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Award winning local beers

Demonstrating the passion of area brewers

The award-winning The Whale Brown Ale from Community Beer Works

Photos by kc kratt


When I spoke with four of Western New York’s 2017 award-winning brewers, the bumper sticker idiom “Do what you love and love what you do” stubbornly lodged in my mind. Yes, these brewers love beer. And yes, they love brewing it. Not surprisingly then, this group—professionals who exude a deep knowledge and passion for their craft—sit at the top of the class.


TAP New York Awards 2017 Gold Medal Winner
Governors’ Brewers’ Cup for Best Craft Beer in New York State

Community Beer Works, The Whale Brown Ale

President, Ethan Cox


Coffee, chocolate, caramel, and roast—these are the most prominent flavor notes of Community Beer Works’ The Whale Brown Ale. Instead of heavy hops, “you get a smooth, malty, fulsome, and delicious 5.8% ABV all-season ale that pairs well with a wide range of foods, but also drinks great on its own,” says president Ethan Cox. The Whale’s recipe has evolved from original head brewer Rudy Watkins’ recipe, but remains grounded in the “simple joy of creating a great expression of the Thomas Fawcett Brown Malt, which contributes the bulk of the flavor.” It’s rounded out with other malts, a dash of hops, and a fairly neutral ale yeast. “We like to think we make the best beer in Buffalo, but that’s not to say we don’t think others are also making great beer! For the most part, our small scale is something of a liability, but when it comes to two things—freshness and variety—it does have advantages. Ultimately, we’re very much a brewer’s brewery, and I think it shows in the beer.”


NYS Brewer’s Association 2017 Silver Medal Winner

NY Beer Project, Lockport Lager

Owner, Kelly Krupski


“Crisp, refreshing, liquid gold in a glass.” That is how Kelly Krupski, owner of NY Beer Project, describes Lockport Lager. At a recent NYBP Beer Pairing dinner, Krupski conducted a side-by-side taste test of her award-winning lager, a traditional Czech Pilsner, and Pilsner Urquell, the first Czech Pilsner ever made in Bohemia (now Czech Republic). Only one in attendance noticed a difference—head brewer Jason Crosset picked up on a slight variance in the hop profile. The main difference, Krupski says, between the Pilsner Urquell and Lockport Lager is “our Czech pilsner is about as fresh as it gets. It’s brewed locally, and you can get it practically directly from the fermenters here in Niagara County. It’s really crisp, complex, yet simple and really lovely.”


TAP New York Awards 2017 Gold Medal Winner

12 Gates Brewing Co., Cherry Vanilla Wheat

Brewmaster, Scott Schuler


Generally speaking, the 12 Gates Cherry Vanilla Wheat is a soft and fruity wheat beer. “You can think of it as a soft cherry milkshake,” says brewmaster Scott Schuler. “For people who generally stay away from fruit beers, we make this one subtle and easy drinking. There is a complexity with how the cherries and vanilla beans interplay, but it will always allow for a fun time.” Schuler is building on past experience. In Florida, he brewed a blueberry vanilla wheat, but says working with cherries is a totally different approach and execution. Like his Florida blueberries, Schuler’s cherries are locally sourced (from Singer Farms), but “the grains are totally different, and the brewing process is much more detailed now. This allows the cherry vanilla wheat to be much more approachable and easy drinking, and, of course, more stable.”


NYS Brewer’s Association 2017 Silver Medal Winner

Thin Man Brewery, Hyperballad

Head brewer, Rudy Watkins


Thin Man head brewer Rudy Watkins describes Hyperballad as malty beer that hits on flavors of caramel and raisin. Thyme, the “woodsy component,” added depth to those warm flavors. The richness was balanced with a citrus hit from the addition of orange peel. Watkins drew inspiration from one of his favorite darker Belgian beers, De Struise’s Pannepot.  He says he, “took a bunch of ideas from that beer, as well as the Abbaye Des Rocs Grand Cru,” but adds that Hyperballad is different for a number of reasons. “It’s no fun to just try and make someone else’s beer—but research on the production of those two beers certainly helped shape this one.” In a microbrew-gravitational culture, Watkins believes the best way to set yourself apart is to have “voice.” “Make the things you want to drink, advocate for those flavors and ideas, and the drinkers will come. There are a million and one incredibly made beers out there today—if you’re trying to be just like someone else, you’re interchangeable. Be unique. Be interesting. Offer what nobody else can.”



Other local winners include:

NYS Brewer’s Association 2017 Bronze Medal Winners:

Big Ditch Brewing, Deep Cut


TAP New York Awards 2017 Bronze Medal Winners:

42 North, Borderland IPA

12 Gates Brewing, Water Mill Pilsner


Joseph Doherty is a teacher and freelance writer.


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