Local breweries and Craft Beer Week
Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works
Beer is the product of a relatively simple equation. Combine hops, malted barley, yeast, and water, and essentially, you have yourself a brew. It’s the attention to detail, the brewmaster’s palate, and the time spent per batch that makes a beer a craft beer.
The Brewers Association is a national nonprofit organization that functions on behalf of most US breweries. From May 12–18, the group will present its ninth annual American Craft Beer Week (ACBW), aimed at bringing attention to smaller, craft breweries throughout the country. Despite Buffalo's growing craft beer scene, local participation in the national event is limited.
“I think that’s a worthy goal,” Ethan Cox, president of Community Beer Works, says. “People‘s interest in more flavorful, more finely crafted beers is continuing to grow. The big guys have been losing market share to craft beer. But even with all this attention, it is also still the case that craft beer just very recently reached eight percent market share.”
Cox hasn’t registered with ABCW, so his event won’t be found on the website Craftbeer.com, but he still has something up his sleeve. Although not exactly sure what it is yet, one thing is for sure: Community Beer Works will be debuting a new beer. Cox wants the ACBW beer to be refreshing, and has been playing around with a few ideas. They’re working on creating a saison-style beer—a table beer with lower alcohol content.
Cox says the fermentation period for any beer can take anywhere from 10– 20 days and CBW’s average batch size is one-and-a-half barrels. Of the numerous things that differentiate breweries like Community Beer Works from the larger ones, the scale of production has to be the greatest. A plant like Budweiser produces tens of millions of barrels per year, while Cox and his team produced a little over 400 barrels in 2013.
“At your average Budweiser plant they probably spill that many on the floor,” Cox says. “We’re working on growth. We’re not going to stay this size forever.”
If you’re looking for an all-out event, Southern Tier Brewing Company, located in Lakewood, NY, will be the spot. On May 17, Southern Tier will celebrate ACBW with their third annual Public Day. The event is free and open to the public, will run from 12–4 p.m., and will feature live music from the Brent Peterson Quartet. Each guest will receive a five-ounce souvenir glass and will be afforded the opportunity to sample over twenty-five beers.
“We collect at least one keg of every beer we produce throughout the year specifically to be tapped at Public Day,” says Nathan Arnone, the brewery spokesman for Southern Tier. “A good number of these beers are not available in bottles nor are they readily available on draught in this area.”
Southern Tier Public Day limited-edition beers include:
Steve (Belgian-style ale)
Raspberry Wheat Beer
Nashville’s 440 (German rye beer)
Pittsburgh (Belgian-style brown ale brewed with figs)
Chattanooga (Azacca hops single hop ale)
Although the event is primarily about beer, Arnone is quick to mention that it’s also very much about people. In another effort to show that, this year Southern Tier’s kitchen team will offer a chicken barbeque, something that hasn’t happened in Public Days past.
“Craft beer is about more than just beer,” Arnone says. “It’s about community, camaraderie, and to show appreciation to our customers.”
Director of brewing operations at Pan-American Grill & Brewery and Pearl Street Grill & Brewery Noah McIntee thinks that ACBW can help all breweries through raising awareness. To him, the more people know about it, the more they will love it. And with sales on the rise, it’s only a matter of time before more people are turned onto the idea and taste of craft beer.
“We are very, very, very far behind the curb of craft beer growth in the US, especially in Buffalo,” McIntee says. “We need the national stuff to happen. It hasn’t fully hit here. It will, but it just hasn’t yet.”
In recognition of ACBW, Pearl Street will feature a seasonal spring beer, their Belgian wheat beer Lune de Bleu. Pan-American won’t be tapping any new beers. McIntee looks forward to coming up with new beers because it allows him to be creative and leaves room for reinterpretation. His process differs greatly from the process employed by so many larger breweries, which tend to focus on promotion.
“Generally, they’re all competing for the biggest slice of the pie, and they’re doing it with an exact style of beer, and using largely the same practices. They put their energy into marketing and selling their beer.”
Most beer drinkers can discern the difference between the small batch brews of local breweries and the mass-produced beers from beer industry giants. Cox says the difference between the two is that local breweries turn their batches over faster, which results in a fresher, more quality product.
“Local doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good,” affirms Cox. “Quality varies independent of location. I think [local craft beers] are typically of a higher quality, but that’s not because it’s local, it’s because it’s being produced on a smaller scale.”
However, local often means greater room for experimentation and creative decision-making. Members of small, local companies often have the advantage of being able to express themselves and try new things, and this freedom can lend itself to inspiration, which in some cases may result in unique beers.
“Craft beer embraces many different styles out there and takes them to the logical extremes,” McIntee says. "I think craft beer, when done well, it brings people together. There's a natural magnetism that happens with beer—people talk about it and want to be involved with it.”
Samantha Wulff is a student at Buffalo State College and a Spree intern.