Post-Gazette Blogs

A bit of Colorado in Allegheny City

Allegheny City's Al Grasso and Mike taste the brewery's Nova Gose.

Allegheny City’s Al Grasso and Mike taste the brewery’s Nova Gose.

Sure, we have some good-sized hills on the North Side. But no one’s ever going to mistake it for Colorado’s Front Range.

Nevertheless, the small-town breweries that Amy Yurkovich, Al Grasso and Matt Yurkovich came across while they lived in the mountains were the model for Allegheny City Brewing, the brewpub the trio just opened on Foreland Street. And thanks mostly to the Yurkovich siblings, both native North Siders, Allegheny City made that neighborhood its home.

The business model that the trio put together while the still lived out West was simple. It didn’t involve grand plans for packaging or distribution; instead, Allegheny City would serve the purpose of the tiny tap rooms and brewpubs they loved in Colorado. Those places served as community centers as well as breweries, providing a place to stop and relax with neighbors for a bit between work and home.

And while the North Side has its share of bars and restaurants, it didn’t yet have anything like the kind of establishment they had in mind. They’ll soon have small-brewery neighbors — War Streets Brewing and Spring Hill Brewing are both preparing to open on the North Side as well — as well as one well-established big one; that, they say, just adds to the sense of home town North Side community.

Even after just three weeks, they’re already seeing regulars coming back for a pint or a growler fill. And that’s understandable: the tap room is warm and comfortable and the beer is well done. A couple favorites from my stop this week: Funkhouser farmhouse ale is evenly split between citrus and spice with a touch of Belgian funk at the end, and Nova Gose, a perfectly rendered take of the old German style, with sharp lemon tartness, coriander and a hint of salt.

If the goal for the trio was to establish a neighborhood brewpub — and a community to go with it — they’re already a success. And if you’re a neighbor — on the North Side or perhaps a bit further away — you should give Allegheny City a shot.

Category: Allegheny County | Tags: ,

Building a Brewtal new festival


You’ll know when Meg Evans or James Evans is mashing in — the music inside their respective breweries is loud, fast and hard.

Meg — the head brewer at Homestead’s Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery — and James — a brewer at Bethel Park’s Spoonwood Brewing — aren’t alone. It’s not uncommon to hear metal pumping in the back rooms of breweries around Pittsburgh, and that got Meg and James thinking about a new festival that pairs the city’s craft beer with some of its heaviest bands.

And that’s where the Pittsburgh Brewtal Beer Fest came from. Starting at 2 p.m on Nov. 6 at Spirit in Lawrenceville, there will be six bands and beer from Rock Bottom, Spoonwood, Penn Brewery and East End Brewing — including four one-time beers created exclusively for the event.

There is other swag available too, for those who lend a little extra financial support through the event’s Kickstarter page, a step Meg and James took to help ensure financial success in Brewtal’s first year. The stuff — both breweries and bands pitched in — is available at several levels to those who kick in by the Oct. 4 deadline.

Both James and Meg have plenty of experience with working beer events, but both say starting a festival from scratch is a whole different experience: finding a venue, taking care of the intricate legalities, setting up suppliers and getting the word out. The good part? After the word got out, cooperation from bands and breweries was immediate and enthusiastic.

“There’s still a lot to do, but it’s shaping up really to be really awesome,” Meg Evans said this week. “Everyone is going to have a blast.”

Bringing Fat Tire to Pittsburgh

Mike and New Belgium brewer Willy Tarango enjoy two Fat Tires at Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe on Carson Street.

Mike and New Belgium brewer Willy Tarango enjoy two Fat Tires at Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe on Carson Street.

If “Smokey and The Bandit” had been filmed a couple of years ago, Snowman’s semi probably would have been filled with New Belgium’s Fat Tire.

Back then, the truck driven by Jerry Reed was filled with Coors, the beer that everyone in the East coveted because we couldn’t get it on our side of the Mississippi River.

But until New Belgium started distributing in Western Pennsylvania a year ago this month, that mythical, unavailable beer we pined for would have been the rich amber ale that’s been the flagship beer of the Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery since it got started 25 years ago.

I had a chance to talk with some of the brewery’s employee-owners about how New Belgium moves into a new market; some of the considerations behind the plans were things I expected and some were surprising.

The easy part? New Belgium didn’t jump into the eastern side of the country until it had plans in place for its new production brewery in Asheville, N.C.; the extra capacity from the new brewery, which opened this year, was a solid insurance policy for a brewery moving into the Northeast for the first time.

The surprising thing? Extra capacity is great, said New Belgium brewer Willy Tarango, who visited Pittsburgh this month for a short promotional trip marking the Pittsburgh anniversary; but what if you don’t have enough viable yeast to ensure consistency in the products coming from two different breweries. How does the team of brewers at New Belgium accomplish that? Mr. Tarango explains in this week’s show.

And if the details of yeast aren’t your thing, no worries — go grab a six-pack of Fat Tire and just be thankful there was plenty to go around.

Category: General

Bringing new beer to the Steel City

pound lohman

Shane Lohman understood Pittsburgh Craft Beer Envy — the knowledge that there are dozens of labels we can’t get readily available just over the state line in Ohio — better than most.

As a craft beer lover, Mr. Lohman knew firsthand the beers and breweries he couldn’t get here. And as the owner of a retail distributor — Lohman’s Beer in Wexford — he suspected that some of those breweries would do very well once they got started here.

So Mr. Lohman did something about it. He sold his retail business to his father — Pennsylvania’s wholesale licensees cannot also hold retail distribution licenses — tracked down an importation license — one that would allow him to bring new labels into the state — found a warehouse in Lawrenceville and opened Steel City Beer Wholesalers.

It didn’t take long for Mr. Lohman to score his biggest coup to date, either — and he didn’t even have to leave the state. An evening email to the owners of Pizza Boy Brewing in suburban Harrisburg was followed by a trip to the brewery the next day — and an agreement to distribute Pizza Boy’s excellent beers in Pittsburgh for the first time. Steel City’s flagship brand had been secured.

He had others set in his sights as well. California’s Knee Deep Brewing. Gypsy brewers Stillwater Artisanal and Evil Twin. Against the Grain from Louisville, Ky. Chicago’s Off Color Brewing.

What’s next? Mr. Lohman said he’d love to serve as the wholesale distributor for any local breweries that are looking for that kind of help. And he’s assembled a list of out-of-state targets, starting with some of the breweries in neighboring Ohio or those to Pennsylvania’s northeast.

“It’s just convincing those guys that Pittsburgh is a great craft beer market, and a growing craft beer market,” he says. “If they can see what we see here every day, Pittsburgh sells itself.”

A trip to the North Country

bob buck snort

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: , ,