If you’re in the market for a new tailgating beer, Community Beer Works, Thin Man Brewery, and Big Ditch Brewing Company have you covered with a new trio of Buffalo Bills-themed brews, all of which are now available on draft and in cans. Thin Man Brewery’s Pills Mafia and CBW’s Let’s Go Pils, both pilsners, and Big Ditch’s Make Me Wanna Stout are the perfect accompaniment to watching rookie sensation Josh Allen (depending on the Sunday) quarterback our beloved Bills to a win week after week – maybe.
And better yet, beyond the wonderment of fresh, locally brewed easy drinkers, is that when you partake in these beverages, you’ll be doing your part to give back. For Pills Mafia, Thin Man has partnered with Pancho Billa, a face of the Bills Mafia, and his family of charities, and CBW is working with 26Shirts and the Andrew Reed Foundation with Let’s Go Pils.
Pills Mafia x Thin Man Brewery
Pills Mafia, an updated version of Thin Man’s Buffalo Pills, is a 4.9% German Pilsner brewed for tailgating and/or watching the Buffalo Bills from the confines of your couch. Peter Cahlstadt designed the can art, which features images of Pancho Billa, famed streaker Tristan Lambright and a member of the Bills Mafia plunging through a table. Head Brewer Rudy Watkins says that Pills Mafia was actually born out of a joke stemming from their house pilsner, Buffalo Pills.
“For the last year or year and a half, we have been running with Buffalo Pills as our house pilsner and shortly after its release we [jokingly] said what if we called it Pills Mafia,” he says. “So, originally it was a fun joke, but then eventually we started thinking about doing it seriously, so we reached out to the Bills Mafia guys and talked to them about it, presented the idea to them and what we could possibly do with it, and it just snowballed from there.”
Thin Man owner Mike Shatzel says that the brewery nearly didn’t move forward with Pills Mafia because Buffalo Pills was selling so well for them.
“I came up with Pills Mafia, but Buffalo Pills was selling well and we were not sure that we wanted to mess with that,” Shatzel says. “After talking to many people over a good period of time, everyone seemed way more into the Pills Mafia name over Buffalo Pills.”
A portion of proceeds will benefit Pancho Billa’s foundations including Fans Against Child Abuse, Fans Against Violence, NFL and MLB Go Gold for Kids Cancer, and his personal cancer relief fund. Billa, aka Ezra Castro, if you didn’t already know, is a massive Bills fan who was diagnosed with stage four cancer and is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Billa was on hand at this year’s NFL Draft to announce the Bills third round draft pick (Stanford’s Harrison Phillips) after a social media groundswell. And in an ironic twist, Billa does not drink. “I don’t drink beer at all,” he says. “I never have my entire life. My mom was shocked to hear I was going to be on a beer can, but her response was really, ‘what’s next?”
“Number one, it’s an awful lot of fun,” Watkins says of the impotence behind the launch of Pills Mafia, “and number two, it allows us to help out Pancho Billa with a portion of the proceeds, which will go to his charities. So that’s a super fun thing for us to be able to do.”
Shatzel says that he wishes the brewery could facilitate all of the requests for cans of Pills Mafia from around the country they have received already.
“[Thin Man’s] Josh Mullin, who had been discussing the beer with some Bills Mafia people, reached out to Pancho and he loved the idea,” Shatzel adds. “Helping out Pancho in his situation seemed like the right thing to do. The social media response has been great and we wish we could keep up with all the can requests from around the country.”
Pancho Billa says that he was blown away when Thin Man first reached out to him to request putting his image on the can art of Pills Mafia. He adds that he didn’t agree to lend his likeness to Pills Mafia just because of the charitable donations; that part was just a nice bonus.
“After Thin Man reached out to me, I had a ‘mom, look I’m on a beer can’ type moment,” Billa says. “I really give credit to all of the Billa Mafia so I’m happy Thin Man was able to incorporate a lot of the other famous Bills Mafia images on the can. I was excited for the opportunity. Ever since I’ve been Pancho Billa, I’ve always been involved with some type of charity. There’s not one certain charity, I like to pass around the love. I’ve worked with charities for children’s cancer, poverty, homes for kids, school for kids, I just try to mix it up. It felt good that they were opening it up to me.”
“I know how to raise money on my own, but when there is a big company like Thin Man willing to help, and when the city of Buffalo and the fans get involved, they are helping me help others and that means the world to me. Some of the proceeds will be used to help fund a peewee football team in Mexico that wears the Buffalo Bills logo. Some of this money will be used for new helmets, jerseys and practice equipment. I’m trying to help build the Bills Mafia in Mexico even bigger!”
Pancho also has a few choice words for every member of the Bills Mafia. “Every time they take a sip [of Pilla Mafia], I want them to know that they are helping me help someone else. With every can purchased, they are helping somebody. Like Jim Kelly says, ‘for a better tomorrow.’ It’s a family thing. I really appreciate it and I hope they sell out of these cans. The more, the merrier. I don’t know how I’ll ever repay the Bills Mafia for all of their support. I thank God every night for their support.”
Let’s Go Pils x Community Beer Works
Much in the same communal spirit, Community Beer Works has launched their own Bills-inspired pilsner, Let’s Go Pils. Watkins says that the two breweries even tried working together for a joint release of their beers, but unfortunately could not work out the logistics. “We were hoping to do a duel release of our beers, but the stars did not align,” he says.
Let’s Go Pils is refreshingly light and crisp with a subtle dank citrus hop aroma. The brewery has partnered with 26Shirts in an effort to support causes and organizations vital to the Bills Mafia, including the Andre Reed Foundation. A portion of every sale will be donated to foundation’s new program, “Read with Reed 83.” The reading program aims to support educational efforts in Boys & Girls Clubs across the country with the goal to encourage kids to read at least 30 minutes a day. The program will launch in October, with approximately $.83 cents of each case sold going towards it.
“I was a club kid and made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Reed says. “Now I represent what they stand for and I know with reading each underprivileged kid can do the same. Reading is a way out. It’s my new legacy, and commitment to kids like me, to make reading cool again by using pro athletes and the game of football.”
CBW Co-Owner Chris Smith adds that the partnership with Del Reid and 26Shirts allows them to connect with their customers on a more personal level.
“We want people to think of local beer when they have a broad array of choices on the market. Our success is partially explained by the personal connection people have felt with our brewery, our beer, and our CBW family,” he says. “Working together with 26Shirts and the #Fambase has given us an opportunity to create a personal connection with a whole new level of customers. Hopefully, they’ll enjoy the beer and consider the local option next time they’re at the store or at a local pub.”
Smith adds that with Let’s Go Pils they were looking for to introduce themselves to a broader audience locally. “We’re kind of one of the best breweries no one has ever heard of,” he says. “We’ve worked with Del and 26Shirts before, and wanted to find a way to celebrate the Bills Mafia. They’ve raised over $500,000 for local people in need and charities and that lines up really well with what we do. What Del has created is impressive and we’re really proud to be a part of it.” Smith, a lifelong Bills fan, says that the CBW team came up with the idea for Let’s Go Pils while sitting around the office. “I think we’re starting to see a bigger and better marriage between football fans and local beer drinkers.”
“The pilsner style is a more delicate beer,” Smith adds. “It takes quality brewers to make quality beer. I judge a lot of breweries based on the quality of their pilsners. It’s about us trying to find a space in the pilsner market for ourselves with a high-quality beer that’s approachable for people.”
Make Me Wanna Stout x Big Ditch Brewing
Big Ditch also recently made the decision to can their own Bills-themed brew, Make Me Wanna Stout, a coffee and cream stout brewed with Revolution coffee beans from Public Espresso. The beer features a light roast from the roasted barley, a light sweet finish from the milk sugar, and a creamy body from the oatmeal.
Big Ditch owner Matt Kahn says that the beer should provide a pick-me-up for beer drinkers at their next tailgate.
“The idea of drinking a coffee beer on mornings before Bills games sort of made sense to us – sort of a pregame boost, if you will – and with the amount of coffee in this beer, it definitely achieves that goal,” Kahn says. “We just thought this was a cool name and would appeal to (dark) beer drinkers, coffee drinkers, and Bills fans alike.”
Each beer can be purchased their respective brewery taproom (in 4-pack / 6-pack cans and on draft) and throughout Buffalo wherever great beer is sold.