I really wanted to get out of town over the long Fourth of July weekend, but all of the Michigan brewery hot spots I wanted to visit came with a hefty hotel price. I began to look around for a place I hadn’t been, and one with a decent brewery scene.
When I first started researching Pittsburgh as a destination, I was surprised at how many breweries the city had, but also how I had only heard of one of them. After nailing down a nice AirBnB to stay at, I began researching the city’s scene a little more in depth. I picked out a number of breweries- and decided to keep my exploration to the downtown area, despite the suburbs having a number of well-reputed breweries (another trip in the future, yay!).
Draai Laag Brewing Company, 501 E Ohio St
Of all the places I visited in Pittsburgh, I found the least amount written about Draai Laag, located in the working class suburb of Millvale, right across the 40th Street Bridge from the rest of Pittsburgh. Draai Laag opened in 2009, and they use the centuries old Belgian method of open fermentation. Their brewery motto is “Wild by Design”. As a huge sour fan, I’m always on the lookout for well-done beers of this style. I even visited the Cantillon Brewery in Belgium, the most famous open fermentation brewery. I really couldn’t have been more impressed with the beers I had at Draai Laag. I was curious about the reception of such a unique style, so I spoke with the taproom manager, Santana, who told me that while people aren’t usually familiar with the sour/wild style when they come in, most end up finding something they really like. My favorites were the R2 Koelschip, a wild ale using the ‘wild angels’ yeast strain, and Apples & Pears, the super fruity wild ale.
The brewers at Draai Laag have made beer an art form, and even if you don’t know or don’t love this style- Draai Laag is worth a visit.
Grist House Craft Brewery, 10 Sherman St
In my researching the microbreweries of the Pittsburgh area, Grist House had the highest combined rating from all the various rating and social media forums. Before stopping by I read on their Facebook page that they were having their ‘Brat Festival’ and I thought “Oh, that’s cool, I’ll be able to grab a brat or two when I am there…” The part I underestimated was the ‘Festival’ part. I showed up an hour after opening on a Saturday afternoon expecting a light crowd and found a packed brewery. Their spacious outdoor area was filled with a big crowd, including lots of families and dogs, all enjoying the Brat Festival. My initial impulse was to leave and come back on Sunday, but I was lucky and secured a seat at the bar. I was glad I stayed. All the beers I had were above average, especially so with the Brewprint Series #2- Azacca and the Hop Yeti DIPA.
The Church Brew Works, 3525 Liberty Ave.
This was the only Pittsburgh brewery I had head of before researching this trip. As the name states it’s a brewery in a decommissioned Catholic Church, St. John’s the Baptist. Besides being a beautiful and unique location for a brewery, it’s also one of Pittsburgh’s oldest, opening in 1999. I enjoyed dinner there, and one of the largest flights I’ve ordered (8 5oz. pours!). The beer was all solid, although my favorite was certainly the Coconut Stout.
Full Pint Wild Side Pub, 5310 Butler
Full Pint has been around the Pittsburgh area for many years, first opening their North Versallies location back in 2010. This second pub, complete with full service restaurant, opened in the Lawrenceville neighborhood in 2015. I enjoyed their standard offerings, but the best beer of the night was the Wild Side: T Funk, a berlinerweisse named after my bartender and all around jack of all trades, Tony.
East End Brewing Company, 147 Julius
This brewery came highly recommended, so I decided to drive out to their brewery and original location rather than hitting the more famous taproom closer to downtown in the Market District. I had the place to myself when I showed up on a Sunday afternoon. I was driving so I didn’t get to try as many beers as I would have liked, but I loved the Chocolate Covered Cherry Stout and it’s balance, and I brought back a crowler of it and the Green Giant IPA for friends. The StrawberRye was also a nice surprise, as I’m not usually a fan of Strawberry beers, but the combination really worked.
Hop Farm Brewing Company, 5601 Butler
As the name would indicate, Hop Farm Brewing Company is extremely proud of the fact that the hops they use are all hand grown and organic. The freshness of the hops really come through in the beer as well. The space inside is quaint and cozy and encourages communal seating, much like European bars. While the hoppy beers were certainly a highlight, I also enjoyed both the stout and porter I had, while my favorite beers of the night were the two berlinerweiss- both had brettanomyces and one also included blood orange in it.
Roundabout Brewery– 4901 Butler
Being an unabashed fan of New Zealand, I had to visit this brewery. I was lucky enough to get to talk with Dyana Sloan, one of the co-owners of the brewery with her husband Steve, who serves as Roundabout’s head brewery after a distinguished career working in a number of other well-reputed breweries. The beer menu is a New Zealnd & American inspired, often using both countries hops in the same beer. My favorite beer, however, highlighted the brewing talent here- Intersection 2016 is American wild ale with a blend of sour wheat wine, wine barrel aged farmhouse ale with brettanomyces and Ferdl Bock. It was tart and fruity, and had a champagne-like dryness to it. As good as the beer was here, the highlight for me was the very close to authentic New Zealand style meat pie, which is a flaky meat filled pastry, and something I ate religiously during my month long visit to New Zealand back in 2012.
Arsenal Cider House, 300 39th St.
This was another place that lived up to it’s rave reviews. It was my first stop in Pittsburgh, just being a short walk from the AirBnB I was staying at. The place was packed on the Saturday afternoon, both with people looking to enjoy the wonderfully welcoming space of the attached ‘Cidergarden’ and people there to take home growlers and bottles of cider. They had 10 varieties of cider available, and all were diverse and surprisingly high in ABV (the lowest was 8.5%). I had three sample pours and a glass of the recently released Snowbound Cinnamon, which was one of the best ciders I’ve had, and I’ve had a lot of great ones.
I really enjoyed Pittsburgh and it’s microbrewery scene- it was a perfect destination for a long weekend, only being around a 5 hour drive from Detroit. I hope to go back someday and visit the suburban Pittsburgh breweries.
Link to my Pittsburgh (& Columbus) Breweries Flickr album.
(I stopped in Columbus, Ohio on my way to Pittsburgh and visited three breweries there- I’ll have a post eventually on those.)