Verona, Italy, is known the world over, thanks to its starring role in William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”
Located about 13 miles northeast of Downtown Pittsburgh, our own Verona is poised to become a little bit more famous as well, thanks to two beer breweries and a cidery opening there in 2019.
Joshua Niese is planning to welcome young lovers to Stonewall Cider House and Meadery by Valentine’s Day.
“The space itself is not very big, making it cozy,” he says of the business on Allegheny River Boulevard. “People have to sit a little closer, so it’s going to be great for first dates.”
Niese and his partner Artilio Campisano have been working on the building for two years. Erected in the 1940s, the structure has seen numerous tenants over the years, including a cobbler and a barber, but it’s always served as an informal gathering place for Verona residents.
A realtor by trade, Niese spends his free time in the back room experimenting with different ingredients, not just apples and honey. In addition to hard cider and mead, he plans to concoct versions of alcoholic beverages he’s sampled during his travels abroad. On that list: Mexican tepache, made from the peel and the rind of pineapples.
Stonewall, which is a reference to both the Stonewall Inn, a famous gay bar in New York City, and an actual stone wall in Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Cemetery, will boast six taps, including locally brewed beers, and a small menu of shareable plates.
Niese hopes the addition of his cider house and the two breweries will make Verona a destination, not just a thoroughfare to neighboring Oakmont.
Jennifer Walzer of Inner Groove Brewing feels the same way. She, along with her husband, Kevin, and business partners Tim and Kelly Melle, spent a year searching for a place to establish their new music-themed brewpub.
“We were looking for a small town, a walkable community,” Walzer says. “When our real estate agent took us to Verona, we thought it was perfect. The support we’ve had has been overwhelming.”
The couples are now in the midst of renovating a 4,000-square-foot building on E. Railroad Avenue, across from the police station. They plan to wrap up construction in March, then start pouring beers and spinning tunes.
Back in the heyday of vinyl records, the “inner groove” is where bands, such as The Beatles, would place hidden tracks or cryptic messages.
“All of us have this passion for beer and music,” Walzer says. “You’ll definitely see that reflected in the beer names and events we hold.”
Kevin Walzer and Tim Melle, who spent years whipping up batches of beer in their respective basements, brew an array of styles, from a New England IPA called Haze Soul Sister to Pumpkin Jack Flash Ale.
The brewing equipment and a small patio will be located in the back of the facility with a taproom up front. Inner Groove will host food trucks, and guests can also bring their own grub as they soak up the retro ambiance.
Jason Yahnke, co-owner of another soon-to-open brewery on Wildwood Avenue, can appreciate the geek factor in finding an inner groove.
Originally, he and his business partners Jim Callender, Dave Anaglich and Aaron and Lara Martin wanted to name their operation KNURD, which is “DRUNK” spelled backwards and a play on the word “nerd.” Sadly, trademark issues have forced them to come up with a different brand.
As they brainstorm a new identity, they’re busy transforming an old pasta factory into a 19-seat taproom with outdoor space and a production facility. The building is owned by The Pittsburgh Pickle Co., which will run an on-site kitchen. Oakmont Barbeque Company also uses the space as a commissary and Allegheny City Farms produces hot sauces there.
Yahnke and Callendar, both longtime homebrewers, have been working on opening their as-yet-unnamed brewery for about five years. When their dream is finally realized this spring, they’ll offer a wide range of styles including Hefeweizens, hazy IPAs, dessert stouts and wit beers.
“We love how Pittsburgh keeps growing with regards to craft beer,” Yahnke says. “There are so many great breweries. We are super happy to be part of it.”