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Tag Archives: sour beer

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.

#PCBW breakfast and some big beers at Piper’s

Want to find me on the Wednesday of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week? Don’t bother looking in the office.

It’s not difficult to track me down, though. If you’re looking first thing in the morning, you’ll definitely find me at Piper’s Pub, for the South Side bar’s annual Beer Week breakfast. It started as a Kentucky-themed event, with three-year flights of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and an amazing Kentucky hot brown boxty. It then morphed into a breakfast cereal and beer pairing (Hint: Pour some chocolate stout over a bowl of peanut butter Cap’n Crunch. No, really.)

But since then, the day has featured a dual purpose: to highlight the beer acquisition skills of Hart Johnson, the cellarman at Piper’s, and the talents of Mindy Heisler, the executive chef there and at the Pub Chip Shop next door. Each year, Hart lines up some tough-to-find kegs and casks, generally of the beefy beer variety; for example, I had pours of three huge stouts with my breakfast this week, along with a glass of the ultimate breakfast beer, Roundabout’s Mimosa Gose.

And then there is the food, which is excessive in all of the best ways. My breakfast: Piper’s crispy chicken tenders served over a house-made Belgian waffle, with Mindy’s jalapeno maple bacon syrup drizzled over the plate. That’s one of the lightweight dishes, too; I chose it over the Drunken Irishman, a Belgian waffle covered with warm bourbon-roasted banana slices and Nutella.

And then there was the sandwich: a chicken-fried sausage patty and a dippy egg, served in a Just Good Donuts glazed doughnut bun. I am pleased to be able to tell my doctor that I didn’t even consider that one.

Beer is always in Bloom in West Newton

When he opened up Bloom Brew more than two years ago, Jeffrey Bloom didn’t have much space. His brand new brewery, after all, was tucked into the back corner of the of the West Newton Fire Department’s building.

That didn’t stop him from filling the spot with ambition. And kegs … enough to keep 24 taps flowing nearly all the time.

But the smaller scale of the brewery and the insanely ambitious number of taps actually work hand in hand, as does Mr. Bloom’s obsession with aging beer in wood barrels. An example: When the tap room was open this week, Mr. Bloom handed tasters of a new mango sour to several customers, clarifying that this version — the first to go on tap — was his least favorite of the six — SIX — varieties he brewed while tinkering with the recipe.

Six takes on one new beer? That’ll help keep those 24 taps from running dry, and it’ll give craft beer lovers in his neck of Westmoreland County a chance to follow along with the experiments.

While those sours and stouts sit in barrels, others are lagering. In the meantime, a steady stream of ales, which don’t require the same amount of production time, rotate in and out with the fussier beers … and there is always plenty of beer to choose from.

There are plenty of opportunities to help out the community, something that’s been a priority for Mr. Bloom. One beer, 82 Hot Head Red, benefits the borough’s fire department (with whom he shares a home; another, Brewce’s Ryed, benefits the local trail association (the Great Allegheny Passage runs by the brewery on the opposite shore of the Youghiogheny River); a third, Snewton IPA, benefits the downtown local development group.

Excellent causes, yes. But you could also just go for the beer … all 24 taps of it.