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The time has come for 11th Hour

It’s been a long time coming. But 11th Hour Brewing has finally opened its doors.

Not in the North Hills. And not in a Downtown location near the convention center. Those spots didn’t work out … and they’re part of the reason why it’s taken Matt and Keana McMahon a bit longer than usual to officially get started.

They don’t have to dwell on that now; in fact, there’s no time to think about everything that’s led them to this weekend, when the brewery officially opened up in a Lawrenceville building that started as a schoolhouse for German immigrants and later served as industrial space. There’s a 20-barrel brewhouse behind the bar and a long taproom that looks out over Charlotte Street through a series of garage doors. And there are clocks everywhere; just don’t count on them being correct more than twice a day … you know, at 11.

From the beginning, 11th Hour has been a family affair, and that was evident this week when I stopped in. Keana and her son, assistant brewer Justin Strzelczyk Jr., were cleaning up for a industry-and-friends soft opening that evening, while Dan McMahon, Matt’s father, continued some carpentry work. Matt’s brother Mark also did construction work and was behind the bar during the soft opening, along with Keana’s daughter Sabrina. And Matt’s sister Brie, a public relations professional, has pitched in with promoting the brewery. That’s made the long road a bit easier, Matt said.

Just how long is that road? I had my first taste of his jalapeno IPA, if I recall correctly, on an early cruise of the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge. It seems impossible that 11th Hour could be the city’s newest brewery … because they’ve been at festivals and events for years.

“But this is different,” Matt said, as he took a breather during the soft opening. “We’ve always been welcomed and accepted, but I haven’t really felt like I was fully a part of the community until now, when we finally have a place of our own. We’ve been doing this forever, but now it finally seems real.”


Post-Gazette coverage of 11th Hour Brewing:

 

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Extra: Farewell to the Beerman

A commemorative run of Oskar Blues G’Knight imperial IPA, with a label printed in honor of Tony Knipling.

Even now, days later, it’s a difficult thing to write: Tony Knipling died last week.

To say that Tony was a longtime craft beer rep at Vecenie Distributing Co. in Millvale is accurate. And completely inadequate.

He sold his own brands, sure. But nearly everything he did — from being one of the longest members of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers to the long-running Craft Beer School series with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — helped sell better beer in the broadest sense. He was one of the first people in town to do it and I don’t think there’s any question that he reached more people with that message than anyone else in town.

After calling hours for Tony and his family on Sunday, a bunch of us met at East End’s taproom in the Strip to have a beer or two and talk about what we would remember most about the Beerman. This is easily the longest video I’ve ever posted here, but the memory of Tony Knipling is absolutely worth the time.

Expanding the cans at East End

It wasn’t that long ago that cans were reserved for macro beer — and treated with scorn by those seeking a better beer experience.

That perception continues to change, nationally and locally. Just take a look around here: Grist House can’t keep cans of Fire on the Hill and Hazedelic Juice Grenade in the coolers. At Dancing Gnome, the weekly can releases almost always sell out on Day One.

And at East End, the monthly canning run to keep Big Hop at distributors and on the shelves has turned into an adventure: Which beer will we can next? It’s varied from standbys like Wheat Hop, Bigger Hop or Green Giant, the citra IPA that was canned again this week, to some newcomers that the folks at the brewery decide deserve some special treatment.

This week, that included two new beers: Partly Clahdy, East End’s dank and juicy New England-style IPA, and Seedless Watermelon Gose, a delicious mix of melon-y brightness and the tart salinity of the style. There’s a third new beer in the mix this week — Cherry Stomp, a Berliner Weisse made with sour cherries — but owner Scott Smith said the temptation to can that one as well was tempered by the fact that the guys from Iron Heart Canning, the Cleveland-based mobile canning company that made its monthly visit this week, had four beers to can already.

Mr. Smith said that as is the case at Grist House and Dancing Gnome, East End’s canning runs tend to sell briskly … and that’s good, especially for the beer. Most of the beers canned at the Larimer brewery are hop-forward, and they benefit from being consumed when they are as fresh as possible, and East End helps that cause by not canning too much: “These aren’t beers that we want to have sitting around for a long time — they’re not built for that,” Mr. Smith said. “I’d rather err on the side of not canning enough than canning too much and letting collect dust on the shelves.”

And besides, as Mr. Smith added: They can always brew more.

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?

Southern Tier, brewed here

Brewmaster David Harries works in his new brewhouse at Southern Tier’s brewhouse on the North Shore.

We know the products of Southern Tier Brewing Company pretty well. After all, with the exception of Buffalo, Pittsburgh is Southern Tier’s best market.

But if you think you know Southern Tier inside and out — and you haven’t been to the brewery’s satellite brewpub on the North Shore — you don’t know as much as you think. Among those 30 taps are three that are exclusive to our Southern Tier … and there are more on the way.

For me, the prospect of Pittsburgh-exclusive has been the draw since Southern Tier announced its plans for the North Shore spot a year ago. For a long time, I’ve been envious of the folks in Portland, Ore., and the access they have to Fat Head’s beer at the satellite pub there that we don’t see here, and I was hoping for the same kind of fun at our Southern Tier.

And with the first three locally produced beers flowing, I think the outlook for that is promising. Brewmaster David Harries — who spent time in the Lakewood brewery as well as working as a distiller at Wigle Whiskey — began with a few that could become staples: a clean golden ale, a silky oatmeal porter and an unfiltered IPA that A) definitely looks like it’s been filtered, a product of Southern Tier’s house yeast strain, and B) is a piney, resin-soaked West Coast old school IPA — a great counterpart to Southern Tier’s citrusy Nu Skool IPA.

Mr. Harries said that in addition to setting up a consistent lineup here — his goal is to have four locals on at all times — he’ll work with the brewers at the mothership in Western New York to experiment with styles or variations that might get big-brewery treatment later on. That kind of freedom is the byproduct of working on a smaller system — 8.5 barrels versus 110 — and we should be beneficiaries.

What else should you expect from the brewpub? A warm appearance, excellent pub food, a selection of STBC swag — including black and gold branded items — and plenty of cold beer to go, in growlers, bombers and six packs.

And as anyone who has visited the pub since it opened in late January, you should also expect a crowd — it’s popular, and for good reason.

 

Post-Gazette coverage of Southern Tier’s North Shore pub: