Something devilish on tap at Mt. Pleasant's Helltown Brewery
Dan Morris, assistant brewer at Helltown Brewery, tilted a thick brown bottle called a growler under the tap, filling it with English Style Brown Ale for an anxiously waiting customer.
“We don't have a regular bottling line yet, so on weekends we fill these half-gallon growlers. The overwhelming majority of our beers are kegged and sent to commercial customers,” Morris said.
Shawn Gentry, owner and head brewmaster, agreed. “Our bar and club accounts keep demanding more keg beer so bottling is a way down the road yet.”
Gentry, his brother, Tripp, and Morris are a three-man squad that runs Helltown Brewery on Henry Clay Frick Street in Mt. Pleasant.
“Being an entrepreneur in the beer business is quite demanding, “said Shawn, who holds down a regular day job as well. “I depend on Tripp and Dan to carry out the day's plans and brew my formula recipes.”
Making beer commercially is an intricate process of sanitation and precise actions. Yet, historians claim that most towns organized not so much for protection, but to take advantage of lots of families throwing away fermentable food scraps into mead pits. Fermentation tends to go when it sees fit and the beer of old was probably not the golden lager it is today. It beat drinking the contaminated water of the times.
“We spend 90 percent of our time sanitizing hoses, clamps, tanks, and kegs.” Shawn added.
Saturday is one of two brewing days each week at Helltown. Tripp had just finished the cooking of the grain converting the starches into fermentable sugar, and drained the wort into the kettle for boiling. He dropped the bottom out of the cooker and spent grain fell into plastic half barrels for disposal.
“A farmer takes all our spent grain and feeds it to his cattle for a treat,” Tripp said. “Once when we were broken down for a few weeks the farmer's wife informed us, ‘Our cows are not real happy right now.'”
In the kettle the wort is boiled then cooled as fast as possible from 200 degrees to 60. Yeast is added and fermentation takes about two weeks.
“Helltown beer is in beer halls all across Pennsylvania clear out to Philly. We have a sales distributor who keeps our brand fresh and available,” Shawn said. “I started home-brewing 10 years ago and dreamed of having my own brewery. We started 2 1⁄2 years ago, and it's still going strong.
“The name Helltown comes from the reputation Mt. Pleasant had in the late 1700s being a crossroads town in the center of the famed Whiskey Rebellion,” he added. “The town had a wild side. A fellow brewer/graphic designer online helped me with our logo. It is simple and crisp. We like it.”
Shawn says that craft brewers are not in direct competition with major houses like Budweiser and Miller. They don't even compete with other crafters.
“When we go out, we look for other beers made locally and we enjoy them as much as our own,” Morris said. “We all try to help one another.”
All Saints Brewery
All Saints Brewery is on Route 119 at Roseytown Road, just north of Greensburg. Jeff Guidos, another brewmaster with well over a decade of experience, owns and operates All Saints.
“I had been the assistant brewmaster at the now-defunct Red Star Restaurant in Greensburg since 1998, and when they folded, I was able to buy the excellent brewing tanks and equipment,” Guidos said. “I started home-brewing while majoring in chemistry at St. Vincent College back in 1992. I got the bug early and still have it.”
All Saints is located in a large warehouse that should have enough room to expand both with the physical brewing process and with social offerings like a dining hall and recreation. Guidos is proud of his draft-tasting room that fills up quite well on weekends.
“We are just like the other local brewers,” He said. “If we had more tanks we could surely sell more beer. We are in demand.
“All my grains and hops are imported and our suppliers are consistent. We try to offer a wide variety of beers from the normal ales and browns to some exotic flavored beers. Customers tell us what will sell.”
The All Saints logo has a local tie as well.
“My experience at St. Vincent's and the tradition of monks making beer and wine surely had an effect on my choices,” Guidos said. “I used the St. Vincent colors in my signage and logo. My philosophy through this whole experience is that I want to create good things for good people.”
All Saints Brewery is open Wednesday through Sunday. Check the Allsaintscraftbrewery.com for hours and events.
The newest craft brewery in Westmoreland County is Four Seasons Brewery on Route 981 North going into Latrobe. Two young owners, Mark Pavlik and Christian Simmons, have dedicated themselves to the success of their brewery and to their customers. “We are here for our taverns and clubs. If they need a keg at midnight, one of us will make the delivery,” said Simmons, who is the marketing and sales half of the Four Seasons brand. Pavlik, an electrical engineer by trade, handles the production end of the business.
Four Seasons is in a sizable warehouse with plenty of room for expansion. The production area lines one side of the interior while a tasting table and activities fill the rest of the room. At the tasting table, friends of Simmons and Pavlik man the taps and offer tastings to walk-in customers.
“We try to keep several of our beers on tap for tasting from our American Pale Ale, Almost East Coast, Belgian, IPA, brown ales and Kolsch. Our customers help us choose our menu,” Simmons said.
Four Seasons opened on Sept. 1 and has been growing ever since. Both owners have resigned themselves to a life of hard work to make a go of the business.
“We both work a 40-hour week at our day jobs and then another 60 hours here brewing and distributing,” Simmons said.
Nationally, craft beers have been growing at about 15 percent per year even during the recent recession.
John Tremba is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.