Happy Birthday to a Local Legend: Pearl Street Turns 20

Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, a long running and lasting staple of the Buffalo beer community and one of the first voices of our city’s craft beer revolution, is turning 20, meaning that in one year, the brewery itself will be old enough to drink one of the many fresh craft beer it produces. Just let that sink in for a second.

The first beer at Pearl Street was brewed on September 5th, 1997, an amber ale brewed with Munich malts, brewed by Alec Campbell (who now brews over at Big Ditch Brewing). Current Head Brewer Chris Herr (who also brews for Lafayette Brewing and Riverworks Brewing) found the original recipe and, after tweaking it some, brewed it again as the 1,691 batch of beer at Pearl. The newly minted Batch #1 will be on tap at Pearl’s 20th Anniversary Party on October 28. It will be one of two new beers for the special event, along with a 20th Anniversary Imperial version of their flagship Trainwreck amber ale.

“Trainwreck normally sits at 4.8%, but we brewed a 9.2% version for our 20th anniversary that I affectionately call ‘Trainwrecked,’ Herr says. “It has all of the smooth amber easy drinking goodness of our best-selling Trainwreck, but in a 9.2% package. The second is a bit of a historical beer – Pearl Street is the oldest continuously operating all grain brewery in Buffalo, and while looking through some of our old records I found the original recipe for Batch number 1 which was brewed on September 5th, 1997. I wrote it up and we brewed it again as the 1691st batch brewed at Pearl 20 years later.”

As a former dressmaking operation, Pearl Street has certainly come a long way in its 20 years in existence. Its impact on our beer scene is immeasurable, which is simply quantified by asking, if not for Pearl and Flying Bison Brewing Company, where would we be? It’s a question better left unanswered, but the sheer impact of its answer is not lost on Herr.

“It means a lot to me to hold the beer reins as part of this organization. Pearl Street was founded in a quiet corner of downtown when downtown wasn’t anything, and to see it grow in to the business it is today has been a huge part of the growth of Buffalo. Our logo has been ‘rebuilding downtown one pint at a time’ since the beginning, and I think that we’re a major player in the growth of the city. To be the guy driving the beer ship through this journey is a dream come true.”

As Herr ponders, how many of today’s current brewers/brewery owners have sat at one of Pearl’s many bars planning their own beer and their own breweries? That’s one hell of a loaded question that we would love to know the answer to.

“I think Pearl’s impact on the local beer scene is huge,” Herr continues, “being the oldest operating brewery of almost 30 in the area now shows how far ahead of the curve our owners were at the time. It certainly wasn’t a sure thing back then, but to have that kind of vision took a lot of risk and certainly now we’re all seeing the reward. Pearl used to be a place to grab some quick food and a pint of decent beer before a hockey game, now we’re operating three separate brew pubs within 2 miles of each other brewing 30 different beers at any given time, are a premier banquet destination, run two high-end hotels, and can accommodate parties of 2 to 2000, all because of the company’s goal of rebuilding down town one pint at a time. And in those 20 years we’ve seen the beer scene explode in Buffalo – almost every brewer in Buffalo will reminisce about drinking tubes of Trainwreck or Lake Effect while thinking about opening their own place, which many of them went on to do. It’s not just about grabbing a quick pint on the way to the arena any more, this is a locally produced good that brings people together and brings them down town and I think that’s why it’s been so successful at helping rebuild the city.”

Looking back at his time with Pearl Street, both as Head Brewer and as Assistant Brewer to former Head Brewer Phil Internicola before that, Herr says that some of his favorite memories include learning to brew Pearl Street’s all grain style, as well as a funny story about narrowly avoiding a major catastrophe while brewing their beloved Sabres Edge Double IPA.

“From the beginning I remember learning how to brew all grain beer, and then taking that knowledge and building a home brew set up to be able to do it at home. It was really cool to be commercially brewing all week, taking in as much information as I could, and then applying it at home all weekend. Getting the Lafayette Brewing Company up and running was a really interesting experience as well. I learned a lot about how to set up a brewery and the ins and outs that are required for a large production scale. Then to take that even a step further and build the only brewery built in to a grain silo in the world at Riverworks was both a challenge and one of the most satisfying parts of my career thus far. I’d say one of my favorite moments (which I actually have a picture of) was when we were brewing a batch of Sabre’s Edge, which requires as much grain as we can jam in to our mash tun, and I remember watching the tank fill right to the brim and thinking it would over flow… it didn’t, but there’s a great picture of me looking over the edge of the mash nervously.”

So now it’s time to celebrate and celebrate Pearl Street will at their 20th Anniversary party. They will be rolling back prices to 1997, free commemorative 20th anniversary glasses to the first 500 people, live music, food/drink stations, a VIP/reunion area for former employees, contests, raffles and giveaways. During the party they will also unveil a giant timeline of Pearl Street’s progress and will have a Buffalo-area trivia contest with huge prize of Buffalo Sabres tickets, a hotel stay and dinner for 2. Make sure to attend because you have to be in it to win it.

“Favorite beers from my time? I think the Lord Lupulin stands out, since it was one of the first times we brewed a really hoppy, light bodied IPA. It was important because it was one of the first times we pushed out of the light and amber beer styles world we were known for. Then to run with that and make the West Coast IPA, the Summer SIPA Session IPA, Jack the RIPA Red IPA, it just went on to show how the public’s taste was starting to change with the times and Pearl was able to stay relevant with them. The collaboration we did with Flying Bison was awesome as well because it really showed the city how even the oldest breweries in the room got along, and I think that really set the precedent for the nature of collaboration and friendship we all share in the beer scene. Harvest Edge is always a fun one because of the creative way we use our equipment to achieve the goal of using fresh whole cone hops by turning our mash tun in to a hop back. The Berliner Weisse we just did was another example of pushing our equipment to the limits of what we can do and staying relevant to the times by brewing a kettle soured beer.”

“Perhaps I should just give you my normal answer to this question, ‘which ever one I’m currently drinking.’”

Cheers Pearl Street. Cheers to you for helping to lead the Buffalo craft beer revolution and continuing to be one of its leading voices. But perhaps cheers isn’t the correct salutation, perhaps a humble thank you is more appropriate. Thank you for all of the beer, all of the years and most importantly, all of the memories. Raising a pint in your honor doesn’t seem like enough, so let’s all raise beer tubes this weekend! But seriously, don’t do that, those things are heavy.

For more information on the Pearl Street family of beer and properties, please visit https://pearlstreetgrill.com/.

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 buffalobeerleague@aol.com, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague) and www.buffalobeerleague.com.

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