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Craft brew market gets a new player

A new brewery is opening this weekend in West Seneca, joining several others that have tapped into the craft beer market locally – an expanding industry that experts say still has room to grow.

“You look at a city like Portland, Ore., and they have 60 brewing licenses,” said Tim Herzog, owner of Flying Bison Brewing Co., the first of the modern breweries in the region. “So the fact that we have nine or so in and around the city of Buffalo, that sounds like a lot to people, but really it’s just kind of scratching the surface.”

The Rusty Nickel Brewing Company will hold its grand opening Saturday at 4350 Seneca St. It joins the list of local breweries that includes Big Ditch, Resurgence and Community Beer Works. It’s a competitive market, but a friendly one, owners say, and has benefitted from a couple of key economic developments.

Herzog, whose Flying Bison Brewery has recently expanded and is about to expand again, said nearly every brewery that he has talked to has seen its sales increase over the past year. He attributes that partly to a cultural shift. Customers are opting for different, fresher beers over the “same old, same old,” he said.

Another aspect is that New York state has become more user-friendly for breweries, he said. For example, the Craft New York Act eliminated restrictions that limited how breweries could conduct tastings.

Jason Havens, one of the three owners of Rusty Nickel, said he sees the expansion of the local craft beer industry as aligning with the current development across the Buffalo region.

“What we’re seeing in the city and in other communities around the city, it all plays together,” Havens said.

The growth in Buffalo is part of a national explosion of local breweries. And while it varies from location to location, there’s still room to grow in most locales, said Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association.

While the additional breweries would seem to create competition, Watson said having a few local breweries open up can actually have a positive effect on all of the businesses because it generates more interest in local beer, and also provides beer lovers with more variety.

In addition to creating business, the breweries have led to a new fraternity among the owners, said Herzog.

He said while it might be uncommon in other industries to have owners get together for a beer or cup of coffee, the local brewery owners grab a beer together regularly.

He credits that bond to the difficulty of getting a brewery started. It’s gotten easier, he said, but it’s still a process that can be in the works for years.

“You meet people who went through the same things you did for the same reason,” Herzog said. “Everybody wants quality and different, fresher beer. It makes it a pretty unique brotherhood.”


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