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South Allegheny grads hoping beer hobby goes commercial

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 4:51 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Brian Leshnock, Brian Calabro, Josh Hays and Chris Leber toast samples of Alley Brewing beer in preparation for Thursday and Sunday tastings at Cal's Cantina.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Alley Brewing is formulating craft beer, including the Trolley 68 Belgian Tripel and the Brick Alley IPA.

Think McKeesport is a shot-and-a-beer town?

It may be, but now three friends are doing their best to bring serious respect to the beer end of that equation.

Alley Brewing is a beer-making project that Chris Leber, Josh Hays and Eric Bedont started about two years ago. The brewers , who graduated together from South Allegheny High School in 2005, would like to turn what until now has been their hobby into a commercial enterprise.

They'll take a step toward that goal today from 7-10 p.m. and on Sunday from 6-9 p.m. at two craft beer tasting events at Cal's Cantina in McKeesport. The beer makers will be pouring free samples of their Trolley 68 Belgian Tripel, ASL Blonde Ale and Brick Alley IPA and tasters will be asked what they think of the beer.

“We just want feedback,” said Leber, who noted their recipes have been tested at one other such tasting. Beer drinkers will be given cards to record their impressions of the beer.

Leber said the survey is part of their larger dream of starting a craft brewery in McKeesport. Right now, he said, beer aficionados have to go to Pittsburgh or other towns and suburbs to imbibe in small batch beers.

“We're trying to build recognition,” said Leber, who now lives in Cranberry and hosts Alley Brewing's approximately bi-weekly brewing sessions.

Hays, who lives in Port Vue, said the input from other beer fans is necessary to get recipes right, adding, “We know we like it.”

Leber, Hays and Bedont, who lives in West Mifflin, believe so much that McKeesport is ripe for a brewery that they've given city-inspired names to some of their recipes. The Trolley 68 is named after the trolley that once served the city and the IPA is named after McKeesport's old red light district.

Brian Calabro, co-owner of Cal's Cantina, said he thinks customers will be intrigued by the tasting, noting that tonight's event should be well attended by a regular crowd of softball league members.

“We've got people who like to drink beer who'll tell them what they think,” said Calabro, who plans to offer food specials for both sessions. Should the tasting be a hit, Calabro said he might expand the bar's menu to include more craft beers, noting, “If the people like it then it works for us too.”

Today's event will feature Alley Brewing samples only. The Sunday tasting will feature samples from other regional beer makers. The event coincides with American Craft Beer Week.

Alley Brewing has tapped into various social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and one of its brewing sessions was recently filmed by the web video journal “Beers in the Burgh” for an upcoming episode.

The brewing sessions often serve as an opportunity to test new recipes and ingredients in 15 gallon batches. The brewers said it's a lot more like fun for now than it is work.

According to Hays, “We always have a good time when we brew.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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