Buffalo’s never been a city to shy away from a drink. From its bawdy Erie Canal days to its colorful brewing history and modern imbibing, every local hour can tend to be a good time for a Happy Hour.
But since Prohibition reigned in the early 1900s, Nickel City distilling had been dry until 2012. Loosened state laws on farm distilleries allowed craft spirits to flow and, eventually, welcome new distillers across Western New York. The missing piece was bourbon, which had never been made locally in the city’s history, despite the region’s abundance of homegrown mash ingredients.
Now, it’s available from a handful of locally born or based purveyors, and is ready to be appreciated by even the most exploratory bourbon palates.
“I think the bourbon category and the people who really enjoy it also enjoy [each brand’s] unique nuances,” says Jason Barrett, president and head distiller of Rochester-born Black Button, whose tasting room rests on Swan Street downtown. “If you enjoy these differences, the idea of looking for a locally made bourbon is the next logical step.”
And according to Barrett, this step can lead drinkers into unique experiences available in area tasting rooms. Here’s what you can find, and where.
Black Button: Four-Grain Bourbon Whiskey
$65 (750 ml)
Tasting room tips: Set inside the former Handlebar on Swan, the one-time bicycle-themed locale provides a fresh, naturally lit spot for visitors to get a taste of Button’s signature bourbon — comprised of 60 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, 11 percent malted barley, and a 9 percent nip of rye.
149 Swan St., Buffalo; blackbuttondistilling.com
Buffalo Distilling Co.: One Foot Cock Straight Bourbon Whiskey
$54 (750 ml)
Tasting room tips: Just down the street from the Food Truck Tuesday lunacy of Larkin Square, the brick-fronted bourbon bastion boasts local distilling roots back to the late 1800s, back before the city’s booze-making scene died in the grip of Prohibition. BDC reemerged to deliver Buffalo’s first bourbon ever (One Foot Cock Bourbon) in 2014. Now, it offers the noted straight selection as well.
860 Seneca St., Buffalo; bflodistilling.com
Niagara Craft Spirits: 1808 Gold Bourbon Whiskey
$52 (750 ml)
Tasting room tips: The intimate craft distiller is only open on Saturdays (noon to 6 p.m.) and Sundays (noon to 5 p.m.), but offers a warm space convenient for those looking to vary their vino intake on the Niagara Wine Trail. For those eager for a taste outside of Cambria, look for their stand at Elmwood’s Bidwell Market and North Tonawanda Farmers Market.
4408 Ridge Rd., Cambria; niagaracraftspirits.com
Tommyrotter: Napa Valley Heritage Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey
$79 (750 ml)
Tasting room tips: Located on the (from-downtown) approach to Larkin — and inside the fully revamped one-time home of paper box giant F.N. Burt Co. — the award-winning Seneca Street distiller provides pristine confines to taste its deliciously rich and fruit-noted bourbon, aged in Cabernet casks.
500 Seneca St., Buffalo; tommyrotter.com