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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:

 

Category: Pittsburgh | Tags: ,

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.

#PCBW collab Beard of Bees creates a buzz

Beard of Bees, a collaboration between Spoonwood and Apis, debuted on Saturday at Spoonwood … and the buzz was noticeable.

This imperial honey porter spent a few months stewing in Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. By the time we got our first tastes on Saturday, the beer had become a beast with sweet finish: boozy and woody, with huge roasted notes smoothed out by the honey.

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:

Hitching a ride to Sharpsburg

One thing is for certain — Andy Kwiatkowski won’t be bumping his head on the ceiling at work any longer.

For almost three years, knots on his head have been a occupational hazard for Mr. Kwiatkowski, the head brewer at Mt. Lebanon’s Hitchhiker Brewing Co.; that’s understandable when your brewhouse is stuffed into a basement with a low clearance.

But when Mr. Kwiatkowski and Gary Olden, Hitchhiker’s owner, move into new digs in Sharpsburg later this spring, ceiling clearance won’t be an issue; the new brewhouse will be assembled in what had been the power plant of the old Fort Pitt Brewery complex between South Canal Street and Marys Avenue, and as you can see in the photo of Mr. Olden and Mr. Kwiatkowski, there is plenty of room.

That additional space will be helpful in another way: increased capacity. The Mt. Lebanon location is home to a three-barrel brewing system; in the Sharpsburg space, that gets bumped up to 15 barrels, which will allow Mr. Kwiatkowski to brew enough beer to serve two taprooms and still have plenty left over to sell to other accounts. And once the brewing actually begins, some of the new space will be filled with barrels … and they’ll be filled with sours or other barrel-aged projects that are Mr. Kwiatkowski’s real passion.

And that’s just the behind-the-scenes part of the expansive property. One the taproom is ready you’ll be welcomed by a 35-foot bar and an array of tables. It should be summertime when the space is ready, so Hitchhiker should be able to make good use of the large outdoor space behind the building. And as it does in Mt. Lebanon, there will be a limited food menu, supplemented by occasional food trucks.

The new brewery is a bonus for Sharpsburg, which welcomed Dancing Gnome just last year. Mr. Olden said the borough was welcoming and easy to work with — a nice contrast to previous expansion efforts that ended in frustration with Pittsburgh’s city government.

Sharpsburg knows brewing, of course. And while Hitchhiker won’t be as large as Fort Pitt was in its glory days — it was the largest brewery in the state at its peak in the 1940s — but both Mr. Olden and Mr. Kwiatkowski relish their connection to the borough’s brewing history. “When we set out to look for a space, I didn’t think there were a lot of spaces that still stood from back when brewing was here,” Mr. Kwiatkowski said. “It’s amazing.”

Post-Gazette coverage of Hitchhiker Brewing Company:

Category: Allegheny County | Tags: ,