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Taking it to The House in New Kensington

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House of 1,000 Beers owner Art Barbus unpacks a shipment. Stocking 1,000 beers is hard work.

House of 1,000 Beers owner Art Barbus unpacks a shipment. Stocking 1,000 beers is hard work.

If you’re a craft beer fan in Pittsburgh, chances are you know it simply as The House.

There is a good reason for the familiarity towards New Kensington’s House of 1,000 Beers — it’s been around for a long time, making it one of the region’s original bottle shops. And it’s good enough that it’s become a destination, even for those of us who need to drive nearly an hour to get there. But that’s a small price to pay for access to 1,000 bottles, 36 taps and a food menu that seems to improve year by year.

HO1kB owner Art Barbus can’t take credit for getting the business started — he bought it from founder Dave Sagrati in late 2014 — but he’s taken the shop and run with it, adding a professional kitchen staff, expanding the food menu and taking on more events like beer dinners. Mr. Barbus has also made sure that the growing tap list always includes sours and other offerings we generally don’t see elsewhere. He’s also made it easier to find out information about The House, commissioning a smartphone app to put specials, events and rarities in the hands of his customers.

But like his predecessor, Mr. Barbus has also made sure that The House is as accessible to those who walk through the doors thinking they don’t like beer as it is to experienced beer fans. The improved food brings those people to The House, and there will always be a few approachable beers — think New Belgium’s Fat Tire or Lager of the Lakes from Bell’s — that pair well with a wide variety of things on the menu.

Mr. Barbus has a motto that speaks to that: “If we don’t have the beer you want, we’ll find a beer you like.” And in most cases, that’s easier than you might think — after all, you’ve got about 1,000 to choose from.

Hollywood — and some glamorous beer — on Butler Street

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Let’s make one thing clear at the start: yes, you can take bottles from Bierport into the theater at Row House while you watch a movie there.

There are two signs and two entrances to what seems like two businesses on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. But Bierport bottle shop and taproom and Row House Cinema are one and the same. And general manager Theo Ackerson said that was pretty much the plan from the beginning — to address some of the things the neighborhood didn’t have, like, say, a bottle shop.

Lawrenceville has changed some in the two years since Row House and Bierport opened their doors. The neighborhood is no longer a craft beer desert, for example. And Ackerson said the beer side of the business has changed as well; it added a basement tap room about a year ago and changed its name from the original Atlas Bottle Works earlier this year after the owners discovered a trademark dispute involving two breweries using the Atlas name.

Bierport and Row House are part of a growing segment of businesses that saw an opening as the state began to change how it interprets its liquor laws, giving new opportunities for businesses selling beer and food.

But Mr. Ackerson, owner Brian Mendelssohn and the others there aren’t content to just serve up beer with popcorn and classic films; they’re putting some thought into those presentations. Last year’s release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout merged a tasting of the sought-after beer with a ticket to see a documentary about making the beer. But you’re not going to just get stuffy documentaries, either: why not make Flying Dog — and its Hunter S. Thompson-themed beers — your brewery of the month while you have “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” showing on the screen next door?

For those who work at Bierport and Row House, finding those common themes has to be easy when the bottle shop has more than 850 beers available. And that should make it pretty easy for you to find something you like as well.

Post-Gazette coverage of Bierport and Row House:

Five years, dozens of beers — that’s Beer Week

pcbw pipers chalk board

When you reach a five-year milestone, it feels right to take a moment and reflect on the path that got you there. And if you think back to the first Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week — especially if you do so right after completing the fifth — you’ll understand just how far the industry has come in that time.

Were there a dozen Pittsburgh-area craft breweries back then? And will there be three or four times that many by the end of 2016?

As we learned last week, it’s not just the number that should leave an impression. It’s the quality of the beer as well. Just look at this year’s collaboration beers: breweries that haven’t yet opened or got started in the last six months contributed to five of the seven official collaborations, and all were excellent.

Summarizing my beer week is always a tough task. But let’s give it a try.

Favorite events: I made a point to try to get to some new stuff (to me, anyway), and I liked everything I got to. A standout was Oysterfest, the annual party under the Homestead Grays Bridge put on by Blue Dust — and I’m not even a fan of oysters, although the festival’s namesakes drew huge lines all afternoon. The beer choices were unique — don’t pass up a chance to try stuff from ShawneeCraft Brewing as it shows up around here, boys and girls — and there were plenty of food trucks for those who didn’t want oysters. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Summer Craft Brewhaha, a summer seasonal preview held at Altar Bar; the selection was far from predictable and the space worked out better than I expected. I hit some staples as well: the annual Wednesday beer breakfast at Piper’s Pub featured an extra delicious menu this year, perhaps in celebration of its spot on the calendar (April 20, ahem); the Helltown Brewing cask takeover at Piper’s, this year with beef braised in the brewery’s Mischievous Brown Ale as the dinner special; and if I can help it, I will never miss an edition of the Brewers’ Olympics, the event at Grist House that puts a perfect cap on the week.

Favorite beers: Here’s a great sign — the collaboration beers are more consistently good every year. With one slightly embarrassing caveat — that this North Side resident never got a taste of the Mash Paddle vs. Hipster India Red Lager collab from Penn, Spring Hill, War Streets and Allegheny City — I’ll say that the standout among the collaborations was Greenfield Bridge is Falling Down, the deliciously juicy Vermont-style IPA from Spoonwood, Helltown and two newcomers: Helicon and Dancing Gnome. I loved all of the other collaborations, but I have to give specific mention to one more, mostly because I made such a big deal about it in my beer week previews: white stouts — like Prospero, from Rock Bottom, Hitchhiker, Bloom Brew and and Eleventh Hour — work wonderfully, even if one’s brain can’t figure out in advance how a white stout might work. A few others: I really liked 5 Point Black IPA, the collaboration between Carson Street Deli and Rock Bottom; Big Boots Gose, a margarita-esque effort from the women of Pittsburgh’s Pink Boots Society; and as it starts to get warmer, be on the lookout for Grapefruit Chinookee IPA from Full Pint — it was a standout at the summer festival.

We need more than a week for Pittsburgh beer

beerweek growlers

Let’s get one thing straight right at the top: Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week isn’t just a week.

I count 11 days, from the kickoff party at Rock Bottom in Homestead on April 14 through the end of the Brewers’ Olympics at Grist House in Millvale on April 24. And while I didn’t count the scheduled events, I’m told there are once again more than 300 on the list.

And that seems about right for a region that will have somewhere near 40 breweries by the end of the year.

PCBW can seem overwhelming, sure. But it’s also the best time of the year to get a sense of what craft beer lovers have going for us in Western Pennsylvania. There are collaboration beers — seven of them officially, more if you count unofficial efforts — and beers brewed especially for the occasion. But you’ll also have a chance to get a sense of what our breweries — both those that are established and those that soon will be — are all about.

With all of the newcomers on the way, I’m especially excited about the preview opportunities available this beer week, the PCBW’s fifth. For example: North Side new guys War Streets, Allegheny City and Spring Hill have teamed up with big brother Penn Brewing for one of the official collaborations, an India Red Lager called Mash Paddle vs. Hipster; Helicon, Eleventh Hour, Dancing Gnome, Mindful and Reclamation — all either just-starteds or almost-readies — all have contributed to collabs as well. And if you take a look at the official schedule — at the PCBW site or on its iOS or Android app — you’ll see lots of preview events, many at 99 Bottles in Carnegie or at one of the Bocktown Beer and Grill locations.

You’ll find me at some of those previews, for sure. You’ll also likely see me enjoying a boozy confection on Saturday, having breakfast at Piper’s Pub on Wednesday, wrapping up the week at the Brewers’ Olympics next Sunday … and at a bunch of others in between.

It’s the best (a little bit longer than a) week of the year, boys and girls, and it’s ready to begin. See you out there.

Post-Gazette coverage of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week 2016:

A smaller package, but a huge change

Cases and 12-packs sit together on the shelves at Beer Express in Robinson.

Cases and 12-packs sit together on the shelves at Beer Express in Robinson.

It sort of came out of the blue a year ago. First, there was word that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board might issue an opinion that would change the legal definition of a package — as it pertains to the sales of beer — and that the change would allow distributors to sell 12-packs, for the first time ever in the state.

The following day, it was official, and the ruling set off a scramble on the part of distributors that wanted to take advantage of the newfound flexibility … and on the part of breweries that wanted to get the smaller packages into the hands of consumers.

The change came about largely because of an effort here, a push by Pistella Beer Distributors, Save-Mor Beer, Rivertowne Brewing, and the Malt Beverage Distributors Association of Pennsylvania. And the smaller packages have made a difference here as well, from the distributors that sell to the distributors — think the Vecenie Distributing warehouse in Millvale — and the distributors we visit when we want to take home some beer — think Beer Express in Robinson.

Tony Knipling, who manages a long list of craft beer brands for Vecenie, says that in the last year, he’s seen breweries step up to make new packages available to customers in Pennsylvania, even occasionally making special arrangements for mixed 12-packs that other states don’t get to enjoy.

Ryan Federbusch, the owner of Beer Express, has noticed the same thing from the breweries he carries. But he also sees the advantage to the smaller packages from the standpoint of the consumer: more variety, less expense … and a fewer stray bottles or cans from cases we grew tired of filling the beer fridge.

What they say is true: good things come in small(er) packages.

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