Buffalo's sewer rats would have flunked a sobriety test as they wallowed in up to 12,000 gallons of beer last weekend.
It was a scene that would make a beer lover cringe, as hundreds of kegs of brew was dumped into storm sewers, capping off the latest chapter in the Breckenridge Brew Pub saga.
"The brewmaster doesn't want to talk to you right now. He's crying, with all this beer being dumped," quipped Breckenridge General Manager Anthony J. Niecpiel.
The 250-seat pub was shuttered last week after the Denver-based owner announced that it could no longer absorb mounting losses.
Seven giant vats of Breckenridge beer and at least 160 kegs of brew were dumped into the sewer outside the city-owned Market Arcade building, where the Breckenridge had been the anchor tenant for three years.
The city seized the site last week and has been talking with at least five prospective operators. In the short term, it has been plotting strategies for trying to recoup some of the city's losses on the project, which could exceed $900,000 when delinquent loan and lease payments are tallied.
The city managed to sell 18 kegs of Breckenridge brand beer for $630 to the Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, a downtown pub that has been thriving since it opened last November. But Alan H. DeLisle, president of the Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corporation, said it wasn't feasible for the city to get into the beer-bottling business and try to sell the brew contained in the vats. Most businesses purchase their beer from established distributors. Some brewing experts said the remaining beer was probably worth between $20,000 to $25,000.
Officials at the state Liquor Authority said there are provisions in the Alcoholic Beverage Control law that make it easy for vendors to transfer ownership of supplies, assuming there's a demand in a given market. Maris Hart, an Albany-based liquor authority spokesperson, said vendors can obtain liquidation permits that enable them to sell inventory to a new buyer or to a licensee at another site.
Bruce Bruein, director of wholesale services for
the state Liquor Authority, said that even if a municipality like Buffalo seized ownership based on unpaid debts, there are instances where "miscellaneous permits" would be issued enabling the locality to sell alcoholic beverages. Bruein said there was a scenario in another part of the state where a government agency seized control of a failed winery and obtained authority to sell the wine.
The Buffalo Sewer Authority kept a watchful eye on this weekend's beer-purging mission. A permit was issued and an inspector was on site, making sure all guidelines were followed.
Anthony A. Hazzan, the sewer authority's general manager, said the process went off without a hitch, noting that beer is biodegradable and poses no safety risk when disposed of properly.
"When you talk about 12,000 gallons of beer, it sounds like a lot. But when you consider we handle 180 million gallons of flow per day, 12,000 gallons is basically a drop in the bucket," he said.
A special discharge unit was used to pump the beer from vats and kegs, with hoses carrying the brew to the curbside sewer opening. Hazzan said the beer traveled to the South Buffalo Pumping Station, then to the city's wastewater treatment plant near the foot of Ferry Street.
Hazzan said the dumping task was done in stages over a 36-hour period on Saturday and Sunday.
This isn't the first time the Breckenridge has had to close an establishment. Officials recently shut down a brew pub in Birmingham, Ala. Two years ago, a Breckenridge-affiliated brew pub in Dallas was closed. The company continues to operate several pubs in Denver and Charlotte, N.C. Officials from the Breckenridge home office in Colorado would not return calls for comment on the latest developments.
On the day the pub closed, city officials slapped the Breckenridge with a restraining order and dispatched around-the-clock guards to the site, both actions aiming to prevent the owners from taking any equipment or supplies that could later be resold. Last year, the Breckenridge sold bottling equipment that was used as collateral to secure the city loan, one of the early signs that the pub was in financial trouble.
The demise of the Theater District eatery is a black eye for Mayor Masiello's main development agency. The Buffalo Economic Renaissance Corp. approved a $600,000 loan to the owners three years ago, later amending the agreement to allow the Denver owners to obtain the money without making any loan guarantees.
In addition to owing about $500,000 on the outstanding loan, the Breckenridge owes more than $400,000 in rent and utilities.
While city officials said it's unlikely that most of the debt will be recovered, they remain optimistic that a new operator can be attracted. At least five prospective buyers have contacted the city, including companies in Rochester and Syracuse.