The Single Hop Spirit That's Bringing Two Worlds Together

A bottle of liquor surrounded by hops.
Lockhouse Distillery & Bar collaborated with the region's prominent brewing community to create a spirit that will please beer and spirits lovers alike. Photos by Erik Wollschlager.

The once bleak and barren shores of the Buffalo River have had new life breathed into them. The city owes a debt of gratitude to the renewed brewing and distilling industry. A wonderful homage to the rich history of the Queen City, unique establishments like Lockhouse Distillery & Bar are drawing locals and tourists alike.

Lockhouse, and its distillery manager Cory Muscato, understand that Buffalo is the City of Good Neighbors. Buffalo is known for its collaborative nature, and Muscato had this spirit in mind when he began to design the distillery's first autumn season product. He realized that cultivating an ever-growing list of creative products is great, but getting together with six of your friends to create a series of one-of-a-kind spirits is far better.

On an unseasonably warm Buffalo afternoon, with the sun cascading through the open bay door of Lockhouse Distillery’s main entrance, Muscato pulled up a barrel. Echoes of mid-90s hip-hop rang through the production area as he sat down to talk about the nuances of their line of hopped spirits, and how it will bring beer drinkers and cocktail lovers together in a perfect marriage of life’s greatest things.

The idea for the single hopped spirit began when Muscato got together with Brian Kirchmyer, who is the brewer at Old First Ward Brewery in South Buffalo. OFW held a Hopfest, showcasing the region’s best hoppy beers. Kirchmyer extended an invitation to Lockhouse. “This primary concept was more of an infusion,” Muscato says. “We adulterated it with a gratuitous amount of hops. It was really a lot of hops.”

Despite using fresh whole cone hops, the spirit is surprisingly translucent. Lockhouse filters their products using only a cheesecloth. “The extra fine cheesecloth removes 98% of the particulates, but with such an intense infusion,” Muscato says. “I was glad that there wasn’t the slightest cloud to the base infusion.”

The positive response from festival patrons prompted Muscato to take his experiment to the next level. Using whole cone hops harvested from Willet Hop and Grain, as well as Niagara Malt and Hops, he collaborated with five other Western New York breweries: Big Ditch Brewing, Hamburg Brewing Company, New York Beer Project, Resurgence Brewing Co., Thin Man Brewing, and of course, Kirchmyer and Old First Ward. Staff from the breweries worked with Lockhouse to create six different batches of the single-hopped spirit. “Each batch showcases the qualities and characteristics of one locally-grown hop variety,” Muscato explains. “We wanted to make sure we shared the love.”

Incorporating the brewing community was ideal because Buffalo’s recent brewery explosion has turned a lot of local beer drinkers onto IPAs. The city’s best brewers have been producing award-winning pale ales that rival well-known national beers. In this same way, Lockhouse saw an opportunity give those masterful brewers the opportunity to expose their work to a new community of discerning consumers.

A cocktail in front of three glasses of Lockhouse Single Hop Spirit. The Single Hop Spirit is meant to bridge the gap between the beer and spirits crowds.

The intent for the collaborations was twofold. “The idea behind this product is to help introduce beer bars and craft beer consumers to the world of craft spirits in a way that they’re familiar with,” he says. “It’s also to introduce craft cocktail bars and their consumers to a new flavor, as well as new brewery brands that they might not be familiar with. It’s for both industries — craft spirits and craft beer, and at the same time, supporting New York state agriculture.

Muscato notes the importance of experiencing new flavors, and allowing craft beer and cocktail drinkers to identify what they like. “This is the reason people drink single-hopped beers — to showcase how a hop really works for them. There are a lot of people that love citra [hops], and there are those that hate citra … it’s important to be able to discern whether you like something or not before you use it with other products.”

While there are hopped liquors on the market (Corsair’s hopped bourbons, for example,) Lockhouse’s version is unique in many ways. Muscato tried several approaches before finalizing the process used in this series. “I tried using pellet hops. They’re cost effective and a lot more ergonomical. The batches we did with mosaic or amarillo pellet hops turned out… average at best,” he says, chuckling. “They have a lot more flavor and a lot more bitterness packed into a smaller packet, so it turned out to be a lot more aggressive."

“In our final process, we decided not to heat the hops up — everything we do with the hops in this spirit is post-distillation, so a lot of hops go into the spirit and macerate. They are then filtered out after 48 hours, which is really quick for maceration. With no heat, the whole cone hops don’t isomerize, so there is no bitterness. We’re getting all of the flavors, aromas, and oils from the cones, but we’re not breaking down the alpha acids, therefore limiting the bitterness.”

For craft beer lovers who search the country for the best IPAs, the single-hopped spirit is a treasure — especially when they encounter beer they may not enjoy. Simply drop in a shot of Lockhouse’s hopped concoction and there before you, you’ll find a delicious double IPA, showcasing your favorite hop flavor.

This spirit is also for those who don’t necessarily enjoy their beers with astronomical IBUs, as well. Muscato explains, “I urge those who don’t like IPAs to try this because it is a lot more approachable. It will not have all of the bitterness that you find in many IPAs. You might even find that it turns you on to IPAs in a different way!”

Buffalo was once a hub for beer and spirits. Once the Erie Canal connected Lake Erie to the Atlantic Ocean, the port city was a natural cradle for all harvested products, which includes the grain and hops necessary to produce good beer and good liquor. As was true in its history, Buffalo has once again risen to prosper, and the burgeoning market for craft consumption is largely responsible. Distilleries like Lockhouse, and the breweries Muscato and his team have collaborated with, have taken the city by the reins and their industry is once again steering Buffalo in the right direction.

As of October first, Lockhouse has expanded their distribution to 18 counties in New York, and reaching as far east as Syracuse. This seasonal spirit will be available in limited quantities throughout the distillery’s distribution network, and of course, in-house at Lockhouse Distillery and Bar. You can create your own delicious drink, or stop in for one of their signature cocktails — the Hoptail and the Hop-Tart.

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