Distillers Andrew P. Wegrzyn and Frank Weber III
Founders of Buffalo Distilling Company and One Foot Cock brand
Photo by kc kratt
Buffalo Distilling Company
860 Seneca Street, Buffalo
Ask Buffalo Distilling Company partners Andrew P. Wegrzyn and Frank Weber III what made them want to become professional distillers and distributors of craft spirits, and they’ll independently confirm that it was pure happenstance.
The two earned their distilling chops when “a still ended up in a barn” in Bennington, New York. That’s where they made their first product, apple brandy. “New York has a lot of very good apples,” says Weber. “My family makes hard cider, and when Andy and I were experimenting in the barn, that’s what we put in the still. We came up with this special apple brandy and started barreling it. I think it’s comparable to a Calvados.”
One booze led to another, and they started making bourbon. That was followed by the urge to turn a “hobby” into a serious business. They knew their company would be called Buffalo Distilling Company—but when they found out that they couldn’t use the word “Buffalo” to name their products, they hearkened back their roots. The One Foot Cock brand was born, the name inspired, in part, by a metal rooster that adorned the old Bennington barn.
The literal flavor of Western New York is important to them. “We’re a New York State farm distillery; with that designation, you’re required to use a certain percentage of local ingredients. We use 100 percent,” says Wegrzyn. “We get our corn, wheat, barley, and rye from Sheldon Grain Company in Sheldon, New York. Our apples come from Smith’s Orchard Cider Mill in Pendleton.”
Crediting the craft beer industry for “kicking the door down” in the state of New York, Wegrzyn notes that recently changed laws have made it easier for small distillers to get started. “There’s a reduced financial commitment to the federal government for permitting and licensing,” he says. “In response to the success of brewers—like Flying Bison, which has been doing this for over fifteen years—they want to regionalize the local beverage industry and make it more craft-oriented.”
Buffalo Distilling has grown from a still in a barn that took up a total of ten feet, to operating out of a lovingly renovated 130-year-old Larkinville building where their stills occupy upwards of 400 square feet. Now, Weber and Wegrzyn have even bigger plans. They’ve hired Roy Bakos, formerly of Pearl Street Grill & Brewery, as their director of hospitality and pleasures; he runs the bar and tasting room. They’ve got a piano in the bar and are giving tours, booking bands, and renting the space out for events. (Wegrzyn is also a member of Buffalo’s Band Named Sue, which performs Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and other classic country and rockabilly tunes).
With a full-time staff distiller, they aim to increase production—though this winter, they’re a little short on the aged stuff. “We’ve introduced One Foot Cock vodka,” says Wegrzyn. “It’s a delicious craft vodka with a full corn flavor. We’ve also introduced moonshine, an un-aged version of our whiskey.”
“We don’t have the luxury yet of letting our spirits age for five years,” adds Weber. “We have had some bourbon in barrels for over two years, so it’s getting more deep caramel and barrel notes.”
Weber—a former mechanic who “likes to build things”—says that getting into the bar and restaurant business was never a goal. “We take what we’re doing seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The One Foot Cock brand is a good icebreaker, and it’s part of who we are.”
Jana Eisenberg writes frequently for Spree.