The face of the Old First Ward is changing yet again. This time it’s The Barrel Factory that is contributing to the revival. The only difference between this initiative and others is that this fascinating makers’ market is a game changer for the whole of the district. To date, the arrival of the parks, the apartments, the kayak launches, and all of the rest of the stellar amenities have been truly outstanding. But there’s something about The Barrel Factory that is going to make people’s heads turn and realize that the Old First Ward means business.
What started as a run down, crumbling, hopeless-looking, 45,000 square foot building, has suddenly transitioned into a dynamic, and almost fully occupied and soon-t0-be operating destination. “Those who saw the building at its worst, will tell you that it rained heavier inside than outside,”said Steve Bystran, President of The Barrel Factory. “In order to put it all back together, we used as much reclaimed material as possible from the building itself, and from Erie County’s oldest bar (Yankee Hay Barn). We bought the entire barn for its heavy timber construction (American chestnut). The wainscoting that you see here in the central lobby [pointing] was made with the corrugated metal panels from the former loading dock, which we took down. We turned the loading dock’s I-beams into benches. Bruce Mack of Woodcrafter Construction is our GC – he’s also part owner.”
Leading in any direction from the building’s main lobby, visitors will find themselves walking into an array of tantalizing businesses. First, there’s Elevator Alley Kayak, which is already up and operational (learn more).
The kayak and sport company not only leases and sells kayaks, they also have a retail department that specializes in anything that relates to the sport. Next to the kayak company is where Snowy Owl Kombucha will soon open (September 1). I covered that operation on BRO a short time ago (see here).
On the opposite side of the lobby (the lobby will have hightop tables for kombucha customers) is a short walk-up to a raised platform. The elevated floor was built out so that guests could readily access a two-level patio on the front of the building. The patios will serve Lakewood Spirits, the distillery located inside the building. Walking into the bar and retail arm of the distillery, one immediately feels as if he or she has walked back in time. To the left is a stove/fireplace, and a dramatic staircase that looks to be 100 years old. In fact, it is that old. The team harvested the wood floor and the joists from the cut-outs in the second floor, to build the steps. They call the staircase The Stairs of Castle Black.
Just past that is a sizable reclaimed wood bar, with patina copper top. Instead of using a traditional bar foot-rail, reclaimed large wood beams were installed. The floors of this tavern-esque room were seamlessly patched back together with, you guessed it, harvested flooring from the upper floor of the building.
The backbar is a window into the world of distilling that runs the length of the entire back wall. Customers can walk right up to the window and check out the distilling process underway. Towards the back of the space is the tasting room store, where people can taste and purchase the spirits.
We take 100% New York State grains and put them through a process that takes the best of traditional methods and combines them with modern improvements to help moderate energy usage. Our custom copper stills help us preserve the farm-fresh quality from grain-to-glass.
During a recent visit, I was given a tour of the Lakeward Spirits distillery (learn more). Chris Sasiadek (VP of operations) and Adam Bystran (VP Distillery Operations) were both on hand to give me the lowdown of a process that still blows my mind each and every time I see it.
Lakeward Spirits is starting off by producing vodka. From there, gin, rum and whiskeys. The distillery retains a Class D license and a Class 1A license, which is unusual in Buffalo in that it can produce spirits with fewer regulations and in larger runs.
To aid in water conservation, Lakeward Spirits contacted Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper seeking advice on best practices. One innovation is a 5,000 gallon reservoir buried under the lobby. The reservoir allows the distillery to recycle its coolant water, which the distillers estimate will save tens of thousands of gallons annually. Additionally, spent grain is given to local farms for composting or feed.
The first spirit to be rolled out is vodka, called Grain Canyon – an ode to Elevator Alley. “We chose to make an all-grain vodka to showcase the delicate aromatic qualities of local barley, wheat, and rye,” said Adam.
“The flavor of so many vodkas just disappear into mixers – we aim to make a vodka that is smooth enough to mix – but interesting enough to stand alone in a martini. Grain Canyon has excellent mouthfeel, aroma, and finish.”
You can’t have good Whiskey without good water, so we take our commitment to the environment very seriously. At each step- we try to ‘Look Lakeward’ and think about what we’re sending downstream to Erie so we can still be making whiskey decades from now.
The distilling operation is a work of fine art. The whole of it was built in the United States, including the copper pot-still, hand hewn by Gatling Still Works in the northwest. Adam (photo below) took the lead in designing the system, and says that the idea was to create something that was completely unique to Buffalo.
Actually, you would have to travel to Scotland or Kentucky to see a distillery safe the likes of what is featured here. According to Adam, “Turnkey systems are great, but you get what they give you, and that’s not what we wanted.”
The craft distillery is the first in Buffalo to make all-grain vodka using barley, wheat, and rye.
Everything that we have seen so far, takes place on the first floor of The Barrel Factory. If that’s not enough, take a walk up Stairs of Castle Black and you will find yourself in a vaulting banquet room, filled with natural light, wood and brick.
All of the bricked up windows have been replaced with window frames that are appropriate to the building. The removed bricks were all reused to repoint and repair water damaged brick throughout the building. The “great hall” loosely reminded me of the old Park Lane restaurant that was demolished (for what reason?) a number of years back. Remember that feeling when you walked into the large dining room? You just don’t come across these impressive old spaces anymore – they are usually built with too much drywall and don’t retain enough original wood and brick. In this case, the opposite is true. This place is very comforting in its raw state.
A mega fan hangs overhead, which blasts air up and down depending on the season. This only works because there are cutouts in the floor, with railings, so that visitors can see the Lakeward Spirits operation from overhead. The striking vented cupolas overhead allow natural light to filter into all corners.
“We want this to be a signature place. The kind of place people bring their friends to when they visit from out of town. We stayed true to the character of the building and the community, while adding some modern twists,” said Andrea Bystran, co-owner Lakeward Spirits. “The building was built as a “daylight factory” in the early days of electrification and has high windowed cupolas to allow in as much natural light as possible. The new owners have cut two holes into the second floor, allowing visitors to look directly onto the production floor.”
The banquet room serves all business entities within the building. Aside from the massive interior space, there will be an outdoor cigar and whiskey lounge, accessible via a small staircase. The upstairs will feature a bar, additional bathrooms, office suites that double as bridal conference rooms and changing accommodations, couches and low tables, and rooftop access for residents. Oh yeah… there are seven residences at The Barrel Factory, with sensational views.
The rest of the building is dedicated to a yeast lab, storage, an aging room, and loading docks. Larry is currently in discussions with three breweries that are vying for a space, and he has a couple more tricks up his sleeve for the remaining space (approximately 1700 square feet) – possibly more makers and/or an eatery. “It’s been a real adventure,” he said. “From sandblasting numerous coats of paint and restoring the natural terra cotta brick, to taking seven layers of roofing off the building. We are using geothermal techniques where we can, energy saving lighting, water conservation practices, reuse – we want to use best practice methods when it comes to our environmental stance. It’s not just about bottom line savings, it’s about doing what’s right. We think that by adhering to these standards, we are creating something truly unique here in the Old First Ward. The community deserves this.”
The Barrel Factory will be opening on Thursday, September 1, 2o16, from noon to 10pm. There is parking in the back.
Hours will be Thursday through Saturday noon to 10:00 PM and Sundays noon to 5:00 PM at The Barrel Factory, located at 65 Vandalia Street in Buffalo’s historic Old First Ward. Tours will be held at 1:00, 3:00, and 5:00 Thursday-Sunday.
Lead image (L-R) Bruce Mack, Chris Sasiadek, Adam Bystran and Steve Bystran