By Erin Marton
Recently, we sat down with Craft Pittsburgh Magazine founder Tim Russell, to discuss the rising popularity of Craft Beer, and to get his take on some of the best spots to enjoy one here in the 'Burgh. First, we need to establish a definition of what is considered a "Craft Beer." According to Tim, "the Brewers Association, defines a craft brewer as being small (less than 6 million barrels of production per year), independent (must not have any more than 25% ownership by an outside interest that is not a craft brewer) and traditional (they can't use non-traditional ingredients that aren't contributing to the flavor, such as corn or rice; however, they're free to use just about anything that does contribute to flavor)." He also further explains that within the craft beer category, there are several sub-categories, not the least of which is a "microbrew," a term which may be more familiar to the average beer drinker. A microbrewery would be considered one that has the smallest distribution amongst the craft beer population.
Here in Pittsburgh, we are growing fond of our craft brews, with the opening of numerous locations specializing in beers from this category. Tim relates the renaissance of our city and its recent economic growth to this rise in popularity. "People can make better decisions about the products they buy and they're willing to spend extra money for better quality. They're smart enough to see past gimmicks. Philadelphia is probably one of the best craft beer cities in the country. Some regional sales reps for craft brewers that I know have told me what they saw in Philly a few years ago is what they're starting to see now in Pittsburgh."
Since that statement brought out our competitive spirit, we proudly present some of Pittsburgh's best spots to enjoy a Craft Brew.
Bocktown Beer and Grill
Great food and great beer in one spot is harder to find that you may think, but Bocktown has it nailed. Their menu even says so! Founder and proprietor Chris Dilla is a bit of a legend in local craft beer circles, and her foresight and hard work has put Bocktown at the top of our list. Their selection is breathtaking, with 16 craft beers on tap, and over 400 bottles to choose from. Of course, you will always be able to find some of Chris' favorites, which she says are the "regional hoppy beers, when they are at their freshest." Bocktown features a Wednesday night tasting session from 6-8pm, and on Thursday, they add an infused beer to their taps, which usually lasts until sometime on Saturday. At the time of writing this article, Chris was anticipating the opening of their second location in the Beaver Valley Mall. You can visit their website for more information.
D's Sixpax & Dogz
1118 S Braddock Ave
Pittsburgh, PA 15218
Hours: Mon to Wed 11am-11pm; Thurs to Sat 11am-12am, Sun 11am-10pm
Don't let the name scare you away, because D's is much more than Beer and Hot Dogs. What started out as a small restaurant serving up a mean Chicago dog and boasting a somewhat impressive "beer cave", has now grown to mammoth proportions and seems to take over most of the block at its central Regent Square location. Since the early days, the "beer cave" has nearly doubled in size, with a selection that will make your head spin. The knowledgeable staff is there to help you get your bearings and make some great selections. Oh yeah, they still are the local destination for a Chicago Dog, but their menu has also expanded to offer a wide range of good eats. We recommend giving the wings a try.
563 Greenfield Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15207
Bar: Mon – Sat, 4pm - 2am
Kitchen: Mon – Sat, 4pm-10pm
Steeler games: 1 1/2 hours prior
One of the most interesting things about craft beer spots in the 'Burgh, is that they seem to be spread around the city in such a way that at least one is convenient to any neighborhood. For you east-enders, there is Hough's in Greenfield. Characterizing themselves as a "Sports Bar", Hough's is the best of these selections to catch a good game of darts, settle in to watch a Pens game, or nosh on some traditional bar fare. They generally feature a brewery of the month, and special events include tastings and trivia nights.
The South Side is home to many specialty craft beer locations, but Piper's Pub is a local favorite. They take their cask system very seriously. According to owner Drew, "We have a traditional Firkin Only dispense English cask system with a dedicated Cellar and a four handpull beer engine. 80% of those beers are from local brewers within 90 miles of Pittsburgh". Pipers is a traditional British pub, and on Sundays, you can enjoy a hearty brunch with selections focusing on Irish and British fare (Bangers and Mash anyone?). According to Drew, you will find the brunch "highly addictive", so be warned! It is also worth a mention that Pipers has an impressive Scotch list, for aficionados of that particular spirit, and they are a Soccer Pub as well, showing English and International matches live all year.
Pittsburgh Public Market
East End Brewing Company – Pittsburgh Public Market
Terminal Building in the Strip District
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Hours: Fri 10am-6pm, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 11am-4pm (Market opens at 10am)
Wait, what? It's true, if you want to fill a growler up and enjoy your craft beer from the comfort of your living room, then East End Brewing Company's booth at the Pittsburgh Public Market is the place to go. The Public Market has been open here in Pittsburgh for just about a year now, and the announcement that East End Brewing was participating was likely their most exciting to date. Generally four beers are offered, and the brewery tries to stay true to this formula; one dark, one light, one seasonal, and one hoppy. Be forewarned, if you are a hop-head, then head over early because that one is likely to tap out the fastest. The booth also carries other East End merchandise including hats, t-shirts and more. If you fall in love with the brews, you can visit their main location to purchase bottles and kegs. Be sure to visit the website first, as the booth hours change seasonally. While you are at the market, you can also stop by the Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory's booth, where they offer East End's "Big Hop" in the convenience of a bite sized marshmallow. Yum.
The Sharp Edge Bistro
302 South St. Clair Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Hours: Mon to Thurs 11am-midnight; Fri to Sat 11am-1am, kitchen closes at midnight; Sun noon-10pm
Sharp Edge is the hands-down master in Belgian Beers in the 'Burgh, and debatably, as Chris Dilla from Bocktown points out, Belgian beers are craft beers in Belgium! However, a few beers that follow the traditional definition of "Craft", do make an appearance on their list, including some selections from Dogfish Head, Great Lakes and Troegs. We would be remiss to leave Sharp Edge off of the list due to a technicality, since they were one of the first to offer an enormous draft selection in the city, and they hold a special place in Pittsburgh beer-lovers' hearts.
Trend alert: Bocktown's Chris Dilla also pointed out some trends in the Craft Beer movement to keep an eye on: Canning has become a little more prevalent of late, thanks to lower cost and easier storage. Growlers, like the ones provided at East End Brewing Booth at the Public Market, are starting to pop up everywhere, and, due to dietary trends, there has been an increase in gluten-free selections.
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