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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.:

B-ing (even more) local at Bocktown

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dilla bar

Since she opened the first Bocktown Beer and Grill in late 2006, Chris Dilla has emphasized local. Locally sources meats, veggies and breads were found up and down the food menu. And when it was possible, locally brewed beer showed up on the tap list and in the coolers that made up the Beer Library.

The trouble was that back then, there were just a handful of Pittsburgh-area breweries … and not many more on the other side of the state.

But now, as Ms. Dilla prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her Beer and Grills, she’s having a much easier time filling those tap lists with beers brewed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or neighboring states. When I visited this week, the 16 taps at B1, the original location in Robinson, all were pouring Pennsylvania-made beers; at B2, in the Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, just three taps were occupied by handles from out of state.

And that suits Ms. Dilla just fine. She’s happy to serve beer made by people she knows in breweries that are a short drive away. She likes that the money she’s spending on beer is often staying in the region.

And, best of all, she says that stocking local beer hasn’t meant sacrificing in the name of variety … or quality.

“There’s a great range of styles being produced here, and that makes it easy for us to keep a good variety on tap … and they’re great beers as well,” she said. “The idea of local has always been a big thing for us, so I love that we’re able to do it with the beer we serve.”

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.

Hollywood — and some glamorous beer — on Butler Street

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exterior

Let’s make one thing clear at the start: yes, you can take bottles from Bierport into the theater at Row House while you watch a movie there.

There are two signs and two entrances to what seems like two businesses on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. But Bierport bottle shop and taproom and Row House Cinema are one and the same. And general manager Theo Ackerson said that was pretty much the plan from the beginning — to address some of the things the neighborhood didn’t have, like, say, a bottle shop.

Lawrenceville has changed some in the two years since Row House and Bierport opened their doors. The neighborhood is no longer a craft beer desert, for example. And Ackerson said the beer side of the business has changed as well; it added a basement tap room about a year ago and changed its name from the original Atlas Bottle Works earlier this year after the owners discovered a trademark dispute involving two breweries using the Atlas name.

Bierport and Row House are part of a growing segment of businesses that saw an opening as the state began to change how it interprets its liquor laws, giving new opportunities for businesses selling beer and food.

But Mr. Ackerson, owner Brian Mendelssohn and the others there aren’t content to just serve up beer with popcorn and classic films; they’re putting some thought into those presentations. Last year’s release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout merged a tasting of the sought-after beer with a ticket to see a documentary about making the beer. But you’re not going to just get stuffy documentaries, either: why not make Flying Dog — and its Hunter S. Thompson-themed beers — your brewery of the month while you have “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” showing on the screen next door?

For those who work at Bierport and Row House, finding those common themes has to be easy when the bottle shop has more than 850 beers available. And that should make it pretty easy for you to find something you like as well.

Post-Gazette coverage of Bierport and Row House: