When Western New York breweries first started opening their tasting rooms to the public, they were the kind of industrial spaces that felt more suited to a game of cornhole with the bros than sitting down for a light lunch with the kiddos.
However, the newly-opened Woodcock Brothers Brewery on Niagara falls Boulevard in North Tonawanda shows how many newer WNY tasting rooms are more focused on family-friendly food and service, while the breweries they are attached to still churn out quality beer.
It’s hard to even call the new Woodcock Brothers location a tasting room. It feels more like a bar-restaurant that happens to have massive brewing tanks along one wall. It’s definitely more Pearl Street than it is Resurgence, and judging by the initial response — that’s a good thing.
Crowds on opening weekend coursed throughout the new brewery, which is located in the enormous, old Wurlitzer Building complex. Despite the surging crowd and people muscling their way toward spots at the bar like basketball players lunging at flying rebounds, service remained on-point, delivering orders quickly and with a smile.
“I think your staff’s attitude starts at the top,” co-owner Mark Woodcock told us. “If (the staff) see (ownership) walking around, smiling and thanking them for what they do, it gives them a better work environment and they’re going to pass that on to the customer.”
The new brewery and restaurant had a contemporary industrial feel, that was clean and even kid-friendly. Mark Woodcock works his “day job” in construction and he told us there were a few small challenges in getting the space ready.
“Well, our (original) location in Wilson was challenging because it was a very, very old building in a certain amount of disrepair,” he said. “This building is not in disrepair, but it’s an older building and it’s built like a fortress. So the challenges are: You’re installing all new plumbing, saw-cutting up floors and things like that. It took a little while, but we’re in construction, it’s what we do, so it’s nothing that surprised us.”
Of course, this is a brewery first and foremost. On our visit, we sampled 6 beers.Blood Orange Mango Berliner Weiss or B.O.M.B. (juicy, tangy with a solid malt finish), Salted Coffee Caramel Porter (half-dessert, half-savory) and Sweet, Sweet Haze IPA (pithy, juicy, yet dry) were all newer styles. Red Head Amber Ale (trad flavors, like a old friend), Niagara Lager (crisp, crushable) and Safety Briefing Oatmeal Brown Ale (medium-weight malty goodness) were solid takes on classic styles.
Woodcock told us that the new brewery will put a heavy focus on experimental beers moving forward, while classic styles will mostly be brewed at the original Woodcock Brothers location in Wilson.
“We’re gonna try all sorts of stuff,” he said. “There’s nothing we won’t try within reason. We’re only held back by our lack of imagination. That’s what’s gonna be fun about this plant. We’re gonna do something new all the time, and if it sticks, we keep it and if it doesn’t we move on to the next.”
The food menu listed the kind of WNY pub grub you’ve come to expect, including pizza, wings, burgers, poutine and apps like beer-braised mussels. We enjoyed the raclette poutine, a cheese bomb with prosciutto and potato wedges. We also had to report on the wings: They were solid.
While the new brewery impressed on opening weekend, Woodcock told us that there’s more to come. Once the cold weather breaks, wrought iron gates will be installed in the alley just outside the brewery’s entrance to create an outdoor beer garden with table seating, music and regular events.
This stretch of Niagara Falls Boulevard was has been crying out for some kind of entertainment option ever since Melody Fair closed its door, and it looks like craft beer and music at the new Woodcock Brothers location will more than fit the bill.
Woodcock Brothers Brewing Company
908 Niagara Falls Blvd, North Tonawanda, NY 14120
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday noon – 8 p.m.