The Beers and Breweries of Pittsburgh

January 26, 2013
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pittsburgh-fullpint1Last summer, we drove out to Pittsburgh to visit two old friends and check out some of the local beer. We got to take a peek at three of the area’s up-and-coming breweries: Full Pint Brewing (just outside of the city), East End Brewing Company and Church Brew Works — a unique brewpub.

While there are certainly other great breweries in the area, I think this little tour gave us a good sampling of the beer scene in Pittsburgh — as well as a taste of some great beers.

Full Pint Brewing

Our first stop was Full Pint located in North Versailles. The brewery opened in 2009 and has steadily grown to its current state with nine core brews along with other smaller batch brews, like their Nerd’s Reserve (which we didn’t get a chance to try as it wasn’t ready for release yet).

We had a lovely host — a gentleman who had invested in the brewery and served beer in their tasting room on the weekends. He gave us a tour and let us try a great deal of samples. The standout for us was without a doubt the Perc E Bust porter brewed with the local Commonplace Coffee. We were also big fans of the Rye Rebellion and the Tri PA.

The Hobnobber was also very unique — a series of single-hopped beers all made with the same malt but different hops. This seems like more of an experiment seeing as you can really detect the flavor of each individual hop. It wasn’t our favorite in their lineup but it’s certainly worth a try.

Fun fact: all of the label art features caricatures of those who work at the brewery.  This might explain why that Zeus-ish character featured on the label of their White Lightening resembles their head brewer.

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East End Brewing Company

When we visited East End, they were getting ready to move to their new location. What we saw was their very small but busy growler room and we were also given free reign to walk right back into their brewery and take a peek at the set up.

Founded in 2005, the brewery keeps their growler room small for a reason — they’re not there to serve you beer. They want you to fill a growler and enjoy it elsewhere. Or find a local establishment that serves their beer and drink it there. While it might seem rude, it’s actually a nice way for them to support local businesses and at the same time, keep their staff focused on making really good beer.

Of the beers we got a chance to “taste” in the growler room, we were definitely impressed with the Fat Gary Nut Brown, a really refreshing sessionable ale that pretty much everyone in our group tried and liked. As we were there during the summer, we also tried the Pedal Pale Ale which was also quite tasty.

Since moving to their new space (which is practically around the corner from where we found them this summer), they’ve expanded their growler room but they will still ask that you limit your time there. Try a few beers but make sure you fill a growler once you’ve found a beer you like.

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Church Brew Works

When we first arrived at this restored-church-now-brewpub, we took it for a bit of a gimmicky spot. But the beer was decent and the food was delicious. Not to mention that it is a gorgeous space that can accommodate large groups. The acoustics might be a little off-putting (it is a really echo-ey, old church after all) but if you can get past that, it’s a decent experience.

This former St. John the Baptist Church (originally built in 1902) re-opened as Church Brew Works in 1996 and has been going strong ever since then. The brewery offers a wide selection of beers brewed on site. While there, we tried the Heini’s Hooch and the Sanctuary Saison — both seasonal brews.

In addition, we had one of their wood-fired brick oven pizzas. It was definitely tasty but the service was a little slow. They said it had something to do with how backed up the guys at the brick oven were but it definitely left me with a bad impression of the restaurant in general.

Overall, the beer is decent but just accept that the restaurant is part of the gimmick and you should be fine. You can’t have super high expectations but the food’s okay. I will also note that their Heini’s Hooch took home a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival this year — so that says something about the beer quality at least.

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Pittsburgh

We had a blast in this city. Along with the three breweries, we also visited a couple great beer bars and delicious restaurants. No matter what you might think about Pittsburgh, I’d say it’s not a bad place to spend a weekend.

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