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Category Archives: Beaver County

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.

B-ing (even more) local at Bocktown

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dilla bar

Since she opened the first Bocktown Beer and Grill in late 2006, Chris Dilla has emphasized local. Locally sources meats, veggies and breads were found up and down the food menu. And when it was possible, locally brewed beer showed up on the tap list and in the coolers that made up the Beer Library.

The trouble was that back then, there were just a handful of Pittsburgh-area breweries … and not many more on the other side of the state.

But now, as Ms. Dilla prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her Beer and Grills, she’s having a much easier time filling those tap lists with beers brewed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or neighboring states. When I visited this week, the 16 taps at B1, the original location in Robinson, all were pouring Pennsylvania-made beers; at B2, in the Beaver Valley Mall in Monaca, just three taps were occupied by handles from out of state.

And that suits Ms. Dilla just fine. She’s happy to serve beer made by people she knows in breweries that are a short drive away. She likes that the money she’s spending on beer is often staying in the region.

And, best of all, she says that stocking local beer hasn’t meant sacrificing in the name of variety … or quality.

“There’s a great range of styles being produced here, and that makes it easy for us to keep a good variety on tap … and they’re great beers as well,” she said. “The idea of local has always been a big thing for us, so I love that we’re able to do it with the beer we serve.”

Meeting an old friend in Beaver County

charles pour

I met Charles years ago.

But until my recent visit to Hollywood Gardens and Brixton Brewing in Rochester, Beaver County, I hadn’t had an opportunity to get caught up again.

Charles is the name of Brixton’s Belgian-style quadrupel, a complex, delicious monster of a beer. Back in 2011, it was the first beer introduced by Brixton, the house brewery for Hollywood Gardens, and I was so pleased to see him again when I visited.

Sightings of Charles and other Brixton beers had been occasional until October, when owner Frank Elia and brewer Zachery Ruskin really got going on their new 2-barrel brewing system to the degree that Brixton beers began to regularly appear on the tap list at Hollywood Gardens.

What was behind the wait? A little license juggling took up some time, but when Mr. Elia secured a brewpub license he and Mr. Ruskin set up a small system in the basement of the bar and began serving Brixton beers on weekends.

That Hollywood Gardens would be home a 12-tap system and a beer cave featuring bottles in the hundreds — much less to a brewery turning out quality IPAs and Belgian styles — is remarkable in and of itself. The bar was opened on Pinney Street in Rochester by Rocky Elia, Frank’s father, in 1958. Frank Elia took it over in 2009 after his father passed away and remade the place from a shot-and-a-beer bar to one that featured the craft beers he had come to love.

A chance meeting with Mr. Ruskin at the bar — and a few tastes of Mr. Ruskin’s home-brewed beer — got Mr. Elia thinking about making beer to serve in his place and in the spring of 2011, the pair hosted a welcoming party for Charles … and I was immediately smitten. So I was thrilled to see his name on the list when I visited last week. And just as thrilling? The other two Brixton beers on tap last week — a bitter named Matthew and a West Coast IPA named Robbie — were every bit as good.

It’s a small brewing system so for now, trying Brixton beers will require a drive to Beaver County. But for a chance to meet Charles, Matthew or Robbie, it’s worth the trip.

Post-Gazette coverage of Hollywood Gardens and Brixton Brewing:

The (craft beer) holidays have arrived


Don’t pay any attention to what the calendar says; the holidays are here.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all, we’ve been seeing pumpkin beer — the recently crowned staple of autumn craft beer drinking — in stores and at distributors for weeks.

But if you work in the business, what we’ll call Holiday Beer Creep gets started even earlier. Want to make sure your bar has its fair share of pumpkin beer this year? You’re placing orders in June and July. Don’t want your customers to be shut out of Troegs Mad Elf or Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale in December? You’ve got Christmas beer on your mind in August.

The autumn and winter seasons bring distinctive, spicy profiles to the coolers of your favorite bottle shops. In the fall, that means beer that’s part of a larger trend for pumpkin-flavored everything; if it tastes like pumpkin pie, it’s probably going to make customers happy.

(Note: This doesn’t include Oktoberfest beers, those malty German lagers meant to accompany the folk festival that started in Munich in 1810. Before you get too caught up in the pumpkin craze, be sure to give a couple of fest beers a try.)

The winter flavor profiles aren’t as confined, but a bunch are similar: clove, ginger, cinnamon, honey, and maybe with a kicked-up ABV to help keep us warm.

The more jaded among us tend to give a sideways glance at the fall and winter seasonals and, especially, how they seem to stretch the start of their seasons earlier and earlier. But as Chris Dilla, owner of Bocktown Beer and Grill restaurants in Robinson and Monaca who is pictured above, told me this week, there are new ones to try every season — and it would be a shame to miss them.