Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

July 7, 2014

Beer Diary:

Baby-Boy’s Buffalo Brewery Visit

Go to hop school at Old First Ward Brewing.
by Baby-Boy Jackson

Baby-Boy Jackson is just here for the beer.
Contact Baby-Boy»
Buffalo, New York, is not an eating town, and it never really seemed to be much of a beer town. But when I got lost and stopped there on a road trip at the end of June, I found signs that the city might have a bright future.

After taking a wrong turn off the highway, I ended up in South Buffalo, where I saw a sign that said “Gene McCarthy’s Brewery and Kitchen” that way. So of course I made the turn and headed into a mixed residential, industrial area and found Gene’s, which is in what looks like an old house.

Gene’s is one of those local bars run by Gene McCarthy, may he rest in peace, a fixture of the neighborhood about whom the locals can tell some colorful stories. The neighborhood itself was home to factory workers and railroad men who used to send their kids to Gene’s for buckets of beer. And those kids knew they had better not spill a drop on the way home.

Now Gene’s is the home of the Old First Ward Brewing Co. This is the place to go if you want to learn about the possibilities of hops. A lot of microbrewers dump a ton of hops in their vats, make the beer as bitter as possible, and call it an IPA. Let’s get this out there right now: Just because you put a lot of hops in a small batch beer doesn’t mean it’s great. The brewers at Old First Ward know how to make the most of everything that hops can do flavor-wise.

I discovered this thanks to a beer called “Hopster.” When the bartender, who was also one of the owners, suggested I include it as part of my flight, I looked at the tap pretty skeptically. I am not a bitter beer guy, but she said that it was not a bitter beer.

Hopster was the defining beer when it comes to hops used for citrus and floral flavor. If you are a bitter hophead, this is not your beer. If you are someone who loves hops in all their forms, then you should not die before you try this beer. It had a complex flavor and was easy drinking.

During my visit, I had a flight of beers that came directly from the brew house next store. The lines run under the buildings and directly to the tap, which makes for fewer keg changes. But when Gene’s runs out of one of their Old First Ward Beers, they are out until the next batch is made.

I tried the Mango Hefe and the regular Hefe. While the Mango was not my kind of beer, it was a good one if you like fruit beers. The regular Hefe was another beer that made full use of everything that hops can do, but without the hops being the centerpiece as with the Hopster.

Finally, I had what was my favorite, the Oatmeal Stout. This was a smooth beer that was a standard oatmeal stout in the best way possible. It had a rich flavor and nice mouth feel. I ended up bringing a growler of it home.

Unfortunately, except for the pub and the growlers, Old First Ward has no immediate plans for distributing its beer in any other way. These people are beer enthusiasts who love making good beer, but aren’t interested in setting up a bottling operation. So, if you want a master class in the use of hops, you are going to have to find your way to 73 Hamburg Street in Buffalo. Or if you’re lucky, you might find them pouring at one of the beerfests around the country. Either way, do not pass up the opportunity to try their beers if you get the chance.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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