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Craig Peterson isn't a master brewer. As the founder of Buffalo Water Brewing Co., he likes beer just as much, if not more, than the next guy. Peterson's area of expertise, however, is in marketing -- he's the CEO of Zigman Joseph Stephenson Inc. -- and when creating his brewery and first craft beer, Bison Blonde Lager, he couldn't help but think in campaign terms.
"It started with the name, which was a gimme, given our location at the intersection of Water and Buffalo Streets," he says. (The company has no association with Water Buffalo restaurant, 249 N. Water St.)
He initially thought to make a bottled water product, an area in which he has a background. But when a client of his, a member of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, told him that Buffalo wings are the number one finger food in the United States, a light bulb turned on.
"We decided to make a beer that goes well with American spicy food, use an animal as our logo and market the hell out of it," he says.
Market it, he did, and there's little doubt that Peterson knows how to get a beer drinker's attention.
His office on the third floor of the Renaissance Building, 309 N. Water St., pops with colorful posters shouting his racy slogans -- "Slam a blonde tonight" and "This blonde goes down easy."
The next step was brewing the beer, but, of course, not just any beer goes with Buffalo wings.
"We needed one that adhered to Bavarian purity law, which goes back 500 years," he says. "You can only use water, barley, yeast and hops. Commercial beers add corn syrups and sugars and to a craft micro brewery, that's a serious no-no. So we only use the four products in our beer."
Peterson decided on a light, pale lager with a 4.5 percent alcohol content -- something he considers "drinkable" and not to hoppy.
"The trend with a lot of micro brewers has been that they are making beers for themselves to impress the other craft brewers and to impress the hop heads."
A hop head, he says is a 20-something with a beer mantra that says, "The darker and higher alcohol content, the better."
"That's not my target audience," says Peterson, who is in his early 40s. "A guy my age can't have two or three of those at the bar after work. But you can have a couple of Bison Blondes, so the profile of the beer is that it goes down really easy. Bartenders call it 'poundable,' and even my investors, who are of an older demographic, agree."
Buffalo Water beer is brewed at Milwaukee Brewing Company's Walker's Point brewery, 613 S. 2nd St., which is owned and operated by Milwaukee Ale House owner Jim McCabe.
Bison Blonde made its debut at the Milwaukee Ale House in late November 2007, but Peterson stresses that it is not an Ale House beer -- it's just contracted through McCabe at his full-production facility. Milwaukeeans can also find Bison Blonde at Just Art's Saloon, 181 S. 2nd St., and soon at Pizza Man, 1800 E. North Ave., and Dairyland Greyhound Park.
Buffalo Water's next brew is a nutty ale, tentatively named Horny Buffalo. "We're playing with the name and trying to figure out how many guys would go up to the bar and order a Horny Buffalo," Peterson says. He hopes to locally launch the brown ale in spring and his White Buffalo, a wheat beer, in summer.
After Wisconsin, Peterson has plans to take on the country.
"When you look at our product, it's not Wisconsin-specific. This is a national label. To us, the holy grail is the state of New York."
Not only is Buffalo, New York the birthplace of the Buffalo wing and home to the famed Anchor Bar, but every Labor Day weekend is also the National Buffalo Wing Festival, which Peterson says draws a million people in two days.
His nation-wide ambition is so surprise. When asked if he wants to be the next Lakefront Brewing Co., he replies, "We want to be the next Sam Adams."
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”