by Erik Wollschlager

It seems that 2015 is flying by, and as we are hurled headlong into March, we find ourselves mere days away from St. Patrick’s Day. While the traditional green-dyed beer will be staining the teeth of hundreds of thousands of people, some may be seeking beer more closely associated with Irish heritage—the stout. Here on the other side of the Atlantic, we recognize Guinness as the traditional Irish stout, but there are many more (many are better than Sir Arthur’s finest), and indeed, one would be remiss to ignore the stout’s predecessor, the porter. The porter had meager beginnings—it is said that the first porters were a combination of three brewing styles: stale old ale, a new brown or pale ale, and a mild ale. The beer gained popularity with the working class drinkers of the industrial revolution, and was the preferred style of the burgeoning transportation industry—the high alcohol content (7% ABV in those days) made for warm nights on the train tracks, hence the name “Porter.” The use of roasted malts produced a dark color that masked a cloudy product and made porters easy to ship all over the world. Before the Guinness name was lent to its most popular brew, the Dublin brewery was focused on brewing porters, and the term stout came about as a way to describe particularly heavy, or stout, porters.

There is no denying Buffalo’s strong ties to its Irish heritage, for it was the Emerald immigrants that dug the canal, worked the railways and shipyards, and helped to build the city from the bottom up. We tend to take our celebration of our Irish ancestry seriously, and we lend homage whenever we can, which includes the renewal of our local brewing traditions. Each of the brewers setting up shop here in WNY has their own porter or stout, and each beer has its own distinct characteristics which will easily slake the thirst of any parched celebrator.

Since Resurgence Brewing’s soft open late last spring, their Sponge Candy Stout has dominated the tongues of Buffalo’s dark beer drinkers. It is a unique brew that uses sponge candy shavings from a local chocolatier. The beer is medium bodied with hints of caramel and chocolate. It’s not as sweet as the name might indicate, but the creamy sweetness finds a good balance with the bitter malts used. Resurgence also has their Peter B Porter, a peanut butter porter that begs the age old question “Who put the peanut butter in my chocolate?” It is one of the most interesting beers available locally, and one should definitely make an effort to taste a peanutty pint before the well runs dry.

Just down the street from Resurgence is Buffalo’s nano-pioneers at Community Beer Works (CBW). Their taproom is now open and CBW is serving pints of three different stouts—Stout Affective Disorder, Intolerance, and The Snow. SAD is a thin-bodied stout with coffee and cocoa flavors. Intolerance is a bit sweeter and creamier than its counterpart. The Snow is CBW’s imperial stout, and like a lake effect storm, it can sneak up on you. The flavor of the beer does not betray its 9.2% ABV, so this is one to hunker down with while waiting out said blizzard.

Dowtown Buffalo hosts newcomers Big Ditch Brewing. Big Ditch offers their winter seasonal Vanilla Oatmeal Stout. Traditionally full bodied, the oatmeal stout is a meal in a pint glass, and this stout is just that. The bitter chocolate flavors balance lightly with the house-made vanilla extract to produce a very drinkable stout.

On the outskirts of the city, nestled behind the beer garden at Gene McCarthy’s is Old First Ward Brewing. OFW’s HO Stout is an amazingly full oatmeal stout. Like a deep, rich cup of coffee, this stout is shockingly enjoyable in its bitterness. HO would make a great base for roasting your corned beef brisket, and would pair incredibly with the salty cut.

Heading south, Hamburg Brewing’s Oatmeal Milk Stout is a full and sweet brew. The sweetness comes from the milk sugars used in fermentation, and the full body from the oatmeal used in the wort. OMS is a winter seasonal, so be sure to get some before the snow melts.

This year, adorning the shelves of your local grocery store is the jewel of Cattaraugus County, Ellicott Brewing Company’s Imperial Chocolate Cherry Bomb. Rich and sweet, this beer is a bomb indeed, in that the 8.2% ABV hides behind the cherry flavors. This is definitely a beer to share with friends after a night on Holiday Valley’s slopes. EBC also has several other stouts available in their taproom, and each are worth stopping by for.

The Woodcock Brothers Porter is a wonderfully chocolate treat; the beer is smooth and creamy with little of the bitter smokiness that porters sometimes lean toward. This brew is great with a meal or dessert, and is perfect for the slight chill that remains in the air as spring thaw begins.

Flying Bison’s Blackbird Stout is another WNY version of an oatmeal stout. The body is thinner than the others, with a cocoa and coffee flavor. Worth checking out fresh from the barrel at the brewery, before the ice sculpture melts. (You’ll have to visit to see it!)

Nationally, our region appears to be poor in many ways—our average income is low, and our NYS taxes are high. Thankfully, WNY is also rich in many ways—our brewing tradition and our historical ancestry are two of the most important. As you head out to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, grab your cabbage and carrots and offer a tip of your plastic green bowler toward one of these great local brews.