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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.

Extra: Farewell to the Beerman

A commemorative run of Oskar Blues G’Knight imperial IPA, with a label printed in honor of Tony Knipling.

Even now, days later, it’s a difficult thing to write: Tony Knipling died last week.

To say that Tony was a longtime craft beer rep at Vecenie Distributing Co. in Millvale is accurate. And completely inadequate.

He sold his own brands, sure. But nearly everything he did — from being one of the longest members of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers to the long-running Craft Beer School series with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust — helped sell better beer in the broadest sense. He was one of the first people in town to do it and I don’t think there’s any question that he reached more people with that message than anyone else in town.

After calling hours for Tony and his family on Sunday, a bunch of us met at East End’s taproom in the Strip to have a beer or two and talk about what we would remember most about the Beerman. This is easily the longest video I’ve ever posted here, but the memory of Tony Knipling is absolutely worth the time.

Learning to love lagers

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I’m willing to bet that your first taste of beer was a lager.

I’m also willing to bet that when you think of lagers now, you’re still thinking about that first taste of fizzy yellow beer.

Maybe it’s time to think again.

To many of us, lagers aren’t as sexy as the ale side of the family — they’re not the beefy, barrel-aged stouts or golden-orange IPAs that we stand in line for on release day.

Yes, they’re generally cleaner than their cousins, and the flavors can be more subtle. But dismissing lagers just because they are lagers is the wrong way to go.

Like hops? Find a German pilsner, like Penn’s Kaiser Pils or Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils; you’ll love the sharp, spicy hop bitterness. Appreciate the complexity of a darker beer? A doppelbock, with a mix of roasted and caramel malts — and a little alcohol heft — will satisfy that urge. And if you’re looking for out-there flavors, a rauchbier — smoked malts give it its barbecue flavor will scratch that itch.

And, as 90-degree weather approaches, the best thing about lagers might be this: It’s hard to top a clean, cold lager on a hot day.

And here’s the good part: There are a bunch of well-done lagers to be had right here in the Pittsburgh area, from the old — Penn’s original German styles are still among the best out there — to the new — a couple visits to Helicon in Oakdale will help you understand brewer Andy Weigel’s love of lagers. And as I discovered when I visited Hart Johnson at Piper’s Pub to tape this show, there are a bunch more.

I’m ready for you, summer, just as soon as I stock my beer fridge with the best lagers Pittsburgh has to offer.

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