My husband, Glenn, has long kept an antique version of a cold one, but until now I paid scant attention to this unopened bottle from a long-vanished Buffalo brewery. It was given to Glenn’s grandfather on the occasion of my father-in-law’s birth 100 years ago this spring. My husband is understandably proud of this heirloom from his grandfather, who arrived in the U.S. from then-Prussia while still an infant. While I cherish any family artifact, I’ve fretted about destabilizing fermentation or explosive properties latent in this one. Friends assure me that beer bottled for a century will be ultra-flat, its effervescence spent after a century in family basement rafters. My fears aren’t entirely groundless: The beer still bubbles beneath its dusty cap.
I’ve never been a beer drinker, though there’s nothing quite like it for quenching thirst on a hot summer day. There were some well-known Buffalo breweries while I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, and I recall my parents, who enjoyed beer throughout the year, making mock comparisons of the height of the froth in their respective Pilsener glasses, parked side by side before being raised to their lips.
After reading “Spirited Entrepreneurs” by Rebecca Rudell, I thought about Glenn’s vintage bottle and how it connected with Buffalo beer-making and its up-and-down history since the first local breweries arose in the early 19th century. Our 13 oz. bottle is from the Phoenix Brewery, renamed for the mythical bird after the earlier Ziegele Brewery was destroyed by fire in 1887. Remarkably, the Phoenix Brewery building still stands at the corner of Washington and Virginia streets, just steps away from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building rising downtown. Recently, the brewery was remodeled as loft-style, luxury apartments. The Phoenix name and the building’s suds-making past have been preserved for residents who are encouraged on the developer’s website to “enjoy a cold microbrew with friends” amid the historic ambiance.
The question has naturally arisen if we plan to open the 1917 bottle, perhaps on April 2, my father-in-law’s birthday. It’s my husband’s decision to make, of course. Right now, he’s inclined to keep the bottle capped and maybe pass it on to our kids, or give it to an archive for venerable brews (if such exists). Certainly, we wonder how the beer would taste if opened. Reactions from our friends suggest its flavor should remain a matter of conjecture. Whatever the decision, we plan to sample a libation from one of Buffalo’s fast-growing breweries described in Rudell’s article, while toasting our precious bottle that managed to survive a century of storage and achieve a comeback of its own.
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