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Taste for better beer leads Etna man into business

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
Steve Sloan, of Etna, organizes a set of growler and half growler bottles at Roundabout Brewery, in Lawrenceville, which Sloan and his wife Dyana opened in July.
Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
Steve Sloan, of Etna, poses at the tasting bar at Roundabout Brewery, in Lawrenceville, which Sloan and his wife Dyana opened in July.
Bethany Hofstetter | Shaler Journal
Steve Sloan, of Etna, stands between two beer fermentors at Roundabout Brewery, in Lawrenceville, which Sloan and his wife Dyana opened in July.

Steve Sloan has been across the country and around the world studying and brewing beer but found a home for his new brewery in Pittsburgh.

Sloan, 42, of Etna, has taken the culmination of 17 years of professional brewing knowledge gathered at more than a dozen or so breweries in six states and New Zealand and opened Roundabout Brewery with his wife, Dyana, on July 12 along Butler Street, in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood.

Sloan got what he calls “the better beer bug” after spending summers visiting Germany's beer gardens. While living in Hawaii in the mid-1990s, he started to become interested in home brewing and met the master brewer of Kona Brewing Co., who offered him a job.

“From day one, I fell in love with it,” said Sloan, who has degrees in chemistry from Kalamazoo College in Michigan and the University of Florida.

“It's hands-on, which I like, and to see the process all the way through … You have a tangible something you produce at the end of the day that people seem to enjoy.”

Sloan, originally from a small town north of Detroit, followed openings at breweries in Florida, Hawaii, California, Colorado, Missouri, Pennsylvania and New Zealand. In 2011, Sloan moved back to Pittsburgh to take a job as brewery manager at Church Brew Works.

Sloan worked to improve the beer and processes involved in brewing the beer and managing the yeast, and his efforts helped earn the brewery the 2012 titles of Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival, in Denver.

After the award-winning year for the Church Brew Works, Sloan decided to open a brewery of his own.

Sloan said he credits many of the other small craft brewers in the Pittsburgh area with helping him realize his dream.

Scott Smith, founder of Pittsburgh's East End Brewing, was preparing his brewery's move from Homewood to Larimer, near Bakery Square, while Sloan was working to open his brewery and offered him a walk-in cooler and refrigeration equipment, among other items, which he recognized on a recent visit to the brewery.

“We were happy to pass them along to him,” Smith said. “It's nice to see them go to a good home.”

Sloan said he is grateful for the help and support and even joked that at one point, he had borrowed all of Bill Larkin's tools to get the tasting room and brewery up and running. Larkin owns the neighboring Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar Inc. in Lawrenceville.

The camaraderie among Pittsburgh's craft brewers was one of the things that drew Sloan to the city.

“When you look at the small brewers, we're not competing against each other; we're carving out the teeniest piece of pie from the Goliaths,” Smith said. “At this scale, people aren't in it because they're going to become millionaires and billionaires; they're in it because they love beer on a really fundamental level, so we all share that common respect and common understanding. There's a kindred spirit there.”

Smith said the growth of small craft brewers also creates a local diversity, something Larkin hopes to capitalize on by establishing a libations trial along the Allegheny River, similar to the state's wine trails. Each brewer brings his or her own personal identity into the beer styles they brew and ingredients they use.

For Sloan, he drew much of his inspiration from his wife's homeland of New Zealand to give Roundabout Brewery a slight down-under theme by using New Zealand hops in beers that carry names such as Black Possum Beer.

Currently, Sloan brews three five-barrel batches of beer every two weeks between two fermentors.

“Overall our focus is doing things at the highest quality and as fresh as possible,” Sloan said of his goal for Roundabout.

“Is it hard to make beer? No. To make it clean, balanced and fresh, and do it consistently, yeah, I think it is difficult.”

While Roundabout Brewery offers beer sales in two sizes, a 64-ounce growler and 16-ounce round container, Sloan hopes to soon obtain a brewpub license to be able to sell pints and offer seating to his guests.

Eventually, he would like to incorporate a limited menu and tours of the facility into the offerings.

“As of right now, I want to try to keep it a mom-and-pop operation,” he said. “We really want it to (have) very local beer sales to keep it fresh and the quality as best you can.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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