The coronavirus pandemic has robbed us of so much – live sports, concerts, festivals, countless events, basically life outside our front doors. Well, add another victim to COVID-19’s veritable laundry list of cancellations – Big Ditch Brewing’s fifth anniversary, a milestone achievement for any brewery. And just as quietly as they opened to the public five years ago today, we all celebrate, by ourselves, in quarantine.
And as we celebrate five years of Big Ditch beer, it’s honestly a bit dumbfounding to think about. It doesn’t seem that long ago that we, the Buffalo Beer League, were drinking Matt Kahn and Corey Catalano’s homebrews in Corey’s garage or when Matt and Corey were just guys you’d see with a table full of merchandise at every beer event as everyone wondered if they would ever actually open a brewery. Those things don’t seem like they happened long ago, a sentiment Kahn agrees with.
“It definitely doesn’t seem like five years – although a ton of things have happened, it still feels like Corey and I were just milling in the first batch yesterday,” he says. “I’m happy with what we’ve accomplished. I like that we’re always progressing and getting better. I love that we have such an amazing group of passionate and talented employees. And I love that we can still have fun at work. Working at a brewery is a lot of hard work but it’s also probably one of the coolest jobs you can possibly have. I try to remember this often.”
Big Ditch released a trio of beers to celebrate their fifth anniversary, including the strongest local IPA Buffalo has ever seen, A Little Short of Madness 14.3% Quadruple IPA, and Big Ditch Breakfast Blend, an imperial cream stout blended with Public Espresso + Coffee cold brew coffee blended with maple syrup. Crowlers didn’t only sell fast; they sold out in less than 10 minutes. These beers were released as a means to celebrate, as Kahn realizes we won’t be able to do together for some time.
“Our anniversary party had hundreds of people attend in previous years, but right now it’s hard to imagine a gathering with ten people. We’ve begun working on plans to reopen our tap room, but we know it might be a long time until we can be as close to each other as we used to be. We try to monitor progress day-by-day, and when the time comes to relax the restrictions, we’ll be sure to celebrate the occasion.”
The beer itself has been great and has only gotten better with age. Over the years, the trophy case at Big Ditch has become crowded thanks to those beers, with multiple medals at the New York State Craft Beer Competition, and the F.X. Matt Memorial Cup (given to the Best Craft Beer Brewery in NYS) at TapNY in 2016. But while the awards have been plentiful, Kahn admits the biggest accomplishment of Big Ditch is its ability to offer gainful employment to so many.”
“Growing from a company with three employees to 100 is probably what I’m most proud of. The highlight of winning the Best Craft Brewery at TAP NY in 2016 was a moment where all of us collectively thought, ‘maybe we’re really onto something here.’ The other accomplishment that sticks out in my mind was getting a call (while at Disney with my family for some rare time off) that Hayburner was the best-selling craft beer in Western New York. I definitely would have never seen that coming when we opened five years ago.”
“[And] if memory serves me, we hit Year 3 of our business plan in 1.5 years, Year 7 in three years, and Year 10 in four years. I guess we thought we could come this far, but certainly not so fast.”
Looking to a post-pandemic future, Big Ditch certainly has a lot to look forward to. They recently announced a $47 million, 105,000 square foot facility that will house a two-story taproom and dining space, beer hall, retail store (beer and merchandise), dynamic outdoor beer garden, company offices and production area. The proposed facility is expected to be located at Transit Road, located adjacent to the I-90. Kahn says he is looking forward to getting back to making those plans.
“Obviously, the end of the pandemic, just like the rest of us,” Kahn says of what he is most looking forward to in the future. “But, after that, resuming plans to build our new brewery, which we announced right before the restrictions went into place. We have spent some time working on the plans in recent weeks, but other parts of the project have been put on hold for the time being. I’m still excited to see what the future holds for Big Ditch.”
Matt recently joined us on our weekly WNY Brews podcast to discuss a host of topics, including their fifth anniversary, beer, the brewery’s shifting business model, the rise of Hayburner, status of their new brewery, R&D and production, importance of drinking local, the future of beer events and more. You can listen to that here.
“From the very beginning, we always knew that Buffalo was a beer town, but the overwhelming support from Western New York (as well as Rochester, and the rest of New York State for that matter) has been humbling. Thanks to all of our customers and employees who have backed us from day one and beyond. We love living and working here and we hope to continue to provide you with fresh beer for years to come.”
For more information on Big Ditch, visit their website. And if you’d like to keep the anniversary celebration going, the brewery is releasing a new batch of Packet IPA, the first beer in their Lock IPA Series, and Deep Cut Double IPA, along with Peach Waves Sour Peach IPA, the first release in their Breaking New Ground Specialty IPA Series, this weekend. For more info on that release, click here.
“Our goal has pretty much always been the same: provide beer to as many people that want to drink it without ever sacrificing quality. I think we’ve done a decent job with that.” I think I speak for the entire Western New York beer scene in saying, ‘we agree.’
Brian Campbell is co-founder and Brand Manager of the 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), and Facebook (@thebuffalobeerleague).