Want to find me on the Wednesday of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week? Don’t bother looking in the office.
It’s not difficult to track me down, though. If you’re looking first thing in the morning, you’ll definitely find me at Piper’s Pub, for the South Side bar’s annual Beer Week breakfast. It started as a Kentucky-themed event, with three-year flights of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and an amazing Kentucky hot brown boxty. It then morphed into a breakfast cereal and beer pairing (Hint: Pour some chocolate stout over a bowl of peanut butter Cap’n Crunch. No, really.)
But since then, the day has featured a dual purpose: to highlight the beer acquisition skills of Hart Johnson, the cellarman at Piper’s, and the talents of Mindy Heisler, the executive chef there and at the Pub Chip Shop next door. Each year, Hart lines up some tough-to-find kegs and casks, generally of the beefy beer variety; for example, I had pours of three huge stouts with my breakfast this week, along with a glass of the ultimate breakfast beer, Roundabout’s Mimosa Gose.
And then there is the food, which is excessive in all of the best ways. My breakfast: Piper’s crispy chicken tenders served over a house-made Belgian waffle, with Mindy’s jalapeno maple bacon syrup drizzled over the plate. That’s one of the lightweight dishes, too; I chose it over the Drunken Irishman, a Belgian waffle covered with warm bourbon-roasted banana slices and Nutella.
And then there was the sandwich: a chicken-fried sausage patty and a dippy egg, served in a Just Good Donuts glazed doughnut bun. I am pleased to be able to tell my doctor that I didn’t even consider that one.
Craft beers paired with bacon and burgers? A new stout from Helltown, brewed for the city’s biggest comics store chain?
That’s more than enough to get me to brave afternoon rush-hour traffic and make the trip to Cranberry to Pig Iron Public House.
Let’s start with Beeredeemable, a bourbon barrel aged Russian imperial stout brewed by Helltown for New Dimension Comics owner Todd McDevitt. Todd’s commissioned these beers before — last year’s version was another imperial stout called Darkest Dawn — but this is the first time he’s released the beer in conjunction with Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, instead of waiting for his annual Three Rivers Comicon in May.
The beer is a beast — boozy and woody, with hints of bitter chocolate and a rich mouthfeel — and you still have several more chances to try it before Beer Week is done on Sunday. Beware, though — Todd said each location is getting just a sixtel, so it won’t last long.
Event No. 2 at Pig Iron had to do with a sloppy cheeseburger and one of my favorite Pittsburgh-brewed beers. The premise was to pair specific beers with either a specially prepared flight of bacon slices or with one of the substantial burgers on the Pig Iron menu. My choice was a smoky-and-sweet Foreman burger, paired with a smooth, malty Fat Gary from East End.
Beard of Bees, a collaboration between Spoonwood and Apis, debuted on Saturday at Spoonwood … and the buzz was noticeable.
This imperial honey porter spent a few months stewing in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. By the time we got our first tastes on Saturday, the beer had become a beast with sweet finish: boozy and woody, with huge roasted notes smoothed out by the honey.
But you might start by taking a look at this short clip where some of our favorite Beer Week folks discuss the events they absolutely don’t want to miss:
True, the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge is sold out — the tickets were gone in seconds again this year — but there are still tix available for the Brewers’ Olympics at Grist House. And ShuBrew’s Zach Shumaker is right when he says the annual Meet the Brewers event at Rivertowne North Shore is a low-key way to meet and talk with the folks who brew our beer; Zach is also correct when he says more people should take advantage of this opportunity.
I should also make sure you see this clip of Meg Evans, head brewer at Rock Bottom in Homestead, talking about her video game tournament and beer festival coming up later in the week:
The full preview show was running long, so I couldn’t include Meg’s comments there. But a craft beer-fueled video game bash sounds like a blast, so you guys get the above tip as a bonus.
Chances are good you’ll see me at both of these events … and at plenty of others until the week winds down at Grist House next Sunday afternoon. See yinz out there.
The sixth edition of the region’s craft beer showcase gets started Friday with the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge, a floating festival that sold out in seconds again this year, and wraps up with the third edition of the Brewers’ Olympics, the contest held at Grist House. I’ll be at both of those (and as of this moment, you can still get tickets to the Grist House event).
The rest of the week isn’t so tidy, at least not for me. Organizers had a goal of looking for quality events rather than hitting a specific number; they did that successfully, but there are still plenty of instances when it could be tough to choose between two or three good ones going on at the same time. But at the most basic level, beer week is about two things: events and beers, so let’s break it down that way.
A highlight every year is the collaboration beers brewed by teams from multiple breweries. There are a bunch this year, but in a new wrinkle, they all have two things in common: each beer had to contain honey malt and 007 hops, an experimental variety from Idaho. That was a nudge away from the norm, and the teams reacted appropriately. The geekiest of beer geeks will know what a grisette is (and if you don’t, make sure to track down the Men at Works collab from Church Brew Works and Butler Brew Works). But do you know what a sahti is? I didn’t, Turns out it’s a delicious ancient style with roots in Finland; the Buzzerker, from Rivertowne and King View Mead, reminded me of a slightly herbal barleywine. But as you run down the list of collabs — I got to taste most of them at a preview event last week — you won’t find a bad one in the bunch, and that’s a testament to the brewing talent we have in town.
And those are just the official collabs. As you poke around during the week, you’ll find others. I’ll make a special trip to Caliente in hopes of getting a taste of Won’t You Be My Neighbor IPA, a collab with Helltown. And on Saturday, I plan on stopping by Spoonwood for a taste of barrel-aged Beard of Bees, a collab with Apis Mead and Winery.
If you’re more of the hands-on type, you should get out to South Park on Saturday morning; that’s where members of Three Rivers Underground Brewers will host a homebrewing class and demo for the second year in a row. The classroom portion of the event comes with a fee (it’s worth it, boys and girls — these are some of the best brewers in town); after noon, though, you’re welcome to stop by and watch as these folks brew and answer your questions. There is also plenty of homebrewed beer there to sample.