Until recently, brewers in Buffalo’s growing craft beer scene have had to look outside New York for the barley and hops needed to make their small batches.
But these brewers say they’re pleased that an industry led by local farmers is increasingly able to supply their demand for those ingredients.
“We want to make beer that is made in Buffalo for people to drink in Buffalo,” said Jeff Ware, owner of Resurgence Brewing Co. on Niagara Street, which just finished its first batch and is planning to open its beer garden around Memorial Day.
Resurgence was one of six breweries that took part Sunday in the first “Farm to Pint” event at Hamburg Brewing Co. to celebrate local farmers’ contributions to craft beers, which are meant to be savored like a fine wine for their texture and notes.
Ware and his brewing partner Dave Collins were featuring their “New York Maple Tripel,” a Belgian ale made from maple and grain harvested in Batavia.
Western New York’s position near the Great Lakes, soils laid down by vast glaciers and our climate gives plants a flavor profile unique to this area, said Bob Johnson, owner of Niagara Malt, which grows seven varieties of hops and barley in Cambria.
“Plants like hops, which are used for flavoring, have a lot of essential oils and these essential oils provide the nose or the characteristics that we might taste or smell,” said Johnson, who is also setting up a malt house on his farm to clean and bag the grain for craft brewers.
Bill Verbeten, an agronomist with the Cornell University Cooperative Extension, said he has been working on educating farmers about how to successfully grow these crops on their land.
“You really need to have about six or seven things all come together to have a really good, high-quality malting barley crop that’ll meet the needs to brewers here in Western New York,” he said.
Hamburg Brewing is even starting to grow its own barley and hops on site and uses them in its House Dressing Amber Ale.
“We’re using New York State-grown barley and New York State-grown hops, which are two of the biggest ingredients in beer other than water and yeast,” said John Russo, founder of the new Hamburg Brewing,.
His company hosted Sunday’s event in its tap room.
The boom in barley is only a return to Buffalo’s prominence as a major manufacturer of malted barley, said Willard Brooks, president of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association, which sponsored Sunday’s event.
“Buffalo was a major malting city at one point in time so this is kind of going back to where we started,” he said.
The breweries are taking advantage of a new state law passed in 2012 that made a farm-brewery license available and incentivizes the use of ingredients grown in New York.
“The state recognizes that there’s a great potential for economic growth in the beer industry,” said Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo.
“We’ve seen it in other states. In order to achieve that in New York we have to loosen up our Prohibition-based laws to really help the craft brew industry.”
Other breweries involved in Sunday’s event included Community Beer Works, Big Ditch Brewing Co., Flying Bison Brewing Co., Gordon Biersch and Old First Ward Brewing Co. There are 15 craft breweries in Western New York, Brooks said.
It was the promise of an array of locally brewed craft beers that led Matt Costuros and a group of about 40 other cyclists from the Campus Cycling Collective to ride 20 miles on Sunday afternoon to the Hamburg brewery from Caffe Aroma on Elmwood Avenue.
“It was a cool idea that they’re having beer brewed with New York State ingredients,” said Costuros, who noted that he found Community Beer Works’ Klassy American Pale Ale “refreshing.”