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Tag Archives: seasonal beer

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.

Filling your last-minute gift list … with beer

Sure, Christmas is just a few days away. But if you’re shopping for beer people, you still have plenty of time.

Here — I’ll prove it:

I took a quick trip around town to talk to some of my favorite beer folks to get some suggestions for locally brewed beer that would make great last-minute — or last-second — gifts. The only stipulation: the subjects couldn’t pick a beer they made.

There are pales and IPAs. There are some holiday-season favorites. And there are styles from all over the globe, all brewed right here at home.

Whether you’re shopping for a friend or you’re looking for something special for your holiday weekend, we’re fortunate to have all of these options — and many, many more. Enjoy your holiday weekend, boys and girls … and enjoy it with some Pittsburgh-brewed craft beer.

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.

Never mind the calendar — we’re ready for spring

hart glowing beer 2

You might think that it would be tough to talk about beers intended for warmer weather while it’s still snowing outside.

And you would be wrong. It’s actually easy.

And really, what’s not to like? A fluffy white ale with splash of bright, zesty ginger? An IPA with a rich, juicy — and let’s go ahead and call it dank — hop flavor?

Or a ridiculously easy-to-drink Austrian grapefruit radler?

The craft beer industry isn’t especially patient — or tied to what the rest of us think of as the seasons — which is why we see pumpkin beer on the shelves in August or why we can celebrate Halloween with our favorite Christmas ale. The industry’s spring season isn’t as well defined, but Hart Johnson, the guy who orders beer for Piper’s Pub on the South Side, says he starts thinking about a move away from heavier beers like stouts, porters or barrel-aged concoctions in February, because that’s when the sales reps that visit the pub start pushing fare that’s appropriate for warmer weather.

The profile of a spring seasonal isn’t as well defined as a malty Oktoberfest or a spiced Christmas beer either, although Mr. Johnson correctly points out there are some common threads; a turn towards lighter, brighter flavors, especially like the ginger in Roundabout’s Maui Wit or the the juicy character of the mosaic hops in The Brew Gentlemen’s Momo pale ale. It won’t be limited to spring, but you’re going to see even more pale ales and IPAs that are pushing citrusy hops — or just straightforward additions of citrus to the beer.

And, especially if we’re talking about German brewing traditions, there are styles, like marzens or maibocks, that show up when the winter weather starts to break.

And that radler? Yes, it’s true that we’re probably skipping over spring and jumping directly to mid-July with that light, fizzy and crisp mix of lager and grapefruit juice. But if you want a glass of sunshine, that’s where you can find it … even when there are still snowflakes in the air.

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Going whole hog for Groundhog Day

smiley gobblers knob

Groundhog Day is a big deal around here.

How big? Think about it: with two beers being brewed to commemorate the 2016 edition of the day, there’s only one holiday — Christmas — that gets more attention from the brewers around here.

In the case of Straub in St. Mary’s, putting out a beer with a groundhog on the label has been a regular thing for years. Four years ago, though, its Groundhog Altbier represented a shift in the brewery’s very foundation. It was the first beer the brewery had produced since before Prohibition that wasn’t made with adjuncts … and it was the start of a shift towards a craft beer lineup that now includes about a dozen styles, mostly German.

The altbier serves as the brewery’s winter seasonal, and it’s perfectly suited for it. There is a little heft to the beer, rich and a touch sweet up front; that’s backed up with a balancing bitterness to finish. It’s delicious, and it would be perfect for drinking on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney … if such things were still allowed up there on Groundhog Day.

But you won’t have to drive to Punxy to meet the town’s most famous resident on Saturday, Jan. 23. You’ll just have to get to Penn Brewing on the North Side, to meet Punxsutawney Phil and to get a taste of Penn’s Punxsutawney Philsner, a beer made to commemorate the visit.

The Philsner tastes a bit like Penn Gold — OK, it tastes a lot like Penn Gold — but that’s not a bad thing; the Munich Helles is slightly biscuity, slightly spicy and perfectly balanced, and if Phil ever gets tired of the elixir he’s fed every few years to keep him going — this will be his 130th prognostication — I have to think he’d be happy with a glass of the Philsner.

And regardless of which beer we’re talking about, so will you.