NAB to Open Labatt-Branded Innovation Brewery in Buffalo

Labatt USA is strengthening its ties to the city of Buffalo.

Rochester, N.Y.-based North American Breweries (NAB), which owns the exclusive import rights to the Labatt brand in the United States, announced Wednesday plans to open a Labatt-branded pilot brewery and restaurant in partnership with Pegula Sports and Entertainment (PSE) — the parent company of the NFL’s Bills and the NHL’s Sabres.

PSE purchased a 79,030 sq. ft., 98-year-old former manufacturing plant in the city’s Cobblestone District for $7 million in February. Plans call for the project, dubbed 79 Perry, to feature mixed-use retail, commercial and residential space.

Labatt USA will become the anchor tenant, and relocate its headquarters and 56 employees to the new space in July, 2018. The pilot brewery and restaurant, known as the John Labatt Project, is slated to open on the building’s ground floor a couple of months later.

The estimated cost of the project as well as the size of the pilot brewing system are still unknown, a Labatt USA official told Brewbound.

“It’s early in the process,” said Glen Tibbits, the general manager of Labatt USA. “It’s going to take us some time to figure that side of it out.”

The innovation brewery — Labatt USA’s first — will allow his company to experiment with different flavors and styles that will potentially see national release, Tibbits said.

“It’s a built-in, dynamic, adaptive consumer-research experience,” he said.

Feedback from consumers will determine the direction of future Labatt USA releases, Tibbits said.

“We need to learn from consumers where they’ll allow us to go. That’s the whole purpose that we want to have a dialogue,” he said. “Beer drinkers have kind of put us into a framework, and I think the only way to open up that aperture on the framework is to try new things. They will be the judge on whether a new style is acceptable from a brand perspective.”

Tibbits said the brewpub’s brewing philosophy has yet to be determined, but he envisions much of it being driven by the facility’s yet-to-be-named brewmaster.

Labatt USA is in the beginning stages of identifying a brewmaster to lead the project, and the company will consider candidates from the Genesee, Pyramid, Magic Hat and Portland Brewing companies also owned by NAB.

“We want a creative, innovative brewmaster to be in there,” Tibbits said. “Ultimately, we think the real value is in allowing that brewmaster to create and be imaginative and do their thing.”

Still, Tibbits believes there’s a lot of runway left in its backyard of styles.

“The universe with beer is so expansive that I think that we could have a lot of success and a lot of fun playing in our immediate playground,” he said. “There’s just so much to explore, text and try.”

Labatt started in Canada in 1847, and the company has imported beer into the United States since 1951. As part of the $52 billion merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev in 2008, the multinational beermaker divested Labatt’s U.S. business to NAB (The Canadian Labatt is still owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev). NAB is currently owned by Florida Ice & Farm Co.

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