Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pittsburgh Beer Scene Part 1

This has been a month of travels.  Just on the heels of a wonderful adult childhood trip to Disneyland, Sj and I set sail (ok we flew) for Pittsburgh, PA.  The real reason we took this trip was to take part in a book club run by Andrew Thornton at his Allegory Gallery in small town Ligonier, PA.  A long way to go for a book club?  Yes, but it was loads of fun, and we needed a more relaxing trip after the crowd-filled chaos of Disney.  We arrived at the Pittsburgh airport and headed down to Hertz to get our rental car.  The line was long and some (probably) drunk yahoos in line behind us were getting surly, nearly getting security called on them.  While I am slightly sad that I missed the chance to see someone getting tazed, it probably would have slowed down the rental process even more. 

At a recommendation from Chip Walton of Chop & Brew and Brewing TV fame, we headed right from the airport to get lunch at the Piper's Pub.  This was a little old fashioned pub, filled with soccer fans eagerly watching "football" and putting back full British sized pints of beer.  The bar area is small and somewhat loud, but gives a better view of the taps than the 1950's era restaurant seating in the back.  They always have at least two cask beers (I had Duck Rabbit Milk Stout) and a very good selection of local and British ales.  Lots of traditional English, Irish, Scottish fare are present in the menu and we both ended up with the tasty and incredibly mouth-scorchingly hot lamb stew.  A nice way to ease into the beer culture of Pennsylvania! 

From there we headed to Roundabout Brewery.  This is a pretty new brewery and the tap room is small and somewhat spartan.  While we were attempting to park around the corner and dodge a poorly parked drunk-bus, the burly-vested-shade-wearing driver strutted into the middle of the street in front of us while talking loudly on his cell phone.  After some rude hand motions all around, we parked and made our way into the Lilliputian sized tap room.  Luckily the drunks from the bus were on their way out and things got a bit quieter.  The lady serving at the doll-sized bar was still very busy but quite pleasant and got us a sampler of all 5 beers.

The beers at Roundabout were all very good.  The Trompe le Monde was a pretty good clone of La Fin du Monde from Unibrou, made with locally sourced honey.  The Hy-PA was a wonderfully balanced IPA made with Chinook and New Zealand Montueka hops, and I would gladly drink this every day.  But by far our favorite was the Jacked Up O'Lantern Stout: one of the best pumpkin spiced beers I've had, made with local La Prima espresso coffee.  We bought a small growler of that beer to have in our hotel room later in the trip.  I really liked the vibe and the beers here (and they had a cheese plate and meat pies for the hungry drinkers!)  Our server gladly suggested some other places to check out, giving us a small booklet on the Pittsburgh Libation Trail, as well as a few that weren't in the book.  I've seen a similar publication in Bend, OR, but they have a prize if you get to all the breweries...


Next up was Hop Farm Brewing Company, just a few blocks from Roundabout.  I mean it was right there, so we had to stop right?  This was another industrial building surrounded by quasi-decrepit warehouses.  The small taproom featured a small bar that the wife and I bellied up to.  We ordered the sampler to try all the beers they had available, though both of us were getting a bit full by this time.  There is not a lot of info online about this new brewery, but it looks like they grow some or all of their own hops.  We had a good server, who was helpful about finding other local places to check out.  I wish I had liked the beers as much as I liked the mixed rural/urban taproom feel.  The Cherry Bomb was an Imperial Berliner with sweet cherries, but just didn't taste right.  There was a lime basil (the plant) saison that was an interesting concept, but just not fermented right--too much sulfurous essence to the aroma and flavor that overwhelmed the subtle spicing.  The One Nut Brown was probably the best of the group and the only sample we finished.  Sorry guys, you have some growing up to do yet. 

By now it was starting to get late, with dusk dropping upon us earlier from the shortening days of fall.  Our server at Roundabout had strongly suggested we try the new (5-6 months old) The Brew Gentlemen, but they were only open that day during our scheduled trip.  Since our last stop had been fast and somewhat disappointing, we opted for a quick drive-by sampling on our way out of town.  Located in (shocking) another industrial steel area in Braddock, PA, this building had a wonderful metal and wood charm to it, inside and out.  In true Pittsburgh fashion, folks in Steelers gear were outside grilling up food in the parking lot when we arrived.  A nearly empty seating area just inside the main doorway led to the bar area that was much more bustling.  The two young bartenders were dressed in slacks, dapper vests, and ties--a big step up from pretty much all other taprooms I've seen.  We found a couple chairs at the bar (for easy access to the taps) and ordered a mix of samples that all came out in small stemmed cognac glasses.  They had a lot of beers on tap, with a huge variety.  Saisons rubbed elbows with IPA, and wheat beers.  To celebrate fall they had no less than three pumpkin spiced beers: a stout, a saison, and an amazing maple flapjack beer!  But the winner for both myself and Sj was the Chipotle DIPA.  Seriously who puts chipotle in an IPA?  Keep in mind that both of us love spicy food and this beer may not fly with my Minnesota (black pepper is too spicy!) compatriots. 

Whilst raving about the beers we discovered that both of the young gentlemen serving us were owners, and that the brewer was even younger.  Am I getting old that I call 24 young?  Yup.  We got to discuss the beers a bit with friendly Co-Founder/Creative Director Asa Foster, but the taproom was getting busy and we had to get rolling.  Our bed & breakfast was in Ligonier, another hour and a half drive through the mountainous and now dark countryside!  If the tap room had been open more days, I would have come back every day of my trip.  Overall I think that Brew Gentlemen is the one to watch on the Pittsburgh craft beer scene.  Not since early Surly Brewing have I seen such a bold and well done grouping of beers in such a recent brewery.  Well done Sirs, well done!

Steel Town!

At this point poor Sj had to drive our rental car all the way to our B&B while I continued to rave about Maple Flapjack ale.  I did help spot for deer, and counted a plethora carcasses laying sprawled on or near the road.  We made it safely, but ended up heading back to Pittsburgh the next day for more adventures (To Follow).

Up Next: 30 Word Thursday

1 comment:

Andrew Thornton said...

Many thanks for coming across the country for a visit! We enjoyed our time with you guys a lot! I will have to visit some of these spots, as they look like a lot of fun. It'll be interesting to try them out since I'm not a beer aficionado and am curious about some of the combinations you've written about. Chipotle IPA? Curiouser and curiouser! It'll also be nice to explore the Pittsburgh area more. Thanks again for visiting!