We love craft beer in Buffalo and there are a lot of local breweries that make great suds. However, it’s difficult to say if our local craft beer scene is more sophisticated than scenes in other cities.
At the new Magic Bear Beer Cellar on the fringe of Larkinville, owner Craig Altobello is looking to make us smarter, more sophisticated drinkers of craft beer.
Altobello recently earned his certified cicerone certification, which essentially makes him a sommelier for beer. With some extra time on his hands thanks to the pandemic, Altobello studied for months to pass the four-hour cicerone exam, which included questions on the history of brewing and a tasting exam.
On a recent phone call with us, Altobello said his big takeaway from the grueling certification process was an approach to pairing food with beer.
“If you have a really good beer and a really good dish, those are two good things on their own,” he said. “But if the pairing is also very good, you’ve created something that adds to the experience of eating and drinking.”
While you might like a crisp lager or hoppy IPA with your dinner, Altobello said he finds saisons tend to be the most versatile when it comes to food pairing.
“A saison has malty notes that match with roasted food, but it can also match with lighter foods if a little bit of wheat is added to the grain bill,” he said. “But the yeast in a saison gives it funky, fruity and peppery notes, all of which pair nicely with foods that have a rich sauce or dressing.”
Saisons may go great with beer, but walk into your local Consumer’s Beverage or beer department at Wegmans, and you’d be hard pressed to find many saisons. Thankfully, that’s likely to change.
“I recently took a Zoom class from Untappd and they said saisons are becoming more popular,” he said. “You’re going to see a lot of breweries doing saisons in the coming year.”
If you’re looking to learn more about beer pairings, you should head over to Magic Bear. Not only will you be likely to pick Altobello’s brain, he is also planning on hosting some pairing events once COVID rules are relaxed. The craft beer store and taproom also has a number of cheeses, meats and other snacks available. Beer is available to drink on-premises or take to-go at discounted prices.
Altobello said he’s planning on bringing in some unique breweries for tap takeover events. Throughout the pandemic, Altobello drove across the state making connections and getting direct distribution from some of the smaller New York breweries.
“You can find a few of these breweries in some other local places, but very few are getting these breweries because they’re self-distributed,” he said. “I do like the bigger distributors, and they have some great reps. But you’re not getting the kind of intimate connection with the brewery that you get through self-distribution.
“You’re not going to find people more passionate about what they do than the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. Same with the brewer. They’re all making an artisanal product, whether it’s a loaf of bread or a glass of beer, and they’re invested in making the best product possible. And I want to drink the best possible.”
Opening Hours (subject to change): Tuesday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. – 10 p.m., Friday 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Monday CLOSED
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