Dave Collins cut his beermaking teeth at Buffalo Brew Pub, then found himself hamstrung by the German Purity Laws at Gordon Biersch in the Carousel Center Mall in Syracuse.
Jeff Ware left Orchard Park for the bright lights of New York City and landed a job as a beer seller for Samuel Adams, forging deals with some of the top bars and restaurants in the Big Apple and falling in love with the German beer gardens he never experienced back home in Western New York.
The two, now back in Buffalo, spend most of their waking hours in an old warehouse on the West Side, at a time in their lives when experience is about to meet possibility.
Lots of possibility.
Ware and Collins are now welcoming customers to Resurgence Brewing Co., a sort of beermaking laboratory, and will celebrate a grand opening the weekend of June 27. To hear them talk, the prospects for success are almost endless.
The new brewery aims to offer as many as 100 beers in its first year – all made within eyeshot of customers – including Belgian Tripel, New York Maple and Summer Saison, Kiwi Kolsch, Burnt Session IPA and Sponge Candy Stout.
Take that, German purity restrictions.
“Gordon Biersch is a great company to work for and a great place to learn the technical stuff, and consistency,” Collins said, “but eventually, for me, I needed a better creative outlet, because beer is as much art as it is science. I kind of felt stifled there, because they make you brew to the Reinheitsgebot, which is the German Purity Law of the year 1516. You can only use malt, water, hops and yeast, and you have to make their five standards all the time and can’t go outside that range.”
Ware, 32, who holds a business management degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology, lined up $1 million in investments for the new brewery, which eats up almost 7,000 square feet in the former Sterling Engine Co. building at 1250 Niagara St., behind the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper office, just west of Rich Products. He is the owner and president, and hired Collins late last year with the recommendation of the dean of Niagara College of Canada Brewing School, which Collins attended. The two sealed their working arrangement after a four-hour interview, which included beer.
Collins, 33, a native of the Syracuse suburb of Marcellus, fell in love with Tonya Ford of Amherst several years ago while working at Buffalo Brew Pub and attending the brewing school in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont. The couple was looking for a chance to move back to Western New York when Ware asked Collins to become the Resurgence master brewer.
“We’re on the same page as far as what we want to do with beers,” Ware said. “He gets what I’m going for in terms of the company’s philosophy and believes in the same thing as far as our mission goes.”
Ware, his brother, Chris, and contractors have spent the past several months stripping the warehouse to its brick walls, painting the trusses and spiffing up the skylight windows while Collins has worked the other side of the brewery space, concocting three brewery mainstays – the house IPA, Loganberry Wit and Sponge Candy Stout – in two 15-barrel and three 30-barrel stainless steel fermentation tanks.
Ware hopes the brewery will turn out about 3,000 barrels – or 93,000 gallons – of beer in the first year, for not only the brewery but bars, restaurants and retailers across the region. The beer will sell in three keg sizes, as well as growlers, mini-growlers and pints.
“We want to make sure, before we invest money in packaging, that we’re packaging the right stuff,” Ware said. He expects to hire about 10 staffers for the bar and beer garden and an assistant brewer, as well as others as prospects grow on the retail side.
Meanwhile, Collins has gone to work on a pilot brewing system, where he will make small batches of beer brainstormed by Resurgence customers and staff. Those that gain a following will be added to some of the 20 taps behind the birchwood bar.
“There’s hundreds of beer styles,” Collins said. “There’s thousands of beer yeasts. There’s hundreds of hop varieties and hundreds of malt varieties. …Beer is an open book. You have a saison and you can add black pepper to it, you can add grains of paradise, rose hip. Anything that comes off the top of your head, you can throw it in if you want. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Every two weeks, I could fill these tanks with something totally different.”
The beer garden motif spills outdoors, too, 59 inches down onto a lower-level bed of gravel with more picnic tables, overhead strands of lights and a 6-foot gas fire pit, all surrounded by a stockade fence.
Only one TV hangs inside Resurgence, and the beer tables include decks of Trivial Pursuit cards.
“We don’t want this to be a sports bar,” Ware said. “You can have a pint and start talking to your neighbor. You can see the beer being brewed. It smells like a brewery. You feel the brewing experience and you’ll have a great place to drink that beer.”
Beer prices are roughly $5 to $8 a pint, depending on the expense of the ingredients and brewing process. Hoppy, high alcohol IPAs and Imperial-style beers run on the higher end.
“Elmwood is pushing this way, in a good way,” Ware said. “We hope that we’re a catalyst. We want to be among the people pushing the cause. We love the West Side. We love the neighborhood and we want to see the West Side grow.”
The push is the latest in a string of West Side successes, including Horsefeather’s Market & Residences, Vera Pizzeria and Five Points Bakery. Rich Products recently revamped its banquet space, Broderick Park has been improved and there’s talk of redoing the Niagara Street streetscape.
The owner and head brewer already have plugged into the regional beer community. The pair last month participated in a “Farm to Pint” event at Hamburg Brewing Co., offering up Maple Tripel, a Belgian-style beer. They’ve asked the staff at the nearby Community Beer Works for tips about operating a brewery in Buffalo. And they contacted Tim Herzog of Flying Bison for help to find a farmer to give their spent grain.
They found a pig farmer in Lockport for the grain, and plan to reach out soon to some of the local farmers who plan to grow hops this year.
“It’s a fun, communal industry,” Ware said.
He came up with the name for his new venture while sitting on his porch last year with his wife.
“We knew the philosophy of where we wanted to go,” he said. “I was thinking Revive, Resurrection. It wasn’t all just ‘R’ words. Resurgence just hit. It really does speak to what’s happening in Buffalo right now.
“Craft beer is coming back across the country. It’s coming back in Buffalo. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in Buffalo right now and we just want to be a little part of that resurgence. I’ve only been gone seven years or so and it’s a really different place, and it’s not really so much the place, it’s the vibe. It’s more of a ‘Can do’ vibe than a ‘Woe is me’ vibe, which is exciting.”