This is an article I look forward to writing every year. It’s the one time of the year when I turn things over to the very people who brew the beer I drink, obsess over and write about – the brewers themselves, as well as the brewery owners and their teams – in order to find out the best beers they drank over the course of the past year. Find out what beer inspired them to brew your favorite beers as well as the beer that filled their glasses most often from this past year.
It seems that this piece gets longer each year I write it, which is great honestly, because the more people that want to take part, the better. This year I polled personnel from New York Beer Project, Lilly Belle Meads, Resurgence, Big Ditch, Steelbound, Eli Fish, Five & 20, Thin Man, Hamburg, Pearl Street, Woodcock, Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association, 12 Gates, Hofbrauhaus Buffalo, SATO, Ellicottville Brewing, Pressure Drop, Flying Bison, Buffalo Beer Goddesses and Brickyard Brewing.
So, settle in, pour yourself a fitting libation and prepare to find out your favorite brewers’ favorite beer of 2019.
Jason Crossett, Head Brewer, New York Beer Project: “One of my favorite beers from this past year is from Kent Falls and their Everything is Everywhere blended American Wild Ale. I enjoyed this at the Shelton Brothers Festival and was blown away. Its flavor was quite complex, yet I found all the aspects of the beer to be balanced. Light malt and fruity with a moderate Brett funk. The acidity balanced the malt and hops beautifully. I would love to get my hands on more of this! This year’s version of Dudette (our Triple IPA) we brewed at New York Beer Project was just phenomenal. We brewed it more towards the New England-style of IPA’s and changed the hop profile slightly. It resulted in a more balanced beer with a very bright hop character. At 10% it was quite deceiving. I wish we had this year round! Big Ditch’s 2018 Bourbon Barrel Aged Towpath was quite the treat on Christmas. It was very smooth and its rich malt profile of chocolate, dark fruit, burnt sugar and coffee blended so well with the bourbon character. Wish I had another one from this year!”
Joseph Marshall, Owner, Lilly Belle Meads: “Most of the beer I get to drink these days is from local breweries either through stopping by to say hi or at brew festivals, and that’s fine by me! My favorite beers this year included Sato Brewpub’s Shudo-In, a Belgian Dubbel with persimmon juice added. Malty and sweet while still being balanced and crisp…so delicious. I also thought Old First Ward Brewing’s Hefeweizen was just outstanding. Pressure Drop’s Struggle Bus was a crisp and clean hoppy Double IPA that was the right beer at the right time for me as even in the midst of the haze craze, I still love and long for and enjoy those West Coast IPA’s. That said I’m also a fan of the Buffalo-style IPA emerging with its juicy haze combined with at least some bitterness, and West Shore Brewing’s Green Flyer in cans was also great. Lastly, I have to say the beer I drank the most of was certainly Big Ditch’s F/C…by far my favorite and I’d say most flavorful session IPA around. Cheers to 2020!”
Erik Roesser & Blake Jacoby, Operations & Brewing, Steelbound Brewery: “Rounding out my first 8 months in the craft beer industry, it was an eye opening and exciting time. Lots of new friends and new beers and I personally can’t wait to see what 2020 holds both locally and nationally. For me this was the year of Other Half. I basically have loved everything they have done but I’m a sucker for Oat Creams and their Eternal Daydream Imperial Oat Cream IPA was my fav, along with the Chroma Series they have been putting out. Collective Arts Spatial Relations Imperial Gose, their collab with Verdant Brewing in the UK, was another top for me along with Sloop’s Bomb Series. Locally, I loved Pressure Drop’s Neptune Dreams and Thin Man’s Minkey Boodle is one of my fav. Sours from anywhere. I really also dug Belt Line’s 20 From Pilsner for a crushable beer. Flying Bison’s Paula’s Peanut Stick Porter is a great beer for this time of year and West Shore Green Flyer IPA for your NEIPA needs. Also big shout outs to Fattey’s Beer Co. and Aurora Beer Works and Brewed And Bottled out in Lewiston for supporting local and always having the goods for local beer lovers.”
Brewing Team, Big Ditch Brewing: “Local: East Meets West – Resurgence. NYS: Abbott’s Chocolate Almond Custard Stout – Stoneyard Brewing, All 5th Anniversary Everything (Coffee) – Other Half, Love at First Bite – Spider Bite, Earn Your Keep – West Kill. Beyond: Allagash White from the source in Portland, ME, Like Clockwork – Foam, Loophole Technicality – Hop Butcher, Citizen Grain – Single Hill, Zenne y Frontera – 3 Fonteinen (from the Festival).”
Adam Burnett, Head Brewer, Eli Fish Brewing: “I always fall back on the American wilds and then try to see who’s pushing the stout game forward. Other Half / Moksa’s Seven Deadly Layers proved once again that both of those teams can put up to a dozen unique ingredients into a stout and somehow you taste each one. I hope to figure that trick out. Most unique beer for me has to go to Mortalis for From Hawaii with Love. Whoever decided to put pineapple and coffee together, that’s a new kind of genius. My annual ‘sure-thing’ is getting my hands on one bottle of de Garde’s The Lucy. There is no other American wild ale that can make white grape taste like potpourri you want to drink. Every vintage is as good as the last. The new banger by Forager, Vanilla Nirvana, sets a record for me for how much vanilla you can put into a big stout, yet still taste stout and barrel character. I helped brew that almost two years ago and I can’t believe it’s as good as we hoped. Honorable mention shouts to Plan Bee Moon Shed.”
Paul Alessi, Head Brewer, Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing: “We had so many great beers produced locally in 2019, there’s no reason to mention anything brewed outside of WNY! As far as sour beer goes, we really enjoyed the Wild About Sour (Blackberry Lime) by Windy Brew, and the Pina Colada Sour by Resurgence. There were just too many good IPA’s to list, but we liked Day Trekker by 42 North and Hamburg Brewing’s Just Saying Vol. 2: Swear Jar. What a great f***ing beer! We also put back a bunch of this beer called Sticky Trees, not sure if anyone has heard of it…but it’s not bad. Lastly, we’re excited to be drinking any of Jamestown Brewing Company’s beers. It’s been quite the ride for them, and we at Five & 20 are excited to have more great beer being produced in our neck of the woods!”
Rudy Watkins, Head Brewer, Thin Man Brewery: “The opening of Chandler kept me closer to home than normal but I still got to drink great stuff this year. Old First Ward’s St. Patrick’s Pils was absolutely brilliant. Clean, flavorful and bitter with the sexiest cap of foam I’ve ever seen from a Buffalo brewery. Karl [Kolbe] continues to nail everything he does over at Pressure Drop – Sticky Trees is still the best West Coast IPA in the area, but Citra Screamer is the perfect beer for a swelteringly hot Buffalo afternoon. Community Beer Works’ barrel aged Adambier deserved that World Beer Cup medal – just great. The Shelton Festival brought some of the year’s best as well. Bluejacket’s Pilsner on gravity cask was sublime, Dunham’s barrel aged raspberry wild ale, 3 Fonteinen’s Rhubarb Lambic, Jing-A / Holy Mountain collaboration – it’s hard to pick just a few from that festival – there were so many wonderful things there. Outside of that? Boon’s Oude Geuze Black Label #3, Orval, Saison Dupont, Tooth & Nail’s Vim & Vigour, Amsterdam’s Fracture. It goes on and on.”
Jason King, Brewer, Hamburg Brewing Company: “Another year of great beer & my memory is a bit hazy but some of the beers that stood out to me this year would be 42 North with its continued amazing job with White Oak Borderland & the [42 Below] Barrel House lineup. Big Ditch FC is my go to spring/summer beer & this year was no different. Belt Line with lots of great IPA’s but that Honey Kolsch stood out. Recently, Thin Man’s Paintin’ The Town Brown & Embiggen #2 hit the spot. Speaking of spot, Flying Bison and the Spot Coffee Stout continues to be amazing. Selfish plug, Hamburg Juice Box Boy made me happy & hoppy. Took a couple trips this year and really enjoyed Veil’s Charcoal Sour, Brew by Number’s Gose, Land Grant’s Concentrate IPA, Hovel’s Maibock & Bianca Road’s Cinnamon-Ginger Milkshake IPA.”
Jason Dunshie, Head Brewer, Pearl St. Grill and Brewery: “My wife and I travel quite a bit to San Diego and there were three beers that were off the charts from my last visit. Stone Liberty Station Witty Moron, a black Witbier, Ballast Point White Wine Barrel Aged Saison and Modern Times Lomaland. Unbiased Opinion: Key Lime (golden dessert w/key lime zest, juice, almonds, vanilla and oak spirals) served on nitro – wow! As far as local offerings, 2019 rocked! We collaborated with Karl Kolbe to make Coco Puff Stout at Riverworks, Nautical Disaster and Deuce Deuce Juice were two NEIPA’s released at Pearl and Cosmic Bison is our sour offering at Lafayette Brewing Company. When I’m not drinking at our locations – Resurgence The Surge, Flying Bison Spot Coffee Stout and Community Beer Works Frank. Looking forward to 2020!
Andrew Pentheros, Marketing / PR / R&D Director, Woodcock Brothers Brewing: “One brewery in particular sums up 2019 for me. I don’t know if it’s for their impeccably straight forward execution of styles, or the utter drinkability of all their beers, or the refined, nuanced complexities I taste beer after beer that makes Suarez Family Brewery stand out for me – but I’m pretty sure it’s all three. Summer Whoa is a “country beer” (Suarez’ version of a Saison) and hit all the marks I look for in the style. Bright, engrossing aroma of ripe peaches, mixed with a light barnyard funk. The mouthfeel pops with a great not-too-heavy acidity and the flavors follow through with a unique peach and funk laced terroir that packs a punch, without being clawing, or sweet or one dimensional. An absolute 2019 favorite for sure.”
Willard Brooks, Founder & Former President, Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association: “Bokkeryder Zomerhof (2018) Methode Goat Lambic – 1, 2 and 3-year-old Lambic with vineyard peaches, sour cherries, white peaches, apricots, carried by Riesling and Muscat grapes. Lambic the way it’s supposed to taste. I had a few others from Bokke – all of them excellent.”
Scott Shuler, Brewer, Hofbrauhaus Buffalo: “Wow, what a year 2019 has been. I continue to see great strides with WNY breweries and beers and I would stack these up against anything put out in the States. I am very proud of my peers and look forward to seeing what will come out next! As far as my standout local beers, the Cocktoberfest from Woodcock is wonderful this year, along with my go-to, The Whale from Community Beer Works. Cremated Remains from Old First Ward Brewing has also been a smoky highlight for me. Finally, Sticky Trees from Pressure Drop has been my go-to local IPA. Great job everyone! A few non-local standouts have been from my recent travels. The Schwartzbier from Hofbrauhaus Cleveland is highly enjoyable and drinkable, Seven Turns IPA from Cinderlands Beer Co. in Pittsburgh was a standout from their fantastic lineup, MODGUD from Trve Brewing in Denver was a highlight from my Denver trip. And everything I have had from De Garde are always winners.
Matt Gordon, Head Brewer, 12 Gates Brewing: “This year was filled with great beers from all over WNY, and the world, with Shelton Fest. My favorite from the festival was Dessert Framboise by Les Trois Mousquetaires out of Brossard, Quebec. That beer was amazing and just indescribable, so I won’t try. As for WNY, it’s very tough to remember every beer from the year, but the few that standout to me are Struggle Bus by Pressure Drop, Dragonship by 42 North (I think it was early 2019), and Berry Vision by Big Ditch. All were unique and stood out of the crowd, which is what draws me in nowadays. Now to be the homer. Danger Zone by 12 Gates is my favorite beer that I made all year. A 9% imperial stout with big chocolate notes that drinks like a 6% stout. Wicked TRIPA, with its sweet candy orange and extremely dank profile, is a great way to close out 2019. I can’t wait to share this with everyone and seeing that it’s 12%, I kind of have to share half the can any time I open one. Cheers to a fantastic 2019 and a successful 2020!”
Justin LaMonto, Head Brewer, Sato Brewpub: “Just like previous years, 2019 has been a year of solid brews both local and non-local. When I drink craft beer I always try to drink local beers before I drink non-local beers. That being said, more local beers have stood out to me this year. Bliss, Burning Money, and War Sombrero from Thin Man were all outstanding beers. Faded Clauz, Aqua Jesus, Alien Technology, Solenya, and Rogue Space Monkey are some of my favorites from Pressure Drop. Lock Porter from Big Ditch became one of favorite porters after my first time having it. Pumking Nitro from Southern Tier is now my new favorite seasonal beer. In terms of non-local beers, anything from Industrial Arts is fantastic. The Brut IPA from Sierra Nevada, Accumulation from New Belgium, and Stella Artois Midnight Lager stood out to me this year. Great Lakes Ohio City Stout still remains one of my favorite beers so I buy it whenever it is available.”
Matt Holtz, General Manager, Ellicottville Brewing: “Not only were the breweries in 2019 pumping out great stuff, but these venues keep getting better and better! Some of the operations here in WNY are world class and deserve some serious recognition. Best beer experience of the year? The Festival was awesome. It was great to see that caliber of an event come to Buffalo and be so well received. We brought a van up from Ellicottville and it was a great evening with co-workers and friends. My fiancé and I took a trip down to Puerto Rico and got to see a few of the local breweries and beer bars. It was kinda neat buying an Arrogant Bastard from a small convenience store and drinking it while walking around San Juan. We had a great year down here in Ellicottville. Our collaborations with WNY Heroes, Pumpkinville, Awald Farms, Sprague’s Maple Farms, Platter’s Chocolates and The South Dayton Supermarket were very successful projects for us.”
Karl Kolbe, Head Brewer, Pressure Drop Brewing: “Bangers for 2019. Local: Five and 20 Commiseration Imperial Stout Aged in Bourbon Barrels was superb, Thin Man T-Rex Pushups – Rudy just lets us know how far his skills have come and the potential of the Buffalo brew scene, Belt Line Honey Kolsch, Old First Ward Brewing Crikrat Kolsch, Froth Duffel Bags of Green was a great West Coast throw back, Big Ditch Berry Vision, SATO Brewpub’s Justin’s Milk Stout – with Drew gone Justin lets us know that SATO is in good hands, Resurgence, as much as I hate the name I can always grab a Surge and know I’ll never be disappointed, 12 Gates Dirty Dangles was a great dank NEIPA, Labatt’s One Year Anniversary Sour, Hamburg’s Just Saying IPA, Flying Bison Thundersnow IPA. Non-local – Rare Barrel Shadows of Their Eyes Sour Dark Ale – I can’t express how good this was and it makes me as a brewer want to do some funky new shit, 2017 Evan Williams Eclipse from 50-50 Brewing out of Truckee – this beer was one of many that set the standard for our first barrel aged project, 8 Wire Brewing 2013 Bumaye – this beer just lets us know what is possible with patience.”
Tim Herzog, Owner, Flying Bison Brewing: “As the ‘Old Guy’ in Buffalo brewing, my perspective might be a bit different. I led a trip to the U.K. this past fall and enjoyed some of my favorite cask classics, Vaux Double Maxim, Black Sheep Bitter, Old Peculier, Landlord Bitter, Marston’s Pedigree, Abbot Ale, and so very many more. As I have gotten around Buffalo this year, I have had a chance to enjoy a pint or two from a number of the locals and continue to be impressed with the variety and quality of beers being made here. We may not need as many NEIPAs in 2020, (personal viewpoint) but the ones made here are top drawer. I think one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2020 is to spend more time visiting our Western New York Breweries. This one I intend to keep.”
Brewing Team (Nick Torgalski, Brian Vaughn, Kyle Hayes, DJ Berns, Josh Hutchings, Drew Zach), Resurgence Brewing: “The Buffalo Beer scene did some really great things this year and we were excited to be a part of and get to experience it. Some of our favorites from other local breweries were Belt Line’s Double Brunch and Beer With… Series, Big Ditch’s Deep Cut, Pressure Drop and 12 Gates Sour Collab – Can Confirm and the Aqua Jesus collab between Big Ditch and Pressure Drop. Karl is putting out some great beer and can art. Old First Ward’s Hopspasm was an excellent IPA and hopefully Bryan will make it again soon. We really enjoyed 42 North’s sours – Life Gose On and the Halt, Who Gose There? series. It was exciting to see West Shore’s Green Flyer out in package. From the beers that Resurgence made in 2019, we really enjoyed the collabs with Pressure Drop – Brothers Gotta Hug and More Greener (also with OFW). We launched The Surge, which is one of our favorites. The Brew Geek Series with GenusCocus and S’more Than Friends was a great experience getting to work with some of the Buffalo Beer Geeks. We had a lot of fun with our Kegs and Eggs beers, and two of our favorites were the Watermelon Gose and Pina Colada Sour from these events. We just made a Caramel Coffee Crunch Porter that we really enjoyed. We are really looking forward to 2020 and the great beers coming out of Buffalo.”
Sara Rosenberry, Secretary, Buffalo Beer Goddesses: “This year marked the 10th anniversary of me living in Buffalo, but I still hold onto my 585 phone number, and I honored my roots this summer by muling many, many cases of Genny Lemon Strawberry Cream Ale down the 90 before it was widely available in Buffalo. I love, love, love this new, refreshing, affordable year-round offering and if it ever goes away I’ll cry for weeks.”
Danielle Potts, Co-Chair, Buffalo Beer Goddesses: “Some of us Beer Goddesses were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at Bench Brewing Company in Lincoln, Ontario this summer. Sarah Casorso, a former hockey player for the Buffalo Beauts, traded in her skates for hops and now brews full time for Bench. She invited us up, and it was a pleasure to visit and see their facilities. Their Strawberry Grove Sour was like drinking summer from a bottle. Many of their beers use local products and produce, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. Consider taking the sub-hour long drive over the border to check out Bench and their range of funky to classic styles. A shout out also to Big Ditch for their Stoutsgiving Mexican Chocolate from the Detour Series. That subtle, smoky flavor was super balanced with a little bit of holiday cinnamon spice.”
John Paul Meteer, Director of Brewing Operations, Brickyard Brewing Company: “The highlight of my year was most assuredly an autumn trip to New England. Adventures through Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire finally took us to Portland, ME. Although I could write ten thousand words on Northeast beer, there were two standouts on that trip. Battery Steele’s Flume2 and Allagash Ghoulschip. Opposite ends of the spectrum, but they could set the standard for great beer. Seek them both out – they’re worth the trip. My perspective on beer constantly leans back on an old focus: finely crafted ales and lagers. No hype. No adjuncts. Just beauty. From that perspective locally, I have to give props to Big Ditch for Fall Black. Elegant and crushable, with just enough depth and complexity to make it memorable. Just beautiful. And shout out to Pressure Drop for Sticky Trees, my go-to whenever it’s available. Self-love is healthy, right? Queue the jokes! But in all seriousness, Brickyard Brewing’s White Bronco – my long time white whale and truest love – is exceptional now. With the NEIPA style the answer is always more oats and more hops, right? Mission accomplished. Drink up!”
Christopher Townsell, Head Brewer, Buffalo Brewpub: “I struggle with my contribution for this article every year. Do I tell my truth or do I describe a fascinating and euphoric experience that I didn’t have with an IPA? Either way I’m sure to get called out. So, allow me to be a danish in a donut shop. I’m a lager guy who sometimes gets distracted by a fruit beer, such as Firestone Walker’s Rosé beer, Rosalie – brewed with Chardonnay grapes and Hibiscus, which grabbed my attention in late 2019. So good! As a dedicated lager drinker, I’ve made it a point to seek a craft lager which I could establish a long term relationship with. Something I could enjoy repeatedly and turn to often without fear of my tastebuds getting hurt. It’s been uphill sledding, until recently. I do believe the guys over at Resurgence nailed it with their Light the Lamp Lager. Extremely smooth and crisp. Also “crushable.” They set out to create an approachable craft lager that rivals the big dogs and I do believe they’ve scored. It may not be imported daily from Canada, but it’s a game day beauty! A real winner, if you will. I’m hoping the beer geeks are correct with their prediction of a surge of lagers in the future!”
Brian Campbell is a co-founder/Brand Manager of the BNBA’s enthusiast arm, Buffalo Beer League, and writes the weekly Buffalo Beer Buzz column. If you have beer news that should be included in the Beer Buzz, Brian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@buffbeerleague), Instagram (@buffalobeerleague), Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague) and www.buffalobeerleague.com.