Post-Gazette Blogs

East End is grateful for volunteers. We’re grateful for barleywine.

And everyone is grateful for Gratitude. Especially on Gratitude Day.

East End’s mostly-annual release of its Gratitude barleywine started more than a decade ago, as a way for the then-young brewery to thank its customers.

These days, Gratitude release day is a full-fledged Pittsburgh beer holiday, the first day of its kind around here, with the possible exception of the yearly release of Penn’s St. Nikolaus Bock.Customers line up for bottles of the fresh Gratitude, to both drink now and to stow away for a few years. And they also show up to get their hands on vintage bottles that have been stashed away by the brewery for special occasions.

What’s the big deal? Like other barleywines, Gratitude is a big beer, and because of its ingredients and its alcohol, it ages extremely well; after a few years, some of the flavors that are more prominent in the younger versions — especially the hops that are easy to find when Gratitude is fresh — drop away, revealing a complex liquid that often reminds me of a rich brandy. East End owner Scott Smith said his favorite versions of the beer come in two varieties — as fresh as possible or aged four or more years.

But the production that is Gratitude Day doesn’t come without some extra work. When the beer is ready — it is bottle conditioned, on top of spending a lot of extra time in fermentation tanks — a team of volunteers show up at the brewery to label the bottles and dip them in a colored wax — green this year — specific to the vintage.

And this year, there was a new twist: a return to a few of the paper-labeled 750 ml bottles that were a hallmark of Gratitude releases past. That meant that this year’s volunteers got some first-hand experience with the sloppy wheat paste used to make that paper stick.

It’s not all bad, though — they get a pizza lunch for their trouble and, besides the folks who actually work at the brewery, they get the first tastes of the brand-new vintage. And that’s definitely something to be thankful for.

This year’s Gratitude Day is Saturday, March 24, at the brewery in Larimer. Both styles of bottles of the new barleywine will be available, as well as verticals, barrel-aged Gratitude in 16-ounce cans and flights on tap. Details are available here.


Big thanks to my friends at Stewards of Beer for the photos of the volunteers prepping Gratitude bottles.

Talking beer and bourbon with Lew Bryson

Lew Bryson knows Pittsburgh liquids.

He may be a native of the Philly area, but Bryson, who splits his professional time writing about whiskey and beer, has spent a significant amount of time here, attending school at Carnegie Mellon and haunting some of our great old beer bars, like Chiodo’s Tavern in Homestead.

And even though his roots remain in the eastern side of the state, Bryson is here a lot, often enough that he knows what our breweries have to offer and how they stack up against the rest of the country. And he pretty much wrote the book on tasting whiskey (no, really — he wrote the book on tasting whiskey), so he knows what our craft distillers are up to as well.

Bryson was in town recently to share pours of a treat from Marker’s Mark: a Private Select blend he worked on with a few other spirits writers who, collectively, were known as the curmudgeons (seriously — it says so right on the bottle). And while we discussed the process of picking out differently prepared barrel staves that were used to give their bourbon some heft, we also took a little time to discuss the scene in Pittsburgh and how we’re buying and consuming our beer these days.

As promised in the show: find Bryson on Twitter. He’s got a few more bottles of that special Maker’s to share, so pay attention, and you might get a taste for yourself.

Category: Pittsburgh, Region | Tags: , ,

Finding balance with locally brewed little beers

First of all — pony bottles are adorable, but that’s not what I mean by little beers.

What I am talking about are what have come to be recognized as traditional English beer styles — bitters, milds and, in the case of Hart Johnson’s recommendation for this show, an OG porter that won’t remind you of the beefy American versions of the same style.

The idea for this show struck me while I had dinner at Piper’s Pub a few weeks back and ordered an English mild from Four Seasons in Latrobe … and in spite of the demure nature of the style, I was blown away. The beer is perfectly balanced, with rich, caramel malts restrained by a touch of hop bitterness. I wanted another, and at 4.4 percent ABV, that’s totally fine.

It’s not a stretch to find beers like this at Piper’s; but the thing to get excited about is that our local brewers are starting to make them as well. When I returned to do the show a few days later, Hart had added Blanks and Postage, a bitter by Brew Gentlemen, to the lineup; we also tasted Brawler, a mild that been a staple for Yards Brewing in Philly for years, and — at Hart’s insistence — a deliciously restrained London Porter from Fuller’s in, uh, London.

To me, the trend towards smaller, more restrained styles, nationally and locally, is a good thing; I’m as guilty as anyone of chasing bigger beers and hot styles, but it’s also great to see that brewers here are also interested in digging in to the nuance of smaller beers as well.

Category: Region | Tags: , ,

Filling your last-minute gift list … with beer

Sure, Christmas is just a few days away. But if you’re shopping for beer people, you still have plenty of time.

Here — I’ll prove it:

I took a quick trip around town to talk to some of my favorite beer folks to get some suggestions for locally brewed beer that would make great last-minute — or last-second — gifts. The only stipulation: the subjects couldn’t pick a beer they made.

There are pales and IPAs. There are some holiday-season favorites. And there are styles from all over the globe, all brewed right here at home.

Whether you’re shopping for a friend or you’re looking for something special for your holiday weekend, we’re fortunate to have all of these options — and many, many more. Enjoy your holiday weekend, boys and girls … and enjoy it with some Pittsburgh-brewed craft beer.

Bigger means better for Erie’s Lavery Brewing

A quick glance at the Lavery Brewing brew house in downtown Erie doesn’t reveal any obvious problems.

You’ll have an easier time figuring out the issue if you take this approach: When was the last time you saw Lavery beers on the shelves or in your favorite bars here in Pittsburgh?

Chances are it’s been quite a while.

Lavery will start 2018 with a hefty expansion to its brewing capacity and if all goes well, it will have fixed a biggest challenge: it can’t make enough beer.

Jason Lavery, who founded the brewery about eight years ago with his wife Nikki, said the brewery initially had a hard time finding customers in its home market, so it immediately began shipping beer to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and a couple of out-of-state destinations. That worked well, until the locals caught on and demand for Lavery in Erie — especially in its brewpub, which opened a few years ago — began to spike.

Now, Lavery said, the brewery sells nearly every drop in makes in Erie County, which means there’s no Dulachan IPA, Ulster Breakfast Stout or Liopard Oir Farmhouse Ale for the rest of us.

Advice: Either take a road trip to Erie, where Lavery’s beer is readily available — and if you make a stop at the brewery’s pub, you’re going to find some stuff you won’t see anywhere else — or hold on for just a few more months. Lavery said he thinks his beer will start showing up in Pittsburgh again by the start of summer.