts Power Tools, Big Ditch Bidwell Sour and Gordon Biersch Enkel, to name a few.”
Jason Crossett, New York Beer Project Brewer: “New York Beer Project Righteous Dude, one of the best beers we make at the brewery, Three Floyds Gumballhead, a perfect summer drinking beer, Allagash Brewing Belfius (2014), a refreshing sour ale lending a fresh peach and apricot character alongside a wet hay and light grainy sweetness, Wise PA (“I was honored to be part of this great collaboration honoring our late friend, Kevin Wise. He was a tremendous person with a big heart who loved his IPA’s. Wise IPA was fantastically delicious with a complex juicy hop profile. I know he would have approved!”), Night Shift Darkling Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (2015), Woodcock XPA 6.0 “(My favorite of the XPA series. Juicy malt backbone enhances the citrus and fruit character from the hops”), Mettle by Trillium Brewing, Head in the Clouds DIPA by Resurgence, Asylum Porter by 42 North and Ex-Patriot Pale Ale – Sour Pale Ale by Big Slide Brewery (sister brewery to Lake Placid).”
Scott Donovan, Blackbird Cider Works Founder/President: “Our current favorite is our Wood Aged Dry Cider, made with estate grown certified organic apples. Also of note is our New England Style Cider, a strong 10% ABV cider, double fermented with brown sugar, raisins, and local honey.”
Matt Kahn, Big Ditch Brewing President: “What’s pretty cool is that this year we can focus just on NY State beers alone, because NYS is truly making some great beers. Here’s a short list – anything from Grimm Artisanal Ales, Hand & Seal from Brooklyn, Squeaker from Suarez, Sunday from The North, Double from Upstate (these guys have come a long way – congrats!), Hard Core Leaf Peeping from Common Roots, Solera and Without Regarde from Good Nature, who are one of our favorite breweries in NYS right now, Run Like an Apricot from Prison City (our other favorite), Toasted Coconut Kareem from Stoneyard (‘sup Jason!). And, let’s not forget how much great beer is being made locally these days! Sky High Rye from EBC, Spot Coffee Stout from Flying Bison, Cosmic Truth and Irish Breakfast from Resurgence, Dreizehn from CBW (one of my favorite pilsners ever and I love pilsners), and Bliss from Thin Man, who blew us away with that beer.”
Andrew Pentheros, Woodcock Brothers Brewing Marketing, Public Relations and Consumer Insights Manager: Tree House Brewing King Jjjjulius (“Bursting with intense, complex flavors, balanced from start to finish, but somehow does not make mincemeat out of your palate. Just pure, clean, almost decadent drinkability. Really the new pinnacle of IPA’s for me”), Bullfrog Brewery: LeRoar Grzzz, Apricot variant (“Not too clawing, not too sweet, subtle, yet distinct flavor of the apricot sour. So clean and definitive on the palate. Best American sour I’ve had in terms of pure drinkability all year”), Casey Brewing & Blending: Saison (“This oak aged Saison really blew me away in terms of pushing the boundaries of what a Saison could be. Mouthwateringly tart and crisp. Citrus, oak and yeast in perfect balance. Maybe the most intensely flavored saison I’ve had to date”).
Matt Redpath, Woodcock Brothers Lead Brewer: WisePA (“This is one of my favorites of the year, not because of the beer itself, but because it was done with a cooperation of many WNY breweries and remembering a dear friend and advocate for the local beer scene”), Elements of Composition – Collaboration of De Garde, Jester King and Sante Adairius (“In a weird way I have many connections to this beer. My parents live in Tillamook and have a working relationship with De Garde. I worked with one of the founders of Sante Adairius. And on a long shot have a friend who owns a brewery in TX and went and visited him and was introduced to Jester King. Nice complexity, yet approachable”), Beer Cocktails at Hydraulic Hearth (“Many WNY beers are featured there and crafted into amazing creations that shows how beer can be a part of the cocktail scene and the versatility of beer in general”).
Clay Keel, 42 North Lead Brewer: Grimm Lambo Door (“Simply the most balanced, refreshing, juicy, ‘man that’s good’ IPA I’ve had all year”), Prison City Passion Fruit Berliner Weiss (“I’m a huge Berliner fan and they know how to do the kettle sour for real and the passion fruit works amazingly well”). “The Wise PA was such an awesome experience to be a part of and it came it out very well. A beer people will remember for a very long time for many reasons. Like Kevin did, it truly brought Buffalo breweries together. For 42 North beers I’d have to say the Enforcer Galaxy Double IPA we released in November. We went for the New England style and think we hit the marks well. Smooth but complex and popping with galaxy goodness.”
Justine Powers, 42 North Brewing Marketing and Events Coordinator: Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break- Imperial Stout (“I have a sweet tooth and love sipping beers so this was perfect during the fall this year”), Jolly Pumpkin Hamajang – Collaboration with Leelanau Evil Twin & Mikkeller (“Had the pleasure of making it to Blue Monk while they had this collab on tap. RIP Blue Monk”), To Ol Sur Simcoe (“Pretty sure I bought out Aurora Brew Works’ entire stock of this one”), Stillwater Artisanal Hopvine Bling (“Was in the mood for a good Berliner Weisse and I certainly got what I asked for! The bottle design was pretty sweet as well”), 42 North Oatmeal Cookie Brown Ale (“I’m pretty much obsessed with this beer. If I could marry a beer, I would marry the Oatmeal Cookie”).
Ethan Cox, Community Beer Works President/Co-Founder: “Favorite CBW brew of 2016, probably either the revival of The IPA, Across The Border Porter collab w/Brimstone, or Pantomime Horse, our Adambier. Favorite beer at all of 2016? Had some brilliant stuff from Plan Bee, enjoyed everything I had from Swiftwater and Prison City; Threes’ Vleit is a great pilsner. Outside of NYS, I enjoyed some Trillium, everything Allagash makes is tip-top and this year was no exception; same goes for De Garde. Upright Brewing’s saisons are marvelous. As for local favorites: [Big Ditch] Hayburner, [Resurgence] Cosmic Truth, [Hamburg Brewing] Hoppenstance, 12 Gates West Coast, [Rusty Nickel] Chai Tea Milk Stout, [New York Beer Project] Righteous Dude.”
Phillip Badger, World of Beer Product Manager: “Here’s a list of my favorite beers of the year; mix of local and national – Lagunitas Born Yesterday, Troegs Nimble Giant, Stone Citracado, Firestone Walker Luponic Distortion, Founders Sumatra Mountain Brown, Westbrook Key Lime Pie Gose, Woodcock Brothers XPA, Big Ditch Deep Cut, Sloop Juice Bomb.”
Lizz Schumer, Resurgence Brewing Marketing Manager: “As for me, my favorite RBC beer of the year is always the next one we release! That said, I think I can narrow it down to Biere de Noel, our coffee-aged holiday ale. This dark ale is loaded with toasted malt flavor and fruity esters of the Belgian yeast. It’s aged over Jingle Bell Java beans, made by the Mystic Monk Coffee Company in Wyoming, which added white chocolate, bourbon and coffee to its festive spices. And at 11% ABV, it keeps me nice and toasty when it’s nasty outside!”
Jeff Ware, Resurgence Brewing President: “I would have to say I am really enjoying our IPAs overall this year. The New England-style R&D series has beer killer all year in my opinion. Super juicy, fresh and drinkable, they have all hit the spot. The Resurgence IPA is as good as ever with dank aromatics and juicy flavor with a nice bitter punch… especially fresh at the tap room. The 2nd Anniversary Ale, which was a Galaxy Hopped Imperial Blood Orange Saison, was a delicious juice bomb with huge carbonation from bottle conditioning that I could drink all night. Looking forward to our dry hopped kettle sour that will hit the tap room soon and R&D 4.1 with galaxy hops amongst others. Should go best while drinking in constant eye contact with Brian Campbell!”
Dave Collins, Resurgence Brewing Beer Baron: “I would say the R+D series has been my go-to tap room beer since we started that up. Also, the Biere De Noel is one of my personal favorites; it’s like candy in a glass. The 8 hour boil gave it a huge caramel and toffee flavor that blended amazingly well with the Jingle Bell Java from Mystic Monk, all mixed with the dark fruit flavors of the Belgian yeast made for one hugely flavored monster of a beer. I was also very pleased about how the kettle soured Lime Berliner Weiss came out, and cannot wait to make it again this summer!”
John Russo, Hamburg Brewing Owner: “Selfishly, I have been drinking a lot of our Blackberry Gose at the brewery. So that and I am also a big fan of Firestone Pivo Pils. It’s hands down one of the most well-made beers available.”
Scott McMillan, Buffalo Beer League Co-Founder: “We had a ton of great local beer in 2016. Wise PA, Big Ditch Bourbon Barrel Aged Towpath, Resurgence’s Red Wine Barrel Aged Flemish Red, Community Beer Works Double IPA, Flying Bison Pineapple Buffalo IPA, Thin Man Bliss and Woodcock XPA 9.0 come to mind.”
Chris Herr, Pearl Street/Pan American/Riverworks Lead Brewer: “From our Pearl Street family of beers, my favorites were the Green Tea beer, Gin Spiced Saison and our Session IPA we called the Summer SIPA. I also really like our Terminator at Pan Am now that we’ve pushed it more into a classic west coast IPA style, as well as the robust porter, Rough Rider. Our 19th Anniversary Imperial Stout stands out too. As far as the local breweries go, I always enjoy the wide range of IPA’s coming from CBW, including bringing back the original recipe for The IPA. Deep Cut from Big Ditch is always a treat. Southern Tier Pumking and their Blackwater beers are always a go to. I also love to see some of the more experimental brews coming from the likes of Resurgence with some of their kettle sours and their Irish Breakfast. For other breweries that aren’t local, I must admit I haven’t been drinking as much of them since we have such great selection locally and I like to support them as much as I can.”
So yes, 2016 was one hell of a year for beer. Here’s to another successful year in 2017.
Brian Campbell is a co-founder/Brand Manager of the BNBA’s enthusiast arm, Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @buffbeerleague, on Instagram at @buffalobeerleague and on Facebook at @thebuffalobeerleague.