‘Burgh beers

Essential beers of Pittsburgh include, from right, Penn Pilsener, Couch Raspberry Duvet, Big Hop IPA, Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy and Sprague H.I.G.H. PA. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Essential beers of Pittsburgh include, from right, Penn Pilsener, Couch Raspberry Duvet, Big Hop IPA, Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy and Sprague H.I.G.H. PA. (Matt Freed/Post-Gazette)

Sprague Farm H.I.G.H. PA
In 2006 Brian and Minnie Sprague started a brewery on a former dairy farm in Venango, Crawford County. By 2011, they were not just growing but also malting and kilning their own barley, as well as growing hops and other ingredients, on a quest to become one of the country’s few estate farm breweries. They’re now pushing for more government incentives to help grow this trend, in our strongly agricultural region could own. You can support this by drinking a Sprague estate brew such as H.I.G.H. PA, made with the farm’s own malt and Cascade and Magnum hops. The name of this “Pennsylvania ale” is a tribute to their friend and helper, Penn State Cooperative Extension agronomist Joel Hunter. It stands for Hunter’s Indigenous Grains and Hops. They can can it themselves in 32-ounce containers perfectly nicknamed for a brewpub in a dairy barn — “silos.”

Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy
Voodoo Brewery started in Meadville, also in Crawford County, in 2007 and last year opened a second location closer to the city in the former Homestead municipal building and fire station. From the beginning, founder Matt Allyn was brewing somethings different, and he was aging beers in barrels before it became a widespread trend. This huge (12.5 percent ABV) Russian-style imperial stout is aged on oak, which adds to its darkly complex, sophisticated tastes. It can be cellared and in fact the 2009 vintage won Voodoo a silver-medal-winner at 2013 Great American Beer Festival for aged beer. The 2015 was just released in new packing — four-packs of 12-ounce bottles, and owner Matteo Rachocki says they brewed more than twice as much as usual. The “best before” date? 2020.

Penn Pilsner
Pennsylvania Pilsner was one of the first, if not the first, post-Prohibition Pennsylvania “microbrew” and one of the first in the country when was it introduced in June 1986. This all-malt beer started out being brewed across the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh Brewing Co., home of iconic Iron City Beer. Pittsburgh Brewing had formed from 21 regional breweries including Eberhardt & Ober. And that North Side landmark is where the late Tom Pastorius opened the state’s first brewpub since Prohibition in 1989 and served Pennsylvania Pilsner there. Renamed Penn Pilsner, this local classic is a smooth-drinking, Vienna-style amber lager with 5-percent alcohol by volume. Best sipped outside in the old Germanic brewery’s cobblestone biergarten. Look for 30th-anniversary packaging. (Local beer historian Ed Vidunas notes that Philadelphia’s Dock Street Brewing Co. started selling its all-malt amber a year earlier, but it was contract-brewed by F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica, N.Y.)

East End Big Hop
This ’Burgh classic was the first and only beer of the East End Brewing Co. when Scott Smith started selling the stuff from a decrepit warehouse in the city’s Homewood neighborhood in December 2004. “The name came way before the beer,” he says, recounting how he designed the logo on his computer when he was homebrewing in his kitchen in San Francisco. The beer — more hoppy (with Centennial and Cascade hops) than most ambers and pale ales, but more malty (mostly Munich malt) than most India pale ales — remains the big seller at the brewery and pub, which is now located in Larimer, where, last year, they put the first big batch in cans.

New places
While the essential brews above are relative old-timers, another way to get a true taste of the local scene is to try as many new breweries and new brews as you can and see what they’re coming up with. Couch Brewing Co., which three partners are opening on Fifth Avenue in Larimer this summer, will offer a range of brews with theme-fitting names such as Comforter Winter Warmer Raspberry Duvet Oatmeal Stout with Raspberry, pictured here. And a slew of other new places are on the way, from Mindful Brewing in Castle Shannon to Fury Brewing in North Huntingdon