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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.

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: , ,

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.

The time has come for 11th Hour

It’s been a long time coming. But 11th Hour Brewing has finally opened its doors.

Not in the North Hills. And not in a Downtown location near the convention center. Those spots didn’t work out … and they’re part of the reason why it’s taken Matt and Keana McMahon a bit longer than usual to officially get started.

They don’t have to dwell on that now; in fact, there’s no time to think about everything that’s led them to this weekend, when the brewery officially opened up in a Lawrenceville building that started as a schoolhouse for German immigrants and later served as industrial space. There’s a 20-barrel brewhouse behind the bar and a long taproom that looks out over Charlotte Street through a series of garage doors. And there are clocks everywhere; just don’t count on them being correct more than twice a day … you know, at 11.

From the beginning, 11th Hour has been a family affair, and that was evident this week when I stopped in. Keana and her son, assistant brewer Justin Strzelczyk Jr., were cleaning up for a industry-and-friends soft opening that evening, while Dan McMahon, Matt’s father, continued some carpentry work. Matt’s brother Mark also did construction work and was behind the bar during the soft opening, along with Keana’s daughter Sabrina. And Matt’s sister Brie, a public relations professional, has pitched in with promoting the brewery. That’s made the long road a bit easier, Matt said.

Just how long is that road? I had my first taste of his jalapeno IPA, if I recall correctly, on an early cruise of the Commonwealth Press Beer Barge. It seems impossible that 11th Hour could be the city’s newest brewery … because they’ve been at festivals and events for years.

“But this is different,” Matt said, as he took a breather during the soft opening. “We’ve always been welcomed and accepted, but I haven’t really felt like I was fully a part of the community until now, when we finally have a place of our own. We’ve been doing this forever, but now it finally seems real.”


Post-Gazette coverage of 11th Hour Brewing:

 

Category: Pittsburgh | Tags: ,