By Matt Kahn and Willard Brooks
Buffalo once was a center of commerce where the streets were illuminated by electricity generated in Niagara Falls, a city that produced two American presidents, the site of a world’s fair, provided the muse of architects such as Olmsted, Richardson and Wright, and was among the wealthiest cities on the planet.
Buffalo also was home to a substantial brewing industry that employed thousands and was famous for its impressive breweries and beer gardens.
Buffalo can once again become a world center for brewing. We have access to grain, water, hops and our region is strategically located within 500 miles of 40 percent of the U.S. population. Our international border makes our region a binational gateway for commerce, facilitating $85 billion in annual trade between Canada and the United States.
There were five local breweries in 2011 and today there are 29 in operation, with more than a half dozen more in planning. It is no longer hard to imagine Western New York having 50 craft breweries over the next few years.
Despite this growth, the surprising part of the story is that craft beer is still the minority preference for most beer drinkers, as craft beer only represents 13 percent of the market on a volume basis.
For craft brewers, the challenge has been, and continues to be, converting macro drinkers to micro drinkers. For the BNBA, we feel the path lies through education, which is the theme of this year’s Buffalo Beer Week. The goal of Buffalo Beer Week has always been to foster knowledge of our brewing heritage and to showcase the innovation and quality of our local breweries and the venues that support them.
Education is central to our goal of becoming a world destination for craft beer. We need to educate our local establishments about all we have to offer. We need to educate our beer drinkers, too. World-class beer destinations have world-class breweries and also highly educated beer lovers.
Craft beer is so much more of an experience: from the tasting, to the process, to the stories behind why your local breweries opened. As brewers, our jobs must be more than just combining water with grains and dissolving hops and yeast into wort. We must guide our guests with colorful stories about our beer, our brands and our history.
There are more than 150 different styles of craft beer and this is where the brewery can provide value. In addition to beer education, we must tell the stories of our history and brand. Every brewery brings a unique perspective and style to the art and science of making beer, and all of those stories tell us why Buffalo will once again be known as a world center for craft brewing.
Matt Kahn is the president/owner of Big Ditch Brewing Co.; Willard Brooks is the founder of the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association.