Share This Page

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

| Sunday, April 20, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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 bkarlovits@tribweb.com or 412-320-7852.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.