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12 Gates Brewing Company: The Ninth Gate is Open

Reading Time: 6 minutes read

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” –Martin Luther

Back in early December, I did an initial write-up on a new brewery in Buffalo. To recap, the 12 Gates name is a reference to George Ripley’s The Compound of Alchymy, a 14th century twelve-step program for creating a philosopher’s stone. Fermentation is the ninth of ol’ George’s twelve steps—or “gates”—as he called them.

These days, most people (believe it or not, there are still would-be alchemists out there) know all too well that you can’t turn base metal into gold. But you can turn base grains into IPA, which, if you’re lucky, might amount to the same thing.

They’ve done it, now

Todd Wilhelm chats with us about the 12 Gates origin story, and his passion for craft beer.
Todd Wilhelm chats with us about the 12 Gates origin story, and his passion for craft beer.

12 Gates opened on December 12th, 2015. They launched their beers at a dozen area locations, and their own taproom. We gave ‘em a little time to settle in, then Ben and I dropped in for a chat with one of the brewery owners, Todd Wilhelm.

January 31st, 2016
The brewing equipment was already in place the last time we were here, so that part doesn’t look much different. But the front side is a far cry from its former self. Now, the walls sport stone facing, burlap and box beams give the ceiling a medieval/renaissance look, and the finished bar is reminiscent of half a large gate. Edison bulbs burn in wall sconces, lending a much softer glow than fluorescents (Todd tells me these are temporary, to be replaced by similar, but awesome-er permanent fixtures). Long wooden tables and benches complete the illusion of a 14th century guild hall. Of course I know about guild halls; I watch Fairy Tail.

Todd Wilhelm, Tom Kirchmeyer, and a couple of other people are seated at one of the long tables when we arrive. Tom can’t stay long; he and his girlfriend, Christine Barrett, are off to do a tap takeover at J.P Fitzgerald’s, in Hamburg, NY. So Todd gets to do most of the entertaining, with some help from Shawn Barmore, another of the owners.

As mentioned in my first 12 Gates article, the brewery ownership is composed of eight guys with diverse business backgrounds. I’m not sure about the other four, but Tom and Todd are in real estate, Bill Campbell is an Air Force veteran, and  Kevin Lalock, “has years and years of experience in the bar and restaurant business.” Good thing he manages the front end, then.

Except for Kevin Lalock, all of the owners work other day jobs. These guys all seem to really like craft beer, but none of them are actually brewers. And trying to get a talented, experienced brewer to trade sunny California, or mountainous Colorado, or beautiful Austin for snowy Buffalo, is a joke with no punch line.

Who’s the alchemist, then?
Luckily, the 12 Gates peeps found Shawn Kerr, a local homebrewer who’s been honing his craft for a dozen years. From his bio on the brewery website, it sounds like he’s a science teacher turned pro brewer. Alchemy may be more imaginative than real, but there’s a metric ton of chemistry and other science in brewing, so the career change fits pretty well.

Once again, I’ve managed to miss Shawn Kerr, but Todd speaks highly of his abilities; “…It’s a true combination of skill and art to be able to brew beer, and have that natural, innate taste, to be able to decipher flavors…he can taste a beer and he can actually narrow it down to the type of malt, too…he’s just got this incredible skill set that I’ve yet to meet anybody else, locally.”

12gbSure, fine, but about the beer…
The 12 Gates owners (and probably the brewers, too) are admittedly hop heads. Of the five house beers on tap, three are IPAs of some description. This definitely doesn’t bother me.

Session IPA
Ben: Kind of a fairly piney, maybe one or two note session IPA.

Me: It’s hard to get loads of hop and malt complexity into a low alcohol package, but it’s still a tasty choice when you’re going to have more than one, which is kind of the point.

Under the Southern Cross IPA
Me: This is sort of their New Zealand IPA, but not exactly. With Magnum and Columbus hanging out alongside Citra and Waimea hops, it’s fruity and tropical, but also has the piney, resinous bite I associate with West Coast IPAs from breweries such as Stone, or Green Flash.

Ben: I thought the ‘under the southern cross’ IPA was the west coast, because it had resin, pine, fruit and hoppy goodness. There was a touch more fruit than in the west coast, but a shitton more resin.

West Coast IPA
Me: This is the beer that Todd seems most proud of, and I agree that it’s a tasty one. Not quite the straight-from-California experience you get from bottles that have, in fact, come from California, but it’s a solid IPA without the strange, kind of dank, almost sour taste I sometimes encounter in local brews. Man, I hate that taste. But anyway, this is a good beer.

Ben: West coast IPA had a clean malt backbone, not overpowering. Some pine and citrus notes. Much closer to a true-blue west coast IPA than I’ve really had from a brewery on the wrong side of the Great Divide.

Coffee Porter
Me: In addition to hoppier beers, I dig a well-made porter or stout. Most American porters don’t quite do it for me, but this is a tasty example that I like well enough to get a pint of, after the tasting flight is gone. I expect the slightly higher (than Deschutes Black Butte) astringency is due to the inclusion of coffee.

Ben: Honestly, this is an excellent porter…it’s not as chocolatey as Black Butte. The difference between it and Black Butte is that it’s ever-so-slightly more astringent. It’s got a good nose, just like Black Butte does.

12 Gates White
Me: I’m not always that excited about witbiers. When I saw this one on the taplist, I thought something like, “agh, someone else is making a wit.” But this is a decent example. As much as these guys like hops, they also love that moment when someone converts from drinking crappy lagers (you know the ones, don’t act like I’m dissing legitimately good, lagered styles) to enjoying craft beer.

Ben doesn’t like wit very much, but he says this is a good one.

Five house beers, plus one from Big Ditch.
Five house beers, plus one from Big Ditch.

Craft beer is about people
Todd tells me that Shawn Kerr wants to “always be on the cutting edge,” as a brewer, and that at the time of the interview, he’s brewing a red IPA, called “Bleeding Heart.” He’s also planning a collaboration with Four Mile Brewing, in Olean, NY. I got to taste some Four Mile beers at BCTC last August; might be time to wander out that way for a visit.

Collaboration and cooperation are a big deal to these guys. Todd is proud of the fact that they “carry other local breweries’ stuff” (at the time of my visit, they’ve got one from Big Ditch on tap). He’s noticed that “small, quality breweries across the country, they always carry other breweries stuff; try to support the local market.”

Like most people in the industry, Todd is passionate about craft beer. “If there’s any one thing I’d like to see or hear more often, is people who are like I was, twenty years ago, trapped in drinking Canadian lager, because that’s all there was…If I could hear more and more people say, ‘yeah, you know what? I love your beer now;’ or ‘I used to drink Coors Light, and now I love craft beer, and you guys helped us convert.’ That would…kinda make everybody here feel good about what we’re doing.”

If you want ta’ stalk ’em…
…excuse me, I mean, ‘follow’ 12 Gates, they’re on Twitter: @12gatesbrewing, FacebookInstagram, and they’ve even got a blog. Most are all of which are administered by their social media guy, Josh Mullin.

By Meagan Wilson
Photos by Ben Wilson

Our Beers.” 12 Gates Brewing Company. December 12, 2015. Accessed February 24, 2016.
Quotes About Beer.” Goodreads. Accessed February 24, 2016.

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Pacific Northwest native, travel and craft beverage writer. Exploring the intersections where beer (and coffee and spirits), food, travel and culture meet.

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