When the Pittsburgh Beer Guild formed in the fall, bringing together nearly 30 of the breweries in Allegheny County, its principals said their first project would be a Pittsburgh Brewery Guide, “the go-to resource for finding information … useful for visitors and residents alike in planning a brewery tour through Pittsburgh and the surrounding suburbs.”
Why wait? Fans can already visit four breweries and taprooms in Millvale and Sharpsburg and soon will see two more in neighboring Etna. Think of them together as the Allegheny River Towns Ale Trail:
Strange Roots Experimental Ales
501 E. Ohio St., Millvale (and 4399 Gibsonia Road, West Deer)
Hours: 5-10:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 3-10:30 p.m. Sat.
The oldest brewery in this group also is the newest. It opened in 2011 in a former gas station/drive-through bagel shop at the gateway to town from Route 28. In 2012, Draai Laag Brewing Co. opened a taproom, which expanded into an outdoor beer garden.
Per its tagline “Wild by Design,” co-owner Dennis Hock and head brewer Tony Zamperini conceived some of the wildest brews in the region and beyond, specializing in wild yeast and extended bottle- and barrel-aging to make a range of Belgian- and French-style ales with sour and funky flavors like some had never tasted. One example: Relic, made with a yeast strain extracted from beneath layers of wax on a 17th-century French monastic cabinet.
Now what science geek Mr. Hock affectionately calls this “weird little brewery” has just launched a rebranding that changes the name to Strange Roots (officially as of March 7). That reflects a renewed commitment to experimental brews in small batches, but now in a range wider than sours. For instance, they’ve started experimenting with edgy stouts.
The brew house, for a time located in Hampton, moved in the fall to a new, bigger facility in West Deer, where Mr. Hock is using on-site yeast strains and local agricultural products to showcase that terroir. Another small tap room and a much bigger beer garden are to open there this spring, but in the meantime, in Mr. Hock’s native Millvale, they’ll continue to pour their strange brews. One of his favorites: Grand Blu, made with peaches and Penicillium roqueforti, the fungus used to make blue cheese.
Blu and most of the brews will continue to be available in big — 500- and 750-milliliter bottles — for roughly $8-$10 per bottle, and there are eight taps. The food menu includes sandwiches and sides, tacos and snacks. The new location will start out with food trucks.
Mr. Hock is excited for upcoming and continual changes. “We have evolved significantly from where we started. And we’re still evolving.”
Grist House Craft Brewery
10 Sherman St., Millvale
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 2-10 p.m. Sat. and 2-8 p.m. Sun.
When childhood friends, homebrewers and brothers-in-law Brian Eaton and Kyle Mientkiewicz opened this one in May 2014, there were far fewer local breweries. Mr. Eaton helped form the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild and is its chairman. Partner and numbers guy Tom Schneider is its treasurer.
In a former slaughterhouse whose industrial bones include the ceiling crane for moving meat, this 15-barrel brewhouse is hitting its stride. In warm weather, a lot of the action is on the outdoor patio and beer garden, but dogs are welcome inside, too, as long as they have leashes and good manners. Brewery swag includes dog collars and bowls. Hardy customers, both human and canine, sit outside in the snow around the fire ring, which repurposes wood from the nearby axe-throwing studio. There’s a different food truck out there daily.
These days, they offer a big indoor tap list (15) in a wide variety of styles. The outdoor bar has 16 more that will dispense interesting stuff now that the brewery is firing up a small pilot system. “We plan on doing a lot of one-offs — double IPAs, sour IPAs,” Mr. Eaton says.
The big news is a new canning line, so watch for more regular can releases. Grist House also is working on opening another brewpub location. As Mr. Eaton puts it: “We’re looking forward to an exciting 2018.”
Dancing Gnome Beer
925 Main St., Sharpsburg
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Wed.-Fri., noon-10 p.m. Sat. and noon-6 p.m. Sun.
This storefront is easy to find during one of its canned beer releases, when lines of people stretch around the block. It opened in October 2016 and quickly became one of the region’s hottest breweries, famous for its “hop pronounced” and often hazy-on-purpose pale ales. Eight are always on tap — if they haven’t run out. They frequently limit how much of a new beer one customer may buy. Another way to find the brewery is by the food truck parked out front.
They’re brewing a big double IPA brewed with Moscato grape juice for Hop Culture magazine’s Juicy Brews event at the Ace Hotel on March 17. Recent accolades include being named Rate Beer’s 2017 best new brewery in Pennsylvania.
Owner and brewer Andrew Witchey, who is a member-at-large of the new Pittsburgh Beer Guild, says he’s thinking of expanding production. He just added more fermenting capacity at the end of 2017 and a new canning line is in the works.
Hitchhiker Brewing Co.
1500 S. Canal St., Sharpsburg
Hours: noon-8 p.m. Sun., 4-11 p.m. Tues.-Fri. and noon-11 p.m. Sat.
This epic brewery and taproom — in the smokestack-topped boiler room and machine shop of the former Fort Pitt Brewing Co. — is the second taproom for Hitchhiker, which started in May 2014 in Mt. Lebanon. It moved brewing here and opened in this past September. With a much bigger (10-barrel) system, brewers Andy Kwiatkowski (Brewers Guild secretary) and Matt Gibb have been killing it, with “progressive and traditional” brews that they regularly release in cans to social media acclaim. One popular series is “Whole Punch,” brewed with assorted fruits (including guava!) and lactose sugar for a fruit shake/smoothie-like experience.
On tap here are up to 20 draft brews, which you also can get to-go in glass growlers and aluminum crowlers, plus housemade root beer, and there’s cider and wine by the glass. There’s a limited menu of snacks and rotating food trucks.
This spring, look for the beers now aging in spirits and wine barrels and mixed culture (different yeasts and bacteria) brews from two 30-barrel oak vessels called foudres.
And soon, notes owner Gary Olden, they’ll be improving the outdoor beer garden. “We’re going to do something that’s more unique than just putting tables out.”
New kids ’round the corner:
A groundbreaking is planned in April for a new garage-style brewery and taproom for CoStar Brewing, which since 2013 has been brewing and selling kegs from a garage in Highland Park. Owners Caitlyn and Jeff Hanna and Dominic Cincotta say it will be located near 327 Butler St. in Etna but aren’t saying much else. Watch for updates at http://costarbrewing.com/csb/ and on CoStar’s social media.
Borough manager Mary Ellen Ramage is thrilled that Etna looks to be getting yet another brewery. Maria Paterra and two partners have purchased the former PNC building at 381 Butler St. and the former Texaco station at 399 Butler St.
The plan is to partner with another brewery to open a brewery taproom in the latter, perhaps by this fall, and then open a casual, pet-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating next-door and run it as one operation. The name: The Rear End on Butler Street. She says they’re talking with breweries and working with a designer. “We’re hoping this livens Butler Street up!”
Not enough beer? Across the Allegheny River is Eleventh Hour Brewing Co., 3711 Charlotte St., Lawrenceville. Owner Matt McMahon is the Brewers Guild’s vice chairman.
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.