In Buffalo, Craft Brewing Ties a Proud Past to a Promising Future

By Andrew Turnwall


Andrew Turnwall

December 19, 2016

Posted in Restaurant Management, Industry & Culture

Buffalo has always been a unique town.

It’s well known for an abundance of snow and lost Super Bowls. It’s the City of Good Neighbors. It was once the manufacturing hub of the nation, and the eighth biggest city in the country. For a time, it was home to luminaries and cultural giants from Mark Twain to Nikola Tesla. Steeped as Buffalo is in history, the story of its beer and brewing scene is equally as fascinating, and the tradition carries on strong to this day.

A Quick Buffalo Drinking History

Going back more than 200 years, Buffalo’s first drinking establishment was opened in 1805 by William Hodge. It would be burned down by the British during the War of 1812 along with the rest of the city. Within a week, through the biting January cold, the town began to rebuild, with the reopening of its first bar and brewery a chief concern. In 1817 Buffalo would be chosen as the terminus of the Erie Canal, making Buffalo one of the early gates of westward expansion and prosperity with its completion in 1825. Within a few years hundreds of tons of whiskey and hundreds of thousands of wheat bushels would travel through the city, marking a rapid increase in drinking establishments.

By the late 1800s Buffalo would sport nearly 3,000 establishments where one could purchase beer and liquor—ballooning to 8,000  by 1922—serviced by nearly thirty local breweries. This is a feat made all the more impressive considering Prohibition had come into effect a full three years earlier. This was due in no small part to Buffalo electing a socialist brewmaster as Mayor and a booming, albeit illegal, brewing industry.

Buffalo History Inspires Buffalo Style

Today, Buffalo still has a lot of character: while the canal and steel plants are no longer fully operational, Buffalo is still a blue collar town that loves its beer, and all of the delicious food that goes with it. So much so that Scarborough Research named Buffalo the fourth biggest beer drinking town in America. Buffalo has naturally taken to the craft brewing movement like a duck to water, and finds influences all throughout our shared culture and history that go into the making of its local brews.

As Erik Greiner of Resurgence Brewing says…

“Buffalo’s craft beer scene is definitely on the rise. It has morphed from…the trendy new topic into a huge part of the Western New York community.”

Resurgence Brewing, a startup whose name is inspired by the rebirth of the city it brews in, offers a take on several local flavors. Their Loganberry Wit, a light, sweet, fruity offering, is an alcoholic design on a local drink of the same fruit flavor known for its sugary sweetness, and is a classic Buffalo favorite. Their Sponge Candy Stout offers a darker and more hearty brew made with clippings of a chocolate candy that melts in your mouth and provides a velvety caramel smoothness to an amazing stout that tastes like home.

Pearl St. Grill and Brewery—one of the oldest microbreweries in the city—features Saber’s Edge, a double IPA meant to “keep you warm during the hockey season.”

Local craft brewery Big Ditch Brewing Company is named after the Erie Canal, and sports a lineup of beers inspired by the project that helped shaped Buffalo history and culture for a century. From the Deep Cut Double IPA that pays tribute to the last seven hand dug miles of the canal to the Belgian Golden Shovel and Rye Brown Excavator, Big Ditch takes pride in keeping alive the spirit of the original canal workers, an identity Buffalo proudly carries to this day. In their own words, “As with the prosperity that followed the completion of the Canal, Buffalo today is a city reborn. And those who are shaping the next 100 years of prosperity are the ones we brew Big Ditch beer for.” In addition to the brews founded on the city’s heritage, its traditional flavors and foods find their way into the beer as well. Big Ditch for instance offers their world-class Hayburner wings, basted with their IPA of the same name.

bevspot chicken wing festival
National Buffalo Wing Festival

Local Highlights of Buffalo

If you come to visit Buffalo, you’ll find a town where the people are absolutely dedicated to their history, their food and drink, and to each other. From the wide array of collaborative brews and locally inspired beverages, to the signature flavors of loganberry, beef on weck, sponge candy, and the ubiquitous chicken wing.

Nearly every menu in town features not only a signature Buffalo dish or two, but a signature Buffalo brew as well. From humble food stands, shacks, and trucks that serve as part of the city’s resurgent waterfront, to high-end cultural mainstays like Chef’s, Buffalo’s restaurant scene is couched in dishes and drinks that were born right in town, or adapted with the signature style of the city. Visitors should expect to make time for a few of the top food and culture hotspots in the city, including:

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery – One of the oldest microbreweries in Buffalo and home to some of the best chicken wings in the world, Pearl Street is a cornerstone of the reborn waterfront. Within easy walking distance from the home of the Buffalo Sabres, the Buffalo Naval and Military Park, and several local concert venues, Pearl Street is a must-see for both locals and visitors alike.

Resurgence Brewing Company – A laid back establishment less than ten minutes from the world famous Anchor Bar, birthplace of the “Buffalo Wing.” With a great atmosphere, great beer, and a dog friendly location to boot, Resurgence is on every list of can’t miss stops in Nickel City.

Big Ditch Brewing Company – A beautiful building with incredible offerings from delicious drafts to custom wings and bar fare just blocks away from historic Shea’s Performing Arts Center and the Hotel Lafayette.

Shea’s Performing Arts Center – Newly restored and nestled among a half dozen smaller theatres, concert halls, and famous Western New York restaurants like the Buffalo Chophouse and Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Shea’s is the beating heart of Buffalo’s theater district.

Duff’s Famous Wings – Serving their famous wings since the late 60’s to locals, out-of-towners, and even a United States President or two, Duff’s continues a near fifty year tradition of excellent food, excellent beer, and wings that will burn off your taste buds if you let them.

The Anchor Bar – The birthplace of the Buffalo chicken wing. Come for the world famous delicacy served as it was when it was invented in 1964. Stay for the atmosphere, live music, and true Buffalo hospitality.

In Buffalo, craft brewing isn’t just a tradition, it’s part of the rebirth of a city. Bringing new businesses and jobs, and a reimagining of old flavors, to a town on the rise, Buffalo’s craft brewing scene continues to be an integral part of the city’s history, culture, and identity.

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