Post-Gazette Blogs

Tag Archives: breweries

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.

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.

Bigger means better for Erie’s Lavery Brewing

A quick glance at the Lavery Brewing brew house in downtown Erie doesn’t reveal any obvious problems.

You’ll have an easier time figuring out the issue if you take this approach: When was the last time you saw Lavery beers on the shelves or in your favorite bars here in Pittsburgh?

Chances are it’s been quite a while.

Lavery will start 2018 with a hefty expansion to its brewing capacity and if all goes well, it will have fixed a biggest challenge: it can’t make enough beer.

Jason Lavery, who founded the brewery about eight years ago with his wife Nikki, said the brewery initially had a hard time finding customers in its home market, so it immediately began shipping beer to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and a couple of out-of-state destinations. That worked well, until the locals caught on and demand for Lavery in Erie — especially in its brewpub, which opened a few years ago — began to spike.

Now, Lavery said, the brewery sells nearly every drop in makes in Erie County, which means there’s no Dulachan IPA, Ulster Breakfast Stout or Liopard Oir Farmhouse Ale for the rest of us.

Advice: Either take a road trip to Erie, where Lavery’s beer is readily available — and if you make a stop at the brewery’s pub, you’re going to find some stuff you won’t see anywhere else — or hold on for just a few more months. Lavery said he thinks his beer will start showing up in Pittsburgh again by the start of summer.

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.

Happy about Fury Brewing

What is there to be angry about? Only the name.

Besides that, though, there is no reason to be upset about the start of Fury Brewing in North Huntingdon. The space is cool and accessible, there is pizza and the beer is good across the board.

Fury is the result of a two-year push by four partners — Ryan Slicker (that’s him above), Tom Jenkins, Stephen Hoffer and Ernie Slicker — that culminated in late March, when the brewery opened in a strip mall along Route 30. Since then, a steady stream of rotating beers — from Carson Street Kolsch to Stealth American stout — have showed in Fury’s taps and at a couple other nearby tap spots.

Ryan Slicker, Fury’s head brewer, began as a homebrewer, racking up awards in local competitions. With those in his back pocket, he began talking with Hoffer and Jenkins about how a startup brewery might work. The plan was to offer a diverse lineup of beers — the partners aren’t all hopheads, for example, so expect to see plenty of malt-forward beers — the delicious Ale-ementary English brown ale is a great example — on the tap list.

That’s not to say hopheads won’t be happy. Sid’s 1K IPA has been popular enough that Slicker had to take it off the list while a fresh batch percolates in the fermenter. And be sure to pay attention to the Hoff SMaSH single-hop pale ale series; when I visited, there was a Centennial version and one made with Moteuka, a hop from New Zealand that imparts a bright, juicy start and a crisp, dry finish. I love that kind of experimentation, and this series — named in honor of partner Hoffer — shows a lot of promise.

One beer that’s not on? Slicker’s award-winning German pilsner, because Fury doesn’t yet have the capability to cold ferment lagers. Slicker said that’s coming soon … and in the meantime, his kolsch — the Carson Street variety and a new one that will be on shortly — fills the lighter side of the bill nicely.

Despite the name and the fiery-looking dude in the logo, there is nothing infuriating — or even mildly irritating — about Fury Brewing … with the possible exception of that missing pils. But that’ll be fixed soon enough, and in the meantime, Fury is a great reason to hit the road to North Huntingdon for a beer.