Pittsburgh’s New Brewing Scene
by Bryan Kolesar
Last time around the mash tun here in PA, I shared all the brewing currently taking place within the city limits of Philadelphia. I’m happy to say that the only one I missed was the one that didn’t reply to any of my requests for information. None have opened since (what, how could that be possible?!) and the only one in planning that I overlooked is Lucky Cat Brewing, a project by Mike Scotese in conjunction with his Grey Lodge Pub.
Now, let’s swing out to the western part of the State to the second most populous city – Pittsburgh. A city with an east coast urban edge, but tempered with a dash of Midwestern sensibility; they won’t be referred to as such, though do sit at the doorstep to Ohio. They love their Steelers and Penguins and loathe the Browns and Flyers. They haven’t had an NBA team in decades, but rely on the Pitt men’s team to show up in the NCAA Division I tournament nearly each of the last 15 years, making it to the Elite Eight in 2009. And, if all you know of Pittsburgh beer is Iron City, well, you have a lot to catch up.
How does their current beer scene stack up? Funny you should ask. While Pittsburgh’s geographic boundary can be quite challenging to follow, those that are just across a river or in an adjacent neighborhood with a Pittsburgh mailing address don’t count here. Neither do any in the burgeoning brewing scenes in the river towns, of which there are many. Here’s an alphabetical rundown of what’s brewing in the ‘burgh. Like in the Philly-based column, there’s only one brewery missing here. A beer token for you if you can spot which one.
A quick shout-out to Chris Dilla for her assistance here in helping confirm a complete list. She was owner of the Bocktown Beer & Grill two locations that were holy grails for locally-brewed beer until its unfortunate closure nearly two years ago.
Across the Allegheny River from downtown in the Deutschtown neighborhood of the city’s North Side is where you’ll find Allegheny City Brewing. Co-owner Al Grasso was pleased to report that their newly acquired canning line by Cask should help them to begin self-distributing their canned offerings in February. In addition to nine draft lines in the tasting room, the recently turned 2-year-old brewery has debuted three new beers for the winter season – Vyncovats Winter Warmer (8.8%), Ward 3 Imperial Stout (8.5%), and Tallinn Barrel-Aged Smoked Porter (7.4%).
Want to know who else will be getting their cans out on the street soon? The iconic Church Brew Works (est. 1996) is aiming to have its canning operation up in time for next summer. Head Brewer Dan Yarnall recently tagged up with one of the younger area breweries, Mindful Brewing (just outside Pittsburgh to the south in Castle Shannon), to brew an Imperial Stout (9.2%) called S’mortal Combat with cocoa nibs, graham crackers, and marshmallows. Look for it in early 2019.
Cinderlands Beer Company celebrated its first anniversary in its first location (Lawrenceville) at the beginning of this month. Things are apparently going so well that they’ve already begun working on a second location, due in 2019. It will be located in the former Spaghetti Warehouse building in the city’s bustling Strip District neighborhood. Recently released were Midnight Ramble Raspberry Vanilla Milk Stout (8.5%) and Test Piece: Strata IPA (6%).
Couch Brewery opened in April 2017 in the Larimer neighborhood and continues to provide its growing customer base with a well-varied lineup of beers. The Larimer IPA was certified “PA preferred”. This small batch wet-hopped beer was brewed with malt from Butler-based CNC Malting Co. and the Sorachi Ace hops were grown by Hops on Lots Pittsburgh in the Larimer Community Garden. Couch donated half the revenue from the sales on release day to their neighborhood’s The Larimer Green Team. In November, the Recliner Oatmeal Stout served as the basis for the Blackout Stout Tap Takeover event at the brewery. It was served alongside four other beers made with it as a base — Tiki Torch Coconut Stout; Next To Mars Cranberry Stout; One More Cup Of Coffee Stout; and Noches de Discoteka Chipotle Cinnamon Stout. Sounds like a fun and tasty event.
Also in the fun category are recurring brewery events including yoga, movies, trivia, and weekly Bingo Night on Wednesdays. On the packaging front, the brewery will start showing up in stores soon. “We are ramping up our packaging operations in earnest. We have received federal approval for one of our labels so that our cans can be sold to retailers throughout the state. We are very excited about this next big step in our growth,” said Darren Gailey, owner. Sounds like Atomic Clock Amber will be first out of the gates. Also new in packaged products to go are popular brands canned with 60s- and 70s-inspired labels, including Atomic Meltdown Habanero Amber Ale and Baja 1000 Brut-style IPA. Label art was created by local graphics artist, Patrick Rigney of Lun Original Designs. In even larger packages, Cary Shaffer, Head Brewer and Partner, mentioned that self-distribution of sixtels and half barrels is being increased to local restaurants and other retail.
Every time I talk with Scott Smith, owner and head brewer of East End Brewing with locations in both Larimer and The Strip neighborhoods, it seems like he’s looking for that 25th hour in the day to jam in everything he has going on. The annual seasonal – Snow Melt – just got out into the market with full distribution. December 23 is the release date for 12 Beers Of Christmas mixed case of cans – two each of six varieties. The big news for January, exact date TBA, is the opening of the kitchen, which will be helmed by Justin Severino of Cure and Morcilla restaurants. Also in January will be the eagerly anticipated fourth annual installment of the Good Wood Fest that they co-host with Wigle Whiskey featuring only Pittsburgh-area beers that have spent time on oak. Then, in the ballpark of February/March, Gratitude Barleywine will show up both in regular and Bourbon Barrel-aged versions. The straight up version will go in bottles and the BBA version in cans because, as Scott says, “why not?” If that’s not enough, there are always the 2-4 new canned beer releases each month. East End opened in 2004 so, at some point soon, I expect to hear about how they’ll be celebrating 15 years pedaling beer around Pittsburgh.
Co-owner and Head Brewer, Matt McMahon, is running at full speed at his Eleventh Hour Brewing Company, just around the corner from the aforementioned Cinderlands in Lawrenceville. They celebrated the brewery’s first anniversary this past fall and also began packaging in bottles and cans. Supporting this growth are a lager tank and brite tank delivered in September and a French oak foeder due to arrive in January. In recent months, the brewery released a Bourbon Barrel-aged Stout in bottles for the anniversary, freshly canned Cult Logic and RoboJack IPAs, Burning Phoenix Jalapeno Pale Ale, as well as a dry-hopped Pilsner, Noble Spirit, and Dream Cannon No.3 (fruited sour with strawberry, cherry, orange juice, and lemon peel). In late December, expect to see Deep Field Breakfast Stout in cans and a Peach Brandy barrel-aged Sour in corked & caged bottles.
It’s difficult to believe that we’re already up to seven locations of the famed German Hofbräuhaus in the U.S. The Pittsburgh location opened in 2009 along the Monongahela River in the Southside and was the third location for the company. Ten years have seen plenty of classic German-styled beer, plates of schnitzel and brats, and late night table dancing. This winter, expect to see the roasty Schwarzbier in January and the rich Doppelbock (at 8.2%, it’s the strongest beer Head Brewer Shawn Setzenfand makes) in February. Both will be available also as their respective monthly Keg Tapping special on the first Wednesday of the month.
Penn Brewery is the oldest brewery – 32 years and counting – on this list of Pittsburgh brewers, but is still doing new things. 2018 saw an outpost open in Concourse A of Pittsburgh International Airport and an even newer location (downtown on First Avenue) is slated to open by end of year. Gene Mangrum, head of food and beverage, dropped a note that winter will be especially busy that, while they will continue to can the Pilsner and the Refreshin’ Session IPA, they will also be expanding the Brewers’ Reserve and Penndemonium programs. Look for high gravity selections such as Parking Chair Imperial IPA and Wake-n-Shake Coffee Porter. Events will also keep them hopping this winter with Penn Brew U on February 9, followed by a Märzen release party on Fat Tuesday, and Halfway to Oktoberfest on March 23.
Fans of Roundabout Brewing in Lawrenceville (est. 2013) look forward to this time of year as Heini’s Good Cheer is released both on draft and in bottles. By the time you read this, you should be able to procure some for yourself. Dyana Sloan, co-owner, mentioned the success of this past summer’s pop-up beer garden along the Ohio River on the Northside (Three Rivers Heritage Bike Trail, 1836 Oxline Street to be exact) and looks forward to doing the same again next summer. Includes live music and occasional food trucks and already has this beer guy looking forward to warmer weather.
The stadium area in the North Shore neighborhood overlooking The Point sure has changed over the years. Southern Tier is part of that change. January 2019 will mark two years since they’ve opened and they’ve become an integral part of the stadium-going experience between Heinz Field and PNC Park, non-event days too. They hosted a Pumking Fest back in September and released a Coffee Blonde Ale in partnership with Allegheny Coffee & Tea Exchange which you may still find on tap. Heading into the new year and the anniversary celebration, we can be on the lookout for six exclusive Pittsburgh-only brews: Blood Orange Milkshake IPA; Calypso Fog Single-Hopped NEIPA; North Shore Fog Hazy NEIPA; Mexican Coffee Stout; Vanilla Milkshake IPA; Brut IPA.
Spring Hill Brewing is the newest brewery of this bunch, having opened this last July. I’m excited to check this crew out during my next visit to Pittsburgh since they are located, as business partner Sara Cannon described, in an “old farmhouse-turned-social hall-turned brewery”. Co-owner and Head Brewer Greg Kamerdze’s farmhouse ales sound like they’d fit nicely in my wheelhouse. He’s put out beers, as well, that incorporate local hops from the Spring Hill neighborhood, locally sourced apples, Pennsylvania malts, and honey from the hives on-site that are managed by BeeBoy Apiary for meads and braggots. Plus, the outdoor beer garden with a view of the city skyline, special events like concerts, game nights, arts and music fairs, and food truck rallies all sound like great reasons to head a couple miles up and out of downtown. Currently, they’re open only Fridays and Saturdays but plan to add staff and expand hours of operations in the new year.
War Streets Brewing pumped out over 100 barrels in 2018 (its first full year) from the basement of Bier’s Pub and served it upstairs on six draft lines. Owner and Head Brewer Jake Bier says that, particularly with new fermentation tanks on the way, he expects both numbers to grow in 2019. They’re hosting the annual Imbibe Northside event lineup of Northside-based breweries, distilleries, and wineries at the Mattress Factory Feb. 2. Back at the taproom, Mary Barry X-mas Ale (7.5%) is new and available for the holidays.
Finally, filed under on-the-horizon, the name Copper Kettle Brewing Company may be disappearing (it was formerly a brew-on-premises shop), but Matt Hough, owner, says the space adjacent to his Hough’s Taproom & Brewpub in the Greenfield neighborhood will be renamed and reopened with Spring 2019 as the target. The new brewery would make Hough’s truly a brewpub as its name suggests, with the 5-bbl Deutsche brewing system supplying beer and cider to Hough’s with no intended distribution at this point. The plans for the future Hough’s also includes revamping the menu, roasting its own coffee, opening for breakfast, and serving throughout the day to create an “all day hang out for customers”, according to Hough.
The New York Times published an article last year entitled “Built on Steel, Pittsburgh Now Thrives on Culture”. You don’t have to look too hard to see that beer is a big part of that culture.