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Pittsburgh is more than craft beer

Yinz cannot live by craft beer alone.

Which is a pretty good reason to organize a Pittsburgh Libations Week.

You’ll have to wait for another year for an actual week with actual events, but chances are pretty good that you’ve already heard something about Pittsburgh Libations Week, as Jason Cercone works to get it going.

Mr. Cercone has been involved with the region’s craft beer scene since he founded his Breaking Brews news and marketing service several years back. As he became more involved with the scene, he began noticing connections between the area’s breweries and those involved in other facets of the adult beverage industry. Moreover, he started noticing the quality of what was available: ciders, meads, wine, distilleries and a thriving cocktail culture.

Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week was already several years into its successful run at that point; while Mr. Cercone was an enthusiastic supporter — he’s emceed several PCBW events and hosted others over the years — he thought the rest of the industry deserved some time in the spotlight as well.

If goes as planned, the first Pittsburgh Libations Week will be held a year from now. But Mr. Cercone is starting to fill his calendar with promotional events — some to raise money for his event, some to raise money for charity and all to raise awareness about PLW and the industry behind it — like the Uno tournament coming up at the Wigle Barrelhouse on the North Side Oct. 29.

And as a perfect distillation of Mr. Cercone’s vision, the Uno event will feature cocktails made with local beers and Wigle spirits … because, as he hopes to show, we’re all one big happy family.

A sweet start for Greensburg Craft Beer Week

The first-ever Greensburg Craft Beer Week got off to a good start on Monday … especially for those of us with a sweet tooth.

I started in downtown Greensburg, where Hugo’s Taproom — a cozy neighborhood pub with good-looking food and a great-looking tap list — hosted a beer and chocolate pairing. The beer was provided by Quinn Brewing, which brought along four rich, malt forward selections to compliment the chocolates. And the chocolates gave us a preview of McFeely’s Gourmet Chocolate, a shop that’s set to open a Greensburg location soon.

The pairings all worked well; my favorite was definitely Braddock’s Golden Ale — a soft, approachable beer that Alan Quinn said was the brewery’s “regular beer” — and a dark chocolate-jalapeno bark.

From there, I stopped at Tapped Brick Oven and Pour House, to get a little dinner and to get a taste of Foster Pumpkin Project, a pumpkin beer made by the folks at Tapped and Delmont’s Yellow Bridge Brewing. I also followed up my delicious thin-crust pizza with a #gbgcbw dessert pairing: beers from Fat Head’s and desserts from Sweet Tarte’s Bakerie; my choice was the Goggle Fogger hefeweizen and a slice of bananas Foster cheesecake.

And then I waddled out to my car and drove home.

The dessert pairing and the pumpkin collab will be available at Tapped all week, and there are plenty more events to entice a drive to Greensburg. Take a look at the schedule, and then head east this week … it’s worth the trip.

Greensburg gets its own craft beer week

Jeff Guidos, owner of All Saints Brewing, discusses the collaboration beers he’s readying for Greensburg Craft Beer Week.

Don’t think Greensburg has enough going on to sustain its own version of a beer week?

Think again.

GBG and the surrounding area is home to some of the best breweries in the region, from long-timers like All Saints to brand-new places like Yellow Bridge. There’s an established group of taverns and restaurants that put craft beer front and center. And there’s a growing enthusiasm for better beer, in Greensburg and throughout Westmoreland County.

Still not buying it? Consider this: organizers of the first Greensburg Craft Beer Week, scheduled for Oct. 9-15, was originally going to be held over a long weekend; since the event was announced, though, the list of stuff to do has ballooned to close to 40 events — as of press time, that is — spread out over a full week.

The week had been a longtime daydream of Jenn Weir who, as a brewery rep, had firsthand experience with successful craft beer weeks in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The daydream was set in motion more than a year ago when Weir, now with Greensburg Beverage, discussed her vision with Jess Hickey of the Downtown Greensburg Project; Hickey has been organizing the event since.

What’s to come once the week begins? The full events listing is here, but the highlights include several beer dinners and events that pair beers with desserts, doughnuts and even cigars. If you’re feeling active, there are brewery-hosted yoga classes and a bike tour. And there are some definite headliners: Art on Tap at the gorgeous Westmoreland Museum of American Art, a Friday the Firkenteenth party at Tapped and a tasting tent at Seton Hill University’s homecoming tailgate party.

And yes, there is beer — local breweries have teamed to make four collaboration beers for the week. All Saints owner Jeff Guidos said he’s worked with Noble Stein to brew a red IPA and with Rivertowne to brew a double IPA, the first time he’s made a high-gravity IPA. Fury and Levity will release a Baltic porter brewed with rich plums and on the week’s opening night, Yellow Bridge and the folks at Tapped will release a pumpkin pie beer — based on the restaurant’s pumpkin pie recipe — to benefit the Foster Love Project.

Let’s see: A great local craft beer scene? Check. More events than one person could attend? Check. Collabs? Check.

Greensburg Craft Beer Week? Check … as in, make sure you to Greensburg and check it out.

Hitchhiker opens up shop in Sharpsburg

Once Gary Olden and Andy Kwiatkowski found a new home for Hitchhiker Brewing, making the change didn’t take all that long.

It was finding the home that was the tough part.

Olden, the owner, and Kwiatkowski, the head brewer, started looking for a larger space for Hitchhiker since shortly after the Mt. Lebanon brewery opened. The taproom in the original home has served — and will continue to serve — customers well, but the three-barrel brewhouse was stuffed into the basement of the building, forcing the pair to find some creative solutions when it came to storing hops and grains, cleaning and filling kegs … oh, and making beer.

They thought they had a place lined up off East Carson Street in the South Side, but city of Pittsburgh red tape — and what would have been a hefty plumbing bill — meant that space was unsuitable. But the search stretched into a second year before a break came for Hitchhiker; Olden was visiting Sharpsburg to check out another property when he noticed the massive outbuilding that had been the power house for the old Fort Pitt brewery. It turned out that the building was for sale, and by last winter, Olden, Kwiatkowski and a small crew had started work on building a new brewery and tap room.

The brewhouse was done first, and Kwiatkowski brewed his first beer there — an APA called 15th and Canal, for the new brewery’s location in Sharpsburg — in June. The taproom, though, took a bit longer — they put the finishing touches on it just in the last week or two, and opened the doors for a couple test nights this week.

The public space makes an impression right away. The tile work was preserved, as were the beams and skylights that give the room its industrial look. The curved bar is backed by a wall of taps. Twelve of those were pouring Hitchhiker beers when I visited this week; a handful of guest liquids were pouring from the others.

When you visit — the grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 9 — get a peek in the brewhouse if that door is open. The massive space makes the 15-barrel system seem small. It also means there is plenty of room to grow if there is need; adding more tanks to the space would be easy, and a canning line would fit nicely as well. A few more additions are already in place: two 1,000-gallon foeders — wood vats that will age sour beers — and a wall of smaller barrels for barrel-aged products.

But here’s the best part: the beer. Kwiatkowski doesn’t hesitate to say that Hitchhiker’s products have improved since he started brewing on the new system earlier this summer. And look for higher ABV beers as well; Kwiatkowski said the old system simply didn’t have enough capacity for the grains he needed to build, for example, a double IPA (spoiler alert: there’s one on the way).

If you’re a fan of the cozy Mt. Lebanon taproom, don’t worry — it’s not going anywhere. But if you live on the other side of Pittsburgh’s rivers, you’re in for a treat. And you don’t even have to hitch a ride to get there.

The time has come for 11th Hour

It’s been a long time coming. But 11th Hour Brewing has finally opened its doors.

Not in the North Hills. And not in a Downtown location near the convention center. Those spots didn’t work out … and they’re part of the reason why it’s taken Matt and Keana McMahon a bit longer than usual to officially get started.

They don’t have to dwell on that now; in fact, there’s no time to think about everything that’s led them to this weekend, when the brewery officially opened up in a Lawrenceville building that started as a schoolhouse for German immigrants and later served as industrial space. There’s a 20-barrel brewhouse behind the bar and a long taproom that looks out over Charlotte Street through a series of garage doors. And there are clocks everywhere; just don’t count on them being correct more than twice a day … you know, at 11.

From the beginning, 11th Hour has been a family affair, and that was evident this week when I stopped in. Keana and her son, assistant brewer Justin Strzelczyk Jr., were cleaning up for a industry-and-friends soft opening that evening, while Dan McMahon, Matt’s father, continued some carpentry work. Matt’s brother Mark also did construction work and was behind the bar during the soft opening, along with Keana’s daughter Sabrina. And Matt’s sister Brie, a public relations professional, has pitched in with promoting the brewery. That’s made the long road a bit easier, Matt said.

Just how long is that road? I had my first taste of his jalapeno IPA, if I recall correctly, on an early cruise of the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge. It seems impossible that 11th Hour could be the city’s newest brewery … because they’ve been at festivals and events for years.

“But this is different,” Matt said, as he took a breather during the soft opening. “We’ve always been welcomed and accepted, but I haven’t really felt like I was fully a part of the community until now, when we finally have a place of our own. We’ve been doing this forever, but now it finally seems real.”


Post-Gazette coverage of 11th Hour Brewing:

 

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