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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Road Trip to Cole's Rare Beer Festival: Buffalo, NY

After spending a great afternoon at the Cloak and Dagger sipping some delicious Ontario brews, a buddy and I jumped in our rental car and started out for Buffalo to attend Cole’s Rare Beer Festival; a highly anticipated festival that received many excited comments on a recent Bar Towel thread.

We made it to the border in good time so we decided to make a pit stop at Consumer’s Beverage before continuing on to the bar. Consumer’s Beverage is a small store on an industrial strip off the I90 that sells both mass-produced beer and small craft beers along with some famous and well sought after imports. With cart in hand the two of us set out to pick up some tasty treats. Never had that one – in the cart, never heard of that – better pick up, this one’s on sale – better buy two; you get the just. As fantastic as it was seeing all those wonderful products, I felt a little let down. I was expecting more. I guess the hype got to me and I had expectations of walking into something like Beers of the World in Rochester, a place I visited and fell in love with back in November.

Back in the car (after my buddy spent $200USD), do we now head to Cole’s? Or should we check out Premier Gourmet? Premier Gourmet it was. After spending close to 45 minutes browsing the high shelves, we decided we had enough and proceeded to the checkout. I scored some wicked beers that I can’t wait to get into. Beers like Victory’s Le Freak, Jolly Pumpkin’s Bam Biere (Farmhouse Ale), Southern Tier Krampus (Imperial Helles), Cantillion and more. I love how the American breweries bottle their beers. Their big beers anyway. The colourful labels, the corked champagne bottles and the waxed caps; something more Canadian breweries should consider. Think of the folks who walk into the LCBO looking for something different. If priced right, the bottle could sell itself (and then the beer would have to win the customer over).

Anyways, back to the trip. Now that the back end of the rental was riding a little low, we realized that we were starving, so we hit the road and headed to Cole’s where fine food and an amazing line-up of American beers awaited us.

Once we secured a parking spot, we headed into the old bar, me, for the first time. The first thing I noticed was the height of the ceiling, and the wooden beams running from side to side above the seating area. A wooden partition with etched glass ran down the middle of the bar area - separating the bar from the seating section. The left side of the partition holds a number of wooden booths, tables and chairs and the right side takes you right up to the bar. On the very far left of the building is a more secluded dining area, but I won’t venture in there on this night. Up a flight of stairs towards the back is an upper level with seating that overlooks the entire bar. Up another flight of stairs and you end up in an event space - a space that was occupied by a group of students from the nearby University. The bar is decorated with old pennants from the area, cardboard cutouts of people like Albert Einstein, there is stained glass on the walls - much like the kind you'd find in a church, and lots of beer American beer memorabilia.

We take up a booth and order some food. But before the food, even though we were extremely hungry, we had to look at, and order from, the beer menu. Ommegang Obamagang Inauguration Ale 2009 was the first beer I saw and the first beer I had to sample. Delicious. The food arrived and with it another beer came. La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel. Outstanding. After that we shared a bottle of New Glarus Belgian Red Cherry Ale. Simply perfect. You see where I’m going with this.

Upstairs we headed where we took up a table (one of the tables overlooking the whole bar) and hung out with Mike Shatzel, co-owner of Cole’s and friend of my buddy’s. He provided us with some samples of Dogfish Red and White, Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Ten Fidy, Troegs Nugget Nectar, Victory Yakima Twilight, Troeg’s Scotch #16, Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam, Sam Adams Utopias (2007) and more. Highlights belonged to..well, everyone. However, the Troegs Nugget Nectar was awesome. Wicked nose on the beer and the taste backed it up well too. The Oskar Blues was simply divine, a beer I would love to have a case off (next time).

When the crowd started to thin, we headed down to the bar and joined Shatzel’s close friends who were primed up for a long evening. Being close to the co-owner of the bar was pretty rewarding. Bottles just started to appear on the bar and glasses were filled. Shatzel provided me with a brief history lesson regarding Cole’s, but alas, I have forgotten most of it. I do remember that Cole’s has been around since the 1930’s and that Shatzel’s father purchased the place in the 70’s. It is a University bar, evident by the younger crowd walking around with bottles of Molson Canadian or Labatt Blue, but also features a ton of outstanding beers from all over the world.

As the night turned to morning, we were rounded up and headed to Shatzel’s house where we would stay over. The man’s beer collection is crazy. Beers from everywhere, of all ages, everywhere you look. Very jealous. The sleep didn’t last long as Shatzel had to be back at the bar for the Sunday session of the event, so we headed back to Cole’s and had breakfast. A great end to the crazy experience.

“I’ve got a long day ahead of me,” stated a weary Shatzel as my buddy and I headed to the car for the ride home. But before we left, Shatzel mentioned that for his next event (may have something to do with sour beers) he might look at getting a bus to accommodate all the Toronto residents who flock to Cole’s to support his endeavors.

I’m all for that.

A list of beers at the event:
Lost Abbey Gift of the Magi
Lost Abbey Inferno Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Weizen Bam
Dogfish Head Zwaanendale
Brooklyn Brewing Black Ops
Sonoran 100
Flying Bison Blizzard Bock
Malheur Brut Reserve

Sam Adams Utopias 2007

Troegs Nugget Nectar
Victory Yakima Twilight
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA
Dogfish Head Fort
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Gordon
Oskar Blues Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Chub
Oskar Blues Whiskey Barrel Aged Ten Fidy
Ommegang Obamagang (Inauguration Ale)
Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock


sstackho said...

Wow. That sounds like an incredible beer experience!

Hope they waved you through at the border too.

Mig said...

oh.... my.... god.
i'm guessing sunday was pretty rough. i hope at least they were gentle with you at the border.

Troy Burtch said...

sstackho - right thru the border we went with five boxes o beer in the trunk and some in the back seat.
*I handed the guy my TAPS business card and told him I had samples for review!

Mig - I was actually pretty good on Sunday, alive and well and perky. Got back to Toronto and cracked a Harpoon 100 Bottle Series Rusty Red.

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