by Erik Wollschlager

The perpetual growth of the Buffalo brewing industry has ballooned to the point where brewers are setting up shop outside of the city limits. This year has seen the opening of breweries in West Seneca and East Aurora, with even more planned in for the future. As we rest on the cusp of the solstice holidays, another brewery is days away from opening its Williamsville gates.

Hidden deep in the winding offroads of the Buffalo suburb, 12 Gates Brewing Company is as fantastical as the name implies. A callback to an alchemy text that is over 400 years old, 12 Gates hopes to turn grains into gold—in more way than one. Tonawanda native Rob Haag, along with head brewer Shawn Kerr and assistant brewer Kevin Long have embarked on a quest to bring Buffalo and its citizens exactly what they desire—quality craft beer.

Kerr’s background in biology and chemistry serve as a perfect base with which to build a brewing empire, and while their investors are varied in their professions—with careers in sales, manufacturing, real estate, and the like—Haag and Kerr began their trek toward the kingdom of Buffalo brewing as humble home brewers. Perfecting recipes on a small scale is precisely what led Kerr to 12 Gates. “I didn’t know it when I interviewed, but the owners were looking for someone who shared their vision in recipe formulation. I’m from Southern California, so I grew up with very hop-forward beers, like those brewed at Green Flash and Stone.” Their flagship IPA, Southern Cross, will feature a heavy dose of New Zealand hops, as well as a balanced amount of Citra.

In addition to Southern Cross, Kerr has conceived of 12 Gates White, which will appeal to beer drinkers who are looking for a little less hop in their beer. The beer resembles a Belgian wit, but does not incorporate wheat into the recipe at all. The addition of rye adds a spice to the coriander and citrus that most beer drinkers will enjoy. Kerr will also be showing off his dark side, brewing a chocolate milk stout, as well as a porter. The porter will be chocolatey and sweet, and will be perfect for a limited edition Espresso Porter, brewed in collaboration with Rochester’s Glen Edith Coffee Roasters. Kerr, who has a relationship with Glen Edith, hand-picked the beans himself. “Well, he didn’t fly to Colombia and harvest the beans,” Haag joked.

“I’ve had a lot of experience with roasting beans,” Kerr explained, “so I wanted to demonstrate that knowledge with this beer.” The Espresso Porter offers the usual smoke and toffee of a traditional American Porter, but the baker’s chocolate bitterness of the malt and coffee.

The taproom will be set up so the visitor will enjoy a more communal experience, with long tables set up in parallel. There will be a limited menu of sandwiches and appetizers, all selected to pair with the beer offerings. Haag admits, almost ashamedly, that there will be a television above the bar, “Mainly for Bills and Sabres games.” Otherwise, the TV will be covered by two slate panels which will list the food and beer options.

The concept of the taphouse is straight out of a fantasy novel, with exposed wooden beams, raw wooden fixtures and a stone wall that will feature the type of sedimentary rock commonly found in Western New York, such as sandstone. The entrance to the building has been designed to look like the gates of a medieval city in England. The taps will serve mainly 12 Gates beers, with the possibility of a guest tap or two. They will also feature a cider tap, and continuing their work with Glen Edith Coffee Roasters, the taproom will serve cold-pressed coffee on their nitro tap, which will allow for a half-and-half of a whole different nature.

Kerr and Haag have been working around the clock to form their fantastical concept into reality. “It’s all kind of a fog,” says Haag from behind his temporary workstation. “I’ve been brewing with a headlamp,” laughs Kerr, holding the strap up for viewing. The weary gentlemen are about to harvest the fruits of their labor, though, when the brewery holds its special 12/12 release party. Craft brew bars throughout the city and its surrounding areas will join 12 Gates in celebrating the tapping of its first kegs, with each bar featuring at least one of 12 Gates’ specialty brews. You can find 12 Gates beer on 12/12 at Pizza Plant, Blue Monk, Good bar, Santora’s (Transit), Santora’s (Millersport), Brickyard (Lewiston), Griffon Pub (Niagara Falls), Public House, Ebenezer Ale House, WOB Galleria, Moor Pat, and Aurora Brew Works.