A new collaborative beer crafted with local ingredients by nearly 20 brewers from across the region will be released in brewery taprooms as early as this weekend and in taverns and retailers early next week to help set up Buffalo Beer Week.
Brewers pitched malts, hops and water into the mashtun at 12 Gates Brewing Company three weeks ago to make two batches of a session India Pale Ale called Class is in Session. They gathered again Aug. 28 at the Amherst brewery to can the finished product.
Sixty barrels – enough to fill nearly 10,000 cans or 7,500 pints – will be trucked out to retailers and beer emporiums across the region in advance of Beer Week, which will feature special events and other unique beer stylings from Sept. 14 to 23.
Class Is in Session was designed to help underline this year’s Beer Week theme – teaching others more about the important local ties between the regional craft beer, agricultural, hospitality and tourism industries.
"Individually, we could never match big brewery marketing dollars but as a collective, it gives us a lot of power ... to compete,” said Clay Keel, chief brewing officer at 42 North Brewing Company in East Aurora and vice president of Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association, which organizes Beer Week. “If anything, what this beer is all about letting people know that we're here.”
Some breweries, including 12 Gates, will hang on to their batches until Beer Week.
"We’re going to wait till the 14th to put it on draft," co-owner Rob Haag said Wednesday. "We will have about 10 to 15 cases, sold in 6-packs only, on Sept. 1."
Scott Shuler, head brewer at 12 Gates, described the collaborative beer as more sparingly bittered than a typical IPA. The alcohol content of roughly 5.5 percent will be about 1 percentage point lower than most IPAs, making it lighter and more easily drinkable.
“It's going to pack a lot of tropical, a lot of fruity notes with the flavor and aroma," Shuler said.
He and other brewers kicked around ideas for the recipe for almost a year. About one-third of ingredients – all donated – were produced in Western New York, including two-row pale ale malt from Niagara Malt in Cambria. Also part of the recipe: cascade and chinook hops, popular varieties that helped make the Northwestern U.S. a bastion of the craft beer movement but also grow well in Western New York.
Shuler, Keel and brewers from Sato Brewpub and Thin Man Brewery came up with the malt profile – which also includes English, Belgian and other American malts – but the gaggle of beer-makers who showed up Wednesday each had a hand in the balance of hops and other ingredients.
They included staff from West Shore (Clarence), Rusty Nickel (West Seneca) and 5 & 20 (Westfield) breweries. Each one operates under a New York State farm brewing license which requires them to use at least 20 percent of hops and other ingredients made in the state for products they make through this year, and 90 percent starting in 2024.
The goal is to regrow a state agricultural/beer-making partnership that thrived until Prohibition wiped out the regional beer trade in 1920. It didn't began to regain a solid foothold until five years ago, and continues to grow.
Members of the brewers association look to continue to collaborate annually on a brew leading up to Beer Week – but don’t expect to find Class is in Session anytime soon after it’s gone.
"We love making consistent beers at our breweries that people love,” Keel said, “but, like any other creative person, you like doing something different as well."
Other regional companies contributing to the effort include Try-It Distributing, Community Beer Works, Four Mile Brewery, Hamburg Brewing Company, the New York Beer Project, Ellicottville Brewing Company, Four Mile Brewing Company, Flying Bison Brewing Company, Lilly Belle Meads, Big Ditch Brewing Company, Brickyard Brewing Company, Woodcock Brewing Company and New York Craft Malt.
The Beer Week schedule will be finalized soon and can be seen at buffaloniagarabrewersassociation.org.
For more news and events from the local beer community, check out Alex Placito's most recent Beer Notes column, below.