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#PCBW: Carson Street Deli brings us cask-conditioned treats from Grist House

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It’s all about the beer.

Don’t get me wrong: I love everything about Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. But in the end, the best part is always getting to try a beer you haven’t tasted before.

I got that Wednesday night at Carson Street Deli. Every #PCBW, the deli can be counted on to host an event highlighting a local brewery, usually by landing a special cask or two of beer that hasn’t before seen the light of day. This year was no different; the deli’s folks worked with Grist House to land two pins of cask-conditioned beer: Hazedelic Juice Grenade with added fresh pineapple and two-year-old Black in the USSR imperial stout aged with cocoa nibs, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee.

The results? Take a look at the clip to find out.

Five years, dozens of beers — that’s Beer Week

pcbw pipers chalk board

When you reach a five-year milestone, it feels right to take a moment and reflect on the path that got you there. And if you think back to the first Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week — especially if you do so right after completing the fifth — you’ll understand just how far the industry has come in that time.

Were there a dozen Pittsburgh-area craft breweries back then? And will there be three or four times that many by the end of 2016?

As we learned last week, it’s not just the number that should leave an impression. It’s the quality of the beer as well. Just look at this year’s collaboration beers: breweries that haven’t yet opened or got started in the last six months contributed to five of the seven official collaborations, and all were excellent.

Summarizing my beer week is always a tough task. But let’s give it a try.

Favorite events: I made a point to try to get to some new stuff (to me, anyway), and I liked everything I got to. A standout was Oysterfest, the annual party under the Homestead Grays Bridge put on by Blue Dust — and I’m not even a fan of oysters, although the festival’s namesakes drew huge lines all afternoon. The beer choices were unique — don’t pass up a chance to try stuff from Shawnee Craft Brewing as it shows up around here, boys and girls — and there were plenty of food trucks for those who didn’t want oysters. I was also pleasantly surprised by the Summer Craft Brewhaha, a summer seasonal preview held at Altar Bar; the selection was far from predictable and the space worked out better than I expected. I hit some staples as well: the annual Wednesday beer breakfast at Piper’s Pub featured an extra delicious menu this year, perhaps in celebration of its spot on the calendar (April 20, ahem); the Helltown Brewing cask takeover at Piper’s, this year with beef braised in the brewery’s Mischievous Brown Ale as the dinner special; and if I can help it, I will never miss an edition of the Brewers’ Olympics, the event at Grist House that puts a perfect cap on the week.

Favorite beers: Here’s a great sign — the collaboration beers are more consistently good every year. With one slightly embarrassing caveat — that this North Side resident never got a taste of the Mash Paddle vs. Hipster India Red Lager collab from Penn, Spring Hill, War Streets and Allegheny City — I’ll say that the standout among the collaborations was Greenfield Bridge is Falling Down, the deliciously juicy Vermont-style IPA from Spoonwood, Helltown and two newcomers: Helicon and Dancing Gnome. I loved all of the other collaborations, but I have to give specific mention to one more, mostly because I made such a big deal about it in my beer week previews: white stouts — like Prospero, from Rock Bottom, Hitchhiker, Bloom Brew and and Eleventh Hour — work wonderfully, even if one’s brain can’t figure out in advance how a white stout might work. A few others: I really liked 5 Point Black IPA, the collaboration between Carson Street Deli and Rock Bottom; Big Boots Gose, a margarita-esque effort from the women of Pittsburgh’s Pink Boots Society; and as it starts to get warmer, be on the lookout for Grapefruit Chinookee IPA from Full Pint — it was a standout at the summer festival.

Piper’s Pub: It’s where the firkins live

hart tapping

It has a rough, cobbled-together look that seems appropriate for a Carson Street basement.

But don’t overlook the cask ale system that feeds the four hand pumps behind the bar at Piper’s Pub. It’s responsible for what is often the best-tasting beer in the city.

The original iteration of the system was installed in 2008, as owner Drew Topping sought more authenticity for his South Side Scottish pub. It’s grown to be able to handle as many as four casks now, and those lines are almost always spoken for, as the cask program, run by cellarman Hart Johnson, continues to flourish.

So what is cask ale? That’s a broad term to describe beer that’s been conditioned in the same vessel from which it’s served. That gives the beer a different kind of carbonation; instead of the fizzy mouthfeel we’re accustomed to, we get a creamy, velvety texture in its place. The most common container is a firkin, a keg that holds just shy of 11 gallons.

Also, cask ale is traditionally stored and served at cellar temperatures, somewhere between 45 and 50 degrees, so the taste of the beer isn’t masked by freezing cold. Are the beer’s malts sweet or bready? Do you taste citrus from the hops or do they lean toward a resinous, pine profile? It’s all right there, pretty much as close to the brewer’s intention as we can get.

Piper’s, at 1828 E. Carson St., doesn’t serve the only cask beer in town, but I don’t know of any place that does it with such care. And for that reputation, they often get casks that no one else can get their hands on. It’s a different beer experience, sure, but it’s worth a trip to Piper’s to give it a try.

Post-Gazette coverage of Piper’s Pub:

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