Big Ditch digs in
A leader in Buffalo’s brewing renaissance approaches the decade mark
IPAS make up seventy-five percent of the brewery’s offerings
Photo by Syrie Roman
Big Ditch began in 2011 with Matt Kahn and Corey Catalano’s dream of founding their own business—of some type. Catalano came up with the idea to brew beer. Kahn thought about Catalano’s ideas and did some research, wondering why there weren’t more breweries in Buffalo at the time (there were only three when they started developing their concept). With backgrounds in biotech, biology, and chemistry, these beer-loving scientists decided to start brewing in a garage.
Over the next two years, while perfecting their craft, the two brewers met Wes Froebel, who had previous brewery ownership experience and was looking for a new project. The trio started a partnership and began looking for buildings to house their brewery. Iskalo Development helped with this stage, with Paul Iskalo joining as principal investor.
“It took us a long time to come up with the name,” says Kahn. “We wanted to name our brewery something that referenced a piece of Buffalo’s history, not another “Buffalo” something or other. Big Ditch is what the Erie Canal was jokingly called before it was built; the story behind the canal construction was inspiring to us, so it stuck. We formed the LLC in May of 2013 and opened for business in October of 2014.”
Big Ditch opened its doors after years of anticipation from loyal followers who were already tasting the beer, and has steadily grown its consumer base ever since. According to Untappd, Big Ditch has brewed 119 different beers. Kahn notes that they average “a new beer approximately every two weeks.”
All of Big Ditch’s brews are produced on site, using a twenty-barrel (620-gallon) Criveller brewhouse that was manufactured in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It uses a two-vessel brewing system, consisting of a mash-lauter tun and a boil kettle-whirlpool. Five forty-barrel and six sixty-barrel fermenters allow brewers to make the same recipe up to three times in one day to fill up each fermenter. Beers ferment in the tanks for anywhere from two to eight weeks. After fermentation, the beer is carbonated in a brite tank, and then goes into kegs and twelve- or sixteen-ounce cans using an automated canning line.
Big Ditch’s most successful brew is bestseller Hayburner IPA, which makes up seventy-five percent of the brewery’s offerings. (This isn’t that surprising, as IPA is the best-selling craft beer style in the US.) Kahn really enjoys Deep Cut, BD’s double IPA, which has won several awards for best DIPA’s in New York State. It’s a bigger beer, at eight-point-two percent, but isn’t overly bitter, which makes it eminently drinkable.
Kahn’s least favorite BD brew? “In the early days, we brewed an English Strong Ale called Wedding of the Waters. We brewed several nice pilots of it. When we scaled to a large production batch, we changed a few things because we thought we knew what we were doing—but we didn’t. That beer tasted like oaky cough syrup. Probably won’t make that one again.”
The brewing team is excited that general beer education is getting better, which means better beer is widely available. One trend Big Ditch foresees in 2019 is more flavoring additives in beer. “It’s not enough to make a nice pale ale or an oatmeal stout anymore. People are looking for interesting combinations and unique flavors. More and more, people don’t want their beer to taste like beer. I don’t see this going away very soon, to be honest.”
The brewers would like to see more diversity in beer: “We love IPAs, we make a lot of them, and we make some pretty good ones,” Kahn says. “We’d like to see the obsession with IPAs die down a little bit and see more people interested in more diverse offerings. Also, even the style of ‘IPA’ has become very narrow: must be light colored, must lack bitterness, must be hazy, must smell/taste either citrus or tropical. Beer is fun because it allows for a diversity of flavors.”
Kegs (from the brewery): Yes (1/2 & 1/6)
Kegs (from distributors): Yes
On Tap at Restaurants/Bars: Yes
Big Ditch is located at 55 East Huron Street.