Rudy Watkins has chomped at the bit for nine months get his hands onto a commercial system to brew beer.
Watkins, co-founder of Community Beer Works, left the 5-year-old brewery in January to become chief brewer at Thin Man Brewery, which opened in June – to sell food and other brewers' craft beers.
[Check out the Tokyo burger, bacon nugs and more Thin Man dishes here.]
With federal microbrew license finally in hand, Watkins about two weeks ago was able to start brewing his first six batches, and will unveil them at 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Thin Man gastropub at 492 Elmwood Ave.
“We are super excited to have our own beers here,” he said Tuesday night while pouring flights of his first brews for beer writers and several of those who supported him during his waiting game.
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The first recipes include a stout and five pale ales – all bowing to his beer philosophy while acknowledging Western New York’s thirst for hop-forward beverages.
“I tend to like beers with a lowish alcohol because I like to drink for a long time and not get drunk,” Watkins said.
More Thin Man IPAs and Belgians will follow, he promised, along with an eclectic blend of sours, low-alcohol beers and other stylings.
Thin Man will offer flights and either 13- or 16-ounce pours of its first six beers. They also will offer them in 32-ounce “crowlers” – half-growler-sized aluminum cans. Prices hadn’t been set as of Tuesday night but Watkins said they will be typical of other regional craft offerings.
“When you go to a local brewery,” he said, “everyone’s working really hard. Everyone deserves to get paid.”
Thin Man and its 15-barrel system brewhouse – with eight 15-barrel fermenters to keep eight 450-gallon batches going at the same time – occupies the former combined spaces of Faherty’s and Toro. The venture is a project of restaurateur Mike Shatzel and developer Rocco Termini, with Bruce Wieszala in charge of the kitchen and food menu. It includes table service on the first and second floors, including an outdoor deck upstairs, and bar service on both floors.
Since opening day, Thin Man has offered the kinds of top-notch craft beers from around the world that have been standard in Shatzel’s Moor Pat taproom in Williamsville and the former Blue Monk in the Elmwood Village.
Watkins said quality beers made in Buffalo and far beyond will continue to flow from some of the 24 downstairs taps at Thin Man, though within several weeks he hopes to include about a dozen beers of his own making.
Of the six starters, the Dummy Belgian Pale Ale and No Pressure New England-style India Pale Ale are likely to be standards at the brewery restaurant, Watkins said, and he expects a large turnover in other offerings.
“The beer scene is so into ‘What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?,’” he said. “There are still people who want to always drink Jack’s Happy House Lager or Blue or whatever, but those people are fewer and fewer.”
It will take a while for Thin Man brews to be offered off-premise in other Buffalo taverns, Watkins said, though some will be made available for beer festivals and out-of-town special events including Toronto Cask Days on Oct. 21-23.
He also plans to seek out regional hops growers and malthouses to help fulfill some of his recipes.
THE FIRST BEERS
Watkins described his beer philosophy this way: “I want to make beer that’s delicious and nuanced. ... I want to tend to find the things that are super exciting to me and run with those, and hope I can bring a whole bunch of people with me.”
Dan Vater, Western New York sales manager for the T.J. Sheehan Distributors Craft Division, wasn’t surprised to hear Watkins say that the analytics of the beer market won't drive Thin Man’s approach to beer-making.
Shatzel and Watkins have a history of being less concerned about following trends than helping to set them, Vater said.
“For them,” he said, “it’s all about the beer.”
Watkins plucked the names of his first beers from a list of more than 30 that he submitted to the state for approval. Small and midsized craft breweries don’t have to pay for such naming rights, but do need to wait four to six weeks to make sure the names will be on file if needed for tax audits. They also can’t suggest any false advertising claims. Watkins used the example of a beer from Quebec called Aphrodisiac that was renamed Aphrodite when offered for sale in New York.
Here’s a closer look at the first Thin Man beers:
Belgian Pale Ale, 6.2 percent alcohol
What Watkins considers his favorite of the earliest batches boasts a “funky, peachy, pineapplely kind of character,” he said. “This is going to be really great with a lot of richer dishes that are on our menu.” The taste of gooseberry – as if anyone knows what that is – also is part of the mouth feel that comes from an ale with 100 percent Brettanomyces fermentation, dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin.
New England Style IPA, 5.1 percent
“I am really happy with this beer,” Watkins said. It boasts low bitterness, a large tropical hop expression and a round mouth feel. “It’s very, very cloudy,” but not slushy, he said, though the taste may remind some drinkers of an orange creamsicle. All the hops were added to this beer after the boil. “The longer you boil hops the more bitterness you extract and the less fragrant aroma you get,” Watkins said.
Traditional American IPA, 6.2 percent
Watkins said he put a modern twist on this IPA styling, which emerged with a force about a decade ago and continues in popularity. His version has a pine and dank hop character, is maltier than No Pressure, and has a more pronounced bitterness – though it lacks “the crazy bitterness” of some American IPAs.
American Pale Ale, 4.3 percent
Don’t don’t call this a session ale. “It’s not as hoppy as a session IPA,” Watkins said. This pale has a medium level of piney, grassy hops, a honey-like malt expression and herbal hints. Watkins considers this lower alcohol craft an “easy crusher.”
Robust Stout, 6.6 percent
Watkins described this roasty stout – named after the lead singer of The Pixies – as “not hoppy, with a big, rich, roasty, chocolatey, velvety style character.” Wieszala aims to use this beer in his chili recipe. Other brews will be added to dishes in Thin Man’s updated menu. Wait staff also will be trained to recommend food and beer pairings.
Double IPA, 8 percent
“You taste a beer and it kind of tells you what it should be named,” Watkins said. This one whispered Bliss. This double IPA smells and tastes of pineapple, dankness and ripe melon. At 8 percent alcohol, as opposed to 10 percent or more for many others of its ilk, Bliss is “more drinkable,” Watkins said.