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Category Archives: Allegheny County

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.

Mindful starts big in the South Hills

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You can’t blame a startup business for taking a conservative approach. Modest beginnings, after all, can lift some pressure and leave room for growth.

Or, you could do what Mindful Brewing Co. did. Go big. And knock it out of the park.

Brewer Nick Jones said the original plan for Mindful was to follow a time-honored blueprint for new craft breweries: Find a place just big enough for the brewhouse, a small tap room and space to park a food truck or two. What Mindful ended up with instead was a two-story palace, with a full restaurant, what would be a first-class bottle shop if it were a standalone business and a brewery that’s been turning out first-class beers since it opened four months ago.

The decision to forgo the more modest plans was driven by the space;  the Library Road property that had been home to the John McGinnis & Co. grocery became available during the search, and although was larger than what the Mindful team had envisioned, it was too good to pass up.

Another accident of timing worked in Mindful’s favor as well. The wife of brewer Marcus Cox had just accepted a job at the University of Pittsburgh and Mr. Cox — twice named Champion Medium Australian Brewer for the beers he made at Thunder Road Brewing near Melbourne, Australia, his hometown — came to Pittsburgh last year in search of a brewing job. “I put in one application, and that was here,” Mr. Cox said.

Mr. Jones had several recipes ready for the big time, including his hugely popular lime-agave wheat, and Mr. Cox brought several of his staples, including what is now Mindful’s Straight Kolsch and Red Brain amber, from Australia. They’ve worked together to scale recipes for their 10-barrel system, and they’re working on new beers, with each other and with outside collaborators.

The brewers and the rest of Mindful’s crew hasn’t had much time to ponder how things have been going since the doors opened in late January … because they’ve been far too busy. But with four months behind them, the guys running the brewery say they now have a sense of what beers are popular — the three aforementioned beers are all in the top four best-sellers — and how much time and tank capacity they can devote to experiments. And they might even be able to make enough to distribute a bit to other craft beer spots in town.

Because, you know, they didn’t start quite big enough.

Post-Gazette coverage of Mindful Brewing Co.:

Quality and quantity for Beer Week’s sixth year

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We’re all winners during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. But these guys — Team Buthiker, from Butler Brew Works and Hitchhiker — won the annual Brewers’ Olympics on Sunday.

My Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week was bracketed by two staples: the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge on the first Friday and the Brewers’ Olympics on the final Sunday.

In between? Whew.

I know the calendar didn’t have as many events as in years past, but this iteration of PCBW seemed to be as busy as ever. How do I know? There were still several days during the week when I faced tough decisions about where I was going to spend my time. I made a point of getting to events I hadn’t attended in the past, and I tried to emphasize events that would get me a glass of new or special beer; that formula worked well, although there were still plenty of events that I wanted to attend but couldn’t.

My favorite events? Let’s take a look:

We’ll start with a stipulation: the beer barge, the breakfast at Piper’s and the Brewers’ Olympics will always be on this list. But beyond those, there was still plenty to like. This was the second year for Beatnik Brewers at Apis, but it was my first; Day Bracy was a great choice to emcee the show, during which brewers read their, uh, most colorful online reviews … and they picked some gems. David Cerminara from Apis teamed up with Rock Bottom’s Meg Evans to start a combo video-game tournament and beer festival, definitely the most creative new event I came across this year. And in a week with plenty of showcases for rare beers, I really enjoyed the Grist House cask event at Carson Street Deli, for its low-key focus on the liquids.

And about those beers. Here is a not-nearly-inclusive list of some that stood out for me:

Apis had a hand in three of my favorite liquids from the week, and one of those wasn’t a beer. The first thing I tasted on the beer barge was a lemon bourbon mead from the Carnegie meadery. I was blown away; fortunately I had a couple other chances later in the week to have a bit more. Apis also had a hand in Nebby Neighbor, an unofficial collaboration IPA with Helltown and Four Seasons, where it was brewed; the word “dank” comes to mind. Finally, I loved the Beard of Bees collab between Apis and Spoonwood enough that I brought home a bottle (and kind of wish I brought home two). In non-Apis news, I thought Dr. Yeastlove (Grist House, Bloom Brew, brewed at Helicon) was my favorite of the official collaborations; a close second would be Double Gose Seven (Eleventh Hour, Reclamation, brewed at East End). Last but not least, a plug for Interactive Exhibit, the collab (East End, Southern Tier, brewed at Hop Farm) brewed to benefit Brew: The Museum of Beer; it was a big, slightly boozy red IPA — and the kind of exhibit I’d visit again and again.

Thanks to everyone who had a hand in the 2017 edition of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. Let’s do it again next spring, OK?

#PCBW: Barrel-aged surprises from Voodoo Homestead

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It’s one of the best days in craft beer in Western Pennsylvania: when Voodoo releases bottles from its barrel-aging program. The releases are limited; they’re also coveted, which means scoring a share almost feels like a competitive sport.

And that’s what made Saturday’s event at Voodoo’s Homestead tap room so special — if you hadn’t had a chance to taste some of those beers, the barrel-aged tap takeover was your chance. Here is the list, stolen from the Voodoo Homestead Facebook page, that served as the starting point for the day:

Yep, that does say ManBearPig, probably the whale-iest of all of Voodoo’s whalez. If you weren’t there at noon — and I was not — you probably didn’t get a taste of that one. Thanks to a friend, I did get a taste of the Buffalo Trace Black Magick and a couple of other rarities that were added to the list later in the afternoon. I also had a glass of fresh Pork Chop Sandwiches, a delicious IPA that showed up on tap after the initial rush.

How long did the ManBearPig last? Watch the clip to see what Jake has to say about that.

#PCBW: Carson Street Deli brings us cask-conditioned treats from Grist House

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It’s all about the beer.

Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. But in the end, the best part is always getting to try a beer you haven’t tasted before.

I got that Wednesday night at Carson Street Deli. Every #PCBW, the deli can be counted on to host an event highlighting a local brewery, usually by landing a special cask or two of beer that hasn’t before seen the light of day. This year was no different; the deli’s folks worked with Grist House to land two pins of cask-conditioned beer: Hazedelic Juice Grenade with added fresh pineapple and two-year-old Black in the USSR imperial stout aged with cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee.

The results? Take a look at the clip to find out.