Buffalo Beer Culture: Attainable Felicity
by Willard Brooks
Never in the past hundred years has there been a better time to grab a beer in Buffalo
The old adage that beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy seems borne out in the pure exuberance presently surrounding craft beer in Buffalo. Several new breweries have opened; several more are in planning and set to open this year. Beer festivals and beer-centered events are too numerous to mention. Practically every bar and pub offers fresh local beer from Flying Bison, Community Beer Works, Hamburg Brewing Company, Woodcock Brothers, Southern Tier, or Ellicottville Brewing Company served up alongside myriad guest brews crafted in cities near and far.
“Taverns are the original social networking site.”
- Scott Russell, Stockman’s Tavern
• The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community by Ray Oldenburg. Read Chapter 5: “The German-American Lager Beer Gardens.”
• Bamberg: A City Built on Beer (Bamberg: ein Bekenntnis zum Bier—ein Dokumentarfilm über die Bamberger Bierkultur). For more info, see www.bierfilm.de and www.bierfilm.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for copies of the film.
Farm to Pint
• Niagara Malt & Hops
• New York Craft Malt
• East Prairie Hops Farm
• McCullom Orchard Hop Farm
• Old First Ward Brewing Company (farm brewery)
• Hamburg Brewing Company (farm brewery)
Cozy Neighborhood Pubs
• Rohall’s Corner
• Gene McCarthy’s Brewery & Kitchen
• Mr Goodbar
• Essex Pub
• Glen Park Tavern
• Eagle House
• Black Rock Kitchen
• Sterling Place
• Stockman’s Tavern
• Buffalo Brew Pub
Summer Beer Gardens
• Gene McCarthy’s (in-planning)
• Resurgence Brewing (in planning)
• Big Ditch Brewing (in planning)
• Larkin Square
• Buffalo RiverWorks (in planning)
• Blue Monk
• Hamburg Brewing Company
• Pizza Plant – Transit Road
• Spring Garden Association (esp. Waldfest)
And, with cranes now a staple on the Buffalo sky-line, it appears that we have our collective groove back and are in the mood to party as if it were 1899. And, of course, we will need prodigious amounts of locally crafted beer for that. Good timing, Buffalo!
A hundred years back, our city had many breweries, countless family-friendly neighborhood taverns, beer gardens, and a rich assortment of public festivals and societies that were frequently accompanied by the responsible (if not restrained) consumption of our local lagers. Given that past and this present, it’s tempting to suggest that we’re in the midst of an evolutionary throwback to an ancient form that’s been dormant in our collective DNA. Yet this apparent return to form is certainly not driven by biology but instead by culture—beer culture, to be specific.
Beer culture, you say—what’s that? Academic treatises could be expounded on this. But, in this short space, we’d best convey an example from another city. A few years back we had the pleasure of hosting here in Buffalo a crew of filmmakers from Bamberg, Germany, who were screening their (then) new film described as a “documentary film about the Bamberg beer culture.” The film reviews the history and social life around the brewing domain of the Franconian town of Bamberg located in northern Bavaria. What’s offered therein is a veritable object lesson in beer culture that offers inspiration for anyone who wants to understand their own beer culture.
By culture the filmmakers mean to include beer business; brewing-related architecture, trades, history, annual festivals, and parades; local brewing traditions; and the social life surrounding beer in general, especially beer gardens and brewpubs. Bamberg, with many centuries of brewing tradition and more than 50 different beers brewed in town, is indeed a treasure trove of every aspect of beer culture. The film details the full supply chain, including barrel-makers, local barley farms that supply local malt houses that supply local brewers, the oldest brewing equipment manufacturer in the world, and a nearby hops growing region that meets a substantial amount of local and world demand. All of this allows Bamberg’s nine in-town brewers and its roughly 100 surrounding breweries to produce local beer from local malt and hops at the hands of locally trained workers using locally made equipment. As a result, the world flocks to Bamberg to taste and see this UNESCO World Heritage wonder known to many as the “True Capital of Beer.”
It might seem at first glance that Buffalo and Bamberg have little in common. On closer examination, though, we can identify many elements from our past and many current trends that allow direct comparisons guided by the Bamberg example. First, Buffalo was once a major center of malting and brewing, with many standing former breweries and malt houses and hundreds of thousands of acres of barley planted annually in and around Western New York. Second, New York State was one of the largest hops growing regions in the world beginning in the 19th century up until around Prohibition. Third, Buffalo was a meaningful contributor to the brewing equipment business: Indeed, Buffalo’s Arrow Tank Company, which makes barrels and tanks, began in the halcyon days of local brewing and continues today. Buffalo also still has Zahm & Nagel, a brewing equipment company from back in the day that remains at full pressure).
It would be anticlimactic if all of this were simply a curiosity of the past. Yet, amazingly, all of this seems poised for a comeback. Last year Governor Andrew Cuomo and his legislative partners were able to pass a new farm brewery license, which makes it possible for brewers who use local ingredients to enjoy some of the same benefits enjoyed by the state’s wine-makers. Critically, the new license embodies the recognition that brewing is as much an agricultural business as it is an industrial business—and furthermore, that what New York State was once, it can be again.
Right on time, our brewing region, with help from the North East Hops Alliance, is seeing the rebirth of the hopyard and the malthouse (see sidebar). Given that American craft beer is literally booming nationwide, these are incredibly well timed developments that many believe will place NYS and Buffalo back on top in the course of time.
For this author, though, perhaps the most promising development is the return of beer-centered third places that serve the public by offering cozy environments for the enjoyment of social life accompanied by our own New York State- and Buffalo-made craft beer. You might think that Buffalo and Bamberg cannot be compared, as we do not have 500-year-old brewpubs the likes of Schlenkerla, serving up world famous beer (Rauchbier in particular). Yet, we have a raft of one-of-a-kind pure Buffalo places such as Ulrich’s (set to reopen), Schwabl’s, Coles, Rohall’s, Sterling Place, Goodbar, Stockman’s Tavern, Buffalo Brewpub, Glen Park Tavern, Eagle House, Gene McCarthy’s, and the Adam Mickiewicz Library. It’s also astonishing that, almost like clockwork, we are seeing the return of masterfully executed public third places such as the Larkin Square area and other areas along the river still in planning stages. These are in good company with the longstanding Waldfest that takes place every July at the German-American Spring Garden Association in Marilla.
As president of Community Beer Works Ethan Cox puts it, beer culture is more about what’s going on outside of the glass than what is going on inside it. So get out and enjoy our incredible, resurgent Buffalo beer culture at a cozy corner pub or (once we thaw) beer garden near you—your choices of venues and beers are about to multiply by manyfold. The accompanying list should help you choose. Prost, Buffalo!blog comments powered by Disqus
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