The Old First Ward is landing another micro brewery. Head Brewer/CEO Karl Kolbe and Lexi Craine/COO are in process of getting a 15 barrel system up and running. Until recently, Karl was living in California (for 13 years), where he was working for a large brewery, while brewing his own beer on the side. Like a lot of other brewing enthusiasts, one day he got the bug to start his own commercial operation.
At first, he began to look around for a site in Cali. “My buddy and I were looking around for a good location,” said Karl. “But nothing fit our needs. Being from Buffalo, one day I was reading Buffalo Rising, and I came across an article on The Barrel Factory – they were looking for another tenant, and the space was exactly what we were looking for. My cousin Lexi was in Buffalo, so she went over for a reconnaissance mission and liked what she saw. So I reached out to co-owner Steve Bystran and we talked on the phone for three hours. After that, my buddy (Lexi’s brother, now investor, living in San Diego) and I flew to Buffalo.”
It turned out the The Barrel Factory was exactly what they were looking for. There was plenty of space for tanks, daylighting, historic bones, and a plethora of other businesses to work with. “Our beers will be featured at the Lakeward Spirits tasting room and bar, right next door,” Karl added. “We’re in talks with local distributors and outlets as well. In the meantime, we will be offering our beer here in the building, and doing tap takeovers around town. I recently did a brewing collaborative with Old First Ward Brewing Company, at their facility right down the street. It was great to work on a similar system – the brewery where I was working out west was huge – it was a lot of fun teaming up with a craft brewer in the area. We’re calling the beer Knee Socks (brewers will know why). It’s going to be available at Gene McCarthy’s in a couple of weeks. There’s a great brew scene around here. The beer community all gets along, and everyone is so helpful. Brewing beer is way too much fun.”
Karl and Lexi are gearing up for production to begin at the beginning of November, with the first batch being released at the end of that same month. Their capacity right of the bat is 40 thousand pints every two weeks. “I’ve got 40 serious recipes that I’ll be working with. We’re ready to come out swinging with IPAs (especially the bigger IPAs), pale blonde ales, and then some lighter offerings. We’ll have porters and stouts (session range), and a nice oatmeal stout (4.2% range) that will be a great winter beer that you can drink all day. It’s a perfect football beer. I’m also excited to collaborate with Adam Bystran – head distiller at Lakeward Spirits. I’m going to take his spent barrel aging rum barrels to age some of our beer, probably an imperial stout (10%) that I will age for six months. The beer will soak up all of the character from the barrels, adding the spirit and spice flavor.”
Talking to Karl, his enthusiasm for brewing was catchy. He talked about a new day for brewing, where indie brewers were bringing back old beer traditions, such as Belgian style table beers that died out years ago. Now they’re coming back, and it’s the small brewers that are leading the way. Karl also told me that he’s hoping to team up with a new winery that is preparing to open in The Barrel Factory building – Leonard Oakes. The winery will also be producing and serving up hard cider (more on that soon).
“This is three years in the making,” said Karl. “We’re in the mood to make some beer! At any given time, we will have eight tap handles here at The Barrel Factory. We’re also going to be featured at Buffalo’s Best Cucina (restaurant and catering), which will be opening in the building. We’re going to hit the ground running. It’s crazy to think that our equipment just landed in August – the timeline is incredible. But every small batch that we have brewed over the years we always took into consideration how to scale it. That has helped out a lot. We’ve been in recipe development for years. We’ve also been developing flavors that will be perfect for the Buffalo consumer. We’re lucky to be part of a great team. We’re so excited to be brewing in Buffalo. We owe so much to those who came before us, especially Im Herzog at Flying Bison. He was the one that set out to tell people that they should be drinking beer from places where they could actually shake the brewmaster’s hand. If it wasn’t for Tim, and all of the work that he did to fight for craft brewing in NY State, we would be opening in California instead of Buffalo.
Lead image: Karl, Lexi and Joe Strummer