Who would could have predicted that the historic Cooperage building in the city’s Old First Ward would see the commercial hustle and bustle successes that we are witnessing today? This is the same building that most people thought would never stand to see the light of day, let alone become a powerhouse anchor for a neighborhood that is now defining a neighborhood as quintessential Buffalo.
Five years ago, this building almost crumbled. Today it houses a brewery, a hair salon, a world renowned climbing gym, and… Hartman’s Distillery. Yes, the latest win for The Cooperage is the opening of Hartman’s, owned and operated by Justin Hartman, his wife Jennifer, and their family partners Bob and Lisa Hobba.
While the distilling component is obviously the crux of the business, crafting the cocktails is the heart and soul of the operation. That’s why the owners went above and beyond when they sought out a mixologist who would be able to deliver the best results for their hard earned spirits. That person is Cameron Rector, former owner of Vera. Rector is taking the tasting room at the distillery to new heights, with his latest creations that include a rye sazarac (one of New Orleans oldest cocktails, made with Hartman’s Rye, angostura and Peychaud’s Bitters, simple syrup, and absinthe rinse), and the Scofflaw (an ode to prohibition – the name is a portmanteau of the words scoff and law – made with Hartman’s Bourbon, dry vermouth, lemon and house made grenadine). And just when you think that these cocktails are all founded along the lines of classic cocktails, Rector throws in a zinger like the Blinker, which, as Rector puts it, “Is a bold and spicy rye that actually plays well with citrus.” (Blinker – Hartman’s Rye, fresh grapefruit, and house grenadine)
It’s obvious that this crew is having a lot of fun with their new distilling playground. Hartman and Rector have managed to come up with a formula that we can all appreciate. When standing in the sizeable tasting room, there is a clear vantage point into the heart of the operation – the distillery. Then there’s the sweeping bar, and the expansive tasting room. But there’s also a nice surprise that could be considered the heart and soul of Hartman’s. Behind the bar, not visible to the eye, is Prohibition-era style speakeasy, which is currently being constructed. This invitation only speakeasy will accommodate 25 guests, who will gain admittance in ways that are still being formulated. While this speakeasy will be somewhat exclusive, it will still be open to those who truly appreciate… bourbons. This will be Buffalo’s bourbon bar, where those who access it will find a fantastic collection bourbons, years in the making. The speakeasy is dedicated to bourbon lovers and connoisseurs – a place where bottles will be uncorked and celebrated. It will also be the experimental element of Hartman’s, where delicious craft cocktails will spill forth, and possibly end up on the tasting room menu.
Hartmans Distillery is now fully operational. Yesterday, they bottled 260 ryes, and today they are bottling 230 bourbons. Talking to Justin Hartman about these spirits is like talking to a mad scientist who is uber passionate about every aspect of the distilling process. During a recent discussion on the topic of distilling, he embarked upon some rather interesting aspects of the barreling and bottling, as they related to Buffalo. Hartman is convinced that WNY is primed to – one day – be an international hotspot for barreled spirits. Why? Well, according to Hartman, this region’s constantly fluctuating barometric pressure is super conducive to storing bourbons and ryes, which get their cherished flavors and coloring from the barrels. The more the temperature fluctuates, the more the spirits seep in and out of the barrels. As long as the temperature is controlled, allowing the barometric pressure to work its magic is one of the tricks of trade… and Buffalo’s weather has some impressive tricks up its sleeve, which is the perfect setting for aging spirits. In fact, Hartman is convinced that one day, barrels will be shipped to Buffalo to be stored in one storey rickhouses. Yup, we’ve got the perfect weather for this sort of industry. So the next time you ask about the quality of the bourbon, be sure to inquire about barometric pressure, the number of rainy seasons, the char, the toast… there’s a lot going on with ryes and bourbons these days, and Hartman’s is the place that will open your eyes to this fascinating world.
Harman’s Distillery offers up a lot. From a library of bourbons (speakeasy opening in about a month’s time) to Saturday and Sunday brunches – the Old First Ward is once again upping its game. Be sure to stop in to experience the full bar, or catch the Bills game… choose from two patios in the summer (garage doors open right up for café style seating), and take in the sights and sounds of one of Buffalo’s most storied neighborhoods.
I’m happy to say that Hartman’s is part of a great Buffalo story in the making.