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A trip to the North Country

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It’s hard to think of Bob McCafferty running an empire of any kind — he smiles and laughs too easily.

But Bob and Jodi McCafferty are more than a decade into North Country Brewing, a craft beer business that started as a brewpub in an old Slippery Rock mortuary. It now includes a production brewery that distributes to three states and a second brewpub at the site of what was Butler County’s first craft beer bar.

The canning operation began a few years ago, when it became apparent that there was a market for the brewery’s well-established staples: Buck Snort Stout, Slimy Pebble Pils or Station 33 Firehouse Red, for example. That’s proved to be a smart move. Sales in Pennsylvania have been solid enough that North Country also started sending beer to Florida, where Western Pennsylvania expats and snowbirds have made it popular. And the brewery recently expanded its distribution area to include eastern Ohio.

The most recent change didn’t come from the business plan. When the Harmony Inn began serving better beer in the mid-1980s, it didn’t take long for the McCaffertys to become regulars. And when they needed money — and time — so they could begin renovations of the Slippery Rock property that would become the original North Country, they both took jobs at the Inn.

So when that business was teetering on the brink a few years ago, the McCaffertys stepped in; they bought the building in 2013, remodeled it inside and out and opened it again a year later. It has the similar feel to the version of the Inn Bob McCafferty loved 30 years ago, and the North Country updates — including Big Rail Brewing, a nano brewery in the basement serving both as an incubator and as a provider of house beers — don’t disrupt that vibe. It’s a restoration that feels like it could hang on for another century.

If Mr. McCafferty is an emperor, he’s a benevolent one. And his empire is doing all of us some good.

Category: Butler County | Tags: , ,

IPA needs more than one day

Believe it or not, it’s coincidence that the Beer Me episode that focuses specifically on India Pale Ales is being released on National IPA Day.

And what makes the timing even more interesting is the point of this week’s show — these days, it’s nearly impossible to think of IPA as a single style.

Is it a crisply bitter, citrus-and-pine West Coast IPA? Is it built to accentuate the citrus characteristics of the hops, maybe with grapefruit added to the mix? Is it designed to be hazy, juicy and resinous, without a hint of bitterness? Is it black, white, red or orange? The answer to all of these questions: Yep, that’s an IPA.

I visited Piper’s Pub on East Carson Street to talk with cellarman Hart Johnson about the style and its history, and to get a taste of some local examples. The history of the style is as hazy as a glass of Heady Topper, but one thing is certain: brewers in the U.S. took a more balanced, mildly bitter British version and ran with it, boosting flavors, experimenting with hop and generally forgetting all the rules along the way.

The best part, of course, is the tasting, and we’re lucky to have the full range of IPA versions available to us here in Pittsburgh. You’ll see us sample beers from Pizza Boy Brewing, Roundabout Brewery and Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. in the show; you’ll also note that we really enjoyed the three widely divergent variations of the style.

National IPA Day? C’mon. To do it right, we’re going to need a National IPA Week instead.

Category: Pittsburgh | Tags:

Working to restart the music at James Street

 

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Craft beer still flows at the 80-year-old mahogany bar. The kitchen still turns out meatloaf with sweet cream corn sauce. But can James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy still be James street without live music?

It’s hard to imagine, but that’s been the case since earlier this month, when Kevin Saftner, the pub’s general manager, was forced to shut down shows in the upstairs ballroom because of noise complaints. The pub, at 422 Foreland St. in the North Side, was warned, but a citation — it would be the second in less than a year — could mean a fine, a nuisance-bar designation or even closure, Mr. Saftner said.

Here’s the problem. The building, which is approaching 140 years old, has no air conditioning, so the only way to cool the upstairs ballroom is to turn on fans and open up the windows … and that has led to complaints about the noise, Mr. Saftner said. The solution? Electrical work, air conditioning, sound proofing, all with a price tag that has yet to be determined and a fairly tight schedule before the losses associated with keeping the ballroom closed become too great.

There are bright spots, however. A #SaveJamesStreet hashtag appeared not long after Mr. Saftner had to shut down shows in the middle of the Deutschtown Music Festival, one of the pub’s busiest days of the year. An Indiegogo campaign intended to raise $5,000 in the next month — enough to cover the costs of the initial electrical work — hit its mark in just over two days and is still rolling. And there are several promising fundraiser events coming up on the calendar.

Shows continue in the smaller basement speakeasy and, of course, the restaurant and main bar are still in business. But even with those, Mr. Saftner said renovations to the ballroom must be completed by the beginning of September to keep losses to a manageable level.

And in the meantime, he’s eyeing a more optimistic date: an Aug. 19 show, in the ballroom, with The Jauntee. If all goes well, he said. that’s when James Street will be complete again.

Post-Gazette coverage of James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy:

Category: Allegheny County | Tags:

East End finds a new home in the Strip

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When the original Pittsburgh Public Market opened in the Smallman Street produce terminal in 2010, East End Brewing was there. And when the market moved to a larger space on Penn Avenue three years later, East End went along for the ride.

But even before that iteration of the market shut down earlier this year, East End’s Scott Smith had started to poke around the Strip District for a space better suited to what his presence in the market had become. Originally conceived as a spot to fill growlers with fresh East End beer, the Penn Avenue version became a de facto taproom, especially once the state’s rules governing breweries and retail sales of pints changed a couple years ago. On weekends in particular, the corner of the market occupied by the “growler shop” turned into something that looked an awful lot like a bar.

“It was a great spot to fill growlers,” Mr. Smith said of the Penn Avenue spot. “It wasn’t a great taproom.”

With the move to 102 19th St., Mr. Smith has a great tap room. East End is one of three Pittsburgh Public Market expats to occupy the building — Jonathan Moran Woodworks and The Olive Tap are the others — and it looks at home in the warm space with its brick, wood … and the hop-cone lights hanging over the bar. It’s easy to get excited about the potential for the space, too — there’s a 6,000 square-foot plaza behind the tap room that can host food purveyors, artists and events once it’s done.

And let’s not forget the beer. East End’s space was home to another bar in a previous life, and Mr. Smith said he hoped that the leftover tap system would be sufficient for his needs. That wasn’t the case, which meant building an entirely new system for the tap room. That system includes 11 taps and a nitro line, but there is also a full line of canned and bottled East End liquids, as well as a crowler machine that Mr. Smith said has already been busy. Want food? Customers have the entire Strip to choose from, as the new taproom is BYOF.

Moving twice couldn’t have been easy. But from my side of the bar at least, it looks like it will be worth it.

Post-Gazette coverage of East End Brewing’s Taproom in the Strip:

Category: Pittsburgh | Tags: ,

Bonus Beer Me: Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki — ‘Pineapple in your face’

Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki is pineapple-flavored phenomenon. And you’ll be surprised to hear Rivertowne CEO Christian Fyke and brewmaster Andrew Maxwell describe how it was born.

Category: Region | Tags: ,