Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Pittsburgh Brewery Tour

One of the joys of traveling is the opportunity to try new beers.  We spent July 4th weekend in Pittsburgh.  Craig (BBA Webmeister) and I spent an afternoon browsing some of the local favorites.  We hit East End Brewing Company, Church Brew Works, Penn Brewery and Rivertowne North Shore.

Our first stop was a non-descript building between what looked like an abandoned factory and several rundown homes in the shadow of a freeway overpass.  The sign was just a spray-painted stencil with the hours written in marker below.  East End Brewing Company had a very independent, off-the-beaten path feel.  We weren't sure what were getting into based on the bleak store front, but this stop did not let us down.

When you walk in there is a small bar with no stools and about 10 taps.  To the right of that there are some bottled beers, T-shirts, pint glasses and other gear for sale.  Scott was behind the counter and offered us some free samples of the beer on tap - which was very useful since we did not even know where to start.  When we told Scott we were at the first stop of our brewery tour, he was very forthcoming with information about other good local breweries and it gave you a feeling that it was a tight-knit community.

What happened next surprised both Craig and I.  People started walking in one after the other with empty growlers that they wanted to have refilled.  Pretty soon, the small front room was becoming claustrophobic and we realized that East End has a hard-core fan base.  After we tasted the beers, we had enough evidence to support this conclusion.

There is no place to sit.  You can only get beer to go.  However, this place is worth a stop for any beer enthusiasts who find themselves in Pittsburgh.  You can also find their beers on tap at many local bars and restaurants.

Next, we took a trip to opposite world.  Church Brew Works is a brewpub located in a magnificent former church building - "cathedral" might be a more appropriate term.  The ceiling rose high above the eating area and bar.  Brewing equipment towered over the room, perched where the choir once sat.

If the ambiance doesn't knock you out, then the beer certainly will give you another blow.  They had about eight beers on tap with a pretty decent variety.  Craig really liked Ambrosia Ale.  I thought that the Furnace Blast Stout was amazing.  It was a coconut stout and I've never had anything like it.  The coconut complemented the roasted chocolaty flavors of the stout so nicely.  This beer definitely has the potential to be a hit nationwide.  It was my BBA pick of the day.

On a side note, someone looking for a gateway beer to the craft world should check out Celestial Golden which was a fairly standard lager with good smooth flavor.

After the underground feel of East End and the grandness of Church Brew Works, the Penn Brewery felt pretty tame.  They focused on German-style beers.  They had one English pale ale and about 6 or 7 German beers on tap.  The building was interesting.  It had a dark, traditional, aged, wooden feel to it.  Craig and I both agreed that the Hefeweizen was the top pick.  It seemed like a good example of the style and the wheat flavors were delicious.  Penn Dark came in a close second.

Finally, we stopped at Rivertowne North Shore.  This is a great place to go if you want a wide selection of great beers.  They had both local and national hits behind the bar and any beer enthusiast could find something to get excited about.  Unfortunately it felt more like being at Ruby Tuesday's than a local brewpub.  They don't actually brew beer here and if you want the brewpub or local brewery experience then I'm told it's better to go to their Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville.  I was so unenthused by this place that I forgot to take any photos.  Don't get me wrong, if your down by the Heinz Field or the casino, then this is a great stop, but I wouldn't put it high on your brewery tour list when you hit Pitt.

All in all, it was a great afternoon.  East End and Church Brew Works were my favorite, but I would be happy to belly-up at any of these destinations.  Pittsburgh has enough local flavor to keep the restless, roaming beer geek happy.


  1. If you are in the Pittsburgh area. There is a brewery in Slippery Rock, Pa call North Country Brewery. Is is about 45 minutes or so north of the city. And it is great. good beer and good food.

  2. Rivertowne brewery is not as much in one place as the others. The brew pub is in Monroeville, but if you want to see the new brewery it is in Export PA- Probably another 15-20 minutes beyond Monroeville (away from the city).

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