2020 will forever be known as the Year of the Pandemic. So, what’s 2021 claim to fame (or infamy)?

For me, it’s beer.

Ben Butler, co-owner of Necromancer Brewing Co., pours a beer for a thirsty customer. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

After offering takeout can sales to keep themselves afloat, a bunch of new breweries welcomed the public into their taprooms in 2021, from Two Frays and Old Thunder to Necromancer, Trace and a revamped version of Full Pint. These local establishments opened their doors in the middle of Covid restrictions, a labor shortage, supply chain backups and customers who have cabin fever, yet are still wary of crowds.

Throughout the year, the folks on the Pittsburgh Brewery and Taproom Diversity Council have worked to include, celebrate and elevate underrepresented groups — such as women, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community — within the city’s craft beer scene. And local suds makers and nonprofit organizations are teaming up to motivate Pittsburghers to do more than catch a buzz when drinking beer.

Brendan Carroll on the malting floor at CNC Malt. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

CNC Malt isn’t a brewery, but the business provides a key ingredient that allows local breweries to make the beverage I love. Watching Brendan and Oana Carroll at work in their elementary school-turned-malt house was fascinating and fun. Plus, the place smells like heaven. (Who says in heaven there is no beer?)

One of my first assignments of 2021 was a feature on Back Alley Brewing. The co-owners — five friends who share a passion for beer — have been busy putting the final touches on their business, which is located in the former Dormont Municipal Building on West Liberty Avenue. It won’t be long before Back Alley becomes another one of the borough’s booming businesses.

If you haven’t visited Potomac Avenue in a while, you should plan a trip. The brick road now boasts Dad’s Basement, Bridal Maven and Moonlit Burgers.

Just a few miles away, in Castle Shannon, Madsen Donuts is running circles around the big doughnut chains. Pre-pandemic, I was a regular visitor to Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, where the bakery opened its first storefront. Local couple Brian and Milica Peltz loved the pastries so much, they opened a satellite location in Pittsburgh. My sweet tooth is happy to have those to-die-for cream sticks available pretty much any time I want.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Pea’s Sweet Treats.

But sometimes sweets are more than a sugar rush, they’re a way to change people’s lives. In this day and age, we could all use more of that. Sweet Pea’s Ice Cream Truck makes the rounds doling out cool treats and heartwarming messages to those in need.

That’s just one of the many acts of kindness I documented in 2021.

Jonathan Plesset and Brad Childs, the volunteer pilots behind No Dog Left Behind, have rescued thousands of animals slated for euthanasia by transporting them to loving homes across the eastern U.S.

Photo courtesy of No Dog Left Behind.

In Sheraden, former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter and his wife Christy opened the Jasmine Nyree Campus. Named after their daughter with special needs, the community center boasts a computer lab, job center, library and daycare. It will provide free after-school and summer programming to hundreds of K-12 students from Pittsburgh Public Schools. The campus is also a much-needed resource for adults ages 21 and over with developmental issues.

All around the city, I saw people redding up. If you see a Pittsburgh Street Stewards volunteer bagging trash, say thanks!

And if you need a quick pick-me-up, log onto TikTok to watch chef Ryan Peters turn dough into pasta and nurse Hunter Prosper turn strangers into friends.

I met a kindred spirit during the Halloween season when I interviewed Jason Baker, who co-owns Callosum Studios with special effects guru and Bloomfield resident Tom Savini. For a horror movie nerd like me, spending a morning surrounded by monsters was a dream/nightmare come true!

Jason Baker and Tom Savini making a zombie. Photo courtesy of Callosum Studios.

Overcoming fear was another big theme of 2021. Horror definitely helped me cope with the real-life terrors taking over the world. Like a lot of people, I de-stressed by taking regular walks through Allegheny Cemetery, my favorite spot in Pittsburgh.

Plus, all of that walking and fresh air makes me look and feel healthier. Who knows, maybe 2022 will be the year I finally book a boudoir photography session.