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Cheers, Buffalo!

Buffalo Beer Week: 10 days to celebrate the best damn drink in the world

September 20 - 29

At first blush, the name seem an injustice: Just as every day ought to be Earth Day, and just as African-American and women’s history can’t be ignored 11 months of the year, shouldn’t every week of every month be Beer Week?

For the beer enthusiasts, professional and home brewers, distributors, retailers, restaurateurs, and countless others behind Buffalo Beer Week, that’s how it is: The spigot never closes. For the next week and a half, they’re inviting everyone else—the curious, the casual consumers of craft beer, the buy-local boosters and foodies—to fill their glasses from the same stream.

“The goal of Buffalo Beer Week is to foster knowledge of our brewing heritage and to showcase our good beer venues,” writes Willard Brooks, chair of this year’s event, in his introduction to the handy Buffalo Beer Week program you’ll find inserted in this issue. “Thanks to the sustained efforts of local breweries, beer bars and enthusiasts, the Buffalo craft beer market is growing faster now than it has in more than 100 years.”

Indeed it is, nationally and locally. Here in Western New York and southern Ontario, the craft brewing scene has never been stronger. Flying Bison, the first stand-alone brewery to open in Buffalo since the William Simon Brewery closed its doors in 1972, is the granddaddy of that scene now at 13 years old. In addition to Ellicottville and Southern Tier, there is a host of newcomers: Community Beer Works, Woodcock Brothers, Oast House, Brimstone, and Hamburg Brewing Company, the newest of all, having just filled its first orders last week. (Try the IPA; everybody makes an IPA but Hamburg’s is distinctive.) Coming soon are brews from Big Ditch, the Old First Ward Brewery (attached to Gene McCarthy’s Pub), and Rusty Nickel, to name just a few. Some of these brewers are making an effort to source their materials locally; indeed, down the road, look for the region’s first farm brewery, where all the ingredients are produced and then brewed on one property. Talk about terroir.

The number of pubs and restaurants committed to serving quality beer, locally made or brewed elsewhere, has exploded beyond our capability to list them. (Okay, a few: Pizza Plant, Blue Monk, Cole’s, Gene McCarthy’s Pub, Mr. Goodbar, Sterlking Place, Medici House, Fat Bob’s, Dick & Jenny’s…and the list goes on.) Even the diviest corner bar is likely to have a tap or two, or even more, dedicated to something besides the mass-produced factory beers that drove Buffalo’s brewery business to the brink of extinction in the decades after Prohibition, threatening to erase heritage and history.

The architecture of that once lost industry surrounds us. Consider this passage from a 2010 column by AV’s Buck Quigley:

Buffalo’s beer-drinking history is as old as the city itself, and even older, when you consider that in 1824 the village of Buffalo boasted two breweries but only one bank. The first hospital wouldn’t open for another 24 years. Today it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like when this industry was in its heyday, employing thousands locally, and selling its product to a thirsty local population.

Just blocks away from Key Bank Tower, at the corner of Virginia and Washington, you can still see the façade of the Ziegele Brewing Company’s Phoenix Brewery—so named because it was rebuilt from the ashes of Ziegele’s first brewery, which burned twice at the corner of Virginia and Main. A fragment of this past is still going strong at Ulrich’s Tavern, Buffalo’s oldest continually operating bar, at the corner of Virginia and Ellicott. Located directly behind the brewery, Ulrich’s would have sold Ziegele’s lager, or “strong beer” as it was then called, when the brewery employed 80 men and cranked out 80,000 barrels (about 2.5 million gallons) of beer, in 1888.

Ziegele’s wasn’t the only hometown brewery then, nor was it the largest. There were more than 38 such businesses. The largest during the pre-Prohibition era was the Gerhard Lang Brewery, which produced 300,000 barrels annually on the 34-acre site where Lang’s ornate “Palace Brewery” stood—the largest in the state outside of Brooklyn. The brewery employed 110 men in 1887, and distributed beer directly to Philadelphia and New York City in refrigerated rail cars. The opulent Annie Lang Miller house at 175 Nottingham Terrace was built for Gerhard’s daughter.

And consider this fact, from author Stephen R. Powell’s excellent book, Rushing the Growler: The History of Brewing in Buffalo:

In 1908, Buffalo’s brewers alone made so much beer that if Niagara Falls flowed with beer instead of water, it would take over one minute and 18 seconds to flow over. In that same year Buffalonians drank almost all of the 31 million gallons of beer produced here. What that boils down to is 22 gallons of beer for every man, woman and child in the area. All this beer came out of 25 local breweries scattered across the city.

In his reluctant prognostication offered in the Buffalo Beer Week program, Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works guesses there could be as many as 10 operating breweries in the Buffalo metropolitan area by the end of next year. How far we’ve come in returning to our past.

This year’s Buffalo Beer Week (the fourth, if you’re counting) unfolds over 10 days at 35 venues. There are tastings, lectures, music, food pairings, burlesques, game nights, and lots more—all accounted for in the program inserted in this paper. If you make it to only one of the dozens of events, consider these two: The Brewed in Buffalo Release Party on Friday, September 20, 7-10pm at Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle (612 Fillmore Avenue, Buffalo)is a celebration of Buffalo’s world-class breweries, featuring unique collaboration brews such as Down by the River Belgian IPA from Flying Bison and Community Beer Works, and Lord Lupulin IPA from Pearl Street Brewery, Community Beer Works and Big Ditch. There will be free samples from Big Ditch and New Buffalo Brewing, as well as a complimentary Polish buffet. The following week brings the Buffalo Beer Geek Festival, on Saturday, September 28, at Artisan Kitchens & Baths (200 Amherst Street, Buffalo), where the Queen City Roller Girls will be pouring unique, high-quality beers of the finest and rarest variety. There are two sessions (1-4pm, 6-9pm). Get your tickets now ($40 in advance, $45 at the door for one session; $70 for an all-day pass) at Premier Gourmet, Blue Monk, Cole’s, Pizza Plant, KegWorks, or Aurora Brew Works: Only 150 spots are available for each session.

This year, too, the event’s organizers have introduced a Beer Week passport contest. You use your smartphone to register for the contest, then check in at each participating venue that you visit; each check-in earns you a stamp on your passport, and each stamp represents a chance to win prizes. The grand prize: two VIP tickets to the Ponce de Leon Beer Festival in Atlanta, including airfare and accommodations. Second prize: Be a brewer for a day at Ellicottville Brewing. Third prizes: an assortment of swag and gift certificates.

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