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A sweet start for Greensburg Craft Beer Week

The first-ever Greensburg Craft Beer Week got off to a good start on Monday … especially for those of us with a sweet tooth.

I started in downtown Greensburg, where Hugo’s Taproom — a cozy neighborhood pub with good-looking food and a great-looking tap list — hosted a beer and chocolate pairing. The beer was provided by Quinn Brewing, which brought along four rich, malt forward selections to compliment the chocolates. And the chocolates gave us a preview of McFeely’s Gourmet Chocolate, a shop that’s set to open a Greensburg location soon.

The pairings all worked well; my favorite was definitely Braddock’s Golden Ale — a soft, approachable beer that Alan Quinn said was the brewery’s “regular beer” — and a dark chocolate-jalapeno bark.

From there, I stopped at Tapped Brick Oven and Pour House, to get a little dinner and to get a taste of Foster Pumpkin Project, a pumpkin beer made by the folks at Tapped and Delmont’s Yellow Bridge Brewing. I also followed up my delicious thin-crust pizza with a #gbgcbw dessert pairing: beers from Fat Head’s and desserts from Sweet Tarte’s Bakerie; my choice was the Goggle Fogger hefeweizen and a slice of bananas Foster cheesecake.

And then I waddled out to my car and drove home.

The dessert pairing and the pumpkin collab will be available at Tapped all week, and there are plenty more events to entice a drive to Greensburg. Take a look at the schedule, and then head east this week … it’s worth the trip.

Greensburg gets its own craft beer week

Jeff Guidos, owner of All Saints Brewing, discusses the collaboration beers he’s readying for Greensburg Craft Beer Week.

Don’t think Greensburg has enough going on to sustain its own version of a beer week?

Think again.

GBG and the surrounding area is home to some of the best breweries in the region, from long-timers like All Saints to brand-new places like Yellow Bridge. There’s an established group of taverns and restaurants that put craft beer front and center. And there’s a growing enthusiasm for better beer, in Greensburg and throughout Westmoreland County.

Still not buying it? Consider this: organizers of the first Greensburg Craft Beer Week, scheduled for Oct. 9-15, was originally going to be held over a long weekend; since the event was announced, though, the list of stuff to do has ballooned to close to 40 events — as of press time, that is — spread out over a full week.

The week had been a longtime daydream of Jenn Weir who, as a brewery rep, had firsthand experience with successful craft beer weeks in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The daydream was set in motion more than a year ago when Weir, now with Greensburg Beverage, discussed her vision with Jess Hickey of the Downtown Greensburg Project; Hickey has been organizing the event since.

What’s to come once the week begins? The full events listing is here, but the highlights include several beer dinners and events that pair beers with desserts, doughnuts and even cigars. If you’re feeling active, there are brewery-hosted yoga classes and a bike tour. And there are some definite headliners: Art on Tap at the gorgeous Westmoreland Museum of American Art, a Friday the Firkenteenth party at Tapped and a tasting tent at Seton Hill University’s homecoming tailgate party.

And yes, there is beer — local breweries have teamed to make four collaboration beers for the week. All Saints owner Jeff Guidos said he’s worked with Noble Stein to brew a red IPA and with Rivertowne to brew a double IPA, the first time he’s made a high-gravity IPA. Fury and Levity will release a Baltic porter brewed with rich plums and on the week’s opening night, Yellow Bridge and the folks at Tapped will release a pumpkin pie beer — based on the restaurant’s pumpkin pie recipe — to benefit the Foster Love Project.

Let’s see: A great local craft beer scene? Check. More events than one person could attend? Check. Collabs? Check.

Greensburg Craft Beer Week? Check … as in, make sure you to Greensburg and check it out.

Happy about Fury Brewing

What is there to be angry about? Only the name.

Besides that, though, there is no reason to be upset about the start of Fury Brewing in North Huntingdon. The space is cool and accessible, there is pizza and the beer is good across the board.

Fury is the result of a two-year push by four partners — Ryan Slicker (that’s him above), Tom Jenkins, Stephen Hoffer and Ernie Slicker — that culminated in late March, when the brewery opened in a strip mall along Route 30. Since then, a steady stream of rotating beers — from Carson Street Kolsch to Stealth American stout — have showed in Fury’s taps and at a couple other nearby tap spots.

Ryan Slicker, Fury’s head brewer, began as a homebrewer, racking up awards in local competitions. With those in his back pocket, he began talking with Hoffer and Jenkins about how a startup brewery might work. The plan was to offer a diverse lineup of beers — the partners aren’t all hopheads, for example, so expect to see plenty of malt-forward beers — the delicious Ale-ementary English brown ale is a great example — on the tap list.

That’s not to say hopheads won’t be happy. Sid’s 1K IPA has been popular enough that Slicker had to take it off the list while a fresh batch percolates in the fermenter. And be sure to pay attention to the Hoff SMaSH single-hop pale ale series; when I visited, there was a Centennial version and one made with Moteuka, a hop from New Zealand that imparts a bright, juicy start and a crisp, dry finish. I love that kind of experimentation, and this series — named in honor of partner Hoffer — shows a lot of promise.

One beer that’s not on? Slicker’s award-winning German pilsner, because Fury doesn’t yet have the capability to cold ferment lagers. Slicker said that’s coming soon … and in the meantime, his kolsch — the Carson Street variety and a new one that will be on shortly — fills the lighter side of the bill nicely.

Despite the name and the fiery-looking dude in the logo, there is nothing infuriating — or even mildly irritating — about Fury Brewing … with the possible exception of that missing pils. But that’ll be fixed soon enough, and in the meantime, Fury is a great reason to hit the road to North Huntingdon for a beer.

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?

Laurel Highlands Meadery celebrates a year in Irwin

 

I couldn’t tell you when I had my very first taste of mead. But I can definitely tell you who gave me the first taste I enjoyed — that was Matt Falenski, owner of Laurel Highlands Meadery.

I attended the 2011 edition of Erie’s Beer on the Bay festival with Doug Derda, so I could give him a hand with his “Should I Drink That” podcast. My admittedly fuzzy recollection: we hadn’t even finished setting up when Mr. Falenski shows up at our table with cups of his bochet mead — made with roasted honey — and a mind-blowing chocolate mead. These were not the syrupy, sticky-sweet meads I had tasted previously; they were light, not overly sweet and all about flavor, rather than their substantial kick.

Since then, I’ve seen Laurel Highlands meads at Pipers Pub and other places, and enjoyed the growth of the style as Apis booms through its first few years in Carnegie. But until this week, I hadn’t visited the tasting room Mr. Falenski opened a year ago in downtown Irwin.

The warm, inviting space fits; it’s a comfortable place to sample a few tastes of the Laurel Highlands meads, everything from its traditional mead — the closest thing to what I thought mead was, which is to day it wasn’t really close at all — to varieties that are hopped or flavored with ginger, fruit or habanero peppers. If you’re a craft beer drinker, these won’t be unfamiliar to you, especially if you order a taste of Mr. Falenski’s saison mead; it’s made with French saison yeast and orange blossom honey — a sharper flavor than the Pennsylvania wildflower honey used in most of Laurel’s meads, he said — and it tastes remarkably like the farmhouse ales I love.

If you’re not yet familiar with mead, you have a great opportunity on Saturday. That’s when Mr. Falenski celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Laurel Highlands tasting room in Irwin, with live music and a couple long-awaited special releases. Among those: Laurel’s chocolate mead — not the one I tasted in Erie six years ago (the one Mr. Falenski now refers to as “a mess”), but his traditional mead aged with cocoa nibs. The result is not a chocolate drink as much as it is a light, smooth mead with a subtle chocolate flavor.

Like he did when we first met in Erie, Mr. Falenski is still confounding my expectations — for the better.

Post-Gazette coverage of Laurel Highlands Meadery:

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