By Cal Meacham
Sunday night I arrived back in Orlando from a 15 hour car ride, with several bottles and growlers in tote. Back from a beautiful city filled with steel bridges, fresh fish markets and a blossoming craft beer scene. It was a great reminder that craft beer is exploding and bringing together all sorts of different people, with the common love of a good pint.
During my week long stay just outside of downtown I was able to explore various pockets of the city which offered a wide variety of great food and beer offerings. Along with an assortment of craft beer bars, I had the chance to check out 5 breweries including the historic Penn Brewery which has been around since 1986 (with a brief closure and location change thrown in). Not only was I impressed with the styles of beer being offered by the craft brewers, I was also floored at the amount of top named out of state breweries that were represented in packaging stores and on tap. Firestone Walker, Dark Horse, Allagash, AleSmith, Russian River, Founders and Cigar City were in abundance around town and showed that Pennsylvania distribution was making waves.
Pennsylvania has some strange liquor and beer laws that would seemingly dampen the industry and scene but I found things to be just the opposite. While most of the breweries aren’t allowed to serve pints in their tap room, they readily offer up samples of all of their beers and sell growlers out the door. After talking to a few of the brewery owners, while not in love with the pint sales restrictions, they have been able to grow their following with strong growler sales and support from the local bar community who are more than happy to have a few kegs from a local source. A community that is sold on growing local business!
I visited a lot of different beer establishments during my visit but here is the list of stops that I think you should consider the next time you are in Pittsburgh. Heck, it would even be worth your while to plan a beer trip there.
The Essential Stops:
Roundabout – A small tasting room off of Butler Ave. is not so much about the atmosphere but a lot about the great beer. I tried all four beers that were on tap and walked out with a growler of the Irish Coffee Stout and the Ginga Wheat. Butler Ave. is a growing/trendy area and there are two great brewery stops just blocks from each other.
Hop Farm – The other Butler Ave. brewery nestled in a 4000 sq ft. building, Hop Farm (which grows a lot of their own hops locally for their brews) has a great tasting room atmosphere and great staff. The owner was even kind enough to take us on a tour of the brewing facility while we sipped on a few samples. We left with two growlers, the One Nut Brown (which didn’t make it back to Florida because it was consumed) and the Provision Saison.
House of 1000 Beers – Not technically in the downtown, the short jaunt out to New Kensington is well worth your time. With 24 beers on tap and over 1,000 assorted bottles that can be consumed or taken home, this place is a craft beer mecca. I sipped a Founders – Backwoods Bastard while I snatched bottles of AleSmith – Speedway Stout and New Holland – Pilgrim’s Dole. We even stopped by for another visit (and another glass of Sweet Repute) and enjoyed some wings from the kitchen while we explored the store some more. The staff was super friendly and offered up several suggestions on bottles that I needed to bring back with me.
East End – The taproom was a little tricky getting to (because they don’t really have a sign out on the street) but once we arrived in the communal warehouse space that they share with a local coffee roaster, we were treated to some great beer. Their Chocolate Covered Cherry Stout and Illustration Ale were both spot on and the Monkey Boy was another very enjoyable beer. They offer a variety of growler fills to go as well as a handful of 750ml bottles, two of which we bought to go (The Homewood Reserve and Illustration Ale).
Church Brew Works – Located in an old church (complete with stain glass windows) Church Brew Works is worth the visit just for the ambiance. While their beer wasn’t as good as the other breweries, they make up for it by having one hell of a facility. We tried the sampler and also grabbed a 750 bottle to go and hopefully next time I can check out their food menu.
I look forward to another visit to Pittsburgh so that I can further explore some of the other pockets of craft beer and great food. I missed a few breweries (including Fat Heads) on this trip but it is well worth planning another beer adventure to see what else the city has to offer. Pittsburgh is a very good craft beer city and holds its own unique position in the grand scope of things. I will be watching closely over the next few years as I expect to see a lot more of their craft beers on the shelves in other states. Now if they could only get some of the goofy laws changed……….