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Category Archives: Allegheny County

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.

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.

New brewery, old world styles at Cobblehaus

If you’re spending a lot of time in Dusseldorf, it’s probably a good idea to get to know the local beers.

We don’t necessarily have to travel to Dusseldorf to get to know the styles native to that German city; we can just go to Cobblehaus Brewing in Coraopolis instead.

Owner and brewer Scott Mills got to known the beers of Dusseldorf thanks to a good number of work-related trips there years ago. And that’s one of the reasons why Cobblehaus emphasizes European beer styles — that’s what he likes.

When you stop at Cobblehaus, start with a glass of the altbier, called Olde Towne. It’s a style native to Dusseldorf, it’s the recipe that Mills has been tinkering with the longest … and thanks to the clean, well-balanced flavors, it’s also been the brewery’s best seller. And if you go soon, you’ll be able to get another Dusseldorf treat: the seasonal sticke Altstadt, typically released in the late fall, with boosted flavors and ABV; it is a rich, warming treat, especially good for a chilly November day.

The other spot on the map Mills likes is Belgium. Give the Tin Man saison a try — it has a little more heft than many saisons, but you’ll also notice a little citrus melding with the style’s earthy base. And check back later this year; a Belgian quad will be released in time for the holidays.

And finally, you don’t have to stay in Europe — there are excellent beers on tap that will be more familiar. Five O’Clock porter has huge coffee flavors while maintaining a lighter body; Moon Hop IPA uses crystal malts for a unique twist on the style.

Ready to go halfway around the world and back? All you need to do is get to Coraopolis, and Cobblehaus Brewing.

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.