Friday, March 20, 2009


Western NY had many small local breweries in the 20th century. One of the last old timers within the City of Buffalo was the Iroquois Brewery.

I guess its product was a “locabeer.” Some of its natural ingredients weren’t local, of course. Good hops might have come from Czechoslovakia, the Willamette Valley in Oregon, or going back a few years, even from the region around Malone, NY. Floy Hyde’s book claims a North Country origin for the term “hopping mad." It seems that pickers put the leafy clusters of hops in large baskets and were paid by volume; the picker had to fill the basket to get full pay for it. If the picker wasn't careful in handling his basket - perhaps setting it down a bit roughly at a rest break - his easily compressible load would settle, and he'd have to return to the fields to top off his basket, making him hopping mad.

If the Iroquois hops weren't local, certainly the Lake Erie water was. And the brew makers were recruited from "Kaisertown,"a nearby German neighborhood. Despite the brewery's attempts to achieve a wider regional distribution, most of its product probably washed down Buffalo's ubiquitous fish fries, home cooked meals, and summertime picnic fare. And in neighborhood saloons it was a staple whistle wetter for men on their way home from long shifts in mills and factories.

My Dad really enjoyed “Erie” beer as it was sometimes called; he said it reminded him of the good Canadian beers he'd drink when we'd visit attractions like Crystal Beach just over the Peace Bridge. But I was never much of a fan. "Never" ended, however, on the day I sampled the beer super fresh right at the brewery.

During my college days in the late 60s, the "legal age" was 18. Beer was centrally located in campus social events. One year our History Club booked a trip to the brewery, ostensibly to see how beer was made, listen to the old German workers, and just take it all in. I recall our amazement and jealousy when we learned that the taps located all around the building were there to facilitate the workers' time honored tradition of "quality control."

Well, we really did enjoy taking all that in. But what made these visits so enticing was the opportunity to sit in the “Rat” after the tour and freely sample the Iroquois product with pretzels and player piano favorites served up by pretty young ladies in costume. Honestly, I was shocked by the difference in the bottled product Dad drank at home and the ambrosia served fresh right there on the corner of Pratt and William Streets. That recollection is certainly the most vivid of the few I've retained from Junior year.

I wonder whether the locavore movement will help bring locabeer back. Buffalo currently has one micro brewery, and its suburbs have several more producing a variety of tasty elixirs. I hope they thrive and prosper. But I miss the rathskeller and singing along with my beerily cheery friends as By The Light Of The Silvery Moon rolled melodiously from the player piano.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

When Manhattan Came To Niagara Falls

"Model City," read the street sign.

Back in 1996, after being snowed out of our southern tier grouse country again, I was determined to find a release club where I could extend the season for my young American Water Spaniel “Bean.” That’s why I found myself driving down back roads in northern Erie and Niagara counties on that particular Sunday in February.

It was only lately that I began wondering about that street sign. “Model City” is a pretty grand designation for a quarter mile of country road sporting a post office at one end and a dump at the other.

When I Googled “Model City” the other day, this website covered it nicely in a paragraph or two. But as the story unfolded, Model City became a minor historical sideshow while the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works became its unfortunate and enduring focus. After reading the entire piece, I Googled "LOOW," and found several related websites. This one provides a strong personal perspective.

It's beyond sobering to read about the toxic mess still on and beneath local ground. But like Oscar Wilde, “I am not young enough to know everything.” I suspect that local residents were proud of their contributions to the war effort against enemies they believed were devils incarnate. American families lost more than 400,000 brothers, husbands and sons in WW II. My Mom had the chance to meet and date my Dad only after her fiancee, pilot Richard S., was shot down over the Pacific in his B-25 and later killed by the Japanese.

Every family that suffered such a painful, personal loss must have felt a linkage to and urgency for the war effort that would have been difficult to trump with "environmental concerns," had that even been a popular term in the 1940s. The websites' authors seem to have trouble understanding this. I'm reminded of what Anonymous said: "When you're up to you ass in alligators, it's real hard to remember that you're there to drain the swamp."

Cold Duck readers are invited to decide for themselves.