by Scott Russell
Step into a pub or brewery tap room during this year’s Buffalo Beer Week and you’ll likely spy a poster of a friendly farmer inviting you to raise a pint of fresh, cold, locally grown and crafted beer. Our thirsty farmer is heralding the availability of a relative rarity—truly local beer. Indigenous beer. That is, beer not only brewed locally, but crafted entirely with New York state grown grains and hops. The Farm to Pint initiative, or simply F2P, is a pilot program launched by the Buffalo Niagara Brewers Association to raise consumer awareness of the benefits of drinking local as well as the challenges faced by the farmers, maltsters and brewers as they strive to bring us indigenous beer. Both of these goals will be best achieved in the spirit of celebrating our localness with a cold pint and a nod to the farmers, maltsters, brewers and venues that together grow, craft and serve us beer we can enjoy with local pride.
You may be surprised to learn that indigenous beers are not very common, and there’s good reason for that. Many factors contribute to the scarcity of F2P beer, chief among them the lack of consistently available local hops and malting barley. I spoke with local maltster Ted Hawley about this.
“About 100 years ago, New York State used to be the largest producer of barley, the largest producer of malt, the largest producer of hops in the whole country,” Ted said. “Some fungus came in and kind of knocked it down a little because of the farming practices and repetitive planting and (the state) never recovered after Prohibition.”
Ted, who with wife Patricia owns New York Craft Malt in Batavia, is part of a small but growing community of hops and grain producers working hard to resurrect the once flourishing industry. They’ve gotten some help from The Farm Brewery Act, enacted in 2012, which provides tax incentives and other benefits to farm breweries in exchange for their pledge to use New York state grown grain and hops. Farm breweries are currently required to use 20 percent each of grain and hops, with an increase to 60 percent starting in 2018 and finally up to 90 percent in 2024.
The legislation is modeled after the hugely successful 1976 Farm Winery Act, which tripled the number of New York wineries.
“In addition to producing some of the finest beer in the world, New York’s craft breweries are creating jobs, supporting our state’s farmers and hops growers, as well as bringing in tourism dollars in local communities across New York,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo at the bill’s signing.
Only a handful of the 20 brewery members of the BNBA are licensed farm breweries—including Hamburg Brewing, Old First Ward, and Rusty Nickel—but BNBA President Willard Brooks thinks these numbers will rise and that there is a need to jump start the local brewery supply chain in order for farm breweries to meet their required quotas. And perhaps more importantly, there’s also a cultural undertone to the F2P initiative.
“Local grain and hops is an important part of our brewing heritage,” said Brooks, “Grain fields once blanketed western New York and Buffalo was once a major global player in the malting industry. Two former mayors were in the malting business. As such, this is an atavistic moment wherein we are recapturing our heritage and slowly returning to form. I believe the importance of beers made this way are key to the re-establishment of Buffalo’s true beer culture.”
To get the brewers’ perspective, I spoke with Matt Conron, Brewer and Owner at Old First Ward Brewing Company. “It’s not only about using local farmers’, maltsters’ and hops growers’ products, but we’re evolving with them and working together to perfect the craft.”
Support for the F2P initiative has been encouraging with 14 BNBA member brewers offering an F2P beer. Some breweries like Resurgence always have an F2P beer available in their taproom, while others including Big Ditch are planning year-round offerings. All F2P beers will be available at the producing breweries while most will be available at the Ballpark Brew Bash event and a few will be offered at venues strategically located to make it easier for consumers to sample F2P’s from the geographically more isolated breweries. An F2P Passport contest encourages beer lovers to sample as many F2P’s as they can and earn a stamp for each one. Prizes are awarded based on how many breweries and participating venues are visited.
Thirsty consumers should be prepared to pay a bit more for F2P pints than their non-native counterparts because of supply-side economics too complex for this article—but nonetheless an issue the BNBA sees Farm to Pint helping to solve with future statewide support and implementation.
For more Farm to Pint information and up-to-date availability listings, visit: BuffaloBeerWeek.com/F2P.