Tapping a National Trend, Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week Highlights Region's Brewers
One year ago, a group of local brewers and craft beer enthusiasts gathered with an idea — a week-long celebration of the Pittsburgh region’s craft beers. The first year was deemed a success, and now, in its second year, organizers are hoping for an even bigger showing.
“We’ve got all of Pittsburgh’s craft beer heroes here pulling out all the stops putting together the best Craft Beer Week we can put together,” said Scott Smith, owner and founder of East End Brewing.
"As we like to say, 'Don’t buy beer from strangers, go visit your local brewery.'"
The craft beer movement has exploded nationwide, but is just now starting to really brew in Pittsburgh.
“Compared to the rest of the country it’s taken us a few years to get our legs underneath us, but it’s just taken off,” Smith said.
There are now upwards of 14 craft breweries in the region, along with some other smaller brew operations. Even with a smaller amount last year, brewers and craft beer enthusiasts showed strong support.
“We brought over $2 million to the region, so that’s a huge success for the first year," said Colleen Leary, member of the Craft Beer Week Board. "There were 330 events that we knew of.”
This year there are already more than 200 events listed, and more are being added daily.
What is Craft Beer?
For those not familiar with craft beer, it’s definitely not a Bud Light, or Coors-type beverage.
“These huge, giant breweries, international conglomerates are making tons and tons of beer," said Andrew Rich, head brewer at Penn Brewery. "They would spill as much as we would make in a year,”
Rich likened the craft beer movement to the local food movement – an opportunity to get fresher, better quality ingredients closer to the source.
“The whole craft beer thing that’s taking off is these small, independent breweries that are doing their own things," he said. "It’s kind of like a local artisan kind of feel for the way the beers are being made. It’s basically top-quality stuff. We try different flavors here and there, and we get to experiment with stuff."
East End Brewing’s Scott Smith agreed, saying it also allows beer enthusiasts to boost local businesses.
“It’s a great chance for locals to embrace locals," he said. "It’s amazing to see what’s happening on the local beer scene, and the number of breweries popping up left and right. As we like to say, 'Don’t buy beer from strangers, go visit your local brewery.'"
Many Events Highlight Beer
Craft Beer Week features events including a beer barge, which sold out within minutes of tickets going on sale, beer dinners and tastings in a variety of settings including a couple of grocery stores.
One of the other draws is the collaboration beers. These are unique beers imagined and made by groups of local brewers and offered only during Craft Beer Week. Last year there were three collaboration brews. This year there are five, made by a total of 25 brewers.
“They can kind of see how the other side works, different equipment, because yes, we’re all making beer, but we’re all making beer differently and we’re making different styles," Rich said. "It’s kind of a unique thing because then you’re also building relationships. It makes for good camaraderie within this business we’re in, making beer."
For brewers and drinkers, Craft Beer Week also offers a glimpse behind the scenes.
“People are like, ‘That’s great – you make beer!’ and I’m like, 'Well, it’s not all beer waterfalls and Oompa Loompas running around in the back,'" Rich said. "It’s hard, dirty work, but it beats working.”
Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week runs Friday through April 27. A full list of events can be found at Pittsburghcraftbeerweek.com.