Tim Herzog barely objects when you call him the old man of the Buffalo beer scene.
After spending the 1990s home-brewing beer, he opened Flying Bison, Buffalo's first commercial brewery in decades, in 2000. Despite his work, Flying Bison crashed in 2009, only to return in 2010 as a subsidiary of Matt Brewing, which also produces Saranac.
So when Herzog says he's struck by the growth of Buffalo's beer choices, he's talking from hard-won perspective. Now Flying Bison's general manager, part of his job involves handing out samples at sales points. These days that includes some Sunoco gas stations, which have installed banks of craft beer taps in their A-Plus convenience stores so customers can fill up half-gallon bottles, or "growlers."
"It's absolutely hysterical when someone comes in and says, ‘Gimme 20 bucks of regular, a lottery ticket and a jug of Rusty Chain,' " he said, referring to Flying Bison's Vienna-style amber brew. "For me that was as close to being on an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone' as I could ever imagine."
On the other hand, "I stand there giggling like a 5-year-old on Christmas. It's great," said Herzog. "Used to be you couldn't get a good beer at a restaurant around here. Now you can get it at the gas station."
This year, Buffalo Beer Week, starting today, provides an unprecedented slate of opportunities for Western New Yorkers to explore craft beer – brews designed for tasting, not just chugging. In the event's third year, the beer curious have about three times as many events offered than in its inaugural session, said Dan Syracuse of Pizza Plant, who started Buffalo Beer Week in 2010 with Mike Shatzel of Coles and Blue Monk.
Today's opening ceremony in Coles includes tapping a ceremonial keg of Gordon Biersch dunkel and the announcement of a Buffalo Beer Hall of Fame with inductions of two figures from Buffalo beer history, along with one live restaurateur (Syracuse).
A microbrew festival Saturday will have more than 50 beers in Delaware Park's Marcy Casino.
Special menus will be offered at local restaurants where chefs aim to pair beers with food that amplify their flavors. There will also be tastings at Consumer's Beverages, Premier Gourmet and other craft beer outlets, including Ebenezer Ale House, Fat Bob's Smokehouse and Aurora Beer Works, as well as scores of special craft beer deals at local restaurants.
The event's growth "says we are about ready to become a much bigger scene," suggested event chairman Willard Brooks, co-owner of Gene McCarthy's Pub in South Buffalo. "There really is a sense that we have this great history of brewing, which had gone dormant. It's about ready to become very large again."
The week opens with a bang tonight, as some of Buffalo's brewers tap beers they made together. Flying Bison brewer Ryan Coleman worked with Rudy Watkins of Community Beer Works, Buffalo's other commercial brewery, on a Belgian-style India Pale Ale.
"They came up with something that really has elements of both breweries," said Ethan Cox of Community Beer Works. "But really, the focus was on the social aspects of [the brewers] spending a bit of time together doing, essentially, a home-brewed batch. I'd say the focus is on the building of camaraderie and the mission to embeer Buffalo more than the beer itself, to be fair."
So at 7 tonight in the Adam Mickiewicz Library (612 Fillmore Ave., 847-0839), Buffalo's brew seekers can taste the love. Other local brewers involved in the one-off commemorative brews include some with ongoing brewing operations, like Pearl Street Grill & Brewery and Gordon Biersch, a national brew pub chain with a location at the Walden Galleria. Others include Big Ditch Brewery, still in planning stages, and Gene McCarthy's Pub, which hopes to offer its own brews next year.
"It's a playground atmosphere when the other brewers come over," Herzog said. With guest brewers contributing, "we made a beer that neither one of us was going to make on our own," he said. "A change of scenery, as it were."
From the arrival of nationwide chains like Gordon Biersch, to budding breweries like Big Ditch still in the prototype batch stages, the horizons of the Buffalo beer world have not been broader in decades.
"It weirds me out, but there are 21-year-olds walking around right now who don't have direct experience of a time when there wasn't tons of beers to choose from," said Cox of Community Beer Works. "We have fans who have no concept of what the beer section at Wegmans would have looked like in 1987."
For full details and listings, go to www.buffalobeerweek.com
Buffalo Beer Hall of Fame Lunch & Ceremony, noon in Coles (1104 Elmwood Ave., 886-1449). Keynote speech by Matt Redpath, brewmaster of Gordon Biersch Buffalo. For tickets, call Coles.
Tapping Beer Week Collaborative Brews, 7 p.m. in the Adam Mickiewicz Library (612 Fillmore Ave., 847-0839). With complimentary Polish snacks.
Micros @ Marcy Beer Festival, 4 p.m. in Marcy Casino (199 Lincoln Parkway by Delaware Park). Vast collection of micro-brews, including some rarities; $40, $50 V.I.P.
Five-course beer pairing dinner, 6 p.m. in Curly's Grill (647 Ridge Road, Lackawanna, 824-9716); $70 all-inclusive.
Good Nature Brewery Brewmaster's Dinner, 7 p.m. in Gene McCarthy's Pub (73 Hamburg St., 855-8948); $30 plus tax and tip.
25th Annual Beer Tasting, 7 p.m. in Pizza Plant Transit (7770 Transit Road, Amherst, 632-0800). Tim Herzog curates 12 world-class beers at one of Buffalo's original craft beer appreciation centers; $25.
Voodoo Doughnut Fright Night, 8 p.m. in Pizza Plant Main Street (5110 Main St., Williamsville). Free samples of Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Maple Bacon Ale and Paula's Maple Bacon doughnuts to drinkers in costume.
Abita Tasting Menu, 7 p.m. in Shango Bistro (3260 Main St., 837-2326). Three courses of New Orleans cuisine with the Big Easy's favorite beers; $18.
Chef's Table Beer Pairing, 7 p.m. in Giancarlo's (5110 Main St., Williamsville, 650-5566); five courses, $55.
OngoingOktoberfest Pairing Dinner, Brick Oven Bistro (910 Abbott Road, 844-8496), today through Nov. 4.