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Buffalo Beer Biochemist: The First Year

“What should I call myself? The Beer Biochemist? The Beer Chemist? The Buffalo Beerologist?” I wondered what I should name my blog as I sat in my downstairs office/cave in January of 2015. I decided to go with the alliterative “Buffalo Beer Biochemist”, accepting the need to introduce myself by this lengthy eight-syllable moniker. “Oh, you’re that guy with the science blog… The Buffalo… what?”

And now, on the 1st anniversary of my blog inception, on my 100th post, I look back and what I -thought- the blog would do, and what the blog has actually -done-.

I had a vision. The vision was simple: Free beer.

I say that partially in jest. But really. I thought that I could sit and review beers from my computer chair. Breweries would send me beer, I would review that beer, and people would look to my blog for guidance.

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One of my favorite beer pictures. CBW: Singularity Galaxy taken at Hydraulic Hearth at Icefest 2015.

 

The other part of my my vision included utilizing my scientific education and laboratory experience in yeast biology. I wanted to introduce a “science theme” to my reviews because I feel that I am uniquely qualified to tackle the chemistry of beer based on my education in science.

And I feel I have accomplished that goal. Did you know: The #1 most viewed post is a science article I wrote on Lactobacillus? I’m not sure where this article is linked, believe me, I’ll looked – but it keeps generating consistent hits. Based on my Lacto review and other highly clicked-on science articles, I’m comfortable saying that I accomplished my goal of creating a beer blog with a science focus.

But the “free beer” goal has very much been redefined. Here’s how it all started.

Last January, I set out to make an impression on the Buffalo Beer community by attending the “America on Tap” event at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center (the same event just ran this year on January 15th and 16th, by the way). I didn’t have time to get an official business card made, so this is what I printed and used instead:

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My first logo.

 

The logos were only about 1 inch by 2 inches. I printed a bunch of these generic logos on a piece of paper, and I headed off with a pocketful of these “cards” to America on Tap with my cousin, Hops Ryno. Despite my bland snippets of paper, I was able to connect with some of the most important people in the Buffalo beer scene- people I still connect with on a weekly basis.

Here are some of the pictures I took on my first excursion as the Buffalo Beer Biochemist:

Kahn_Catalano

 

CBW

 

Resurgence

One thing is certain: I was not the photographer I am today. But I went ahead and took pictures anyway. My write-up of the event can be found by clicking this text. Despite my tiny business cards, I was able to forge very important connections.

Two of those initial connections are with people whom I still speak with regularly and those people have been invaluable resources to me: Matt Kahn and Ethan Cox. Ethan Cox from Community Beer Works immediately took interest in my science background, and after about 30 minutes of talking to him I felt I had met a kindred spirit. Ethan saw my role in the beer community way before I saw it myself. More on this later.

Matt Kahn from Big Ditch Brewing invited me to stop by his (yet unopened) brewery and check out some yeast. “How cool is that?!” I thought to myself. I rushed home to tell my wife about all the cool people I had met.

(Side note: It’s very common for me to return home from a beer event and spew forth excitement. My wife, bless her, has evolved her ability to listen to my tales of beer wonder.)

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Matt Kahn of Big Ditch Brewing Company

 

I was both fearful and thrilled as I headed over to Big Ditch to check out some yeast cells under the microscope with Matt Kahn. I knew that the sheer volume of yeast cells used in brewing was vastly different from the small microtubes of yeast I was trained to deal with. But being able to see a carboy full of yeast was enough to spark my interest and let me know that I was headed in the right direction.

So I continued blogging, attending events, writing up reviews on beer. My first two beer reviews were on Allagash White and Logsdon Seizoen Bretta. I had the Logsdon beer while attending a tap takeover at the recently opened Moor Pat. It was at this event that I met Mike Shatzel, one of (if not the) most influential beer businessmen in all of Buffalo. Mike continues to push the craft beer boundaries in Buffalo and deserves a ton of credit for what he’s accomplished.

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Mike Shatzel at Blue Monk

 

I continue to be amazed at how kind and welcoming the Buffalo beer community is to me.

I’ve also learned a great deal from fellow bloggers Michael Chelus and Erik Wollschlager. I’ve gained a deep appreciation for blogging and how hard these people work. I recall contacting Michael Chelus, the Nittany Epicurean, and asking for his advice as I was launching my blog. I still remember his solid guidance of , “stay true to what you want to do, and be happy doing it.”

In April of 2015, four months after starting my blog, I was contacted by Willard Brooks, President of the Buffalo Niagara Brewer’s Association. Willard asked if I would be interested in writing a “science of beer series” for Artvoice. This was important to me for reasons of visibility and validity, and seeing my science articles published in Artvoice was unexpected but awesome. My first Artvoice article was on “Beerology” and can be viewed by clicking here.

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Willard Brooks at 42 North Brewing Co.

 

Last summer, I upgraded my website. I developed an appreciation of the intricate and meticulous art form known as “web design” from Matthew Luxtable of GraphicLux. With his help, I re-designed my web page. I’m still impressed with the layout, design, and implementation of my blog. This marked a big step in the “seriousness” of my blogging.

So with my shiny new website in place, I continued blogging, visiting breweries, and meeting people.

Around this time another person changed the way I did reviews of beer businesses. I walked into Crabapples and told Peter Orfanos I was going to do a write-up on his place. Instead of supplying me with a few quotes, he said “Why don’t we go out to dinner and talk more?” This was a change in the way I had been operating. My write-up on Crabapples remains in the top 5 for total views. Having dinner with Brewmaster Pete has shaped the way I conduct interviews.

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Brewmaster Pete at Crabapples.

 

I now make it a priority to spend time understanding the people behind the beer.

Armed with the knowledge that people really drive the beer industry, I sought to meet more people. Brewers to be precise. I have yet to meet a brewer I don’t like. Buffalo has a fun bunch of brewers, and also some of the most intelligent. I will always remember a discussion I had with Chris Herr, Brewmaster of Pearl Street Grill & Brewery and Pan American Grill & Brewery, about alpha acids in beer. Chris remains one of my most trusted resources to tap for beer knowledge.

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Chris Herr brewing at Pearl Street Grill & Brewery

 

And there again on my beer trajectory was Ethan Cox. After a few pings back and forth from our initial meeting at America on Tap in January, we finally had “a talk” at The Snow release party at Community Beer Works. He asked me if I knew anything about quality assessment and quality control of beer.

Ethan Cox is always one step ahead. Delightfully so.

I began consulting with Ethan about the potential of using my education and experience in the laboratory to help support beer quality in Buffalo. This work is in the preliminary stages, but I think it’s safe to say that I will have some role in aiding and supporting Buffalo brewers. And I’m really excited about that opportunity.

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Ethan Cox at Community Beer Works

 

And again I was the benefactor of Ethan’s influence. The Buffalo News had approached Ethan about a beer correspondent. They were looking for someone who was plugged into the scene and could write weekly columns about beer happenings in Buffalo. In October of last year, Andrew Galarneau from the Buffalo News contacted me and asked if I would be interested in this endeavor. I didn’t hesitate and I have been writing weekly columns ever since. My writing can be found here: http://buffalo.com/author/kwise/

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Caricature of Andrew Galarneau from the Buffalo News

 

Andrew has been instrumental is guiding my electronic pen and instructing me in journalism. I remember Andrew’s distinct words of ,”We don’t want any fanboy gushing!” Well, shit! That’s pretty much how I feel about beer. But I’ve been working on toning down my zeal and stating facts. I appreciate Andrew’s anti-unctuous and blunt interactions.

So what about my original goal of free beer? Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed a free beer here and there. That has definitely happened. But that beer always comes with responsibility. And it should. A year ago, I never envisioned the duty, and responsbility, that comes with being a beer blogger.

A beer to me represents a story. A person, a place, a recipe… a story.

A beer is a creation designed by a person. Ok, scientifically speaking a beer is malt sugar turned into alcohol by yeast with hops added for balance. But someone has to choose what malt, what hops, and what yeast to use. Why did they make that particular beer? Why did they choose that particular hop? Why did they name the beer so?

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Tim Herzog of Flying Bison Brewing Company

 

So when someone gives me a beer, free or otherwise, I want to KNOW the story behind that beer.

It’s my responsibility to support the beer artistry in Buffalo.

I’m sorry I could not mention more of you in this article, but you are all important to me. I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring. This plans to be a very exciting year. I want to thank you all from the bottom of my beer glass. Thank you all for reading my reviews, linking my pages, liking my posts, and joining my journey in beer and science.

Cheers!

Kevin Wise

 

About Buffalo Beer Biochemist

Buffalo Beer Biochemist

Born and raised in Western New York. Ph.D. in Biochemistry. Professor of Microbiology and Chemistry. And lover of beer.

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