Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s Craft Movement

In 1979 the “We are Family” Pirates won the World Series. A couple month later the Steel Curtain cemented its legacy and the franchise had its dynasty with its fourth Super Bowl. Pittsburgh having branded itself as the Steel City became “The City of Champions.”

But as the city raised banners in glory to their sports franchises, the bottom was falling out of the steel industry. By the end of the decade nearly the entire industry was decimated and all those middle class blue collar jobs it provided had gone.

It’s a story we all know.

What people are still coming to realize is that the sooty skyline has cleared, Pittsburgh is now “America’s Most Livable City” and the steel has been replaced with the silicon of robotics and Internet companies. “Mama Steel” has been replaced by Daddy Tech.

Yinzers still consider themselves as from a steel town and you would be hard pressed to find a people more loyal to their hometown. Yinzers are protective of Kennywood, Isaly Chipped Chopped Ham and Iron City Beer. These are not products and businesses but community trusts.

The latter, specifically Pittsburgh Brewing Company, has changed hands multiple times in my lifetime and has exited the city proper but still tastes like home.

First locally brewed adjunct lagers, once the prince of blue collar libations were pushed aside a homogenized industry decades ago.  Later, craft brewing returned the importance of regional beers of every variety.  This leaves local brewers like Pittsburgh Brewing Company in an strange place; local but no craft.  They are being squeezed by the conglomerates and by the upstart craft brewers.

Iron City will always be the perfect companion to a “cap and cheese” at Primanti’s but it’s not going to find its way into the discerning beer drinker’s fridge and its not big enough to compete with AB, Miller and Coors.

To address this shift, Pittsburgh Brewing Company established the Block House Brewing line of beers. To see what it has in store, I purchased their Summer Break and Double Chocolate Bock.

The Summer Break opens with a hazy orange yellow pour with a sweet and citrusy nose. The beer is well carbonated with a light mouthfeel. It is excessively sweet. The flavors of grapefruit are intense and only quenched by a sweet lemonade finish. The beer is very, very sweet and did not exactly agree with my taste. It comes in at 5.0% ABV and is as light as a summer beer should be. College students are summer break are going to love it.

The Double Chocolate Bock was much better. Chocolate in the nose with a slight hint of roasted malts. This medium bodied bock has good mouthfeel and is properly balanced. The chocolate runs through and through but only plays one note.  It tends towards the milk chocolate side and does not provide the bitter dark favor of cacao.  Its was a different take on a nice style of beer. While not as saccharine sweet as the Summer Break this beer too sits at the sweet side of the scale.

Both of these beers show Pittsburgh Brewing Company is trying to move beyond IC Light and Old German as they must.  Summer Break and Double Chocolate Bock are a good first effort. The trend of seasonal offerings will be a benefit to Block House as they roll out their IPL and Pumpkin Ale. This will allow for refinement and improvement.

While Pittsburgh as a city has redefined itself and emerged as a city with a brightly shining future, it’s most famous brewery still has work to do but appears to be well on their way.

Pittsburgh did not turn around its fortunes in a day. It took decades and it was not a straight path. It’s brewery is on the same course. It’s working hard. It’s making changes and its betting on new craft focused brands. If it can do half as well as the folks it serves it will be in great shape.  I’m quite hopeful. These beers are a huge step forward from Olde Frothingslosh and Augustiner and that is a great thing.

Summer Is Made For Drinking Beer

Summer Beer 2

It is Memorial Day Weekend which means that even though the Northeast is under frost advisories it is the beginning of summer.  Summer time is a great season for craft beers.  The seasonal offerings get lighter, crisper and the ABV generally goes down a bit.  Perfect beer for sharing a few with friends.

As is typical for beer blogs, I am going highlight some great beers you should seek out for this summer season but I hope these are beers you don’t necessarily see on other lists.

DreamWeaver Wheat Ale by Troegs:  This South German-Style Hefeweizen is not a seasonal and is widely available year round.  Pepper and clove notes, a crisp short finish and low 4.5% ABV make this beer incredibly drinkable.  When my in-laws host a cook-out during the summer months more likely than not a case of this is my contribution.  DreamWeaver only comes in bottles and frankly summer calls for cans so be sure to also check out Sunshine Pils.  It is crisp and clean and hopped just right for hot days.  It might be my favorite Pilsner.

Shiner Ruby Redbird by Spoetzl Brewery:  This grapefruit infused summer beer clocks in at 4% ABV.  Grapefruit and a hint of ginger in the nose.  This is another easy drinking beer that would be a good introduction to fruit beers for the novice craft drinker.  Not super easy to find but priced right.  Buy a six pack of bottles or cans and share it with a friend on the back porch.

New Belgium Brewing’s Folly 12 Pack of Cans: Slow Ride Session IPA, Fat Tire Amber Ale, Ranger IPA and Snapshot Wheat.  New Belgium is only now getting its feet in the door of PA distribution but I have been seeking them out each time I leave the Commonwealth.  This 12 pack offers four great beers and all are in cans which makes for an excellent and easy way to tailgate, drink at the shore or just lay poolside without worry.  This is my favorite mix pack for summer.

Witte by Ommegang:  The perfect beer for a nice dinner on the back deck.  If you have grilled up some fresh fish or local vegetables and need to pair it with something impressive but still light and refreshing I suggest Witte.  Flavorful as it is hazy it will work well on those warm nights and be a refreshing ale to share with a friend.

Red Stripe Jamaican Lager:  I can almost hear the audible groan from some of my readers. But drinking this beer extra cold on a blazing hot day straight from the bottle gets me every time.  Yes, I know it’s an adjunct lager and falls into the yellow fizzy category but this beer tastes like relaxation.  I have been to St. Thomas USVI a bunch of times and buying one of these out of a vendor boy’s cooler just makes the day taste better.  Drink it straight from the bottle and relax.  Sometimes you just want a beer and not get all fussy about the complexity; even if it is likely brewed in Latrobe, PA.

Dale’s Pale Ale by Oskar Blues Brewing:  This classic pale ale has some grapefruit notes and piney floral hops.  If you are banging and picking steamed Chesapeake blue crabs this is the perfect can of beer to hold down the newspaper.  I suggest springing for the big 19.2 oz cans.  It marries perfectly with the Old Bay and mild crab meat in my opinion.  I can hardly think of a better way to enjoy a summer day.  Pro-tip: Never use a hammer when eating blue crabs.