Pints and pitches for new breweries

Aug 14, 2017

BATAVIA — The city will soon go from one that can bring in breweries for a single-shot event like Beertavia to a relative Beer-topia with multiple brewers testing their creative tastes.

With more than 600 visitors packing into Alva Place Saturday for the Beertavia festival, Batavia’s two new breweries, Resurgence and Eli Fish, welcomed their largest local audience since either project was announced.

Queueing among the VIP ticketholders that got an early start to the beer-tasting festival, Roger Fagen of Batavia and Wayne Eckelberger of Rochester represented the type of customers both will seek to attract in coming years.

Fagen introduced himself as “a Guinness guy” and Eckleberger as having a bigger palate, if not a more forgiving one.

“And I know there’s no Guinness, so it’s going to be a long day,” Fagen joked. They went to last year’s event, and the old buddies have made stops at breweries similar to those planned for downtown Batavia.

“It’s nice to go to these places, it’s nice to try different things,” Eckleberger said. Rohrbach’s has scored high with them in 2016, with a “bee piss” mead living up to it’s name in their view.

“But another person’s dislike is another person’s favorite taste,” Fagen added. They planned to walk to his home, with a few new favorites to pursue in the future.

Lauren Kent and Kristin Quinn were already fluent in the two coming brewery’s plans. They played in a kickball league with Eli Fish brewer Jon Mager and have made a point to visit the Silver Lake Brewing Project and the RG Brewery in Brockport.

As customers, they’re already sold.

“I’m just happy for Batavia to get more variety of things,” said Kent, an Elba native. “I personally like just about everything. I’m just happy when anybody comes in locally.”

Quinn, who recently moved from Washington, D.C. to Genesee County, agreed.

“It’s going to be nice to have more right here in town,” she said.

But for hundreds of other amateur beer connoisseurs, the incoming brewers could make no better first impression.

A taste of Resurgence

Resurgence Brewing Company brand ambassador Rich Starks offered coasters but didn’t have to entice patrons with tales of his company’s plans for a production brewery and beer garden in the downtown Ellicott Station redevelopment, to complement their home on Buffalo’s west side.

Resurgence offered up both their R&D IPA #8 and Blood Orange Saison, “a lightly tart, refreshing farmhouse brew loaded with flavors of blood oranges, citrus and spice from saison yeast.” It had even more notes of other elements depending on how fast each Beertavian put it down, and how strenuously they had rinsed their glass between stations.

Starks had a pint-length pitch if one was requested.

“Resurgence in Buffalo we’re known for, the resurgence of Buffalo, and the craft beer movement in the area, and Buffalo in being on the way up,” Starks said. “The area we’re in Buffalo now was a bit down but is being built back up. The brewery is a big part of that and we’re looking to do the same in Batavia.”

The beers they served Saturday were more tame than the wild, experimental sour beers that will be developed. Resurgence doesn’t rest on traditions for it’s “standard” beers — who puts blood orange in a saison?

Fish flies under the radar

Matt Gray brought his Alex’s Place team and food truck out to the event, with diners sitting down to tables freshly painted with Eli Fish’s logo and “making history” tagline.

Gray, who has partnered with Mager and Matthew Boyd to launch Eli Fish, was busy introducing Beertavians to a project they previously knew as the Batavia Brewing Company. The Main Street brewery and apartment development, and it’s construction dumpster, have been very visible downtown, but it was on the outside of the beer tent.

“We’re excited to tell our story for the first time,” Gray said while wearing the first of many Eli Fish shirts passed out Saturday. “We think it’s a great story to drive us to the company we’re going to be.”

Gray is focused on the locally-focused dining side, but said Mager is now up to an “arsenal” of around two dozen recipes. None were available for tasting, but Gray was happy to paint a picture of a brewery ready to test new bounds.

“He just keeps showing up at my house with more and more bottles ... and they are solid,” Gray said. “He likes the heavy malt, and I’m more of a pilsners person, the German ales, and Bavarian and Trappists and all that stuff. It’s pushed us to reach outside the box, he’s playing with different types of malts and hops that have different flavors.”

A seven-barrel brewing system will be installed later this fall, a play to skip ahead in the typical craft brewery plan. Gray said the size will ease scheduling of new beers, inspiring more creativity and variety.

Room for competition

New York Craft Malt owners Ted and Patricia Hawley offered no beer, at least directly. The Hawleys set up a visual guide to beer Saturday with plates of differences between malt and hops — but Ted said most of the breweries present used the Craft Malt’s products.

Hawley doesn’t have to be neutral — Resurgence uses his products and Mager is a frequent visitor as he works to develop Eli Fish’s flagship beers. Why choose?

“There’s room for more brewers if they want to come to Batavia,” Hawley said, comparing the potential to a cluster of antique shops that drive in enough traffic to all benefit. “I think they are going to be going back and forth. I think both will do well and bring commerce into the area.”

Hawley said sour beers like the ones planned by Resurgence were an acquired taste. His first was “a very sour” beer from a brewery in Brooklyn. “I wasn’t ready for it,” he said, but he believes Resurgence is.

“I think they are going to do well — because they can be very sour, they can be very light. They can be like lemonade, a summer beer,” Hawley said. “Resurgence is going to do a great job.”

He liked Eli Fish’s planned capacity, which would dwarf many other start-up breweries.

“They have a nice size, where they don’t have to grow right away,” Hawley said. “I’m hoping to work with them quite a lot.”

By Jim Krencik, The Daily News