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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 brings bacon, burgers and comic book beer to Pig Iron

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.

Did it work? Run the clip to find out.

Adventurous ales in the Works in Butler

Is Butler Brew Works worth the four-year wait?

After getting a taste of La Noche Triste, I’d have to say it is.

I don’t know if co-owners Travis Tuttle and Nick Fazzoni feel the same way; I suspect that they’re just happy to get their first six months as a working brewpub under their belts. It’s been a long time coming, after all.

Mr. Fazzoni and Mr. Tuttle started down the road to open Butler Brew Works in 2012, but problems with their downtown Butler property — particularly the building that had been home to the Butler Hot Dog Shop, which had to be razed before any work on the brewery could begin — set them back financially and chronologically.

But it’s best to not dwell on the delays now that Butler Brew Works is open and drawing people from around the region. And it’s not hard to see why. The brick building at Main and Jefferson streets is a striking contrast to the drug stores that occupied the corner for years; inside, reclaimed pallet planks covers one wall and the massive sign from Reiber Block, another building Mr. Tuttle and Mr. Fazzoni had to take down before they started, hangs on another. It manages to be sleek and modern while still feeling warm and inviting at the same time.

Did I mention warm? If that’s what you’re craving, I’d suggest a glass of Machete, the double IPA that nicely masks its 9 percent ABV — until you’ve finished a glass — behind a swirl of piney citrus flavors.

And then there’s La Noche Triste, the milk stout that gets an injection of locally roasted coffee — my sample had the Main Street roast from Butler’s Cummings Coffee and Candy — post fermentation. It is what I want for breakfast; the rich, creamy sweetness of the lactose sugars in the stout swirl with the roasted coffee for a perfect pint. Maybe Butler Brew Works could start serving breakfast as well?

Post-Gazette coverage of Butler Brew Works:

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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.

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Reclaiming craft beer in Butler

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Mike and John Smith taste three Reclamation beers at the brewery’s pub in Butler.

Butler has always had bars, even some good ones.

But there is something different about a brew pub; it can inspire community and loyalty, and the beers themselves can become friends along with the regulars sitting next to you.

John Smith, his son Ben and their friend Ben Duncan built Reclamation Brewing on Main Street in Butler with Irish pubs in mind; not just in a physical sense — although the 125-year-old planks in the floor and the re-purposed tin ceiling tiles on the face of the bar contribute to a definite Irish feel in the space, which had been a gift shop. In the best pubs they found in Ireland — the ones that dotted the countryside towns, not the ones built for tourists in Dublin — were the community.

And that’s what they wanted for Reclamation. It’s right there on the brewery’s site:

The pub has always been and always will be a place for the community to gather, make connections, share ideas and perspectives, discuss the world, and have a great time together.

John and the Bens began brewing together years ago, as an easier alternative to the wine making they had dabbled with before. Some experimentation led to a few recipes that became regulars — a roasty milk stout, a slightly sweet pale ale and — of course — a dry Irish stout.

They’re all still regulars — Spurgeon’s, Promised Land and Egan’s, respectively — in Butler’s first brewpub, but they have regular company on the menu ranging from standards — Butler Brown, Everyman’s Red and a Belgian Wit called Wittenburg — to hot ginger pales and hefty limited-release barleywines and wee heavies.

That’s enough variety to keep regulars happy … and keep them coming back for more.

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