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Extra: Farewell to the Beerman

A commemorative run of Oskar Blues G’Knight imperial IPA, with a label printed in honor of Tony Knipling.

Even now, days later, it’s a difficult thing to write: Tony Knipling died last week.

To say that Tony was a longtime craft beer rep at Vecenie Distributing Co. in Millvale is accurate. And completely inadequate.

He sold his own brands, sure. But nearly everything he did — from being one of the longest members of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers to the long-running Craft Beer School series with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — helped sell better beer in the broadest sense. He was one of the first people in town to do it and I don’t think there’s any question that he reached more people with that message than anyone else in town.

After calling hours for Tony and his family on Sunday, a bunch of us met at East End’s taproom in the Strip to have a beer or two and talk about what we would remember most about the Beerman. This is easily the longest video I’ve ever posted here, but the memory of Tony Knipling is absolutely worth the time.

Learning to love lagers

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I’m willing to bet that your first taste of beer was a lager.

I’m also willing to bet that when you think of lagers now, you’re still thinking about that first taste of fizzy yellow beer.

Maybe it’s time to think again.

To many of us, lagers aren’t as sexy as the ale side of the family — they’re not the beefy, barrel-aged stouts or golden-orange IPAs that we stand in line for on release day.

Yes, they’re generally cleaner than their cousins, and the flavors can be more subtle. But dismissing lagers just because they are lagers is the wrong way to go.

Like hops? Find a German pilsner, like Penn’s Kaiser Pils or Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils; you’ll love the sharp, spicy hop bitterness. Appreciate the complexity of a darker beer? A doppelbock, with a mix of roasted and caramel malts — and a little alcohol heft — will satisfy that urge. And if you’re looking for out-there flavors, a rauchbier — smoked malts give it its barbecue flavor will scratch that itch.

And, as 90-degree weather approaches, the best thing about lagers might be this: It’s hard to top a clean, cold lager on a hot day.

And here’s the good part: There are a bunch of well-done lagers to be had right here in the Pittsburgh area, from the old — Penn’s original German styles are still among the best out there — to the new — a couple visits to Helicon in Oakdale will help you understand brewer Andy Weigel’s love of lagers. And as I discovered when I visited Hart Johnson at Piper’s Pub to tape this show, there are a bunch more.

I’m ready for you, summer, just as soon as I stock my beer fridge with the best lagers Pittsburgh has to offer.

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