Over 6,000 breweries were in operation in 2017, according to the Brewers Association, 98 percent of them small, independent craft brewers, who contributed an eye-popping sum of $67.8 billion to the US economy, up 21.7 percent from 2014. Or is other words, 2017 was quite the year for beer.
From the rise of New England IPA’s, Milkshake IPA’s and Double Dry Hopped everything, a number of instant classics came from right here in the 716. Big Ditch Brewing Company’s Packet and FIP, 12 Gates Brewing’s Mountains of the Moon, Flying Bison Brewing’s Juice Caboose, Thin Man Brewery’s DDH No Pressure and Bliss; and the list goes on and on. But it’s not just the hoppy stuff either, Buffalo-Niagara brewers are also cranking out world class stouts (Big Ditch Towpath, 12 Gates Grave Concerns, Resurgence Brewing Imperial Sponge Candy Stout and Thin Man’s Forever Cordial among them).
The Brewers Association also reports that craft brewers were responsible for more than 456,373 full-time jobs, a 7.5 percent increase from 2014. Those small and independently owned and operated breweries also donated $73.4 million to charitable causes, a total that is up $71 million from 2014.
We spoke with a number of Buffalo beer luminaries, including a number of our friends from the scene as well as brewers and brewery owners and personnel about their favorite beers from the past 365 days, whether it be their own, other local offerings or non-local beers. Spoiler alert – there’s a lot of love for local beer ahead.
Rudy Watkins, Head Brewer, Thin Man Brewery: “There is so darn much great beer out there these days that the setting I drink in has more of an impact than ever on my memory of the beer. I was lucky enough to head out to the Yakima Valley in Washington during hop harvest & had a pint of abso-freaking-lutely stellar Bale Breaker Bottom Cutter DIPA at the brewery, which happens to be situated in the middle of a gorgeous hop field. On that same trip I was lucky enough to drink the Hair of the Dog/De Molen/Shiga Kogen collab, Side By Side. It’s an amazing Imperial stout/Barleywine/Black IPA blend. I had some great, funky as hell Spanish cidres with Thin Man’s crew while sitting in the shadow of a massive foudre at Anxo in DC. Oh, and of course a well-aged bottle of Vapeur’s Saison De Papaix. The first beer I shared with my wife when we started dating, the beer we drank the night I proposed & now the beer we shared the day we closed on our new house.”
John Domres, Owner, Buffalo Brewing Company: “Favorite non-local beer – Lawson’s Finest Sip of Sunshine. Favorite non-Buffalo Brewing Co. local beer – Flying Bison Juice Caboose. Favorite beer from Buffalo Brewing Co. 1817 Triple Dry Hopped Double IPA Version 2.”
Josh Dziomba, Owner, West Shore Brewing Company: “For my favorite beers this year I am going to just focus on the WNY beer scene. Personally, my two favorite beers that we have released this year were our Americanized English Pale Ale (which will be given a proper name going forward when it re-releases), our take on an English Bitters that we gave a unique American spin on with a lot of Citra hops. Second was the Dark Frontier Black IPA collab we did with 12 Gates Brewing as a special for Buffalo Beer Week. This was a great beer that came out in a very small release. Outside of our brewery we have had some truly awesome beer locally this year. Ones that stick out were #Mashtag IPA from Old First Ward, Mountains of the Moon from 12 Gates (2 great examples of a NEIPA), Milkshake Pale Ale from Community Beer Works and Citmo from Resurgence Brewing. There were others but these just stuck out as I was putting pen to paper. I can’t wait to see what Buffalo puts out in 2018.”
Jeff Ware, Owner, Resurgence Brewing: “It is certainly a good time to be a beer drinker! With local beer options exploding everywhere, I find myself exploring new beers where ever I go. If you get the chance, I would certainly pencil in some breweries on your next trip. It is really interesting to experience taprooms/ interpretations of beers in different markets as each make it their own. If nothing else you will get to share a pint with some great people along the way. Some favorites of my 2017 travels were Green Bench in St. Pete, Angry Chair in Tampa, Charles Towne Fermentory in Charleston, Exhibit A, Treehouse, Jacks Abby in the Boston area, Bissell Brothers, Maine Beer Company in Portland, Maine, Indie Ale House, Bellwoods in Toronto. As for Buffalo, there is a lot of very good beer being made across WNY. Explore them all and find your favorite offerings from each!”
Clay Keel, Chief Brewing Officer, 42 North Brewing: “My favorite 42 North beer of 2017 was certainly the Wanderer Sour Blonde; easily the best sour beer I’ve been a part of producing. I look forward to many more coming out of our new barrel house, 42 Below, and it’s nice seeing that beer on tap in the best beer bars in NYC. I also deeply enjoyed the NEIPA pilot batches we brewed this fall and look forward to releasing cans of the first big batch from those pilots in January called “Preemption.” As for the best beers I’ve had from other breweries this year I’d have to say 2×4 DIPA on draft from Melvin and Christmas Bomb Stout from Prairie were two of my personal favorites.”
Paul Alessi, Head Brewer, Five & 20 Spirits and Brewing: “[On behalf of] the entire Five & 20 production crew, our personal favorite from our own supply would be the Rhiskey Business, a Rye Pale Ale aged in our very own Five & 20 Rye Whiskey barrels. Some of our local favorites were the Resting Peach Face from 12 Gates & Community Beer Works, a sour Berliner Weisse and Towpath (2017), a bourbon barrel aged Imperial Stout from Big Ditch Brewing. Also around the area, Balaclava IPA, an American style IPA from Lavery Brewing (shout out to the Lake Erie Ale Trail) and Juice Bomb, a New-England IPA from Sloop Brewing. Last but not least, Breakfast Stout, an Imperial Coffee Stout from Founders Brewing, and Rye Rebellion, a Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Rye Stout from Full Pint.”
Justine Powers, Marketing and Events Coordinator, 42 North Brewing: “My favorites from 2017 have been Wicked Weed Black Angel, a black sour ale aged on tart cherries in bourbon barrels, Brouwerij Huyghe Delirium Tremens, a Belgian strong pale ale (you could say this is my favorite every year honestly) and 42 North Asylum Porter. I go through phases with our beer, for six months I’ll only drink the Borderland IPA, then the next six months it’s primarily the Asylum. Honestly, I think all of 2017 I’ve been on an Asylum kick!”
Matt Kahn, Owner, Big Ditch Brewing: “Let’s keep it all NYS this year and start with non-locals: A2 Dubbel from Transmitter, Sno Klouds by The North, Riot in Upstate by Upstate Brewing and Prison City, East vs West IPA (Version 5) by Iron Tug and DDH Mylar Bags by Other Half. And locals! Urban Samurai by Sato Brewpub, Funky Vintner by Flying Bison, THEE Barleywine by New York Beer Project, Vagabond by 42 North and B(lac) Magic by CBW.”
Andrew Pentheros, Marketing/PR/R&D Director, Woodcock Brothers Brewing: “Seems like the New England IPA really just dominated the scene in 2017, especially in the Northeast. In doing market research to learn about this style, its variations, costs, production, marketing and everything that’s made it the behemoth style it is, it’s impossible to not keep coming back to Treehouse. Over the summer they opened a new production facility that more than tripled their output, brewing on a 60bbl and 30bbl system. In the span of a couple months shoots their projected bbl’s per year up to over 30,000 and they basically only do this distinct style of IPA. They throw in a stout here and there and others styles from time to time, but 90% of their production brews are New England IPA’s. The scale and volume of these beers, along with still having lines of hundreds of people at a time and servicing 2-3k people four days a week is just amazing. The quality of the beers has not changed at all and their production has been as steady and streamline as it was when they had less than a third the output volume. All of their hoppy beers are at the top of the list of world class, full of intense, unique flavors that are completely balanced and nuanced and also have a signature flavor. It’s tough to make these style IPA’s, it’s tough to keep quality consistent and it seems like, even at the massive scale they do it, nobody does it better than Treehouse.”
Matt Redpath, Head Brewer, Woodcock Brothers Brewing: “Alesong: Touch of Brett: A nice balanced beer. Really good brett character without being overbearing. Very drinkable and easy. Loved it. Zero Gravity: Green State Lager: In the land of super hopped IPA’s, Zero Gravity has been producing really great quality beers out of Vermont. GSL is a really good Pilsner, evenly balanced and perfectly drinkable. Melvin IPA: Melvin has been doing a really quality IPA for a long time. I’ve always enjoyed it, but came back to it this year. It’s a refreshing hoppy, clean west coast style that I have a soft spot for because it reminds me of home.”
Scott Shuler, Head Brewer, 12 Gates Brewing: “Buffalo, Western New York, and New York in general are putting out some exceptional beers now so all but one of my favorites hail from NY. My only out of state beer is The Kriek from De Garde in Tillamook, Oregon. This beer is balanced with tart from the cherries and light oak from barrel fermentation. Local standouts are Niagara Lager from Woodcock (it is just a pleasant beer all around), Minky Boodle from Thin Man, #Mashtag from OFW, Prison City Riot Down Under, The Whale from CBW, and Juice Caboose from Flying Bison. From 12 Gates I really enjoyed the Hermetic IPA and Mountains of the Moon.”
Chris Herr, Head Brewer, Pearl Street Brewery/Lafayette Brewing/Riverworks Brewing: “Well it was our first year of having Riverworks Brewing open, and the Rejuvenator IPA over there is one of my favorite beers we brew. Green Tea beer always finds a spot on my kegerator at home from Pearl Street, and I love the super hoppy Czech Pilsner we do at Pearl in the spring. Lafayette had some fun ones this year with Teddy’s Tripel and my personal fav Terminiator IPA. From other breweries, I found myself drinking a lot of Founders All Day IPA this summer, as well as Hayburner from Big Ditch, which seems to be everywhere these days (congrats guys!). I wish I had found more time to travel around to the other local guys this year but running three breweries makes it a little tough!”
John Sullivan, Director of Sales – WNY & PA, Southern Tier Brewing: “Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout, Peak Organic Fresh Cut Pilsner, Firestone Walker Leo vs. Ursus, Other Half The Other Day, Duvel (always makes the list!), Southern Tier Brewing Nu Skool IPA (a staple in the fridge!) and Southern Tier Choklat (“RIP”).
Sara Gromek, Buffalo FSR, Southern Tier Brewing: “Lawson’s Sip of Sunshine, Southern Tier 2xSmash, Other Half Broccoli and Daydream and Big Ditch Packet.”
Nathan Arnone, Brand Manager, Southern Tier Brewing: “Community Beer Works That IPA, CBW Pun Intended, Hamburg Brewing Blackberry Gose, Resurgence Brewing Loganberry Wit and Southern Tier Thick Mint.”
Scott McMillan, Co-Founder, Buffalo Beer League: “There were so many great local beers in 2017. We loved 12 Gates Mountains of the Moon, Big Ditch Gin Barrel Aged Beautiful River, Pressure Drop Brewing Space Monkey DIPA, Buffalo Brewing 1976 Grodziskie, Flying Bison Funky Vintner Saison, New York Beer Project Thee Barleywine (Anniversary Edition) and SATO Brewpub Winter Samurai, just to name a very small few. We have a lot more though in mind!”
Chris Townsell, Head Brewer, Buffalo Brewpub: “For 2017, I’d have to say my favorite beer isn’t one I’d normally gravitate towards. Buffalo Breakfast Stout was a collaboration the Brewpub did with 12 Gates this fall. The beer turned out amazing and had awesome reviews! To me, it tasted smooth at first, but it was an entirely different beer after it warmed up. The oatmeal, coffee, chocolate, maple syrup & whiskey (all local ingredients) came to the forefront. So much flavor! For me, the success of the beer was a bonus. It was a fantastic learning experience. Scott Schuler and the gang over at 12 Gates aren’t normal, but I can’t wait to do this again with them! Cheers to more great beers 2018!”
2017 was pretty great for local beer, and with a number of potential openings and new faces on the horizon, 2018 looks to be even better.
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.