According to the Brewers Association, Pennsylvania produced over 4.07 million gallons of craft beer in 2014, more than any other state in the country.
That number will increase by the tiniest bit next year when a new nanobrewery, War Streets Brewery, opens in the North Side.
Owners (and childhood friends) Jake Bier and Zach Ingoldsby have signed an eight-year lease to open their brewery in a historic firehouse across the street from Randyland in the Central Northside/Mexican War Streets neighborhood. The firehouse, built in 1877, was in operation for almost 100 years before spending time as an artist’s studio, though it has sat vacant for the past seven or eight years.
“The hardest part of this whole thing was finding the right location,” says Bier. “I looked in Lawrenceville, Strip District, and the right place just so happened to be two blocks from my house.”
Whereas a microbrewery is any brewery that produces less than 15,000 US beer barrels annually, a nanobrewery is a loosely defined term that describes a much smaller commercial operation that’s a few steps above a homebrew setup.
“We brew on a half-barrel system,” says Bier, “which means at one time we only make 15 gallons of beer. So when I’m here brewing I’m doing four batches at a time. So we’ll be doing about 200 gallons of beer a week.”
“It’s very nano,” he laughs.
Bier, who grew up in Mars, says he started homebrewing while in college in New Mexico and was inspired to start his own operation after visiting some different breweries along the West Coast and Montana.
While he would love to see the brewery grow from “nano” to “micro” over time, his focus now is on perfecting his recipes and seeing which beers people like best.
“I want it to be a close-knit little community bar,” says Bier, who also plans to install a small stage where local bands can perform as well as showcase art by local artists.
The plan for now is to have six year-round beers, each named after a nearby street (Resaca Red Ale, for example, and Monterey IPA.) There will also be a pair of rotating taps for seasonal offerings. Visitors will be able to down a pint at the firehouse or grab a growler to go.
Bier says the local craft brewing community has been supportive of him every step of the way, and that he was recently paid a visit by the head brewer from nearby Penn Brewery, who told him to stop by at any time and check out their brewing system.
“It’s not like if a brewery opens up the other breweries are going to go out of business,” says Bier. “It seems like we all benefit from each other. The world needs more good beer.”
The owners must still appear at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Adjustment in early December to request a Residential Special Exception for commercial use as a malt manufacturer/taproom. And while Bier knows it’s not a foregone conclusion, he says he’s optimistic the zoning board will grant an exception in large part thanks to the support of the community, including the Allegheny City Central Association, which pledged to write a letter in support of the business.
Another local supporter is their next door neighbor, Randy Gilson, of Randyland. Gilson says that for years the North Side was a skeleton of what it once was, and that local businesses, such as the Mattress Factory, nearby Allegheny City Market, and potentially the War Street Brewery, inject life back into the neighborhood and create a physical space where residents can gather and foster community.
“The heart needs to be put back into these old buildings,” says Gilson, “and that’s exactly what’s happening. Businesses bring that heart and they connect with the other hearts of the residents.”
If all goes according to plan, War Streets Brewery will be open to the public in February or March of 2016, Thursday through Sunday. In the meantime, Bier is already considering another brew with a local twist.
“We’ve actually talked about collaborating on a Randyland Double IPA,” says Bier. “Because you know it’s gotta be strong if Randy is on it.”