BUFFALO — Five or 10 years ago, there’s no way an event like Buffalo Beer Week could have existed in Western New York, said Flying Bison founder Tim Herzog said.
“Even three years ago the Wegmans and Consumers beer departments were still dominated by cases of Labatts and Coors and now you go in there, and even though those beers still sell more than we do, you’re seeing a much larger presence of craft beers,” he said.
Go to the Village Beer Merchant in Buffalo and you’ll now find a six-pack of Flying Bison beer that was “probably bottled within a week,” he added. “That wasn’t true a few years ago.”
But things are changing, and not just in Buffalo. The craft beer business is booming nationwide — some 409 breweries opened across the country in 2012 alone, according to the Brewers Association.
It’s no wonder, then, that Dan Syracuse and Mike Shatzel, the men behind Pizza Plant, and Blue Monk and Cole’s, respectively, got together with other Western New York beer-lovers four years ago to launch Buffalo Beer Week. This year the week-long festival encompasses the annual Buffalo Brew Bash at Coca-Cola Field for the first time and features dozens of other events, including tastings and even a film screening.
“The simple aim is to increase the visibility of craft beer in Buffalo-Niagara,” said Willard Brooks, this year’s chairman of Buffalo Beer Week. An added bonus, he said, is the “spirit of collaboration between brewers.”
Some area brewers, he said, are working together on collaboration brews, like Flying Bison’s with Community Beer Works. They haven’t yet named the brew, which Herzog described as a Belgian beer with a “fresh hoppy character like a pale ale ... really noticeable hop notes.”
The hops, grown by Niagara Malt in Cambria, are front and center, perhaps, because it’s one of the first times Niagara Malt hops are being used in a commercial brew. There will be a special tasting event of the beer Friday at the Brewed in Buffalo release party at Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle in Buffalo. Community Beer Works will also be making the beer available at a variety of tasting events throughout the week.
Farmer Robert Johnson, who began Niagara Malt two years ago and works as a biology professor at Medaille College, said his goal in starting his hops and barley farm is to create Western New York terroir of the crops. The term terroir is often used to describe the regional flavor of a crop, most notably when vinophiles talk about the different taste of wines created in certain parts of the world.
“The hops grown in Western New York taste different and come off with different aromas than the hops in the Pacific Northwest” where most hops in the United States are grown, Johnson said. “Everywhere you go the unique environment of that area flavors the crops grown in that area ... the soil type, the moisture, the prevailing temperatures, the amount of sunlight, the day length, all kinds of subtle of micro and environmental factors, even the insects greatly influence the flavor and aroma.”
Johnson describes his favorite hops — chinook — as having less of a pepper note than those grown in the Pacific Northwest, with a strong citrus aroma.
“My chinooks smell like a fresh-cut grapefruit,” he said. “It’s becoming my signature.”
Johnson goes into greater detail about his desire for a Western New York barley and hop terroir in an article he wrote for this year’s Buffalo Beer Week program, which will be available at some of the week’s events.
The farmer ultimately plans to build a malt house sometime in the spring where he’ll be able to sell already malted barley to local brewers. Though his farm has been in operation for two years now, he’s only just now making his hops and barely available for use because, like grapes, it takes a few years for the crops to mature. He was inspired to start Niagara Malt in part because of the growing interest in craft brews, but mostly because of his interest in biochemistry and ecology.
“And I’ve always enjoyed beer,” he added.
Brooks said he looks forward to Buffalo Beer Week growing in the coming years as he anticipates more breweries opening in the area — 10 to 15 in the next few years, he predicts.
“Craft beer in Buffalo is on fire at the moment. It’s growing at a rate that would have astonished somebody a few years ago,” he said.
Contact Sunday Lifestyle editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116 or follow her on Twitter at @DanielleHaynes1.
BUFFALO BEER WEEK HIGHLIGHTS • Friday -- Brewed in Buffalo release party at 5-7 p.m. at Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, 612 Filmore Ave., Buffalo • Saturday -- Buffalo Brew Bash at Coca-Cola Field, Buffalo • Sept. 23 -- "Beer Hunter" screening at 7-11 p.m. at the Pan American Grill and Brewery, 391 Washington St., Buffalo • Sept. 26 -- Buffalo Beer Goddesses Assemble beer tasting 7-10 p.m. at Goodbar, 1110 Elmwood Ave. • Sept. 28 -- Buffalo Beer Geek Festival featuring food paired with high-end beer; two sessions from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at Artisan Kitchens and Baths, 200 Amherst St. ••• For a full list of events and more information, visit www.buffalobeerweek.com