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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.