Buffalo’s craft beer culture is growing, and will expand again next spring when Resurgence Brewing Co. opens a micro brewery and beer garden on the West Side.
Meanwhile, one of Buffalo’s best-known local brewers, Flying Bison Brewing Co., is looking to move to a new home so it can expand production.
The developments are just part of a growing Buffalo movement toward locally produced craft beer, with the new outlets joining a brewery next to Gene McCarthy’s bar in the Old First Ward and Big Ditch Brewing Co. on Ellicott Street downtown, both of which are expected to open soon. And while the number of local breweries is on the rise, those steeped in Buffalo’s beer culture believe there is plenty of room for more growth.
“On our to-do list is making Buffalo a craft beer destination,” said Ethan Cox, president of Community Beer Works, a nanobrewery that opened in April 2012 on the West Side. “That’s not going to happen with one really awesome brewery.”
Nationally, the share of craft beer sales is just 6 percent to 7 percent of all beer sales, and that share is even smaller in the Buffalo market, Cox said.
“What that tells me is that there’s an awful lot of room for growth,” he said.
The approach among local breweries tends to be one of collegiality, as they are less focused on competing against each other, and more focused on attracting the more than 90 percent of local beer drinkers who consume Budweiser, Labatt Blue and other major label beers.
The term “craft beer” applies to small producers like Community Beer Works, which will produce at least 450 barrels this year, and even to Sam Adams, as long as the producer makes fewer than 6 million barrels per year, among other stipulations. “I do think that there is enough demand,” said Jeff Ware, an Orchard Park native who is opening Resurgence Brewing in a former factory at 1250 Niagara St. “We’re making the total pie for everybody bigger.”
More breweries raises awareness of local beer, he said.
Ware sold Sam Adams in the New York City market for five years and returned to Buffalo to open a brewery and beer garden.
After looking at several sites, Ware, who lives in the Elmwood Village, settled on the Niagara Street site, in the back of a building that also is home to Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
Ware said $1 million is being invested to transform the site into a micro brewery and tasting room with a “family-friendly atmosphere,” with a “canopy of trees” and a 3,500-square-foot outdoor beer garden with bocce courts.
Plans include table seating for about 150 people, a new bar and tap room.
Site plans for Resurgence Brewing and Big Ditch Brewing will be reviewed by the city Planning Board on Dec. 3, while Resurgence Brewing will also seek a zoning variance on Monday.
Ware is building a cooler, a bar and tasting room, and hopes to be open in late March or April.
Northeast of the Resurgence site, Flying Bison has outgrown its Ontario Street facility, and its landlord also needs more space, forcing a move.
Flying Bison’s Tim Herzog, who said the brewery rejects formal titles, said the company is performing environmental testing at two sites in the city. One is at 840 Seneca St. near the Larkin District; Herzog declined to identify the other.
The Seneca Street location is on the Planning Board agenda for Dec. 3, but the company could walk away if there are environmental problems, Herzog said.
A move by the brewery to a downtown location has been recommended for funding by the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. The value of the state assistance depends on the site the company settles on, Herzog said.
Flying Bison opened in 2000, and was acquired by F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica – best known for its Saranac brands – in 2011.
The acquisition by the larger company means Flying Bison, which distributes in Erie and Niagara counties, always has bottles and malt, Herzog said.
“We’ve just begun to scratch the surface in Western New York,” he said, adding that there are no plans to sell in other markets.
“Because Buffalo and Niagara Falls still need more beer,” he said. “We have the Bills and the Sabres. We need more beer.”