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Hitchhiker opens up shop in Sharpsburg

Once Gary Olden and Andy Kwiatkowski found a new home for Hitchhiker Brewing, making the change didn’t take all that long.

It was finding the home that was the tough part.

Olden, the owner, and Kwiatkowski, the head brewer, started looking for a larger space for Hitchhiker since shortly after the Mt. Lebanon brewery opened. The taproom in the original home has served — and will continue to serve — customers well, but the three-barrel brewhouse was stuffed into the basement of the building, forcing the pair to find some creative solutions when it came to storing hops and grains, cleaning and filling kegs … oh, and making beer.

They thought they had a place lined up off East Carson Street in the South Side, but city of Pittsburgh red tape — and what would have been a hefty plumbing bill — meant that space was unsuitable. But the search stretched into a second year before a break came for Hitchhiker; Olden was visiting Sharpsburg to check out another property when he noticed the massive outbuilding that had been the power house for the old Fort Pitt brewery. It turned out that the building was for sale, and by last winter, Olden, Kwiatkowski and a small crew had started work on building a new brewery and tap room.

The brewhouse was done first, and Kwiatkowski brewed his first beer there — an APA called 15th and Canal, for the new brewery’s location in Sharpsburg — in June. The taproom, though, took a bit longer — they put the finishing touches on it just in the last week or two, and opened the doors for a couple test nights this week.

The public space makes an impression right away. The tile work was preserved, as were the beams and skylights that give the room its industrial look. The curved bar is backed by a wall of taps. Twelve of those were pouring Hitchhiker beers when I visited this week; a handful of guest liquids were pouring from the others.

When you visit — the grand opening is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 9 — get a peek in the brewhouse if that door is open. The massive space makes the 15-barrel system seem small. It also means there is plenty of room to grow if there is need; adding more tanks to the space would be easy, and a canning line would fit nicely as well. A few more additions are already in place: two 1,000-gallon foeders — wood vats that will age sour beers — and a wall of smaller barrels for barrel-aged products.

But here’s the best part: the beer. Kwiatkowski doesn’t hesitate to say that Hitchhiker’s products have improved since he started brewing on the new system earlier this summer. And look for higher ABV beers as well; Kwiatkowski said the old system simply didn’t have enough capacity for the grains he needed to build, for example, a double IPA (spoiler alert: there’s one on the way).

If you’re a fan of the cozy Mt. Lebanon taproom, don’t worry — it’s not going anywhere. But if you live on the other side of Pittsburgh’s rivers, you’re in for a treat. And you don’t even have to hitch a ride to get there.

Telling the story of beer

Joe McAllister and Matt Sherwin, two of the people behind the effort to bring Brew: The Museum of Beer to Pittsburgh.

Joe McAllister and Matt Sherwin, two of the people behind the effort to bring Brew: The Museum of Beer to Pittsburgh.

If you want a complete history of beer, you’ll need to go back 10,000 years.

If you want a complete history of beer in the United States, Pittsburgh is as good a place as anywhere to start — after all, Fort Pitt was the home of the first brewery west of the Alleghenies, serving up beer to the troops stationed here.

That’s part of the thinking behind Brew: The Museum of Beer, a national beer museum that a group hopes to bring to Pittsburgh in the next two years.The team, known as The National Beer Museum Development Group, has been busy in recent weeks, unveiling its plans in the Post-Gazette in August and holding a kickoff party and fundraiser last month.

Joe McAllister and Matt Sherwin — along with third partner Denis Meinert — envision a 50,000-square-foot space close to Downtown. About 20,000 square feet of that would be reserved for exhibit space, but that won’t be the only attraction; the museum will also be home to a brewery and a 300-seat restaurant, serving beer made there but also emphasizing taps from other breweries in the region. There would also be an event space on the property, and a healthy retail operation.

Add it up, and you have what the team members hope will be on par with Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which attracts more than 400,000 visitors annually. Could what works in Cleveland work here as well?

“That’s just one of the models we’ve been examining, but it’s a good comparison,” Mr. McAllister. “And Pittsburgh certainly has a legitimate history with brewing, one that goes back 250 years.”

Want to get involved with the museum well before the anticipated 2018 opening? The team is running an Indiegogo campaign to raise $50,000 to be used to complete studies and help with other, more substantial fundraising efforts. And if you’re wondering whether this museum has a shot: the crowdsourcing campaign has already raised nearly $20,000.