By Jonathan Huber
Edited by Kevin Wise
I had the pleasure to sit down with Matt Kahn, President of Big Ditch Brewing Company, and discus the first year of the taproom being open, along with the future of Big Ditch and craft beer as a whole.
As a functioning brewery, Big Ditch has been in business for almost one and half years. The taproom/restaurant came a half year later and is approaching its one year anniversary in a few weeks. So it only seemed right to focus a portion of our time together on the highlights from year one.
Year one of the taproom was filled with accomplishments, challenges, proud moments and great beer. Matt and I started off our conversation around their biggest accomplishment- employees.
Prior to the opening of the taproom there were only three employees. Fast-forward to today and Big Ditch employs over 70 people. This increase in staffing was instrumental to the success of the taproom. Although this was a large increase in numbers, Big Ditch was able to hire a group of employees who were excited about the company vision, the craft beer movement and looking to develop themselves. It was able to achieve this with little turnover, thereby creating numerous jobs in Buffalo.
“We love beer, wanted to make beer but it was also about running a great company. This meant having a great culture. It’s all about the people. If you have great people you have a great business,” said Kahn.
Along with accomplishments come challenges, for Big Ditch one of the biggest challenges of year one of the taproom came in the form staying ahead of demand. This demand drove the need to increase staff, but it was unclear when was the right time would be to add more brewers to the production side of the house. The delay led to having not enough brewers which ultimately led to product shortages and limited varieties. Even after they hired more assistant brewers, it took a long time to get caught back up.
The first year of the tap room was filled with many proud moments/events. For Kahn some of these moments include their beer paring dinners. To date they have held four of these dinners each one allows the kitchen to stretch their culinary legs and be more expressive developing meals that pair with the beers being served during the dinner. During the dinners the taproom is shutdown which allows for a much more intimate dining experience leaving many very satisfied customers.
Along with the paring dinners another proud moment was the New Year’s Eve party. The New Year’s party was truly a party to be remembered with the incredible amount of people happy and celebrating. The events culmination was the ball drop when Big Ditch was able to open the doors and allow everyone to experience the firework and welcome in the New Year with a pint of Big Ditch beer.
When asked what one of his proudest moments to date has been, Kahn said:
“Taking a few seconds or a minute here and there, to sit back and appreciate how cool this is. When the ball is dropping and the fireworks are going off, you’re right next to all these people in your place watching it. That is one of those moments.”
Beers that highlighted the first year of the taproom included the fourth batch of Deep Cut which is their highly received and award-winning double IPA. This batch was special as after analyzing and tweaking each batch previous they feel they finally had dialed in the balance they were looking for.
Another beer highlight was their Bidwell Wild. This beer was incredibly unique as they brewed it a few years back at the Bidwell market even before the brewery was built. They used fruit sourced from the market to get yeast and bacteria to ferment the beer. When the beer was finally ready for sale there was a line outside of the brewery with thirsty customers hoping to get their hands on one of the 50 bottles for sale. This was the first wild/sour beer the brewery had produced.
Through my conversation with Matt I came away with feeling of how proud he was of his and his partners’ accomplishments and I can see how this business has been built with hard work and true passion to make a great customer experience. Now that we have a looked back at the last year let’s a look what is in store going forward.
Matt highlighted some of the things we can expect in the near future. First being the one year anniversary party for taproom. This party will be a combined effort between Big Ditch and southern restaurant Toutant as they are roughly a block away and opened in the same time frame. The event will feature food stations from both Big Ditch’s kitchen and Toutant’s kitchen. Along with the food the brewery has also brewed a Pilsner style beer which will be released at the event.
The brewery is also looking forward to such events as Farm to Pint where they are brewing a sour/wild beer using all New York State sourced ingredients including yeast and bacteria.
Also in the second year of the taproom we can expect to see some beer from the previous year make their return. Some of these include Golden Shovel a Belgian strong pale ale and Galaxy Red a India red ale. Along with these they are also working on some new sour beers, and barrel aged beers such as their Towpath a imperial stout weighing in at 9.2% ABV.
Lunch will also be another new addition to the brewery. Over the last year Matt and crew has noticed a number of people seeking lunch from the taproom and Big Ditch now wants to make this possible. It is currently work on a lunch menu which will allow for quick service.
With all of this excitement and rapid expansion I also wanted to get a pulse on how Matt felt where the industry is heading with such concerns as the next impending hop shortage, big beer acquisitions and the beer bubble. As far as the hop shortage, it truly is a concern. Big Ditch has focused on contracting out as far as it can to secure hops they need to produce their beer. But contracting can be somewhat of a guessing game though when you’re looking four years out as far as quantity, change in hop trends, etc.
As far as the acquisitions Kahn is not concerned by it; he feels that local fresh beers and great customer experience is their advantage and it will overcome the larger breweries that have huge distribution foot prints.
Kahn believes that the so-called “bubble” of craft beer does not exist. He does believe at some point the number of breweries will plateau. Kahn stated that over the last few year the number of breweries that have opened is large but the number that have closed is small.
As we move forward we will see more breweries close as the consumer becomes more educated on the quality of beer and what they should expect for service. This is why Kahn believes the true key to future success is really good beer and good customer service.
In conclusion, talking with Kahn was a great experience and gave me an even greater appreciation of his brand and vision. I truly believe Big Ditch will continue to be a pillar of the Buffalo brewing and raise the bar for other breweries in our city.
This is an interview in a series of guest entries by students in the Practical Brewing class at Erie Community College. Students were asked to conduct an interview with a person of their choosing in the brewing industry.
Jonathan Huber is currently an intern at Flying Bison Brewing Company as part of his requirements for a state certification program in Brewing Sciences and Services at Erie Community College.