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Hazy days — and IPAs — at Dancing Gnome

 

Andrew Witchey went to school in Boston for a couple of years. And he learned the basics of brewing from the American Brewers Guild in Vermont.

But neither of those things really explain how Mr. Witchey, the owner and head brewer at Dancing Gnome in Sharpsburg, developed such a talent for brewing the hazy, juicy pale ales we’ve come to know as New England pales.

Mr. Witchey’s love of hops — “We unapologetically brew hop-pronounced styles” is right there on the DG home page — is evident from the moment you first look at the tap list. But understand that you’re not just looking at six or seven Trillium or Alchemist clones; the DG pales all seems to offer a twist after the initial tropical juice-bomb goes off.

An example: the Mister G Australian Pale Ale looks like it fits the New England pale profile: cloudy gold with a soft, white head. It tastes it too, until you notice a crisp shot of bitterness at the finish, thanks to an Australian hop variety called Vic Secret. That’s the kind of thing that makes Mr. Witchey’s beers interesting … and it’s the kind of thing that means his taproom is packed when it’s open.

There is one important thing to keep in mind as we ride the pale ale hype: do not skip whatever darker beer Dancing Gnome has on. I had a glass of Caligo oatmeal stout when I visited last week and it was stunning: a beautiful balance of dark-roasted coffee and sweet chocolate flavors and a perfect, silky mouthfeel. It’s fine to head to Sharpsburg for a taste of something tropical; just don’t miss a glass of Caligo for dessert.

East End finds a new home in the Strip

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When the original Pittsburgh Public Market opened in the Smallman Street produce terminal in 2010, East End Brewing was there. And when the market moved to a larger space on Penn Avenue three years later, East End went along for the ride.

But even before that iteration of the market shut down earlier this year, East End’s Scott Smith had started to poke around the Strip District for a space better suited to what his presence in the market had become. Originally conceived as a spot to fill growlers with fresh East End beer, the Penn Avenue version became a de facto taproom, especially once the state’s rules governing breweries and retail sales of pints changed a couple years ago. On weekends in particular, the corner of the market occupied by the “growler shop” turned into something that looked an awful lot like a bar.

“It was a great spot to fill growlers,” Mr. Smith said of the Penn Avenue spot. “It wasn’t a great taproom.”

With the move to 102 19th St., Mr. Smith has a great tap room. East End is one of three Pittsburgh Public Market expats to occupy the building — Jonathan Moran Woodworks and The Olive Tap are the others — and it looks at home in the warm space with its brick, wood … and the hop-cone lights hanging over the bar. It’s easy to get excited about the potential for the space, too — there’s a 6,000 square-foot plaza behind the tap room that can host food purveyors, artists and events once it’s done.

And let’s not forget the beer. East End’s space was home to another bar in a previous life, and Mr. Smith said he hoped that the leftover tap system would be sufficient for his needs. That wasn’t the case, which meant building an entirely new system for the tap room. That system includes 11 taps and a nitro line, but there is also a full line of canned and bottled East End liquids, as well as a crowler machine that Mr. Smith said has already been busy. Want food? Customers have the entire Strip to choose from, as the new taproom is BYOF.

Moving twice couldn’t have been easy. But from my side of the bar at least, it looks like it will be worth it.

Post-Gazette coverage of East End Brewing’s Taproom in the Strip:

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Getting bigger but thinking small at Rivertowne

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I recall my first visit to Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville about a decade ago; I was impressed that they were able to keep 18 taps pouring their own beer, brewed on a small, in-house system.

The hard work it took to keep all that beer flowing back then was a precursor to Rivertowne Brewing’s position now: distributing its staples in six states while still being nimble enough to experiment … and come up with great results.

The growth that came with the startup of its production brewery in Murrysville — Rivertowne sells beer in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, New Jersey, North Carolina and Florida, where the brand is especially popular in Bradenton, the spring home of the Pirates — has given brewmaster Andrew Maxwell, who gave up a job as a chemist with a pharmaceutical company to follow his passion for brewing, a chance to continue tinkering while maintaining an almost-obsessive watch over the liquids he’s in charge of making; talk to Mr. Maxwell for 30 minutes, and the words “quality control” will come up at least a half-dozen times.

Much of the tinkering comes on the system in the Monroeville Pour House, which Mr. Maxwell said has practically become an extension of his body. Need an amber that features honey and chamomile? That’s where it would start. Turning a one-off pineapple beer into a year-round sensation? Here’s a spoiler for a bonus video to be released next week: it happened in Monroeville as well.

Rivertowne grew up in Pittsburgh, and even as the brand has grown, Mr. Maxwell and founder Christian Fyke still acknowledge the brewery’s roots. Rivertowne’s annual Rhythm and Brews party is scheduled for Aug. 27 at Tall Trees Amphitheater in Monroeville. Proceeds raised from the event will result in a hefty donation to local charities; the brewery’s other annual events — haunted brewery tours in October, the Hibernation party in January and the Jahla party in April all do the same.

You can now find Rivertowne beers in five other states. You can drink Old Wylie’s IPA in the the Hall of Fame Club at PNC Park. But you can still find the experiments of Mr. Maxwell and the other staff brewers at Rivertowne’s four restaurants or at its brewery tap room — it will never be too big for that.

Taking it to The House in New Kensington

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House of 1,000 Beers owner Art Barbus unpacks a shipment. Stocking 1,000 beers is hard work.

House of 1,000 Beers owner Art Barbus unpacks a shipment. Stocking 1,000 beers is hard work.

If you’re a craft beer fan in Pittsburgh, chances are you know it simply as The House.

There is a good reason for the familiarity towards New Kensington’s House of 1,000 Beers — it’s been around for a long time, making it one of the region’s original bottle shops. And it’s good enough that it’s become a destination, even for those of us who need to drive nearly an hour to get there. But that’s a small price to pay for access to 1,000 bottles, 36 taps and a food menu that seems to improve year by year.

HO1kB owner Art Barbus can’t take credit for getting the business started — he bought it from founder Dave Sagrati in late 2014 — but he’s taken the shop and run with it, adding a professional kitchen staff, expanding the food menu and taking on more events like beer dinners. Mr. Barbus has also made sure that the growing tap list always includes sours and other offerings we generally don’t see elsewhere. He’s also made it easier to find out information about The House, commissioning a smartphone app to put specials, events and rarities in the hands of his customers.

But like his predecessor, Mr. Barbus has also made sure that The House is as accessible to those who walk through the doors thinking they don’t like beer as it is to experienced beer fans. The improved food brings those people to The House, and there will always be a few approachable beers — think New Belgium’s Fat Tire or Lager of the Lakes from Bell’s — that pair well with a wide variety of things on the menu.

Mr. Barbus has a motto that speaks to that: “If we don’t have the beer you want, we’ll find a beer you like.” And in most cases, that’s easier than you might think — after all, you’ve got about 1,000 to choose from.

Hollywood — and some glamorous beer — on Butler Street

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Let’s make one thing clear at the start: yes, you can take bottles from Bierport into the theater at Row House while you watch a movie there.

There are two signs and two entrances to what seems like two businesses on Butler Street in Lawrenceville. But Bierport bottle shop and taproom and Row House Cinema are one and the same. And general manager Theo Ackerson said that was pretty much the plan from the beginning — to address some of the things the neighborhood didn’t have, like, say, a bottle shop.

Lawrenceville has changed some in the two years since Row House and Bierport opened their doors. The neighborhood is no longer a craft beer desert, for example. And Ackerson said the beer side of the business has changed as well; it added a basement tap room about a year ago and changed its name from the original Atlas Bottle Works earlier this year after the owners discovered a trademark dispute involving two breweries using the Atlas name.

Bierport and Row House are part of a growing segment of businesses that saw an opening as the state began to change how it interprets its liquor laws, giving new opportunities for businesses selling beer and food.

But Mr. Ackerson, owner Brian Mendelssohn and the others there aren’t content to just serve up beer with popcorn and classic films; they’re putting some thought into those presentations. Last year’s release of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout merged a tasting of the sought-after beer with a ticket to see a documentary about making the beer. But you’re not going to just get stuffy documentaries, either: why not make Flying Dog — and its Hunter S. Thompson-themed beers — your brewery of the month while you have “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” showing on the screen next door?

For those who work at Bierport and Row House, finding those common themes has to be easy when the bottle shop has more than 850 beers available. And that should make it pretty easy for you to find something you like as well.

Post-Gazette coverage of Bierport and Row House: