At Beers of the Burgh on Saturday night, nearly 50 breweries from Western Pennsylvania descended upon a massive warehouse in Lawrenceville. Longtime favorites like East End and Penn Brewery set up alongside lots of newcomers, like Broken Paddle and Abjuration Brewing. Attendees had the opportunity to sample everything from smoked stouts to mead to alcoholic green teas, and the festival confirmed what craft beer lovers have long known: Pittsburgh has a lot of beer to love. Of course, the increasingly crowded field also means that it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out, and average beer just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Millvale’s Grist House Brewing and Braddock’s Brew Gentlemen are two breweries that have managed to do just that. Though both opened in neighborhoods not exactly known for drawing visitors, they’ve been packing their taprooms since the day they opened. And as it happens, that day was a year ago this week. Both breweries are celebrating their one-year anniversaries with special beers, food and music.
Over the past year, Grist House Brewing has built a following with an accessible lineup of beer that covers a wide range of styles, from their easy-drinking Camp Slap Red to their awesomely hoppy Master of the Galaxy. Located in a former slaughterhouse in Millvale (a neighborhood I recently wrote about), their indoor/outdoor space is a great place to spend an afternoon. This week, Grist House will revel in that success with a four-day anniversary party complete with a new beer debut, two live bands and a Sunday afternoon pig roast. None of the events require advance tickets, so just check out the schedule here and stop in.
Not to be outdone, the Brew Gentlemen is celebrating with five days of events. The Braddock brewery, which was recently featured in a great documentary, makes some of Pittsburgh’s most sought after beers, like the chai-spiced wheat beer White Sky. Coupled with smart branding and tons of hip events, the Brew Gentlemen has proven that if you build it, they will indeed come. Their anniversary week includes a dinner tomorrow with Kevin Sousa, a big bash on Thursday, and the release of a whole bunch of new and cellared beers. Look over the schedule here.
The first year is critical in the life of any new business. But with new breweries opening literally every day in America, no one can rest on their laurels. “The most important thing that we have learned is how important it is to continuously evolve and improve,” explained Gary Olden, owner of Mt. Lebanon’s Hitchhiker Brewing, who celebrated their one-year anniversary last weekend. Over the course of their first year, Hitchhiker found their niche in saisons and IPAs, and plan to focus their offerings in the coming months.
This focus, I believe, is an increasingly essential component of success. Breweries can’t be everything to everyone, and they probably shouldn’t try. There are plenty of examples of craft breweries that have achieved massive fame by perfecting a single beer, or have succeeded by targeting an untapped market. And as Pittsburgh’s scene continues to grow, breweries will need to find their specific place in it, whether they’ve been open for years, months or just a few days.
In other news…
This Friday, Andys at the Fairmont will kick off Meat Us at Andys, a pop-up BBQ stand on Fifth Avenue Downtown. For the summer, the stand will sell takeout barbecue every Friday from 11:30 to 1:30.
On May 29th, the Carnegie Science Center will host 21+ Coffee, an adults-only night exploring the science and subtleties of coffee.
In even more beer news, tickets are now on sale for the Voodoo Homestead First Annual Summer Block Party. Buy now for special early bird pricing.
And in case you missed it (though based on social media, nobody did), the first Picklesburgh festival was announced last week. Start training for the pickle juice drinking contest now.