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Buffalo's Bygone Breweries

This week's Unknown Story of WNY walks us through some of Buffalo's rich brewing history and to some of the evidence of that history that still exists today.

BUFFALO, NY - It is a history that has been brewing for 208 years. Community Beer Works President Ethan Cox co-authored a book on the history of brewing in Buffalo. "It was huge, early on, these smaller breweries were often in taverns, so it was dual purpose, it was a place were beer was being made but also beer was being served. it was a brew pub ".

It all began in 1811, Joseph Webb opened the first known brewery and tavern in Black Rock. The exact location has been lost in time because it was likely burned to the ground by the British during the War of 1812. But Webb's brewery was the start of not only an industry but also a cultural movement.

Cox says, "before there were official government buildings, it's where government affairs took place. Before there were erected churches, it's where church services took place. So they were third spaces and they were veery important for communities."

The numbers speak for themselves. 1875 saw the high water mark for the number of breweries with 38, servicing more than 2500 saloons and 150 hotel. The beer making business also gave the growing German population a quick economic foothold in their new country. "They built bigger and bigger breweries, they made more beer, they grew beer gardens for a burgeoning German population and they created a lot of wealth and power," says Cox.

Many German immigrants grew to power. In the 1840's Gerhard Lang Brewing Co., had one of the largest operations, a 34-acre plot at Best and Jefferson Streets. The Makowski School stands on the site today. Ten years later, another legendary brewery was opened as John Schusler Brewery, but bought by German brewmaster William Simon. The facility at Clinton and Emslie put out Simon Pure and Old Abbey Ale until 1972. It was Buffalo's longest lasting brewery.

Then there was another of the Queen City's most beloved brews, Iroquois.The brewery was originally the Roos Brewing Company. The bones of the buildings still stand on Pratt Street off Broadway, and evidence of the wealth generated can still be seen in the Roos house on Linwood Ave. It was built by George Roos and recently renovated by current owners Cyndi and Earl Robinson.

Prohibition put an end to those glory years, but some say that Buffalo's brewing industry has risen from the ashes in the past decade with the craft beer movement. The bones of those early years can still be found if you look hard enough, around the queen city, and within the Unknown Stories of WNY.

The Buffalo History Museum has assembled an interactive map that pinpoints hundreds of locations of breweries, malt houses, wineries, distilleries and even cider makers around the city and suburbs, dating back to Joseph's Webb's place in 1811.