Post-Gazette Blogs

Answering the call for wild fire victims

California is thousands of miles away, but to a group of Pittsburgh-area brewers, it might as well be next door.

The group that met at East End in Larimer earlier this week all were ready to help the victims of the Camp Fire, the wild fire that swept through a chunk of Northern California this fall.

The brewers were answering the call of Sierra Nevada Brewing, which has called Chico, Calif., home since it opened in 1979; the brewery was untouched by the fire, but nearby communities, where many Sierra Nevada employees live, were destroyed.

And that’s where Sierra comes in. It asked breweries across the country to make a beer called Resilience IPA, following a recipe Sierra provided, and send all of the proceeds back to fire victims.

Well over 1,000 breweries across the country have answered the call from what some of our local guys called the “Mothership,” which speaks to the respect Sierra has garnered in the community over the years.

In many places, the beer is being made by individual breweries; in Pittsburgh, though, it was a collaborative effort, and we’ll be able to enjoy a pint or two sometime around Dec. 28, when it will be tapped at each of the breweries that helped brew the two 15-barrel batches this week.

Look for Resilience IPA in a couple weeks, and make sure you get a taste. You’ll enjoy a Sierra Nevada beer brewed by our local folks, and you’ll be helping out people who  need it.

The Pittsburgh Brewers Guild is ready to go public

How do you celebrate the release of the very first Pittsburgh Brewery Guide?

Sounds like a good reason have a beer or two with those brewers.

Thirty brewers and brewery owners formed the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild a few months back in part to take ownership of what was then a young — and perhaps a bit disorganized — beer tourism business in Allegheny County.

Since then, they’ve applied for and received a state grant to help fund their efforts and prepared a printed and digital version of a guide to the county’s breweries; on Friday, they’ll unveil both, at a not-a-beer-fest party at Nova Place on the North Side.

Both guild Chairman Brian Eaton, of Grist House, and Vice Chairman Matt McMahon, of Eleventh Hour, stressed that the guide release party won’t be an end-of-the-summer beer bash. instead, those attending will get 8-ounce pours of ten collaboration beers exclusive to the event … and a little more time to consider the beers and chat with the men and women who made them.

You’ll get other exclusive stuff, too — a 10-ounce Willi Becher glass to be used as the taster for the party, a Rastal Harmony tumbler with the guild logo and the names of its 30 charter members … and, of course, your own copy of the first edition of the guide.

The guild’s new site will go live on Friday as well, and it promises to be a knockout. All member breweries will be listed, and can be sorted using options like hours and days of operations, in-house food, frequent food trucks or even dog- or kid-friendly. Eaton and McMahon both said users will be able to create their own beer trails based on their search results and load their itineraries to their mobile devices. As someone who always tries to track down local breweries when my wife and I travel, the guild’s site sounds like a winner.

What’s next for the guild? There will be future editions of the printed guide, to keep it up to date as possible, and the site will be continuously updated as the guild adds new members. More events in the future would seem to be a pretty good bet. And we might even see some pushes to reform Pennsylvania’s liquor and tax policies.

But for now, let’s go have a beer on Friday night … and celebrate what brewing in Allegheny County has become.

A fresh approach for the country’s first black beer festival

 

Mike Potter and Day Bracey. (Jessie Wardarski/Post-Gazette)

Rhythm Brewing. Black Frog. Sankofa Brewing. Patuxent Brewing.

Simmer down — those aren’t new Pittsburgh breweries you’ve missed. They’ll all be in town on Saturday, though, among the dozen or so black-owned or -operated breweries from around the country that will be highlighted at Fresh Fest Beer Fest, billed as the first black beer festival ever. The locals will be there too, featuring around 25 collaborations made with black brewers, artists and others — all exclusive to the festival.

And let’s get one thing clear — the beer isn’t the best part.

As one of the hosts of the Drinking Partners podcast, Day Bracey has become well known in Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene. And through the past few years, he’s become painfully aware that when he heads to an event or a festival, he is one of a very few — if not the lone — person of color in the room. And Bracey says the problems are obvious: barriers having to do with comfort, access and education.

It’s hard, he says, to know you stand out in any group setting, and that’s what black beer fans face when they show up at a tap room or a fest — a sea of white faces. That’s what Bracey had in mind when he started talking about Fresh Fest with podcast partner Ed Bailey and Mike Potter, founder of the forthcoming Black Brew Culture magazine — a festival to give black craft beer fans a chance meet black brewers, black collaborators and other beer drinkers.

“We can relax a little bit in a space where you’re people who look like you and understand you,” he said this week. “And that’s how you open doors to the industry and the opportunities that are there for everyone.”

And if you have any doubts about enthusiasm for the concept, check this out: since late spring, the number of participating breweries and collaboration beers has more than doubled, forcing the fest to move from its original location — Wigle’s Theadbare Cider House in Spring Garden — to the massive plaza at Nova Place in the North Side.

As of Wednesday, there are still tickets available to this game-changer. And by all means, go for the beer … because it’s going to be spectacular. But once you’re there keep in mind the big thing that Bracey told me — it’s going to be good for everyone to just have a beer together.

Adventurous beers at Strange Roots

The brewery you’ve known for several years as Draai Laag has a new name: Strange Roots Experimental Ales.

But there’s more to the name change than just a new logo and new t-shirt designs. There is a new brewery and taproom in West Deer. There is a new terroir for Strange Roots’ brewers to experiment with as they continue to push the boundaries of wild fermentation.

And, perhaps most importantly, there is a new approach.

If you’re a fan of the tradition established at Draai Laag’s Millvale taproom — the one with aggressively sour beers making up much of the portfolio — you’re not going to be disappointed with Strange Roots.

But if you’ve found those beers difficult to approach, I think you’re going to like the Strange Roots beers you’ll find beyond the old Draai Laag staples. Founder and owner Dennis Hock said a big reason behind the change was to make a slight sift in emphasis, to beers that show off a different kind of complexity.

An example from our tasting session last week: Ordinary Creep, which was listed on the tap list as a hybrid sour saison … that also happens to be dry-hopped with a hefty load of Mosaic and Azecca hops. Take a taste, and the beer is immediately identifiable as a sour, although the pucker factor is surprisingly light. The earthy, slightly spicy notes of a saison are also recognizable as a saison. And the hops add surprising, bright hints of peaches and other overripe fruit.

Hock said that’s exactly what he had in mind when he began considering the change from Draai Laag to Strange Root. It’s a sour, sure, but that facet is dialed back a bit, so Ordinary Creep’s other elements can shine. The sum is a more approachable beer that isn’t lacking in complexity.

And if you’re a purist from the old days, don’t worry — we also sampled a 20-percent ABV Flanders-esque ale built nebbiolo grapes and cold-brewed coffee. It doesn’t yet have a name, but it was stunningly good … and should be available soon.

And that should be enough to get everyone — Draai Laag fans and those seeking the softer approach of Strange Roots — to one of the taprooms in West Deer or Millvale soon.

The secret is out — Cinderlands is good, and ready to get bigger

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Baseball players rarely hit home runs with their first at-bats. The same goes for breweries.

Here’s a notable local exception: Cinderlands Beer Co.

And Cinderlands managed to pull off a double surprise: not only did co-owners Joanna and Jamie Warden manage to pull off a low-key opening six months ago — there was no hype surrounding the rookie getting ready to open on Butler Street — but once they arrived, they nailed everything — beer and the food coming from the open kitchen beside the bar — right from the start.

Jamie Warden attributes that to the luck they had finding the right chef and the right brewmaster. Chef Joe Kiefer came over from Meat & Potatoes and began turning out creative takes on pub food, like the amazing spent-grain chicharrones and pierogi that already have a reputation as among the best in the city.

Brewer Paul Schneider, who came here from Solemn Oath Brewery in Illinois, might be even more ambitious. He’s already turning out new-school IPAs that stand up to the competition, local and beyond. But he’s also shown a willingness to challenge Cinderlands customers with unusual styles — try the Grizzled Canary grisette, brewed with a Norwegian yeast strain, that’s on right now — and unusual ingredients — Land Ethic tea witbier, brewed with organic white peony tea, or Blazing Crude coffee milk stout, brewed with Ethiopian coffee and orange peel, are good examples. And as the Pittsburgh’s summer warms up, it would be good to mention that Schneider loves turning out refreshing lagers.

He’ll be able to expand that palette further, once Cinderlands opens its second location, in the old Spaghetti Warehouse building on Smallman Street in the Strip District. The Wardens are coy about the details of what they have in mind for the space — remember how quiet they kept the opening of the Lawrenceville pub? — but they are willing to discuss the expanding brewing capacity it will bring. Schneider knows a little more: most of what he brews on Butler Street will be transferred to the bigger facility in the Strip, and the extra capacity will allow him to expand the brewery’s just-started canning program. And Lawrenceville will become, he said, a place that’s “a little more fun” — think sours and wild fermentation.

Given the track record, I have to think the new place will be just as good as the original — so the only surprise will be the opening date.