The owners of Woodcock Brothers Brewing Co. actually weren't even looking to expand.
As brothers Tim and Mark Woodcock, who own the business with their wives, Andrea and Debbie, respectively, settle into their new digs in the Wurlitzer Building, it's become obvious the North Tonawanda expansion essentially fell into their laps.
"We're from Wheatfield and we've driven by this building a million times," said Tim Woodcock, who opened the original Woodcock Brothers brewery in Wilson in 2011. "Actually [the Wurlitzer staff] approached us and said they had space available. When we saw the space, and what Platter's did with the Wurlitzer, and the need for something like this in this area, we decided to go forward."
Woodcock Brothers Brewing Co. will open its second location at 11 a.m. March 29, at 908 Niagara Falls Blvd. in North Tonawanda, inside the former organ-making factory. Although Google Maps might tell you to enter on Melody Lane, the easiest entrance is directly off Niagara Falls Boulevard, just to the right of Platter's Chocolates. There's ample free parking.
The concept of the new brewery-taproom, a $1.3 million project, is a playground for head brewer Matt Gordon to create one-off beers that, if popular, could become staple Woodcock brews and be canned in the future. Woodcock's four flagship beers, the Niagara Lager, Red Head Amber Ale, the Woodcock Porter and the Woodcock IPA, will still be available on tap and in cans at both locations.
Considering the Wilson brewery is 40 miles from Buffalo, closer proximity to the city will help broaden Woodcock's reach.
"We hope that it expands our market share, and gives us more awareness," Tim Woodcock said. "People will learn the Woodcock brand more. Some people don't even know that Woodcock Brothers exists still."
Additionally, Woodcock - who received tax credits from Empire State Development to encourage job creation - will employ nearly 60 employees once the new location hits full steam. The Wilson brewery presently employees 30 at its home base.
Matt Gordon has a brewer's dream job. After three years making the beer in Wilson, including one as head brewer after Matt Redpath left, Gordon will now be able to test hop combinations, new strains of yeast and off-beat styles in regular one-offs, which could remain on tap for two weeks to a month, depending on their popularity.
In addition to the four staple beers, here's a quick rundown, with a comment from the outspoken Gordon, of the first three one-off brews.
Blood Orange Mango Berliner: 4 percent ABV - not a sour, but it's tart. It's made using 30 pounds of blood orange puree and 10 pounds of mango puree. Considered a very light, summer beer. "Blood orange was a big thing a few years ago," Gordon said. "I think we're the first one to do a comeback of it."
Sweet, Sweet Haze IPA: 7.1 percent - this is version 2.0 of Gordon's New-House IPA, just with even more haze. Think of this as a New England-style IPA, with tropical flavors such as mango and pineapple pulled from the hops. "If it's hazy as hell, people will love it," Gordon explained.
Salted Caramel Coffee Porter: 5.1 percent - a brand-new recipe that's quite coffee-forward. Gordon sources beans from New Day Roasters, two miles west on Niagara Falls Boulevard, then returns the beans to New Day to be ground for Woodcock's coffee. The head brewer is not quite sure how it happened, but this batch has almost a maple flavor.
Up next: Gordon is working on a double IPA, a Sweet, Sweet Haze IPA revamp, as well as an Orange Chocolate Stout made with neighbor Platter's Chocolate's orange chocolate extract.
First up in Woodcock's series of collaboration one-offs is a joint effort with Clarence's West Shore Brewing for a Imperial Chocolate Banana Hefeweizen.
Also on tap will be a separate brew from the collaborator of the month, plus Blackbird Cider Works and potentially Lilly Belle Meads.
Gordon, 30, is a Sweet Home High School graduate who spent five years in the U.S. Army before attending Erie Community College's Brewing Science program, graduating with its first class in 2015. He will oversee both locations.
With the opening in North Tonawanda increasing demand, Woodcock has doubled the size of its production in Wilson, as it's now equipped with a 20-barrel system, which should be in full production in two weeks. Gordon will oversee both brewing operations.
The kitchen is guided by Ryan Hays, an industry veteran who's had stints at E.B. Green's, Orazio's and Asa Ransom House, among others. After a few months training with the wood-fired oven in Wilson, Hays is raring to go, and he's fired up about the house beer-battered fish fry, served Fridays only.
"It's a larger fish than anyone out there," Hays said. "We want the best fish fry in Western New York. If [the customer] can finish it, I probably didn't do my job right."
Raclette, both a type of cheese from Switzerland and the name of a dish, will give a nice twist to Hays' French dip sandwich. Woodcock has an in-house raclette table, equipped with a wheel and burner, where the cheese is melted and then scraped piping hot - watch a video of it in action on Woodcock's Facebook page. It's also served as a Euro-style poutine, too, over roasted red potatoes and with gherkins.
Cajun wings, which were wood-fired in Wilson, will have the same approach in North Tonawanda, but the addition of fryers has expanded Woodcock's wing presence. While pizzas are a snug fit for the wood-fired oven, it also is central to the preparation of the lamb, strip steak and cedar-plank salmon dishes.
• Woodcock's brew pub in the Wurlitzer has a capacity of 180, with another 100 accommodated outside in the beer garden, expected to open on Memorial Day.
• The bar lighting comes from hop-shaped lights with a greenish glow. They're exclusive to the North Tonawanda location.
• The decor - through old photos and plenty of brick - recognizes the history of the Wurlitzer building, but it also mimics the Wilson brewery in its lighting style and industrial look.
• The Wurlitzer administration covered the exterior renovations of the project. Tim Woodcock teased that more businesses would likely join the fray in the coming months.
• The brewery's fermenters are named after the Seven Dwarves. The identities are visible through the glass in the taproom.