Matt Kahn – Big Ditch Brewing Company

When Big Ditch began brewing in 2014 at their facility on the corner of East Huron and Ellicott, they were one of maybe three breweries playing around with micro brews within the city limits. Today there are over twenty brewing operations in the Greater Buffalo Area, all of which have given us the inspiration to start a project of our own. The first episode of the podcast, recorded on my iPhone, featured Big Ditch.

It only felt natural for them to be our first featured brewery because we’ve gotten a lot of good content from researching the names of their beers; that week we drank their Low Bridge hoppy golden ale. When we released that episode, we tagged the brewery on all of our social media. I believe it was only a day or so later that they liked our post and reached out telling us that they heard the episode, enjoyed it, and that if we needed any help in the future they’d be happy to assist us. To say the least, we were both excited. We released an episode of the podcast and discussed one of our favorite breweries in the area and they heard it! Personally though, the excitement quickly turned to anxiety and bit of embarrassment. Oh no, we released an episode of the podcast and discussed one of our favorite breweries in the area and they heard it.

Of course, as time has gone on and we’ve released more installments of Drinking Points, the confidence level has gone up. With that, the amount of editing Haley does to eliminate “uh”, “um”, and long pauses has decreased to a point where you’re pretty close to hearing the raw material. Along with more confidence and less editing, it doesn’t make us want to crawl into a whole when hearing our recorded voices anymore. So with all of that, and eleven episodes under our belt, we went in to episode twelve ready to revisit Big Ditch Brewing Company. That episode was a lot of fun to record. I think I can speak for the both of us when I say that Erie Canal research is second only to learning more about the Pan American Exposition. We were able to dig deeper (canal humor) into the names of some of the most popular Big Ditch beers. I also found the information referring to a couple of letters sent back and forth between DeWitt Clinton and Thomas Jefferson about a beef they had about the logistics of the Erie Canal which before being filled with water and bringing prosperity to the city of Buffalo, was commonly referred to as “Clinton’s Folly”, “Clinton’s Big Ditch”, or just “The Big Ditch”. Again, it wasn’t long after the episode’s release that Big Ditch reached out to us again on social media, this time with an invite to record at the facility. Needless to say, we accepted.

Recently we found out that it wasn’t a member of the social media or marketing team that reached out to us on Twitter. It was Matt, President and Co-Founder of Big Ditch Brewing Company. Last Thursday we had the pleasure of meeting him, and experiencing the passion for the beer and our city first hand.

We began the evening with a tour of the building. Knowing next to nothing about the brewing process or the components necessary for beer production it’s hard not to begin with: Everything was very big, and very shiny. And although this is the first installment of this blog, it wasn’t actually our first time checking out the behind the scenes aspect of a brewery; plus it’s becoming increasingly popular to have a taproom and seating area that allows for complete transparency and a view into the brewing process. So with some experience with at least seeing the components before, and with hearing a lot of the same words while on tours, I could put the pieces together in my own mind and understand the scale at which Big Ditch is operating. Once we finished poking around the brewing area, we moved on to the canning line. Brewing began in 2014, the taproom opened a year later, and they started canning their beer a year after that in 2016. There’s a few moving parts, plus a couple of guys wiping cans dry and gluing boxes of beer closed. The process isn’t a complicated one, but complexity does reside inside the freshly sealed cans. When we were visiting, Hayburner IPA was being packaged, and the distributor was parked out back, ready to load pallet after pallet on to the truck to be shipped throughout our area.

After the tour, we headed back upstairs to the days recording spot. The “Canal Room” really was a perfect fit for us to record in, scattered with different photos of the canal and various railroads taken during the early 1900’s. The space had a perfect blend of rustic history and conference room. We sat opposite the canal photos to soak in some final inspiration, and next to a screen mounted on the wall that I’d have to guess was in the 60+ inch range. Haley mentioned that she wished we had a slideshow presentation to show off just to see the screen in action. Matt informed us that the screen is great for fantasy football draft parties. It was reassuring that this room was a place for work and play; now it was time to do some work.

I was finally able to ask the question that had me wondering since I’d had my first Hayburner; how did they go from being a brewery based in Buffalo, to a brewery based on Buffalo? Matt said that they wanted to stray from Buffalo this, or Buffalo that; and avoid referencing Queen City or Nickel City. They stumbled across the “Big Ditch” reference when doing some research about prosperous times in the city’s history and they saw the opportunity for naming their beers with some level of Erie Canal connection. As Matt told us, “We weren’t Erie Canal buffs who opened a brewery you know. We love beer and we love Buffalo.” Haley made a great point that naming the brewery after the Erie Canal doesn’t limit Big Ditch to being a Buffalo company either, allowing craft beer enthusiasts from across New York State to appreciate not only the beer that flows from Big Ditch, but the history as well.

While the Erie Canal is as huge source of inspiration when it comes to giving the beers their names, when we visited with Matt, Haley and I indulged in two brews that showcase different aspects of Buffalo. There was Electric District Pils, a German style Pilsner named after the area of the city where Big Ditch Brewing Company calls home; and Beautiful River, a Farmhouse Saison that gets its name from a bit of lore surrounding the origin of the city of Buffalo’s name. While Haley and I dig deeper on the “Beautiful River” story in Episode 18, recorded at the brewery; during the Q&A with Matt, he helped us understand how they put their own twist on two classic beer styles like a German Pilsner and a Belgian Saison Ale. While a lot of beers within the same style use the same ingredients, even brewers using the same recipe can create two vastly different products. Matt made it clear that the process makes the beers what they are. “Everybody has little process tweaks that they do, and ways they like to do things, and that’s what makes every breweries’ beer unique.” And that’s true with both of the beers we drank, because at Big Ditch, Electric District Pils and Beautiful River are both dry hopped; where standard Pilsners and Saisons are not.

While the latter two styles aren’t typically dry hopped, IPAs always are. It’s how brewers match that hop forward flavor on your taste buds, with an equally fresh and hoppy aroma in the nose. And although we focused on the origin of the brewery, the history of the beers, and past works done in the brewing area; I had to try my luck at getting a peek into what we could expect in the future from Big Ditch. It appears that dry hopping will be a of great importance in the coming months at the brewery, with a release of a Double Dry Hopped Hayburner in the works. Matt says that the release date is looking like it will be sometime “hopefully probably” before the Fourth of July. I’d like to mention that that’s about as exact of an answer as you’ll get from anyone involved in brewing since the brewing process involves constant little tweaks, and a lot of patience for the unexpected. Brewing doesn’t always abide by deadlines or release dates; but if I can have a can of DDH Hayburner in hand even by the end of the summer, I’d love that.

Matt shared with us that peek into the future, as well as a glimpse into the past; the beginning of what we know now as Big Ditch. Matt also shared his space with us, allowing us the opportunity to be surrounded by Erie Canal history, and a view of the Electric Tower while recording the show. He showed a great amount of hospitality, a genuine interest in the topic of the podcast, and a cherry on top; he never let our glasses go empty. For all of that we couldn’t thank him enough. With his venture at Big Ditch, and ours at Drinking Points Podcast, we share the fact that we are both creators. And as a creator in Buffalo right now, there’s an energy that is, like the tower “that serves as a beacon for locating the brewery; Electric.

To hear the full recording of our interview with Matt, click here and become a patron!