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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.

Expanding the cans at East End

It wasn’t that long ago that cans were reserved for macro beer — and treated with scorn by those seeking a better beer experience.

That perception continues to change, nationally and locally. Just take a look around here: Grist House can’t keep cans of Fire on the Hill and Hazedelic Juice Grenade in the coolers. At Dancing Gnome, the weekly can releases almost always sell out on Day One.

And at East End, the monthly canning run to keep Big Hop at distributors and on the shelves has turned into an adventure: Which beer will we can next? It’s varied from standbys like Wheat Hop, Bigger Hop or Green Giant, the citra IPA that was canned again this week, to some newcomers that the folks at the brewery decide deserve some special treatment.

This week, that included two new beers: Partly Clahdy, East End’s dank and juicy New England-style IPA, and Seedless Watermelon Gose, a delicious mix of melon-y brightness and the tart salinity of the style. There’s a third new beer in the mix this week — Cherry Stomp, a Berliner Weisse made with sour cherries — but owner Scott Smith said the temptation to can that one as well was tempered by the fact that the guys from Iron Heart Canning, the Cleveland-based mobile canning company that made its monthly visit this week, had four beers to can already.

Mr. Smith said that as is the case at Grist House and Dancing Gnome, East End’s canning runs tend to sell briskly … and that’s good, especially for the beer. Most of the beers canned at the Larimer brewery are hop-forward, and they benefit from being consumed when they are as fresh as possible, and East End helps that cause by not canning too much: “These aren’t beers that we want to have sitting around for a long time — they’re not built for that,” Mr. Smith said. “I’d rather err on the side of not canning enough than canning too much and letting collect dust on the shelves.”

And besides, as Mr. Smith added: They can always brew more.

A hazy taste of the tropics, via Vermont

Those aren’t glasses of orange juice. Although the comparison is a bit more apt that you might think.

Those are glasses of Hazedelic Juice Grenade, a newish IPA from Grist House in Millvale. Hazedelic is part of a juicy new wave of IPAs and pales that are turning expectations about the styles on their heads, both here and across the country.

The wave started in New England, apparently with a beer called Heady Topper, brewed by The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont. The goal was to make a ridiculously hoppy beer, but not in the way that a brewery like Stone — which can pump up the bitterness in its hoppy beers to brutal levels — does. Instead, Heady presented a mouthful of fruity, tropical hop flavors with nearly no bitterness . A rich, soft mouthfeel. And an opaque, bright, sunny appearance. The brewery’s fans went nuts for the style, which spread around New England — New England IPA is the name that most use to designate a Heady-style beer — and beyond.

It’s far from being the most remarkable thing about these beers, but the haze has become the hallmark of the style. In fact, that’s the subject of some controversy. Consumers have been taught in some cases that haze is a sign that a beer could be infected, brewers who have spent years trying to brew beer that pours crystal clear are now being asked to suddenly reverse course. But those who have been making the style say removing the stuff that’s suspended in the beer would cut down the flavors they’re trying to find.

I don’t have any fear of stuff floating around in my glass — being a fan of hefeweizen cured me of that long ago — and what the proponents say about flavor is exactly right, as far as I’m concerned; the bright, juicy flavors practically burst with each sip. And the hops are front and center, but in a way unlike the IPAs we’re used to.

If you crave these beers like I do, you’re in luck. In Pittsburgh, they’re not hard to find. For the show, I tasted beers from Grist House, Dancing Gnome and Sole Artisan Ales, a gypsy brewery that operates in Eastern Pennsylvania. But there are plenty of other solid-to-spectacular examples of the style all over the region, so they’re not hard to track down.

The other bit of good news: It seems as though they’re not going away anytime soon. Hart Johnson, the cellarman at Piper’s Pub on East Carson Street, says the juicy pales from Dancing Gnome sell on par with Guinness in his British pub … and that’s a sign that the new school is here to stay.