By Rebecca Bratek:
Buffalo’s waterfront has a long and rich history, dating back to the days of the Erie Canal. Completed in 1825 as a way to link the waters of the Hudson River in the east to the waters of Lake Erie right in Buffalo’s backyard, the Erie Canal was a way to provide a cheap and safe way to transport goods from the west to the east and vice-versa.
Transport was done via schooners and barges because the canal was too shallow to handle the large steam ships that were able to sail the open seas. Buffalo, sitting on the western terminus of the canal, was transformed from a rural, frontier village to a thriving metropolis because of the influence the canal had on the waterfront and the surrounding city. The Central Wharf and Commercial Slip, both key parts to the canal’s development and operation, still exist today.
With such a rich history, many local businesses want to preserve and celebrate what may have shaped Buffalo as a city back in the 1800s. Take the Spirit of Buffalo for example–a 73- foot schooner owned and operated by the Buffalo Sailing Company that sits right at the Commercial Slip on the Central Wharf.
“It represents [the name “Spirit of Buffalo“] the spirit of Buffalo–why we exist and what Buffalo is all about,” said Ric Hilliman, owner and captain of the schooner. The vessel attempts to recreate the “glory days” of the canal and its influence that is still seen in the city today. Operating right out of the Central Wharf, it sails around the harbor and out into the waters of Lake Erie, creating a nostalgic and unique experience for its patrons.
Paired with its sailing adventures, the Spirit of Buffalo has also created a relationship with Pearl Street Grill and Brewery, one of Buffalo’s oldest and most historic restaurants, to celebrate the waterfront’s rich history. With this partnership, they not only offer dinner and sail packages–patrons receive a ride on the Spirit of Buffalo and dinner at Pearl Street, which you can check out here–but, they have collaborated to offer a “Spirit of Buffalo Summer Lager.”
This lager, though it is in its fourth season at Pearl Street, never had an official name. This summer, the boat company and restaurant have finally found a suitable name to celebrate Buffalo and its history as a drinking town and a waterfront town.
“This particular style of beer, the closest thing we can point to, as a “classic” style of beer is what is called a ‘munich helles,'” said Phil Internicola, brewmaster at Pearl Street. “The summer lager variation has some slightly different characteristics to it, but in general, they’re both very mild, light-body, low-alcohol beers, and evenly balanced. They have a mild, but notable malt flavor to them. The summer lager has a little bit more of a hop presence than the generic munich helles would.”
“The summer lager recipe actually has some historical background here in Buffalo. There used to be a brewery in South Buffalo called the Buffalo Brewing Company back in the 80s. And they made a beer called ‘Buffalo Lager’ and that was also of this basic style,” Internicola said. ” So what I attempted to do in formulating this recipe, based on my recollection on how that beer tasted, looked, and smelled, I put together a recipe that hopefully very closely emulates that beer.”
The lager has been available since May at Pearl Street and will continue to be available through August as a part of the restaurant’s seasonal summer ales. The Spirit of Buffalo schooner also hopes to be selling the lager during its voyages before the end of the summer. It’s a micro-brew, which means it is made and sold locally at Pearl Street and is available as a draft beer and patrons can also buy it by the growler. And as long as the relationship between Pearl Street and the sailing company exists, the lager will hold the name “Spirit of Buffalo.”
“If you’re looking for something to match up with something to eat, it’s a great beer for seafood, pasta, and it should go well with chicken wings, for example,” said Internicola. “It’s just a nice, thirst-quenching beer, one that’s great for just sitting out on the patio during the hot weather and be able to cool off and not worry about having too much because it’s very low alcohol.”
The Spirit of Buffalo schooner operates from May until October 1st right out of the historic Erie Canal Central Wharf. Along with the dinner and sail packages offered, the schooner also offers public cruises, weekend family/children pirate adventures, and private charters for corporate and special events. For more information on departure times and availability, call (716) 796-7210.