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Category Archives: Westmoreland County

Beer is always in Bloom in West Newton

When he opened up Bloom Brew more than two years ago, Jeffrey Bloom didn’t have much space. His brand new brewery, after all, was tucked into the back corner of the of the West Newton Fire Department’s building.

That didn’t stop him from filling the spot with ambition. And kegs … enough to keep 24 taps flowing nearly all the time.

But the smaller scale of the brewery and the insanely ambitious number of taps actually work hand in hand, as does Mr. Bloom’s obsession with aging beer in wood barrels. An example: When the tap room was open this week, Mr. Bloom handed tasters of a new mango sour to several customers, clarifying that this version — the first to go on tap — was his least favorite of the six — SIX — varieties he brewed while tinkering with the recipe.

Six takes on one new beer? That’ll help keep those 24 taps from running dry, and it’ll give craft beer lovers in his neck of Westmoreland County a chance to follow along with the experiments.

While those sours and stouts sit in barrels, others are lagering. In the meantime, a steady stream of ales, which don’t require the same amount of production time, rotate in and out with the fussier beers … and there is always plenty of beer to choose from.

There are plenty of opportunities to help out the community, something that’s been a priority for Mr. Bloom. One beer, 82 Hot Head Red, benefits the borough’s fire department (with whom he shares a home; another, Brewce’s Ryed, benefits the local trail association (the Great Allegheny Passage runs by the brewery on the opposite shore of the Youghiogheny River); a third, Snewton IPA, benefits the downtown local development group.

Excellent causes, yes. But you could also just go for the beer … all 24 taps of it.

Getting bigger but thinking small at Rivertowne

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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.

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.

Brewing for all Four Seasons

Mark Pavlik

There’s nothing like a little hardware to give a new craft brewery a shot in the arm.

Latrobe’s Four Seasons Brewing Co. had made it through the hard part — finding a home, finding some capital and finding some equipment — and had been in business for not quite a year when, on a fall night in 2014, Mark Pavlik noticed that the brewery’s name kept popping up on social media.

The messages were from the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado, and they told Mr. Pavlik, the brewer and owner, that his oatmeal stout, Dark Side of the Pint, had won a silver medal for the style.

Things were going well at that point, Mr. Pavlik said, but the medal brought the kind of attention that money can’t buy. It wasn’t the only reason the brewery has been able to double capacity since then — and it’s not the sole thing behind Mr. Pavlik being able to convert what started as a growler shop into a full pub — but the hardware definitely helped.

You’ll find Dark Side of the Pint on tap — and maybe on nitro, a creamy treat — when you visit the Four Seasons pub on Lloyd Avenue Extension in Latrobe, along with some others that have become favorites of mine: Bang Bang Double IPA, a juicy bombshell that masks its alcohol-by-volume of nearly 9 percent, and Local, a crisp, hoppy American pale ale that is guaranteed to make a pizza taste twice as good.

You may also soon find Dark Side or Bang Bang in bottles or cans near you. Four Seasons recently took over an additional section of its leased building, and although he doesn’t yet know specifics, Mr. Pavlik has plans for packaging sometime soon.

And that’s great news, regardless of the season.

Post-Gazette coverage of Four Seasons Brewing: