Post-Gazette Blogs

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

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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

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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: