Revelers from last year’s Scary Furnace at Carrie Furnace. This year’s event is happening on Oct. 21. Photo courtesy of Keith Garland.

It’s been an odyssey for Pittsburgh Winery. In 2019, it opened a temporary location across from its space at 2809 Penn Ave. in the Strip District, which was due for a makeover. Then in 2020 … you know the rest: “We had just started renovations when Covid hit,” says Cole Rapso, a co-owner and winemaker. 

Now, after a soft opening for a few months, the venue has officially has reopened as The Original Pittsburgh Winery. 

“The Original” was added to differentiate the space from its new City Winery neighbors. (I can confirm this might be an issue: I recently overheard a man, who had arrived late to a City Winery show, tell his friends he had gone to the wrong winery.)

The locally-owned Original Pittsburgh Winery makes its wines from California and Chilean grapes. It specializes in red wines, featuring a petite sirah, malbec, merlot and a red blend. The reserves include cabernet sauvignon and primitivo.

“We’ve always been known for our bigger, drier reds,” says Rapso. “That’s where we butter our bread.” 

But there’s also rosé, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. 

All wines are poured from the bottle, except for their red wine sangria, which is on tap (as are more than a dozen local craft beers). 

Strip District neighbor DiAnoia’s Eatery offers snacks and pizza by the slice, while the charcuterie comes from Penn Mac.

There’s a new ground-floor tasting room featuring live acoustic acts. Rapso says they’ve tripled the size of the Cellar, the winery’s main stage so that it now seats almost 300. Clinton Clegg, the Norside Organ Trio and Buffalo Rose are among the acts booked for the next few weeks. The Clunkers, a band featuring Rapso and co-owners Tim Gabler and Anthony Jardine, all rock band veterans, play on Nov. 3. 

Cole Rapso and Anthony Jardine, co-owners (along with Tim Gabler) of The Original Pittsburgh Winery, make wine in the Spring Garden warehouse. Photo courtesy of Garrett Yurisko.

Pittsburgh Brewers Guild names new executive director

Melissa “Mel” Larrick, a brewer at Hop Farm Brewing in Lawrenceville, has a diverse professional background. 

She came to Hop Farm in 2022, after a stint as assistant distiller at Arrowood Farms in upstate New York. Before that, she interned at Sloop Brewing Co. in East Fishkill, NY and worked in front of house and management at Pittsburgh’s Hitchhiker Brewing. Larrick also has a background in communications and handles Hop Farm’s social media.

Her experience and enthusiasm for the local craft beer scene should serve her well, as she prepares to take over as executive director of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild in January. She’s been working with the current director Mike Tysarczyk to ensure a smooth transition.

The guild was founded in 2017 as craft breweries were popping up all over Allegheny County. There are now 43 members. 

“The growth was so explosive,” Larrick says. “Now we’re expanding and contracting.”

The guild publishes the Pittsburgh Brewery Guide. Customers get their guides stamped when they visit breweries and can collect the stamps for prizes. The guide will eventually be available online, and patrons will get stamps via a QR code. It’ll make updates easier, but Larrick says she’ll miss the “human interaction” of IRL stamping.

The group’s major annual event is Three Rivers Beer Week, traditionally held in April, but that’s under discussion.

“We’re talking about what can be done differently, maybe a new format,” Larrick says. “And we’re not sure of when yet.” 

Guild members are working on a code of conduct for their taprooms. Diversity and inclusion will continue to be priorities. Larrick notes that when she worked at Hitchhiker, they’d occasionally have deaf customers. 

“I learned a couple of (ASL) phrases,” she recalls. “I’d love to have an ASL interpreter available.”

Mel Larrick and Mike Tysarczyk, the incoming and outgoing executive directors of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, are partnering to ensure a smooth transition. Photo courtesy of Andrew Witchey.

Spooky season

It’s that month again, and if you like beer and haunted ghostly things, the biggest event may be the Scary Furnace, back for a second year on Oct. 21 at the Carrie Blast Furnaces in Rankin. 

This event has everything: a VIP Ghost Tour with Brew Gentlemen founder Matt Katase, who will share some rare beers; a beer fest featuring samples from local breweries as well as more than a dozen pumpkin beers from Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and more; followed by a Halloween party with DJs and four bands including NASH.V.ILL and the Eagleburger “Zombie” Band, who promise to zombify for the occasion. 

Vendors, food truck goodies, more Brew Gentlemen beer, cider and cocktails will be available. Tickets can be purchased for any or all of the evening’s events. Costumes are strongly encouraged.

Also: Brew Gentlemen is looking for volunteers ages 21 and older to pour at the Scary Furnace event. Sling beer for two hours and get into the Halloween party for free, along with two drink tickets. Message them on IG if you’re interested.

Other local breweries are celebrating the season too: 

  • Trace Brewing is having a free Friday the 13th party. NASH.V.ILL, Pittsburgh’s hardest working band, is playing, Erica Mirella Tattoo is offering $60 ink, and there’s a costume party at 9 p.m. 
  • Necromancer hosts a Schwarztag Halloween Beer Fest on Oct. 28. (Google says Schwarztag is a German rock band, but I suspect smoked beer figures in there too.)
  • Penn Brewery is going big with a three-day fall festival called Prost to the Ghost, set for Oct. 27-29. There’ll be a new canned beer release each day, three pumpkin beers, and a re-release of Soul Sucker Ale. Also a pig roast, scary stories and lots of live music by acts including Jacquea Mae and Byron Nash of NASH.V.ILL. (The other two guys get the night off, apparently.)
  • East End Brewing Company’s Larimer brewpub is planning a more sedate event, which is good because it’s the only one to require sharp tools. On Oct. 17, Brendan Conaway, also known as the Pittsburgh Pumpkin Guy, will lead Carve ‘n Sip, showing participants how to sculpt the best Halloween pumpkin on the block. Pumpkins, aprons, tarps and tools are all provided, as is a free drink. Tickets.
Head brewer Chris Carr and owner Jason Short prepare for Abstract Realm Brewing’s opening at Hazelwood Brewery. They may do a soft opening late this year. Photo courtesy of Jason Short.

Update on Hazelwood Brewery project

A quick update on Hazelwood Brewery and its three tenants: Abstract Realm owner Jason Short has brought on Chris Carr, former head brewer at Brew Gentlemen, as head brewer and partner. Short says there’s a chance for a limited, soft opening before the end of the year. Tom Marshall, co-owner of New France Brewing, says they will focus on European beer styles once it starts brewing, but doubts they’ll be open before next year. No word on Bonafide’s progress. 

Annette Bassett is a freelance writer and grant writer living in Bloomfield. She likes visiting local breweries, going to concerts and walking the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh while listening to audiobooks. She prefers wired earbuds.