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“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the beer I drink I feel ashamed – Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, ‘It is better that I drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”
-Jack Handy (American Humorist)
Some of you regular reader-types may recall my earlier post on Griff’s Brewery, from last August. I’m sure Patrick Cook and Shawn Griffin hoped I’d be writing this follow-up sooner, but Patrick’s first child had the audacity to be born right before the brewery was slated to open, and then all was quiet from those guys for a while. I hear children will do that to you. Also, construction, licensing, and beer tend to happen on their own timelines. Regardless, Griff’s Brewery is up and running now, and they are “…opening for good this Friday [January 15, 2016] and absolutely everyone is invited.”
8 January, 2015
After months of anticipation on my part, and years of work for Shawn and Patrick, the day of their soft opening has finally arrived. It’s mid-afternoon when Ben and I walk into the now-finished taproom. We’ve managed to avoid the after-work crowd, and only have to share the bar with three or so other day drinkers. This is perfect, since I plan to pepper the proprietors with questions, all in the name of journalism.
Jessica is behind the bar, and to my gratification, remembers who we are. Then again, the number of writers who want to hang out in a sawdust-y, half-built brewery months before opening day is probably low. Which is perfectly fine by me.
They’ve got three beers on tap, and Jessica explains that for this invitation-only event, they’re only offering five-ounce tasting glasses. I make some comment, agreeing that it makes sense for such a new brewery, and order the first beer on the list.
SINZ (Summer In New Zealand)
To taste it, you wouldn’t necessarily peg this 6.6% ABV summer-in-a-glass as an IPA. Sure, the hop character is there, but it’s all soft, tropical fruit notes; hardly any bitterness at all.
Noticing our presence, Shawn comes over to say hello. “It looks a lot different from the last time you were here,” he remarks, running his hand along the top of the bar, which is done in tiger maple. He’s justifiably proud of the thing; he built and routed it himself. “It’s the hardest wood I’ve ever worked with,” he says. Ben asks if he’s ever worked with hickory. He hasn’t. “It’s a pain in the ass,” Ben declares.
I nod sagely, and take another sip of my beer.
“It’s actually a very nice, gentle IPA…a lot of people are turned off by a bitter [flavor]…It’s a really easy drinker…made with local grains, done by Pioneer,” Shawn explains. Indeed, SINZ is a pleasant, smooth ale, with enough malt character to taste it, but the real focus is on the fruity NZ hops.
At 6% ABV, this guys is technically above a session, but it wouldn’t be hard to down a fair amount of it. As the name denotes, it’s an IPA made with New York-grown hops. In fact, they were homegrown by a fellow member of UNYHA (Upstate New York Homebrewers Association). The beer was kegged with four ounces of the fresh, whole-leaf hops, and then served fairly young. As Ben said, “I can’t find any of the flaws you usually get in a young beer.”
Like any good brewer, Shawn is particular about keeping flaws out of his beers. “That green apple flavor, I absolutely can’t stand,” he says.
There’s also a distinct lack of that strange, almost sour character I often taste from New York-grown hops. Hurray, potting soil? What the beer does have is a delightful amount of fresh hop character, with plenty of fruit notes, leaning a bit more toward citrus than the very tropical-tasting SINZ.
While I sip beers and scribble notes, Shawn relates the continuing adventures of Griff’s Brewery. Apparently, licensing is one of the more hair-raising aspects of starting a brewery. They’ve had their brewing license for three months or so, but they only got their serving license yesterday (January 7th). If I recall correctly, Patrick had to run paperwork to Buffalo, just to get everything finalized in time to open the doors.
This 4.7% Winter Ale truly is session-able. “No spices, just a smooth beer to take to the sledding park,” Shawn says. Ben gets hints of peanut butter in the nose, and Shawn says some people get an almost lager character from the beer. I find the name accurate, and wouldn’t mind drinking a bit more of this ale that Shawn says is made with a “single hop, and Pioneer malt.” Pioneer is their go-to maltster, who are still working on some specialty malts, just for Griff’s Brewery. Shawn is obviously excited at that prospect.
The first three offerings from Griff’s Brewery are tasty, clean, smooth, and without any obvious flaws that I can sense. As Ben notes, “All three of ‘em are very hop-juicy.” I might add that there’s not much hop bitterness in any of them, though NYIPA has the most.
The operative word in craft beer is “craft,” and Shawn has a good grasp of his. While most craft beer drinkers have at least some appreciation for the time and effort that go into producing their pint, it’s still easy to forget that brewing can also be dangerous.
Leaning against his bar, coffee mug in hand—“I’m not drinking beer, it’s really coffee in here”—Shawn tells us about a hot mash spill on the 1st, which resulted in a nasty burn on his leg. He’s too busy right now to get off his feet for a few days, and he’s not much of one for the pain meds, either. So if you see him soon, be very nice to Shawn. Third-degree burns are no joke.
The folks of Griff’s Brewery are having their official-everybody’s-invited, opening day this coming Friday, January 15th. As per my last communication with Patrick, they plan to have four beers on tap, and will be serving tasting glasses, flights, pints, and growlers. The brewery is located at 5324 West Ridge Rd, which Jessica informed me is technically in the Town of Parma, New York.
Photos by Benjamin Wilson
“17 Of The Best Beer Quotes.” Passion For The Pint. April 21, 2011. Accessed January 12, 2016.
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