I say it at the end of every year (and this one is no different) – 2018 was one hell of a year for beer. As I write these words, I’m enjoying a can of Resurgence Brewing CitMo IPA 2.0 (my last can sadly – time to restock), just one of many great beers to come out of Western New York over the course of the past 365 days. As you’ll find out in this article, our area produced a lot of memorable brews in 2018.
And it’s not just Buffalo enjoying the craft beer boom, it’s the entire country. The Brewers Association reports that, in 2018, craft sales continued to grow at a rate of 5 percent by volume, reaching 12.7 percent of the US beer market by volume and retail dollar sales grew 8 percent, reaching $26 billion, accounting for more than 23 percent of the total $111.4B US beer market. And, as you’d probably expect, IPA’s continue to drive the craft beer vehicle, constituting nearly a quarter of the market.
We spoke with dozens of local beer luminaries, including friends, brewers, brewery owners and personnel, about their favorite beers from 2018. This is the biggest response I’ve ever received for this piece, so sit back, crack a few of your favorite beers (local or non-local, no judgement here), and see what your favorite brewers’ favorite beers from last year.
Matt Kahn, Owner, Big Ditch Brewing Company: “Here are some beers our brewers loved: Eddy Fitz from the source at Great Lakes in Cleveland, Pineapple Tangerine Grapefruit Jelly King from Bellwoods. From New York: All Green Everything from Other Half, Lickable Wallpaper from Fifth Frame. 100 Ft North from Suarez was probably the best beer any of us had this year, but Soleil Farmhouse and Passionfruit Silhouette from Hudson Valley Brewery were close. And to our local brothers and sisters: The Halt Goses, Asylum in cans, and Sojourn in bottles from 42 North Brewing, Minkey Boodle, Trial by Wombat and Aura Saison from Thin Man, Galaxy DDH XPA from Woodcock, Zombie Saison from New York Beer Project, #Smashtag from Old First Ward Brewing, and Delicate Kettle Sour from Resurgence, amongst many others. We’ve said it before – there is as good beer made in Buffalo as anywhere in the country right now.”
Matt Gordon, Head Brewer, Woodcock Brothers Brewing: “There were so many great beers that I had this year and I’m very proud to say that my absolute favorite is from a fellow ECC grad classmate. Commiseration from Paul [Alessi] at Five & 20, an imperial stout that was aged in their own bourbon barrels. Great notes of vanilla and chocolate with just enough bourbon flavor. Another great stout I had was on my Thanksgiving trip to Tennessee. Naked River’s MoonPie Stout. Absolutely fantastic flavors of marshmallow, chocolate, and campfire aroma. Lastly, I’ll be a homer. Woodcock Brothers Imperial XPA was a favorite of mine that I couldn’t get enough of. Cheers to Buffalo!”
Ethan Cox, President, Community Beer Works: “Ithaca Brut 2007, hands down. My brother in-law Mike and I split a case once, ten years ago, when we were in Chautauqua to see Alison Krauss. After driving up from New Jersey (we saw a split Flaming Lips / Weezer show the night before), we hit the original Ithaca retail location, a former convenience store, on release day. It was busy, but not like, lines. I would not meet then-brewer “Chief” (Jeff O’Neill) for many years to come (his reputation has grown a lot and he currently helms Industrial Arts). Nonetheless, he had already blown craft beer minds with Flower Power, prior editions of Brute, and Le Bleu, so we knew we should just grab a case. We drank one in the parking lot of the Chautauqua Institute before the show, super beer-geek tailgating for the time. Over the years, when he is visiting or the other way around, we’ll have one and by now we’ve dwindled down to two—well, one; this was Mike’s last. We split it over the now decade-old tradition of Thanksgiving with my sister’s family, accompanied by my mom & her wife. We have heritage birds (not always turkey), loads of veggie sides, and after a game / digesting, the best pies ever. This year, with Brute. Our Whale from a can is a close second because man, that was a long time coming.”
John Domres, Owner/Brewers, Buffalo Brewing Company: “I have been enjoying Foam Brewers Experimental Jet Set and The Shining. Treehouse Haze, Hurricane, & Julius. Other Half Mosaic Day Dream & Broccoli. From a local perspective Hamburg Lab Coat Series #5, Flying Bison Zeal! IPA, Juice Caboose (put that shit in cans please), Big Ditch Packet, Thin Man Trial By Wombat, Brickyard Brewing White Bronco. I am proud of what this area has become for beer. I still remember telling my parents in 2009 that I am going to open a brewery in Buffalo and make beer for a living. They both thought I was insane. Flash forward nine years and here we are with seven employees and I get to live my dream every day. It really is true; if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I am so fortunate to be able to do this and drink the great beers being made in WNY, NYS and beyond.”
Rudy Watkins, Head Brewer, Thin Man Brewery: “Fun games! So much beer. The most revelatory beer I had this year was Nymburk Postřižinské Světlý Ležák 11° (say that five times fast). I was lucky enough to tour their facility this fall & drink some of this beer fresh from the lagering tank. It was absolute perfection. Beautiful malt character, intensely flavorful & aromatic in terms of hops and dry as hell. I’ve been describing it as being like fresh De Ranke XX Bitter or De La Senne Taras Boulba, but as a Czech Lager. I’ll be trying to pick this one apart for a while.”
Matt Holtz, Operations Manager, Ellicottville Brewing: “This has been a great year for beer in WNY! Looking to see what next year has in store. I certainly had my personal share. I got the opportunity to spend a week in Asheville and took a trip across New York and up through Vermont. We saw some amazing properties, met great people and drank some really great beer. Studying for the Cert Cicerone also gave me a good opportunity to get very familiar with some classic heavy hitters. Favorite beer at EBC this year was our Foggy Style alongside of some other great IPAs. The Bourbon Barrel St. Jacob’s is delicious. It aged in Southern Tier Bourbon Barrels and we bottled it in 22’s on our new machine in Little Valley. Dan and crew nailed it. We also brought back a certain delicious 10.6% IIPA that we had to change the name of…but we won’t talk about that. The guys up north are killing it! Big Ditch’s Lock Series, Thin Man’s collabs and 42 North’s creations are among the greats. I was extremely impressed with Blackman Farms Homestead Hops – this year they did a Mosaic version that was cool.”
Bryan Kirchmyer, Head Brewer, Old First Ward Brewing: “A few of my favorite non-local beers this year would be almost everything I’ve had from Suarez Brewing. They are a prime example of a world-class brewery right here in NY. Ballantine Pilsner blew me away as did their sours. Also, the best NEIPAs I’ve ever had came from Good Fire Brewing. This Terps IPA and Waves IPA were like nothing I’ve ever had. Incredible. As for local beers, I loved CBWs Alpaca Porter this year, Thin Man’s Trail By Wombat and Pills Mafia, and 42 North’s Halt, Who Gose There was pretty dope. I was envious of 12 Gates for making a true Eisbock. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Props to them.”
Patrick Alexanderson, Owner, One-Eyed Cat Brewing: “I have to say, 2018 was a GREAT year for local beer! The growth in the local industry as well as the expanded availability and awareness has led to some decent innovation and creativity on the part of the brewers. Some highlights for us have been Das Blep, a collaboration between West Shore and Brickyard Brewing, Conehead IPA by Resurgence, the Towpath series from Big Ditch, Landing Strip by our good friends at 12 Gates (howdy, pardner!), and Strummer from Pressure Drop. As far as our own production, Take It Easy, Brenda was a surprise hit, and Llama Lleggings pushed us into the sour realm with a flair.”
Jarrad Childs, Director of Marketing, Four Mile Brewing: “Our Christmas List Brews: Hamburg Just Saying, Woodcock Stiff Mitten, Ellicottville Foggy Style, Big Ditch Cinnamon Apple, Southern Tier Nu Skool, Resurgence Citmo 3.0, Pressure Drop Strummer, Five & 20 Grape Lakes, Flying Bison Winter Warmer.”
Paul Alessi, Head Brewer, Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing: “From our own family of products, we have been enjoying Commiseration, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout. On the national stage, we really love the Resilience Butte County Proud IPA. A great beer for a great cause! As for some of our local favorites, we loved everything about the Class is in Session. It was truly a great collaborative effort, and we were thrilled to participate with so many other great local brewers. We also enjoyed the Bourbon Barrel Aged Blonde Stout from Windy Brew, J-Pop: Ume Plum Gose from Sato Brewpub, Dissolution from 12 Gates, and the Spruce Tip from Ellicottville Brewing Company.”
Dave Schiralli, Brewer, 12 Gates Brewing: “At 12 Gates we brewed two wet hop IPA’s during harvest time on our pilot system. This is one of my favorite styles because it has such a small window of availability. We did a Cascade batch and a Chinook batch. The Chinook was my favorite as it imparted a nice fresh grassy aroma and flavor along with dank, piney citrus one normally finds from Chinook. Throughout the summer, one of my go-to beers was Island Sour Farmhouse made by our friends at 42 North. In the heat of the summer, it is very refreshing with a good balance between mango, passion fruit, guava, acidity and malt. Recently I tried the new Brut IPA from Resurgence. That is a very well made beer with white grape and grapefruit aroma and flavor. It is effervescent and is perfectly dry, but with enough malt backbone to balance the hops and low final gravity.”
Tim Herzog, Owner, Flying Bison Brewing: “So many days! So many beers! You want me to choose? This year I have been lucky enough to get to a few of the local breweries for a beer(s), and enjoyed them; some Fall Black at Big Ditch after our BNBA Meeting, a Sticky Trees (or two) with Karl [Kolbe] at Pressure Drop, Small Town at Hamburg on the patio, a couple Resurgence IPA’s with Jeff [Ware] and Bryan [Kirchmyer]’s Hefeweizen at Old First Ward, to name a few. As I write this I am looking forward to a pint of MacBison Scotch Ale when I get home.
Jonah Epstein, Owner, MyCity Brew: “With so many quality brews released over the past year, it’s tough for me to pick out just one. I really enjoy getting out and trying the latest from all local breweries, but the one I kept coming back to was our Byson Brown Dunkel. Yes, this is far and away the most cliché answer I could give (I’m cringing a little bit as I type this). And no, it’s also not a totally fair answer either because we haven’t officially released the beer. But, after having the opportunity to taste our pilot batches through each of the four seasons, I can confirm that it is a very solid go-to session beer for any time of year. Well done, Buffalo. You can have some in 2019.”
Matt Matuszewski, Head Brewer, 42 North Brewing: “Buffalo is putting out some killer brews at this point, it’s hard to really put down a favorite for the year. However, these three are the beers that when available I will instantly go for. #Mashtag from Old First Ward; it’s hazy, fruity, and well balanced it’s got everything you need. Quat Life? from Sato Brewpub; you’ve got a great Belgian-style base made even better by the addition of kumquats – I think I’ve probably recommended that beer my friends more than anything else this year. Lastly, Halt! Who Gose there? from 42 North; Halt has been my go-to shift beer since it came out – it’s just what I’m looking for after a long day in the brewery, it’s refreshing, has huge fruit flavor, and a moderate ABV.”
Jason Crossett, Head Brewer, New York Beer Project: “This past year has seen a lot of great local beer made by all of my friends. Two beers that stood out for me were Community Beer Work’s 2016 Barrel Aged Pantomime Horse and Big Ditch’s WNY Bidwell Wild Ale. Pantomime Horse was very complex yet super balanced. It’s rounded malt character contained a touch of smokiness that was balanced nicely by the hop bitterness, woody undertones, and mild funk and acidity. I’m a huge fan of beers that utilize wild yeast/bacteria for fermentation. In the case of Big Ditch’s Bidwell Wild Ale, they used yeast/bacteria contained on fruit to ferment their beer, contributing a complex acid profile that was delicate, yet provided the backbone for such a refreshing fruity beer. My favorite beer that we brewed at New York Beer Project this year is our Hard Day’s Night Porter. It has a wonderful malt profile packing rich flavors of coffee, dark chocolate, and light caramel with a roasty finish. It’s the perfect beer to drink in the winter, yet is easy enough to drink year round! Going outside the local realm, one of my favorite beers I drank all year is Westvleteren 12. It was my first time drinking this beer and man did it not disappoint. This Belgian Quad exhibited a wonderful malt profile containing dark fruits and toasted bread. The effervescent like carbonation contributed to the overall character of the beer. It aided in lightening up the beer’s body making it easy to drink, while lifting up the wonderful fruit aromas and mild spices from the yeast. Extremely smooth beer for being just over 10 percent ABV. Shout out to my buddy Glen for sharing this gem!”
Matt Redpath, Head Brewer, Jamestown Brewing: “PBR was my go to this year. Founders All Day IPA and really anything I had from De Garde.”
Brian Vaughn, Brewer, Resurgence Brewing: “Some of my favorite beers from 2018 were Prison City Mass Riot (a great NEIPA with Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe), Grimm Galaxy Pop (lemon meringue pie in a glass), Industrial Arts Wrench (just the right amount of haze), Thin Man’s Burning Money (my favorite from Rudy), Modern Times Black House (pretty cool concept because they roast their own coffee), Bellwoods Jelly King Series (fantastic rotating fruited sours) and Bellwoods Bring Out Your Dead (an Imperial Stout Aged in Cognac barrels). There were so many great beers that it is hard to choose. I really enjoyed a lot of our beers from Resurgence as well – and our Oktoberfest is one of my favorites.”
Nick Torgalski, Lead Brewer, Resurgence Brewing: “I really enjoyed and got to try a lot of beers this year. Some of my favorites were the XPA series from Woodcock Brothers and 12 Gates / Buffalo Brewpub Buffalo Breakfast Stout with local coffee beans and maple syrup. From our beers, Conehead IPA and Citmo 2.0. It was really cool to be able to make a beer and see Conehead sell it at the ballpark. Citmo 2.0 was a fun experiment that turned into a really great beer. The Big Ditch Lock Series was really good and so was the 42 North Meridian Series. It is great to see so many local breweries pushing out great products.”
Drew Zach, Director of Brewery Operations, Resurgence Brewing: “Being new to the industry, there were a lot of great beers I was able to try this past year. I really enjoyed a lot of our own beers – Ice Boom Bock, Citmo 2.0, and Conehead. We just made a small change to our Head in the Clouds Double IPA and it is my new go to until it hits me that it is 8.4%. Our Black Current Kettle Sour was great during the summer. Buffalo is really making a lot of great beers and I am excited for all of us to push each other to make Buffalo a beer destination. I have really enjoyed what Pressure Drop – Karl – has been putting out lately. Their Space Monkey Series and Bryan from OFW’s #Smashtag. Some from out of the area were Eagle Park Brewing out of Milwaukee. They had some great NEIPA’s (Tony Had Hair in the 90’s and Hey Aqualong) and Common Roots up in Glens Falls. There were also a lot of great collaborations over the year and it is exciting to see what we can collectively come up with in 2019.”
Tessa Lowe, Marketing Manager, 12 Gates Brewing: “2018 was filled with loads of experiences and incredible beers. A highlight for me was enjoying my first 3 Fonteinen Oude Gueuze at Koelschip in Copenhagen. We basically dedicated the entire trip to Mikkeller spot hopping and this amazing Belgian pub/bottle shop was connected to Mikkeller and Friends, which happened to be a stone’s throw from our AirBnb. While it was tempting to grab a staple Cantillon, the knowledgeable bartender recommended we opt for the 3 Fonteinen instead. It’s been a while since my intro to Lambics (likely a Lindemans Framboise) but I’m far from an expert. It was actually the first time I’ve had beer served out of a basket and it made for an even more memorable experience. In case you’re not familiar with the servicing technic, it’s to keep most of the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. The beer had just the right amount of funk for me and the perfect level of carbonation to compliment our Thanksgiving feast consisting solely of beef jerky and potato chips. Honestly, I’d take that over a traditional holiday meal and trendy beer of the week every time. My local go-to lately has been 12 Gates’ Landing Strip American IPA. I’m stoked it will soon be available in 16oz cans so I can have one more frequently than just when I’m able to get out to the taproom. Look out for those on the shelf mid-January, 2019.”
John Paul Meeter, Head Brewer, Brickyard Brewing Company: “I noticed that a lot of brewers/reps/owners pick their own beers first, but the one local brew that sticks out in my mind is Big Ditch’s 100% NY Pale Ale. That beer is absolutely beautiful. Totally underrated in the WNY scene, and a beer I wish I could buy fresh in cans. Another favorite of mine from this year was the Big Ditch / Pressure Drop collab, Aqua Buddha. I couldn’t get enough of that stuff! I’m sure I’m forgetting local stuff I love, but there’s so much goodness now, who can blame me? On the national front, I have to mention Troegs Bros out of Hershey, PA. They are hands down my favorite brewery, and beers like Mortal Cherry, Blackberry Tizzy, and Wild Elf have changed what I expect from mixed fermentation beers. And shout out to Mad Elf, for being my all-time favorite winter seasonal. Now getting into my favorite from our own brewhouse – number one spot has to go to Das Blep, our collab with West Shore. The whole story behind the absurdity of the can art, the name, and using nearly 5lbs. per BBL of Nelson Sauvin and Galaxy was an awesome experience. Josh and I just went with it. And shout out to our own house favorite, White Bronco. That blend of Amarillo, Citra, El Dorado, Galaxy, and Mosaic hops is something else!”
Jon McLellan, Owner, Jamestown Brewing: “My 2018 beers of choice are Founders Solid Gold Lager and Köstritzer Schwarzbier.”
Drew Hardin, Head Brewer, SATO Brewpub: “2018. Man what a ride. Beer is ever pushing on. What a time to be alive! To those quaffing in 2019. Cheers! Prost! Kanpai! It has been a year of modesty and growth. Buffalo beer has been BLOOMING. Thin Man, Resurgence, New York Beer Project, CBW. Beer is growing in Buffalo. I, personally, have loved the return of local lagers. Also, I’d prefer the darker ones. So many great wines, meads, and ciders should have made this list. Little Birds Have Fast Hearts…hands down…a sour Farmhouse IPA from Orpheus Brewing during my trip to Atlanta. The tartness with citrus hop accent and, horse funk, stole my heart. 2015 Pantomime Horse, (bottled, cellared): a true old ale. Handled with care from everyone who saw it from mash, to barrel, to bottle, to medal at GABF. Smokey, balanced, yet delicate. Pleasure in a bottle. All the LOCAL lagers I have seen. Clean, refreshing, nothing to hide behind. Proof that Buffalo Brewers are force to face. Other publicans will say I drink a lot of Miller High Life. Like I said, what a time to be an epicurean in Buffalo, especially when it comes to beer.”
Scott McMillan, Co-Founder, Buffalo Beer League: “Top ten beers that stand out from the last year (in no particular order) – Woodland Farms Kentucky Woden Old Ale, 12 Gates Brewing My Aching Bock, Exchange Brewing Black Saison, The Answer Barrel Aged I Am CM Bryant, Thin Man Fresh Fruited Minkey Boodle, 3 Fonteinen Oude Geuze, Triple Crossing Ivory Crossing, The Veil Brewing Special Combo #3, Resurgence Brewing Black Currant Kettle Sour, Niagara Oast House Toasted Walnut Bourbon Porter.”
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 (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague) and www.buffalobeerleague.com.