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Cold Beer Here!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years you know that our fair city is in the midst of a full-on craft beer renaissance, a sudsy, hopped up resurgence that will be celebrated this Saturday, July 19, at the inaugural Buffalo Brewers Festival at Canalside.

The Buffalo Brewers Festival, which takes place from 3pm-10pm, will shine a light on all things local. In addition to beer, local food and music will also be featured. A number of local brewers will be spotlighted at the festival, an impressive list that includes Flying Bison Brewing, New Buffalo Brewing, Pan American Grill & Brewery, Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, Ringside Lager, Community Beer Works, Gordon Biersch, Hamburg Brewing Company, Old First Ward, Resurgence Brewing Company, Blackbird Cider Works, and Big Ditch Brewing.

Oh, Pioneer!

Dan Syracuse was an early craft beer advocate

As evidenced in this issue’s preview of the Buffalo Brewers Festival at Canalside, Buffalo seems to be enjoying an ongoing community wide beer blast. However, it’s one thing to jump on the craft beer wagon and another to have paved the road for that wagon. Those over the age of 35 will remember a time when the beer selection at the corner tavern was Budweiser, Miller, Budweiser, PBR, Budweiser, Genny, Budweiser, Coors, Budweiser, Labatt’s and lastly, Budweiser. However, a select few, very few, tavern/restaurant owners were aware that there were other options for beer out there and they decided they wanted to offer those beers to their customers.

One of the early pioneers of craft beer sales in WNY was Dan Syracuse, co-owner of Pizza Plant. Although a list of what beers are available on tap or in bottles is ubiquitous now, in the 1980s Pizza Plant was one of the first places to have a beer list and one of the first to actually need a beer list.

“A beer list was unheard of back then,” said Syracuse. “We started with a draft beer list with different classifications of beer and added a bottled beer list in the mid eighties. We would go out of town and bring beers here for the first time. The first time Sierra Nevada was on tap was with us. We were one of first five places in WNY to have Guinness on tap, now there are hundreds.”

The demand for cocktails faded with the passing of the Mad Men era of suits, ties, daiquiris and whiskey sours and beer was taking its place. However, how to improve beer offerings was a challenge.

“I kept seeking out good beers, craft beers, and it was in the early to mid 90s that we started the Craft Beer bar concept,” said Syracuse. “We featured only craft beers on tap and actually helped bring the trend to almost every other bar. To this day we don’t have any of the big three. There’s no Budweiser, Labatts, or Coors on tap, we’ve never had that. We started having beer tastings to increase awareness. We were the first to do beer tastings, again that was back in the 90s, and since then we’ve gotten almost every beer award in the city for our draft list and this year we received Spree’s Best Bottled Beer List, which is kind of neat because it recognizes that bottles are still viable as good beer. Good being the operative word whether it’s bottles or tap, because it’s not the amount of taps or bottles you have that’s important, it’s the quality of the beer.

“In 2007 we started beer trips to Belgium, which we sponsored along with Mike Shatzel owner of Blue Monk and Coles. Shatzel recommended me when I was inducted into the Beer Hall of Fame. It was nice to be recognized like that because I always work to constantly improve our tap list and that holds true to this day.”

Pizza Plant’s top seller?

“I’d have to say Flower Power continues to be the top seller. You know a lot of places will put a keg on and someone will ask how many days has that keg been on? We rate it by how many hours has it been on because it goes that fast.”

If you attend the Buffalo Brewers Festival on Saturday keep in mind that it was Dan Syracuse who created the beer selection.

“I assembled the list of beers for that festival,” said Syracuse. “Willard Brooks who started the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association is a good friend of mine and we’re working hand in hand on the festival. The list of beers is at about 60 right now. We have at least 30 New York State breweries, all the distributors in the area plus three out of town distributors.”

We wondered if Syracuse had a favorite beer.

“Oh boy, I guess it’s a style. I’d say IPA, India Pale Ale is the style I’ve always migrated to and as everyone knows when you go to the Plant, 30% of the taps are IPAs or more, and double IPAs, and nowadays even some triple.”

The inaugural Buffalo Brewers Festival at Canalside is Saturday, July 19th 3pm-10pm. Tickets available at buffalobrewersfestival.com.

“The 2014 Buffalo Brewers Festival at Canalside is the first of what we expect to become an annual celebration that showcases Western New York’s exploding local craft beer and food scene,” said Willard Brooks, Chairman of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association (BNBA), which is organizing the event along with Canalside, Global Spectrum, and the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation (ECHDC). “Similar to our annual Buffalo Beer Week festival, this event showcases and celebrates the very best of our state’s and region’s local craft food and beverage producers. If you love locally-produced craft beer, great tasting food and live music on the Buffalo waterfront, then you won’t want to miss this first-annual event.”

Hamburg Brewing Company owner John Russo says that events such as the Buffalo Brewers Festival are integral to not only the growth of the brewery, but also its success. He adds that this is an event as much for the brewers themselves as it is for the people.

“The Buffalo Brewers Festival is important to Hamburg Brewing for exposure to the folks who haven’t heard of us yet, a new beer experience for the ones who have, and more importantly it is an event that allows us to have some fun,” he says. “This event is for the brewers just as much as it is for the consumers. People should come out to the festival to celebrate the growth the region is experiencing in the craft brewing industry, but most importantly to have fun while enjoying great food, beer, and music.”

Jennifer Brazill, one of the festivals promoters, thinks that now is the perfect time for an event like the Buffalo Brewers Festival to come along.

“It is so inspiring to see the changes that are happening in the city of Buffalo right now—you can feel the energy shifting in positive and progressive ways. It is the perfect time for an event like the Buffalo Brewers Festival that is focusing on a message of connecting to local businesses and local products,” Brazill says. “Having grown up in Buffalo my roots and my family are all based here, and being proud of where I came from, I always wanted to come back and help create an amazing progressive event like the Buffalo Brewers Festival. It is the perfect time for an event like this—one focusing on a more sustainable message of connecting and supporting local businesses and local products.”

Festival goers will also enjoy a live soundtrack for their beer drinking, as swamp rockers JJ Grey & Mofro, a fusion of Southern rock, soul and blues from Jacksonville, Florida, will headline, alongside soulful rock and rollers Tumbleweed Wanderers from Oakland, California and local favorites Big Leg Emma. Western New York’s Pine Fever and the Steam Donkeys will also take to the stage.

Brazill adds that the bands were selected in order to pair with the beer and add an additional element to the drinking experience and that is was a way to add another local aspect.

“We wanted to create a fun, positive vibe with the music to go along with the craft breweries and their beer tastings and also include local Buffalo bands,” Brazill said. “Between the five different bands on the line-up, we cover rootsy, bluegrass, honky tonk and soulful southern rock. All are guaranteed to make you dance!”

Seamus Gallivan, whose interview this week with Grey appears in The Good Neighborhood, compares JJ Grey and Mofro’s music to a New York State craft beer.

“If JJ Grey and Mofro were a NYS craft beer, they’d be a Southern Tier Porter—a complex balance of rich flavors, dark and bittersweet with a subtle smoke,” Gallivan says. “JJ Grey and Mofro have a heavy soul sound with a sense of place. They’re truly transcendent—the kind of backwoods Florida porch vibe that’s laid-back even though you’re breakin’ a sweat just sittin’ there, a muggy air above funky rhythm with a lot of space for the thick tones of guitars, organ, horns, and Grey’s distinctly Southern voice to cut through.”

The Buffalo Brewers Festival will also house the Meet-the-Brewer tent, which features brewer-led food/beer pairings, educational panels, and special tastings. There will be two sessions: Session 1 (3:30pm to 4:40pm) will see brewers from Flying Bison and Community Beer Works collaborate on pairing their brews with courses of cheese from First Light Creamery, charcuterie from The Piggery, and chocolate truffles from Blue Table Chocolate. ($5 tasting ticket required—75 tickets available), and Session 2 (5pm to 6pm) will find Resurgence Brewing and Hamburg Brewing Company join forces to pair their brews with courses of cheese from First Light Creamery, charcuterie from The Piggery, and chocolate truffles from Blue Table Chocolate. ($5 tasting ticket—75 tickets available).

Tickets for the festival can be purchased at www.TicketFly.com or BuffaloBrewersFestival.com. General admission tickets run $40 (includes all beer tastings and access to live music from 3-10pm), VIP tickets are $75 (includes early entry, bands, tastings and access to the VIP tent). The VIP tent will feature Chef Jeff Cooke of Osteria 166 preparing a whole roasted T-Meadow Farm heritage hog in 10 different fashions. Each of the ten preparations will then be paired with a unique beer or cider. After the beer festival, Templeton Landing is inviting the brewers and musicians to join the VIP tent for the concert from 7-10PM for a very special and intimate dinner for VIP ticket holders and the invited NYS brewers, which will include the T-Meadow Whole Hog Roast with all the trimmings and Kick the Keg Festival Brews & Brewers Treats. VIP food pairings were created by Willard Brooks and Drew Hardin of CBW and PrePaired.

A full list of participating breweries, as well as a tentative list of beer that will be poured, can be found at BuffaloBrewersFestival.com.

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