The first brewery in Buffalo was opened in 1811 in Black Rock by Joseph Webb. Technically this could be considered Buffalo's very first "web site." It's assumed it was burned along with most of the city by the British during the War of 1812. Buffalo had survived this local war to build itself up to one of the major US cities. Its pivotal location on the harbor front of Lake Erie and the Erie Canal terminus made it a booming town. Sailors who visited and workers who engaged in back breaking labor found relief at the local tavern and drank many a beer the city had to offer.
Brewing was one of Buffalo's leading industries until Prohibition. Brewers either adapted by selling soda pop, malt products or closed their doors for good. Many survived Prohibition only to return to business and find their equipment antiquated and in much need of updates. Several breweries made it past Prohibition, but only two made it into the 1970's.
What remains of Buffalo's industrialized brewing past?
Major breweries were built on acres of land and consisted of several different buildings: the malt house, ice house or cold storage, the office or billing department, bottling department, and the stables to keep the horses and wagons for deliveries.
Gazing at these edifices of Buffalo's brewing past some might think they're in Gotham City getting ready for the caped crusader to come rappelling down from the rooftop. These are no architectural gems like Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House or the ornate granite Old Post Office Building downtown with figures of buffalo and wolves emanating from its walls. Architecturally speaking, they are rather simple in design yet are worthy of viewing.
It's sad that most Buffalonians know very little about their city's rich industrial heritage. People drive by them everyday in "the zone" too preoccupied with their daily lives to pay them much notice. We need to take time and ponder our architectural heritage. I guess, for me, my passion for learning about Buffalo's brewing history is imbedded in my childhood memories of my dad concocting some microbial brew in our basement not from hops but from grapes. Being a science teacher, my interest in the process of fermentation might get me branded a " science geek." Memory lane takes me back to my Microbiology class at Canisius College where we made some microbial brew only to find all the caps had blown off the bottles. Foremost perhaps, my interest in Buffalo's brewing past is related to my collecting of antique bottles followed by a passion for learning about Buffalo's past. Ken Burns, the historyl filmmaker who did the PBS series on the Civil War & Mark Twain, once said, "If we don't know where we've been, how can we know where we are going?"
These brick brewery buildings are landmarks to the German and Polish immigrants who built this city. Coming from a foreign land to America, immigrants wanted all the comforts of home and, for Germans, a glass of beer with their meal gave them a sense of home. They would send a child to the local tavern with a bucket called a "growler" to have filled for their evening meal.
To discuss every brewery that existed in the city would require a book since there were over 100 with 35 operating simultaneously. (By the way there is a book to learn more about these landmarks: Rushing the Growler, by Stephen Powell.) Buffalo, being the grain terminus of the Great Lakes, had an abundant supply ready for brewing.
Christian Weyand Brewery
I'd like to take you on a vicarious tour of the breweries that are still in existence today. After reading this, please feel free to hop in your car and follow along. You can start anywhere you like, but I'll start you on the Kensington Expressway Route 33 heading west towards downtown Buffalo. Exit at Goodell Street and stay in your right hand lane. Make a right onto Ellicott Street. On the corner of Goodell and Ellicott is the former Trico plant.
To the unwary eye, that's all it is. If you look carefully at the Ellicott Street side, you notice older bricks surrounded by newer bricks. The base is made of Medina sandstone. This is what remains of the cold storage section of Christian Weyand Brewery. Weyand had a summer garden which boasted prominent people such as Grover Cleveland. Weyand St., off Seneca, in South Buffalo, memorializes him.
Just down the street a block away is Ulrich's, Buffalo's oldest operating tavern. If you have time, stop in for a beer. Take time to admire the picturesque stained glass window advertising Iroquois Brewery (Mike Ulrich bought it from the Iroquois Hotel in 1910 where it had stood since 1889) or a tin sign advertising John Schussler's brewery, the predecessor to Simon Pure.
Ulrich's opened in 1868. It was owned by Weyand's and by the Phoenix brewery between 1870-1910. Back then there was a bar on every comer serving as outlets for breweries selling only the company beer. Lang's, the largest brewery in Buffalo, owned 80 taverns. Many grain mills also owned taverns. When payday came, the employees had to cash their check at the company bar and a percentage of the check was only good as credit at the bar. No monopoly here. Ulrich's was a bonding place for German citizens where "Prosit" could be regularly heard.
Make a left at Ulrich's onto Virginia Street. A block away on Washington & Virginia is a brick building that was the Phoenix Brewery. Phoenix, along with Schreiber's brewery, was designed by Otto Wolf of Philadelphia who was both a mechanical engineer and an architect. Its base is also Medina sandstone. If you look carefully at the top on the Washington side, you can see the date 1888. The left, shorter side of the building was the brewery office; it is now a fitness center. The other part of the building was the cold storage facility and is now occupied as a warehouse by Lazy Boy furniture. This is resourceful usage of an old industry.
Unfortunately, many of the remaining breweries are now vacant and if not utilized soon may be fall victim to the wrecker's ball. Phoenix's story is a fascinating one. It began as the Albert Ziegle brewery in 1850 on Genesee St. From 1855-1887, it was located on Main St. On July 21,1887, it burned to the ground. When they rebuilt it, they renamed it Phoenix after the Egyptian mythological eagle figure that rose from the ashes to symbolize immortality.
Albert Ziegle, like many brewers, was politically active. Ziegel campaigned for President Grover Cleveland in 1884.
Take High St. to Jefferson and make a left. A few blocks from here on Jefferson near Best still stands the Lion Brewery which later became known as Consumers. It is now occupied by RND Machine Company.
Gerhard Lang's Park Brewery Take a left on Best. At the corner of Best and Jefferson was the largest and most exquisite Victorian brewery, Gerhard Lang's Park Brewery, with a large fountain in the front. Too bad no one had the foresight to preserve this building as it truly was an architectural gem. Only the name remains today. There is a street named Lang off Delavan Ave. near East End honoring him.
George Rochevot Brewery Make a left onto Michigan and take it to Cherry. Take a left on Cherry. On the corner of Cherry & Spring is a auto repair garage all fenced in. The white brick building was once the George Rochevot Brewery. In fact it once housed 17 different breweries according to Buffalo Brewery historian Dave Mik. According to Dave, it was like a rent-a-brewery.
International Take a right on Spring and a left onto Genesee, and proceed slowly just past Jefferson. On your left is a brick building with a tall chimney that served as a brewery in 1897 by Geckman and Schroeter called International -- but not to be confused with the much larger International that was located on the West Side. Next door to it is Solenzer Co. that manufactured Queen-O pop.
Turn around on Genesee and make a left on Jefferson and a right on Broadway. Make a left on to Pratt. On Pratt & Broadway is the Iroquois Brewery. It is the largest occupying several buildings. You won't be disappointed to see the high relief sign carved in stone: Iroquois Brewing Co. Of Ice. On the right of the brewery is Iroquois Alley. (All these brick buildings with a narrow alley -- now that's a perfect movie set where the Batmobile comes zooming by.) Iroquois was the longest operating brewery in Buffalo, closing in 1972. It started as Jacob Roos Brewery in 1830. Many people in Buffalo were once employed there tell stories of drinking beer on their break; others tell about visiting the Rathskellar to sample some fresh brew.
Down the street from the Iroquois Brewery at 193 Pratt one can still see the faded painted sign, Kleinschmidt's Malt House, which probably supplied the brewery with their malt.
Across from Iroquois on Pratt & Broadway is the old Jost Brewery stables which is now North Star Supply Co.
Simon Pure Brewery
Take Pratt to William. Make a right and then your first left so that you're heading south on William. Make a right on Jefferson and then a left on Clinton. On Clinton & Emslie is the vacant Simon Pure Brewery strategically located along railroad tracks. The painted sign is fading, but the word "Brewery" is still easily visible. If you look carefully, you can see a carved stone sign in white, "The William Simon Brewery Bottling Department," and another, "1910." This is interesting because there was a early law forbidding the bottling of beer on the grounds of the brewery itself. There were many bottling companies who did this for the breweries at different locations.
Simon Pure was one of the oldest operating Buffalo breweries closing in 1971. Simon's, like many breweries, started under a different name. Simon began as the John Schussier brewery. William Simon was the brew master for Schussler. While you get out of your vehicle to get a closer look at the brewery, gaze south on Emslie and you can see the old Larkin Soap Company building just recently renovated for office space.
Buffalo Brewing Company
Pass Bailey on Buffalo's far East Side and note the Battenfield Grease Company. Looking more closely, one can easily see that it looks like an old brewery. In fact, with smoke billowing from its stacks and with its old brick facade, for a moment I was in a time warp when brewing was a major Buffalo industry. The sweet smell of malt was in the air and I could envision a steam locomotive stopped by its docks, bearded workers with muscles bursting loading cases of beer.
This brewery started in 1886 as the F. X. Kaltenbach Brewery (the original Kaltenbach Brewery, 1850-1876, first started on Lutheran Alley which is now Ritchie St., and part of the building still exists) and then became the Buffalo Brewing Company. In 1920, Buffalo Mayor F. X. Schwab was the owner. I stepped inside and was warmly greeted by an employee of 30 years. I explained I was writing an article and wondered if there was anything inside that remained of the old brewery. Intrigued, he replied,"How did you know it was a brewery? Why this hasn't been a brewery for over 70 years. I'm afraid it's all gone." It was worth a shot.
The former home of Manru Beer - Fillmore Ave, Buffalo
Schreiber Brewing Co.
Turn around in the parking lot across from Battenfield Grease and make a right on Bailey. Make a left onto William and then a right on Fillmore. On Fillmore Ave. between Pawderewski & Broadway in the heart of Polonia (Buffalo's old Polish community) is a brick painted blue building that was the Schreiber Brewing Co. Anthony Schreiber immigrated from Poland. His original name was Pisac which in Polish means "to write." He changed his name to Schreiber ("Scribe") to compete with the German brew masters. During Prohibition, Schreiber's, like other breweries that stayed open, turned to the manufacturing of other products. Schreiber was famous for its Manru coffee. Manru was the name of one of Pawderewski's operas.
Lakeview Brewery Malt House
Continue North on Fillmore and make a left on Best and take the 33 West to the 198 West and exit at Niagara St. Take a left on Niagara to Porter. Directly across from the entrance of the Peace Bridge on the left is Lakeview St. Take a left on Lakeview. On the corner of Lakeview and Jersey is the remains of the Lakeview Brewery Malt House. The brewery was opened in 1868 by Alois Schaefer, but closed in 1920 because of Prohibition.
The back entrance was open and I was tempted to go urban spelunking but refrained from doing so. Let your conscience be your guide. This brewery also opened its own tavern, called the Lakeview Brewing Co. Barrel House, to sell its beer on Chippewa St. in 1910 . This tavern is one of the oldest operating taverns after Ulrich's.
Flying Bison Brewery Turn left on Jersey and make a right onto Niagara St. Take Niagara to Ontario and make a right.
Buffalo's only operating stand alone brewery, the Flying Bison Brewery, is located on Ontario Street in Riverside. The brewery is located in an old warehouse that stored military parts, from airplanes to trucks, during W.W.II . Tim Herzog, owner, wanted to come up with a name with a local connection. According to Tim, at the turn of the century, the two biggest industries in WNY were airplanes and brewing. More planes were made in Buffalo during W.W.II than cars. The auto industry was actually producing more airplane motors than automobile motors. This is why their microbrews have a aviation theme: Dawn Patrol Gold, Aviator Red, Blackbird Stout named after the first stealth bomber, Sky Pilot Scotch Ale, India Pale Bird of Prey, Barrel Roll Bock Ale, Barn Stormer Pale Ale. If you want to see the fermenting process in action, call Flying Bison for a tour and take home a case of beer.
Buffalo Brew Pub
Now that you've worked up an appetite, you may want to stop at the Buffalo Brew Pub on Main St. near Transit. Inside, you'll not only be able to sample some locally brewed beer, but you can take a walk down memory lane and see many nostalgic pictures of Buffalo's old breweries, most no longer standing. One artifact of special interest is a brass Lang sign that once adorned the brewery office. Buffalo Brew Pub, New York State's oldest brew pub, opened its doors in 1986 and brews three of its own beers: Amber Ale, Buffalo Bitter, and Golden Ale, along with Flying Bison Beer.
Why did these breweries close their doors for good? Some of them closed during Prohibition never to reopen. Others could not compete with the monopolies of Anheuser Busch and Pabst (which actually had Buffalo branches of their breweries before Prohibition). Large breweries could ship their products nationally and sell their product at a lower price. Before modern refrigeration, beer and soda were purchased only locally since it was too expensive to ship. Large breweries had the capital to advertise on national TV
Prominent brewers, like Buffalo's prominent citizens, also had rather large tombstones to be remembered by. Some of them can be seen around Mirror Lake at Forest Lawn Cemetery. Driving around the lake on your right hand side you can find the tomb of Jacob Scheu who owned the predecessor to the International Brewery, and Magnus Beck who was one of Buffalo's Brewing giants and had a large brewery on North Division St. Near the entrance to the French and German cemetery on Pine Ridge Road in Cheektowaga, you can find many of Buffalo's German brewers entombed. I like to call that spot "Brewers' Circle" in honor of them. There is a large granite obelisk honoring Gerhard Lang along with a separate family plot. The size of this monument gives testimony to the prosperity he once knew. Christian Weyand, William Simon, Francis Xavier Kaltenbach, Edwin Miller and Alois Schaefer are some of the others.
All the large breweries gave away hundreds of marketing items such as beer trays, openers, coasters, calendars and signs to promote their product. If you want to own a tangible piece of Buffalo's brewing past, a trip to the flea market or a search on ebay and you're on your way.
Prohibition took beer away from the people but it couldn't keep people away from the beer. People brewed their own or went to Canada. Breweries that were selling soda pop were most likely secretly making beer on the side. Corporate America may have shut down Buffalo's major breweries, but the microbreweries of today keep the spirit of brewing alive. Cultural tourism of Buffalo's architectural gems, its grain mills and the vacant breweries, along with the revitalization of our waterfront can help renew the spirit of Buffalo and give us a better sense of our past. Benjamin Franklin summarizes it well: "Beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."