Craft beer connoisseurs can take the next step in craft-beer-geekery by crafting their very own brew at Windy Brew in Strykersville, the first custom brew center in the state.
Ten miles east of East Aurora, Windy Brew is a pleasant, 40-minute country drive from downtown Buffalo. As soon as you spot a tall, white windmill (the inspiration for the microbrewery's name and beer bottle-windmill-mashup logo) on the horizon, you're very close.
Don't expect to blow into Windy Brew out of the blue and brew your own beer, though. The high-demand sessions are by appointment only and are typically booked four-to-five weeks out. But don't hesitate to stop in for a beer and a bite regardless.
Bill Snyder looked into opening a custom brew center a few years ago after visiting one in Ohio, only to find out it wasn't legal in New York. When he heard about a bill Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed in November 2016 that would change that, he put his plans in motion. That meant putting mash tuns, fermenters and a bottling system where he once parked his car.
"We gave up the garage for a brewery," he said. "We built ourselves a shed and got remote car starters. It was well worth it, we'd do it again."
Windy Brew was up-and-running by March of 2017 and began functioning as a custom brew center in July when the law came into effect.
Bill and Michelle Snyder's green garage-turned-taproom feels a bit like a rustic, cozy country lodge. Pop country hits play as Bill fidgets around the back brewing area, keeping a keen eye on novice brewers, and Michelle pours beers in the front.
Windy Brew boasts an impressive 18-tap beer menu which outnumbers that of many well-established, larger breweries because they brew in small batches. A list featuring everything from English IPAs to milk stouts to Hefeweizens to fruit beers makes selecting a four-beer flight a task.
The custom brew center is a hands-on, no-experience-necessary deal. Customers pick their brew from a diverse list of 26 beers, look over the recipe and instruction sheet and get to work – that means measuring out hops, malts and grains and lots of boiling, mashing and stirring. Bill is there to help every step of the way.
The only step in the process customers can't legally participate in is pitching the yeast, as that's the step during which a wurt is converted into an alcoholic beverage.
Once four weeks has passed and some magic has happened, customers return to bottle 10 gallons of their very own brew – that's 60 22-ounce bottles. For $130 to $160 (depending on the style) for the beer ingredients plus 60 cents per bottle (which can be reused), you're taking home a huge batch of craft beer at a discount rate. The experience, satisfaction of brewing it yourself and Bill's guidance is complimentary.
If someone is looking to brew a specific beer which isn't on the menu, Bill said he is up for the challenge.
"If you call me up and say you want a Trappist, we'll look it up on the computer, do some research, and we'll do a Trappist," he said.
Windy Brew's product can be found at 15 area bars and restaurants including Butera's Craft Pizzeria in Hamburg, Ebenezer Ale House in West Seneca and Kodiak Jack's in East Aurora.
Bill, who has served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, has declared war of a slightly less-serious sort on macrobreweries like Anheuser-Busch.
"It is a war a little bit," he said. "When you take the taps away from the big guys, it's awesome."
733 Route 20A, Strykersville (585-805-4006)
The scene: Garage-turned-taproom offers customers drinks, pub grub and the opportunity to brew their own beer (by appointment).
Prices: $5 pints, $7 flights, $6 glasses of wine.
Food: Pub grub including flatbread pizzas, pretzels and poutine.
Hours: 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday (starting May 3), 2 to 9 p.m. Friday, noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.