Post-Gazette Blogs

Bonus Beer Me: Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki — ‘Pineapple in your face’

Rivertowne’s Hala Kahiki is pineapple-flavored phenomenon. And you’ll be surprised to hear Rivertowne CEO Christian Fyke and brewmaster Andrew Maxwell describe how it was born.

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Getting bigger but thinking small at Rivertowne

rt taps

I recall my first visit to Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville about a decade ago; I was impressed that they were able to keep 18 taps pouring their own beer, brewed on a small, in-house system.

The hard work it took to keep all that beer flowing back then was a precursor to Rivertowne Brewing’s position now: distributing its staples in six states while still being nimble enough to experiment … and come up with great results.

The growth that came with the startup of its production brewery in Murrysville — Rivertowne sells beer in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida, where the brand is especially popular in Bradenton, the spring home of the Pirates — has given brewmaster Andrew Maxwell, who gave up a job as a chemist with a pharmaceutical company to follow his passion for brewing, a chance to continue tinkering while maintaining an almost-obsessive watch over the liquids he’s in charge of making; talk to Mr. Maxwell for 30 minutes, and the words “quality control” will come up at least a half-dozen times.

Much of the tinkering comes on the system in the Monroeville Pour House, which Mr. Maxwell said has practically become an extension of his body. Need an amber that features honey and chamomile? That’s where it would start. Turning a one-off pineapple beer into a year-round sensation? Here’s a spoiler for a bonus video to be released next week: it happened in Monroeville as well.

Rivertowne grew up in Pittsburgh, and even as the brand has grown, Mr. Maxwell and founder Christian Fyke still acknowledge the brewery’s roots. Rivertowne’s annual Rhythm and Brews party is scheduled for Aug. 27 at Tall Trees Amphitheater in Monroeville. Proceeds raised from the event will result in a hefty donation to local charities; the brewery’s other annual events — haunted brewery tours in October, the Hibernation party in January and the Jahla party in April all do the same.

You can now find Rivertowne beers in five other states. You can drink Old Wylie’s IPA in the the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park. But you can still find the experiments of Mr. Maxwell and the other staff brewers at Rivertowne’s four restaurants or at its brewery tap room — it will never be too big for that.

B-ing (even more) local at Bocktown

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dilla bar

Since she opened the first Bocktown Beer and Grill in late 2006, Chris Dilla has emphasized local. Locally sources meats, veggies and breads were found up and down the food menu. And when it was possible, locally brewed beer showed up on the tap list and in the coolers that made up the Beer Library.

The trouble was that back then, there were just a handful of Pittsburgh-area breweries … and not many more on the other side of the state.

But now, as Ms. Dilla prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her Beer and Grills, she’s having a much easier time filling those tap lists with beers brewed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or neighboring states. When I visited this week, the 16 taps at B1, the original location in Robinson, all were pouring Pennsylvania-made beers; at B2, in the Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, just three taps were occupied by handles from out of state.

And that suits Ms. Dilla just fine. She’s happy to serve beer made by people she knows in breweries that are a short drive away. She likes that the money she’s spending on beer is often staying in the region.

And, best of all, she says that stocking local beer hasn’t meant sacrificing in the name of variety … or quality.

“There’s a great range of styles being produced here, and that makes it easy for us to keep a good variety on tap … and they’re great beers as well,” she said. “The idea of local has always been a big thing for us, so I love that we’re able to do it with the beer we serve.”

Bonus Beer Me: What’s the best-seller at HO1KB?

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It’s hard to guess a bottle shop’s best-selling beer when there are 1,000 to choose from. In this bonus clip, Owner Art Barbus reveals the top seller at New Kensington’s House of 1,000 Beers.

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.