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Craft Beer Week gives Pittsburgh brew fans a taste of new things

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Brewer Justin Viale fills a ferkin with a braggot from a fermentation tank at Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville Monday, April 14, 2014 as perperations continue for the upcoming Craft Beer Week.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Brewer Justin Viale fills a ferkin with a braggot from a fermentation tank at Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville Monday, April 14, 2014 as perperations continue for the upcoming Craft Beer Week.

With more that 200 events in a 60-mile radius, a Gateway Clipper trip that sold out in 4 minutes and a examination of “real” ale that looks to top its attendance in 2013, this celebration of craft beer seems to have found a home.

“We drink beer, we love beer, it brings us all together,” says Dan Rugh of the third annual Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week that runs April 25 through May 4.

Rugh is the owner of Commonwealth Press in the South Side. He got involved with Craft Beer Week as the maker of T-shirts, the designer of logos and creator of identifying material.

But as a beer lover, he didn't stop there. Now, he is the organizer of the Beer Barge on the Gateway Clipper that is the key event of the April 25 opening. He has teamed with Penn Brewery on the North Side to brew Commonwealth Press Ale, one of several “collaboration” brews that emerge for this week.

Craft beer continues to be a growing market. Sales amounted to 15.6 million barrels in 2013, up from 13.2 million in 2012, according to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, a craft-beer industry group. Still, that represents only 7.8 percent of overall beer sales of 196.2 million barrels in the United States. Craft beer sales totaled $14.2 billion.

Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week is filled with ideas and events that take appreciation of craft beer many ways. Craft beers, of course, are drinks produced by smaller brewers that concentrate on taste, specialties and freshness.

Bars from New Brighton to New Kensington will have get-togethers featuring types of beer, tastings with foods or examinations of specific brands, says Colleen Leary from the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance. Some will be “tap takeovers” in which all the taps are tied to a certain brand. Some events are free and others have a fee.

Collaboration beers include Rugh's brew; one between the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville and Dave Cerminara, who will open the Apis Meadery in Carnegie on July 5; and one by East End Brewery in East Liberty and Erie's Lavery Brewery.

Some bigger events will get a preview. A kickoff party April 25 at the Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Bloomfield will have a early preview April 24 at the Church Brew Works. Helltown Brewing from Mt. Pleasant will take some of its specially crafted “real ales” to Piper's Pub on the South Side on May 1, two days before it is featured at the Real Ale Festival.

Not all of the brews will be beers. Helltown is producing an English Style Barley Wine, and Arsenal Cider from Lawrenceville will have some its drink at the Real Ale Festival.

The week also will result in more creativity. Five home brewers chosen in a competition at Piper's Pub will have their small batches at the Real Ale Festival. Drinkers will vote on them and the winner will get to produce a batch of 465 gallons at Helltown.

The week is flanked by two big events: the Beer Barge on a Gateway Clipper craft and the Real Ale Festival on May 3 at Highmark Stadium on the South Side.

The Clipper trip is a three-hour beer cruise Rugh envisioned in 2013 because, he says, “if you are doing something in Pittsburgh, everyone wants to do in on the Gateway Clipper.” It was a sellout the first year and filled up in 4 minutes for 2014.

But the Real Ale Festival may be the biggest event for the beer aficionado. There, local brewers and those as far away as Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland and Lancaster Brewing across the state will produce beers that are served without filtration and are not carbonated.

This process is done in a 10.8-gallon container called a firkin, and the beer is served at room temperature. Because the beer is served before fermentation is completed and because yeast has eaten the simple sugars, these beers are smoother, less sweet and “unpredictable,” says Matt Moninger, brewery manager at the Church Brew Works.

Mindy Heisler from Piper's Pub says there is a great difference between beer from a firkin and the same recipe in a bottle or a keg.

Shawn Gentry, owner of Helltown Brewing, says he is brewing a brown and a pale ale for the May 3 firkins, but at the May 1 event at Piper's will have a “real ale” version of Helltown's Rapture IPA.

Scott Smith, founder of East End Brewing, says a beer enthusiast takes a big step in the move from the beers of the large producers to a craft beer. It is a much smaller one to go to a “real ale,” he adds.

Heisler says the biggest part of that step is accepting temperature of about 55 degrees, which is not warm but not icy cold.

“Once you get past that, you find it is awesome,” she says.

Bob Karlovits is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7852.

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