On my way back from an extended stay in Illinois I took the opportunity to stop and explore Pittsburgh. Having done a bit of research before hand, I knew that this city offered some excellent beer and had a rich history of brewing. The first commercial brewery, Point Brewery, was established in 1765, and the city has progressed in brewing prowess ever since. Today Pittsburgh, and the surrounding area, boasts over 15 breweries. Each one of the breweries has a diverse beer selection and a unique story to tell. Unfortunately, with limited time, I was only able to visit three of the breweries in the area. My choices were driven more by location and time constraints than the superior reviews of one location against another. On the whole I was very impressed by the beers I tried and even the worst brewery had at least one quality beer available. One man, One evening, Three breweries…. it made for an excellent time.
East End Brewing Company: This place is a fun hole in the wall establishment that provides a huge selection of quality beer in a very relaxing environment. The brewery brings to mind an old fashioned speak easy, with the entrance being hidden from the public gaze. When you enter, you are greeted with an eclectic collection of tables and bar tops, providing ample space to sample the brews. The staff is incredibly friendly and enthusiastic about serving their beers to the public. East End offers an amazing and diverse selection of beers. When I visited, there were over 15 beers to choose from. Their year round selection is very nice and designed to fit a number of tastes. Monkey boy, the house hefeweizen, tasted like a fresh banana cream pie; highlighting the esters and providing a creamy mouth feel. At the same time, their stout provided a nice smoky contrast with a solid base of roasted coffee and rich malty goodness. My very generous server also treated me to a special tasting of the house weizenbock. The flavors of the Weizenbock, Monkey’s Uncle, highlighted the aromatics found in monkey boy but brought it to a whole new level. Brewed with ample portions of sugar, this beer has a slightly cidery edge but also provides a super rich and slightly sweet mouth feel. I highly recommend this brewery to anyone driving through the area. With a huge selection of beers to choose from, this brewery may be a multi-stop destination.
Penn Brewery: This brewery is an excellent example of how classic German brewing built the American beer scene. The brewery’s core line up is a set of traditional German (reinheitsgebot friendly) beers that, while not completely unique, are certainly brewed with heart. Their beers are clean, traditional, and highly drinkable. The brewery’s atmosphere is extremely welcoming with both indoor and outdoor seating available. The building has an incredible history. It was originally built to house the Eberhart and Ober brewery, founded in 1848. The building extends into a series of caves, originally used for lagering in the age before modern refrigeration. This history comes alive when you sit and look over the brewery courtyard, imagining the old barrels being rolled by. Apart from the quality beer selection, the brewery offers a very beer friendly dining menu. Although I didn’t get a chance to sample their entrees, I was able to try their beer and cheese flight. With 5 beers and 5 cheeses, you are treated to a wonderful pairing combination. Possibly my favorite was the smoked mozzarella, possessing a rich and creamy texture underlying a powerful oaky smoke, that the brewery paired with their dark lager. Considering the care that they take in their cheese and beer pairing, I would highly recommend that you ask for your servers recommendation on what beer will pair well with your meal. If you are in the area, definitely try to check out this seemingly overlooked gem.
The Church Brew Works: I really wanted to like this brewery, and I certainly loved the ambiance, but I was severely underwhelmed by both the beer and the food offered. The beer flight I tasted had a few highlights but, on the whole, the beer failed to meet the bill. My favorite beer in their line up would have to be the Kenya Coffee Blonde, which had a really nice roasted coffee flavor that played very well with the blonde base beer. Unfortunately their core beer selection was highly disappointing. Their dunkel was very thin, their blond was watery, and their stout was mediocre and lacked the full body creaminess I would hope for in an oatmeal stout. I would have tried their pale ale but the tap had run dry during my visit. My meal, pirogues and bacon, was an example of the individual components failing to be better than the sum of their parts. All the ingredients were fresh and tasty, but the dish failed to overwhelm or impress, and I felt cheated out of a great meal in this city. The service was lack luster as well, and I felt that the bar tender couldn’t care less if I was drinking a glass of water or their house selection. I would say come to this brewery if you have a little extra time in your schedule. The sheer bizarre combination of hedonistic pleasure and catholic guilt you experience while drinking in a church make it a unique experience at the very least. Overall, do not expect this brewery to be the highlight of your trip.