Buffalo’s Ale Trails: Discovering the City’s Thriving Beer Scene

By Josh M. Bernstein

Published on | Last Updated

The Queen City has seen a surge of homegrown breweries and brewpubs lately. There are now nearly 50 beer makers around the region, reinvigorating once-bustling waterfronts, revitalizing old buildings and giving growing neighborhoods gathering places brimming with conversation, great beer and civic pride. These locally grown breweries offer a bonanza of beer, so much so that it’s tough to chart a course. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work of creating a trio of tasty beer trails to help you explore Buffalo by the pint.

This Way to IPA

Start hopping around at Thin Man Brewery’s original location (492 Elmwood Avenue, 716-923-4100; thinmanbrewery.com), in Buffalo’s historic Elmwood Village. and their forward-thinking, hop-focused beers. Climb aboard the hazy IPA train with the smooth Trial By Wombat, which contains flaked oats and Australia’s melony, peachy Galaxy hops, or the fruity and lightly dank Bliss double IPA.

Thin Man Brewery on Elmwood

Resist the urge to order a second glass and decamp to downtown Buffalo’s Big Ditch Brewing Company (55 East Huron Street, 716- 854-5050; bigditchbrewing.com). It’s a former Verizon service center reborn as a bright, bi-level restaurant and brewery that can’t make enough Hayburner, an unfiltered, grapefruit-scented IPA with gripping bitterness.

Old Buffalo rubs shoulders with new Buffalo amid the towering grain silos of the Old First Ward, where you’ll find the massive outpost of Resurgence Brewing Company (55 Chicago Street, 716-768-6018; resurgencebrewing.com). The industrial-sleek space, outfitted with chandeliers, offers seating feet from the gleaming fermentation tanks. Start with cloudy Cosmic Truth, which packs a huge tropical punch into a beer that’s about as strong as a light lager (just 4.3 percent ABV).

Classic Beer Styles, Done Buffalo-Style

Prior to Prohibition, Buffalo had 29 breweries, and Iroquois Brewing continued to fill local mugs with high-quality lager until 1971. Today’s breweries are also adept at making quenching lagers and pilsners, plus traditional styles that sing with well-sauced chicken wings.

They’re done exceptionally well at Old First Ward Brewing (73 Hamburg Street, 716-855-8948; genemccarthys.com) where brewers turn out hugely flavorful, banana-scented hefeweizens and so-good-you’ll-sigh German lagers that are cold-aged for up to 12 weeks, including an unfiltered kellerbier. When the weather’s swell, we recommend enjoying a few on the patio.

Your next goal is Beltline Brewery & Kitchen (545 Swan Street, 716-402-1756; belt-linebrewing.com). It takes its name from the hard-working train line that ferried locals and freight around Buffalo in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, the namesake is a sunny, window-filled brewpub with a vegan-friendly kitchen which focuses on “good, clean craft beer,” according to the head brewer, including the brewery’s best seller: a German-style kölsch brewed with honey.

Belt Line Brewery & Kitchen

Here’s your next stop: Flying Bison Brewing Company (840 Seneca Street, 716-873-1557; flyingbisonbrewing.com), located a half mile east and the city’s first production brewery since Iroquois Brewing shuttered. Owner and brewer Tim Herzog does solid by the classics, which you can taste-test by the flight. Go for Rusty Chain, an Austrian-inspired amber lager that’s one of Buffalo’s more popular beers; the baby-soft Buffalo Kölsch 716; and Larkin Lager, a German-style Munich helles that gets its crispness from 40 days of cold aging.

Lastly, make hay to the welcoming Community Beer Works (520 Seventh Street, 716-759-4677; communitybeerworks.com), started in 2012 by a collective of local homebrewers. Over the years, CBW has grown from a wee system that couldn’t supply enough beer for a kegger to a 20-barrel system—that’s nearly 5,000 pints per batch—turning out crowd-pleasers, none looming larger than the Whale. It’s a toasty brown ale that recalls toffee and coffee, a chameleon for all seasons.

Get Experimental

Buffalo’s breweries excel in innovation, noodling on new fermentations and flavor combinations, casting curious eyes to desserts, fruits, funky yeast strains and elsewhere to create beers that, in the best possible way, broaden the boundaries of good taste.

Align your compasses and head about 30 minutes southeast of Buffalo to the handsome village of East Aurora, home to 42 North Brewing Company (25 Pine Street, 716-805-7500; 42northbrewing.com). Sit in the warm, rustic taproom and sip crazy-good sour ales. There’s the Gose Out Like a Lime and Life’s a Barrel of Cherries, a dark cherry and cranberry fruited gose aged for 9 months in French oak chardonnay barrels.

42 North Brewing Company

Next, beeline back into town to bend elbows at Labatt Brew House (79 Perry Street, 716-254–0564; labattusa.com/brewhouse), the Canadian company’s first American innovation brewery. Inside the 3,000-square-foot space, carved out of a warehouse built in 1919, you’ll find a ten-barrel pilot system pumping out experimental beers such as a lavender-infused saison, a pale ale packed with spruce tips and gingerbread ale that recalls Christmas cookies.

Now that you’ve worked up an appetite, stop at the landmark 1895 Dun Building, the city’s first steel-framed high-rise, where the basement contains the izakaya-style Sato Brewpub (110 Pearl Street, 716-248-1436; satorestaurantgroup.com). At the Japanese-influenced concept, married couple Joshua and Satomi Smith pair pan-fried gyoza with steaming bowls of rich ramen, grilled chicken skewers called yakitori (trust us, try the skin and heart) and house-brewed beers that look (far) east for inspiration. Grab Bento, a cream ale made with miso, and the J-POP series of sour ales flavored with fruits such as yuzu, a zesty Japanese citrus.

You’ll find more on Buffalo’s beer scene at visitbuffaloniagara.com/beer

Josh M. Bernstein headshot

Josh M. Bernstein

Joshua M. Bernstein is a Brooklyn-based beer journalist for The New York Times, Men’s Journal, and Imbibe, where he’s a contributing editor. Bernstein is also the author of five books, including The Complete Beer Course and Drink Better Beer.