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Pittsburgh is more than craft beer

Yinz cannot live by craft beer alone.

Which is a pretty good reason to organize a Pittsburgh Libations Week.

You’ll have to wait for another year for an actual week with actual events, but chances are pretty good that you’ve already heard something about Pittsburgh Libations Week, as Jason Cercone works to get it going.

Mr. Cercone has been involved with the region’s craft beer scene since he founded his Breaking Brews news and marketing service several years back. As he became more involved with the scene, he began noticing connections between the area’s breweries and those involved in other facets of the adult beverage industry. Moreover, he started noticing the quality of what was available: ciders, meads, wine, distilleries and a thriving cocktail culture.

Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week was already several years into its successful run at that point; while Mr. Cercone was an enthusiastic supporter — he’s emceed several PCBW events and hosted others over the years — he thought the rest of the industry deserved some time in the spotlight as well.

If goes as planned, the first Pittsburgh Libations Week will be held a year from now. But Mr. Cercone is starting to fill his calendar with promotional events — some to raise money for his event, some to raise money for charity and all to raise awareness about PLW and the industry behind it — like the Uno tournament coming up at the Wigle Barrelhouse on the North Side Oct. 29.

And as a perfect distillation of Mr. Cercone’s vision, the Uno event will feature cocktails made with local beers and Wigle spirits … because, as he hopes to show, we’re all one big happy family.

#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.

Laurel Highlands Meadery celebrates a year in Irwin

 

I couldn’t tell you when I had my very first taste of mead. But I can definitely tell you who gave me the first taste I enjoyed — that was Matt Falenski, owner of Laurel Highlands Meadery.

I attended the 2011 edition of Erie’s Beer on the Bay festival with Doug Derda, so I could give him a hand with his “Should I Drink That” podcast. My admittedly fuzzy recollection: we hadn’t even finished setting up when Mr. Falenski shows up at our table with cups of his bochet mead — made with roasted honey — and a┬ámind-blowing chocolate mead. These were not the syrupy, sticky-sweet meads I had tasted previously; they were light, not overly sweet and all about flavor, rather than their substantial kick.

Since then, I’ve seen Laurel Highlands meads at Pipers Pub and other places, and enjoyed the growth of the style as Apis booms through its first few years in Carnegie. But until this week, I hadn’t visited the tasting room Mr. Falenski opened a year ago in downtown Irwin.

The warm, inviting space fits; it’s a comfortable place to sample a few tastes of the Laurel Highlands meads, everything from its traditional mead — the closest thing to what I thought mead was, which is to day it wasn’t really close at all — to varieties that are hopped or flavored with ginger, fruit or habanero peppers. If you’re a craft beer drinker, these won’t be unfamiliar to you, especially if you order a taste of Mr. Falenski’s saison mead; it’s made with French saison yeast and orange blossom honey — a sharper flavor than the Pennsylvania wildflower honey used in most of Laurel’s meads, he said — and it tastes remarkably like the farmhouse ales I love.

If you’re not yet familiar with mead, you have a great opportunity on Saturday. That’s when Mr. Falenski celebrates the one-year anniversary of the Laurel Highlands tasting room in Irwin, with live music and a couple long-awaited special releases. Among those: Laurel’s chocolate mead — not the one I tasted in Erie six years ago (the one Mr. Falenski now refers to as “a mess”), but his┬átraditional mead aged with cocoa nibs. The result is not a chocolate drink as much as it is a light, smooth mead with a subtle chocolate flavor.

Like he did when we first met in Erie, Mr. Falenski is still confounding my expectations — for the better.

Post-Gazette coverage of Laurel Highlands Meadery:

Category: Westmoreland County | Tags: ,

Trying to mead the demand

dave me cranberry clove

Two years ago, David Cerminara was ready to take a leap.

After several years of working professionally as a brewer at Penn Brewing in Troy Hill, Mr. Cerminara had begun thinking of a way to pursue his private passion: brewing mead, the prehistoric style of wine made from fermented honey. The Carnegie native found a space in his hometown and, in the summer of 2014, opened up Apis Mead and Winery with a half-dozen varieties of his modern spin on the ancient drink.

Back then, Mr. Cerminara thought he had found a unique niche; nearly a year and a half later, that’s still the case. As it was when he opened, much of Mr. Cerminara’s professional time is spent educating the customers who walk through his doors; for example, while he makes what he calls a traditional mead — the sweeter, thicker, boozier liquid some of us expect when we hear the word — he concentrates on making a more drinkable beverage: lighter and featuring different flavors than the honey that is the backbone of each version.

As he expected when he surveyed Pittsburgh a couple of years ago and saw a hole in the market, the meads of Apis are in demand, both in his tap room in Carnegie and in bars and restaurants around the region. That’s put some strain on his brewing system, which has doubled in size since he opened and, with the arrival of several new tanks, will increase his capacity again.

That will allow Mr. Cerminara’s experimentation to continue unabated. Yes, as he says, there are meads on his tap list that are just honey, yeast and water, but the fun comes in trying some of the meadery’s more unusual combinations. Habanero peppers and mango? Delicious. Bourbon-barrel aged pumpkin and spice? A perfect warmer for weeks leading up to winter. Cranberry and clove? Thanksgiving is coming, and a bottle of that mead should be on your table. If you’re looking for something that might fall along the lines of a traditional wine, definitely try a bottle of Mr. Cerminara’s mead made with Sangiovese grapes.

It’s understandable if all of this sounds a bit intimidating, but don’t be afraid to stop by Apis at 212 E. Main St. in Carnegie. You’ll likely find Mr. Cerminara there, and he’ll be happy to help you get acquainted.

Post-Gazette coverage of Apis Mead and Winery:

Category: Allegheny County | Tags: , ,