No longer are people hedging their bets, keeping one toe dipped into a pool of lukewarm suds while keeping the other grounded on terra firma. While none but the most daring brave the high dive, even the loudest naysayers have donned their suits and self-consciously attempted a cannonball. Nowhere was this more apparent than last weekend’s Beers of the Burgh festival, where 1600 craft beer fans lined up to get two-ounce pours from their favorite Western Pennsylvania breweries.
The four-hour event, which sold out of Regular, VIP, and Designated Driver tickets, benefitted NeighborWorks Western Pennsylvania, a non-profit that aims to bring financial self-reliance and home ownership to families in the area. Originally, the festival was supposed to take place in the Southside, though a last-minute schedule change put the festival in Lawrenceville at the Arsenal Terminal Building at 39th and Butler Street, an industrial venue that lent itself well to the weekend’s biggest party.
Three large rooms played host to breweries, beer merchandisers, and even a dessert table. For additional sustenance, the festival offered pretzel necklaces; outside, Berlin Street Food, Second Breakfast, Pittsburgh Smokehouse, Mission Mahi, and Burgh Bites set up their food trucks. Pittsburgh favorites, The Beagle Brothers, provided live music.
Of course, front and center were the Western Pennsylvania breweries. Fans tasted samples from old classics like East End Brewery and Penn Brewery, as well as from newcomers who joined the scene so recently that they’re not even open for business, like Eleventh Hour Brewing and Mindful Brewing, which hopes to open a brewpub in Castle Shannon toward the end of the summer. In total, fifty breweries showcased their wares, which ranged from standard IPAs to 15 percent ABV behemoths aged in bourbon barrels.
Of particular note were the selections made with honey, a trend fairly unique to the area that is becoming more popular among breweries nationally. The best in this style were Brew Gentleman’s “Nothing But Flowers,” a 6.2 percent ABV Biere de Miel, as well as Apis Meadery’s coconut-forward Pina Colada mead, which is not actually a beer but a mead: an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water. Not nearly as popular among American drinkers, mead has long been consumed throughout Europe, Africa, and Asia, though it’s quickly gaining popularity with US craft beer fans looking to expand their palettes.
The event painted a rosy picture for the Western Pennsylvania brewery scene, which started taking off a few years ago and has only been improving. Just last month, Pittsburgh held its 6th annual Craft Beer Week, a weeklong bacchanal thrown by the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance, and it seems like every other week, a new brewery is opening somewhere inside the city limits. The rise of craft beer in Pittsburgh has even supported the growth of secondary industries like beer retailers and bars that cater toward craft-friendly clientele—Piper’s Pub in the Southside, Caliente Pizza & Draft House in Bloomfield, The Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill, and Hough’s in Greenfield, to name a few.