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Five Pink Boots beers are in the works

ShuBrew co-owner Erika Shumaker in ShuBrew’s brewery in Harmony.

Women in the craft beer business? It’s becoming the rule, rather than the exception.

And nowhere is that more evident than it is here, as members of Pittsburgh’s Pink Boots Society prepare to release five — FIVE — collaboration beers this spring, up from just a couple a year ago.

What changed? There are a lot more members of the local Pink Boots chapter, which serves to promote women in the industry by providing training, scholarships and activities, like attending the annual Craft Brewers Conference. Pink Boots cracked those doors, here and across the country, and women in the biz here have thrown them open and marched on through.

I visited ShuBrew in Harmony, Butler County, earlier this week to check on their brew day, which will result in a hazy IPA that will fit with their Pixelated series. Co-owner Erika Shumaker was there, as were a couple of female ShuBrew employees; the brew day also brought in Lauren Baker, the production manager at Slippery Rock’s North Country Brewing, and Christine Jenkins, who works at CNC Malt House, a new business that set up in an old elementary school east of Butler.

Baker knows here way around a brewery, but for Jenkins, the experience was new. She spent much of the morning helping David Ieong, ShuBrew’s head brewer, who walked her through much of the process.

And that’s pretty much the point, right? Jenkins said the experience she gained this week will help her when brewers approach her CNC for malts — and down the line, that will mean better beer for all of us.

Shumaker said Federal Galley will once again host a debut party for this year’s Pink Boots beers, on a date that has yet to be determined. Also, look for events at Piper’s Pub, the Harmony Inn and at ShuBrew, which will host a tap takeover once all five beers are released.

I can’t wait to taste those beers. And I can’t wait to see what happens as more women get into the business.

Revived brewers’ group will help make better beer for Pittsburgh

For much of the 20th century, Pittsburgh was home to a chapter of the Master Brewers Association of the Americas. Then as now, it gave folks who work in the business — at that time, it was big brands like Rolling Rock, Iron City and Duquesne — a chance to build on their skills and improve their products.

The local MBAA chapter held on until about a dozen years ago, after Rolling Rock packed up for the glass-lined tanks of old New Jersey and Iron City went through a revolving door of owners and legal issues. With the big boys essentially gone and only a tiny number of craft breweries in town, the chapter was closed and members were rolled into the group based in Philadelphia.

But by 2018, when there were dozens of breweries in Allegheny County alone, it seemed like the time was right to make sure the brewers of Western Pennsylvania had a chapter of their own. The goal? That’s easy, said Adam Kubala, a brewer at Mindful and the treasurer of the new MBAA group: By sharing information and improving practices, Pittsburgh-brewed beer that’s already pretty good will get even better.

MBAA-Pittsburgh was reconstituted about a year ago, but the group is ready to take a big, public step — it invited Dogfish Head founder and brewer Sam Calagione to speak at its April membership meeting. The public can attend the April 15 meeting, sponsored by LD Carlson and City Brew Tours, at Teutonia Mannerchor on the North Side; tickets include food, one beer and Calagione’s talk.

And then be sure to enjoy the fruits of the MBAA’s resurrection. Our beer will only be better for it.

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What should we expect from the beer scene in 2019?

When I asked Hart Johnson to sit down with me to talk about what’s coming in craft beer in 2019, he immediately threw me a curve ball curvy enough that I thought he was joking.

But when I arrived at Piper’s Pub Wednesday afternoon, he plunked down in front of me a can of black cherry hard seltzer brewed by Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. And he predicted — as we tasted the fizzy, slightly dry concoction — that hard seltzer will be a big deal in 2019, nationally and locally.

For the record: I am dubious. Also for the record: It was pretty good, although I think I’d appreciate it more on a warm summer afternoon.

What else is coming? I’ll let you watch the show for all of the details, but I wanted to mention one thing I didn’t include in the clip for lack of time. While we discussed what will be an increased emphasis on barrel-aged products, we hit on the notion that a number of breweries have completed or are planning expansions.

That doesn’t just mean expanded brewing capacity or space for a wall of barrels; it’s a sign that we’re doing pretty well here, that the industry is in pretty good health, even as it continues to expand. Sure, that growth isn’t happening for everyone, but I think there is plenty of room in the market for a taproom that serves a neighborhood, instead of the entire region, as well.

Happy new year, yinz guys. Drink what you like … especially if you like hard seltzer.

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.

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.