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How a hobby turned into Hamburg Brewing Company

Brewing beer began as just a hobby for John Russo Jr. But when a friend suggested that he turn his hobby into a business, he and his dad, John Russo Sr., took the idea seriously.

The Hamburg natives traveled around Western New York looking for the best place to build their own brewery. Then, they realized that the perfect spot was in their own backyard.

"Hamburg definitely could use [a brewery] when we started up,” Russo Jr. explained.

In October 2013, they opened Hamburg Brewing Company. The tap room has the feel of an Adirondack lodge with a large stone fireplace that dominates the center of the room.

Hamburg Brewing bartender Nicole Schuster pours drafts at the bar. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Enhancing the room’s ambience are wooden cabinets that line the back wall showcasing the brewery’s merchandise and a taxidermied lynx. Wooden tables are arranged around the fireplace, establishing its role as the room’s focal point and allowing customers to relax in the cozy atmosphere that the fire gives off.

In contrast, the bar is tucked to one side, and void of stools. While some are content to lean and chat, others take this as a queue to sprawl out through the room. Patrons’ ages range widely. Everyone from college students to retirees talk or watch one of the televisions that are placed around the room’s exterior while parents share chips and dip with their soda-drinking children.

A fresh "Hoptang," a hopped grapefruit lager from Hamburg Brewing Company. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

A range of the brewing company's beers are priced from $4 - $7. Styles go from the light, smooth Small Town Belgian-style saison with banana and clove notes, to Hoppenstance, a double IPA with grapefruit and pine flavors, to the crisp and refreshing 550 Game Time (brewed with the fans of the sports radio station in mind).

Seasonal styles include the medium-bodied Irish Red that has a roasty aroma and a balance of hops and caramel malt flavor. Currently on tap, it's ready to be paired with the restaurant’s menu of classic bar food and Buffalo favorites.

For those looking to have a drink and a snack, there is a charcuterie board piled with Yancey’s Fancy cheeses and meats ($14) or baked pretzel sticks with Small Town-infused spicy mustard ($6; add nacho cheese for $1).

Hungrier patrons might opt for a Lakeside Italian sausage baked in the brewery’s Irish Red beer or a beef on weck sandwich ($9 each). Other dishes include a Caprese sandwich and pepperoni or margherita personal pizzas.

When the Russos planned their food menu, they decided to keep it small, sticking to a few appetizers and sandwiches and focusing more on the beer.

“We have a lot of customers right down the street that are full-blown restaurants and we’re trying not to compete with them,” Russo Jr. said. “Just about every bar in Hamburg serves our beer so we need to make sure we’re friendly with them.”

It isn’t just the bars in Hamburg that sell Hamburg Brewing’s beer, though. The company distributes its product to restaurants, grocery stores and corner stores throughout Western New York, Central New York and even as far as North-West Pennsylvania.

Evan Koehler of Hamburg holds his Irish Red beer next to Nicole Fallon of West Seneca as they warm themselves by the fire. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

The brewery gets visitors from that far, too.

“Buffalo is a great place for beer right now. It doesn’t matter what brewery you go to, everybody is making some great beer and it is certainly a place that we like to be,” Russo Jr. said. “You used to have to go out of town to get good beer, and now it’s all here.”

For his neighbors up in the Northtowns, though, Russo wanted to remind them of one thing: the Southtowns aren’t really that far away.

Hamburg Brewing Company

6553 Boston State Road, Hamburg

Hours: 3 to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; noon to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

Tour: A $15 ticket covers a tour of brewing facility, bottling line, and model train room, as well as a pint of beer and a Hamburg Brewing Company pint glass

Go again: Visit during the summertime to enjoy a drink on the extensive back patio next to the brewery’s pond.

Take home: A 32-ounce ($8 - $11) or 64-ounce ($12 - $15) growler of your favorite beer.

Jessika Dickman of Kenmore and her companion Scott Weber of Elma enjoy some pints from Hamburg Brewing. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

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