Friday, November 7, 2014

Pittsburgh Beer Scene Part 2

Continuing the beery travelogue on our recent trip to the Pittsburgh area.  If you missed my previous post, check it out HERE.

Day two of our trip to Ligonier found us eating a wonderful breakfast bread pudding and sipping pumpkin spiced lattes at Thistledown B&B, located right along the quaint main street.  Ligonier is a small town at the site of an old French and Indian War English fort (which has been rebuilt as a very cool interactive museum).  With the classic town diamond with white gazebo band shell, tons of small cafes, galleries, and antique stores, this place is unstuck in time.  With slight breeze blowing falling leaves around the streets, and an Indian Summer warming sun, this was a truly beautiful and relaxing place to wander around.  The only negative?  Very little is open Sunday through Tuesday, making our timing here a bit problematic.  So what else to do but go back to Pittsburgh for some more beer tourism!

Mayberry?  Or Ligonier, PA?

This time driving in the daytime, we were able to see and appreciate the hills and valleys (hollows) covered with large trees currently in the process of dropping brilliant yellow and orange leaves upon us.  Coming from the very flat areas of Minnesota this terrain was quite a change for me, and reminded Sj of the mountain near where she grew up in Alabama.  We passed through several small towns on our way into Pittsburgh proper.

Our first stop was Arsenal Cider House, named after the Allegheny Arsenal, in the suburb of Lawrenceville.  This is very close to Roundabout and Hop Farm Brewing, so one could get to all of them in a short time.  Located in a small red house across from a large church, we found this place difficult to find at first since there was no visible sign.  Upon cautiously entering we found a small, rustic interior with burned and distressed pine woodwork and rich wall colors.  Civil War era pictures and memorabilia lined walls and shelves.  A small tasting bar filled with taps and wooden casks formed the focus for the small taproom.  When we arrived right after 11 AM opening, there was a large tour group ahead of us finishing up with their tasting.  Another group was just finishing a tour and switched places with the current much for hitting the taproom before they got busy!  We barreled (no pun!) our way into line and were able to each taste a thimble sized paper cup of 4 different fermented beverages each for free. 

This place makes really good cider!  They had strong wine-like ciders and meads, some made from cherries and blueberries, as well as some more traditional dry and semi-sweet hard ciders.  Some were oak aged to add complexity and tannins.  Probably my favorite was the oak aged blueberry wine that was the best blueberry fermented beverage I have ever had!  We ended up ordering a glass apiece and watching the chaotic taproom tour group from our little table near the back of the tasting room.  Did I mention the amazing tap handles shaped like pistols and skeletal hands grasping fruit?  I risked TSA body cavity search in order to bring one of those pistols home in my luggage!  I love what these guys are doing, and hope that they expand from growler and tap sales to bottles so I can get some sent to me.  The only thing I would suggest is to add a sign to the questionably marked taproom...

After our strong cider/wine, we were in need of sustenance.  A nice walk from the cidery was one of the more unique brewpubs I've ever visited: The Church Brew Works.  And yes, we made lots of jokes about sitting in a pew on Sunday!  This large brewpub is located in the 1902 St. John's the Baptist church, reminding me of a massive church bookstore we saw in Maastricht, Netherlands earlier this year.  I had heard mixed things about the beers, but had to check it out myself.  They won two GABF medals in 2012, so how bad could it be? 

This place is enormous.  A small brew system occupies the pulpit, with fermentation/serving tanks behind the long bar to the left of this picture.  I'm not so sure about the tawdry yellow flags and signs though--it seems to detract from the majesty of this place.  They also had un ugly yellow bopping hot air driven promo thing outside that I associate with cut-rate used car lots.  It was crowded but not insane and our service was accurate and fast.  As with most of Pittsburgh, a ton of folks were sporting their Steelers gear and a somewhat rowdy table next to us were watching the game through an iPhone.  That town has some serious sports team pride! 

We had a pretty good pizza with wild boar and BBQ sauce made with one of their beers along with a side order of terribly cooked fries.  Sj and I shared a sampler of all their beers.  This was a mixed bag--some were good, others not as thrilling.  None were outright terrible, but overall they reminded me of the brewpub beer quality from the early 1990's.  My favorite was actually the light lager since it was the cleanest of the bunch.  I have a hard time believing that these beers won GABF medals, but I know that things can change batch to batch and possibly brewer to brewer.  I tried to look up some details on the brewer, but the garish bright blue website didn't have any information.  I would certainly recommend checking this place out, but I found several better places for beer even in the same suburb. 

Ok, I decided to add a third entry to this travelogue and am including more on Ligonier and the Eastern outskirts of Pittsburgh in that one... Coming up soon!

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