When the first Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week kicked off in 2012, there were about five craft breweries in Pittsburgh, including Penn Brewery, which planned the inaugural celebration.
Now, as the 2017 celebration prepares to kick off, there are closer to 35 breweries in the region. Eighteen of them are participating in the week-long celebration this year – the largest number so far. Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week Board President Brian Meyer said that’s fitting.
“Ten years ago, if you said, ‘let’s go to a brewery,’ there were two or three for you to choose from,” he said. “Even up to about five years ago, it was exciting if you had two breweries opening in a year.”
Fast-forward to today and he said it’s almost too hard to keep track of the growth.
“You’re seeing breweries open weekly,” Meyer said.
Meyer said there are a number of active licenses in various stages, from beginning to brew to getting state and federal approvals before opening. He added that even though growth is rapid, there’s room for more.
“We’re definitely behind the growth of a lot of other areas, even if you look within our state to Philadelphia,” Meyer said. “The city of Philadelphia has over 100 breweries in their general area.”
This year, local breweries are collaborating on nine unique beers to be offered just during craft brew week. Meg Evans, head brewer for Rock Bottom, said Pittsburgh’s brewers are a tight-knit group.
“We are molding into a very strong community together,” she said. “We support one another if someone needs an ingredient. Nobody is ever shy to ask or give and I think that’s the foundation for a very flourishing beer community.”
The Craft brew industry continues to grow nationwide. In 2016, craft beer accounted for 12 percent of the overall beer market, generating some $23.5 billion. But there have been concerns about over saturation in some areas of the country. Marcus Cox, with Mindful Brewing, said that’s not such a big concern locally.
“It’s growing very fast,” he said. “It seems not to be an issue at the moment. Maybe down the track it will be in a few years, but it’s very dynamic, different levels of scale, different people trying to make different kinds of beers.”
Plus, Pittsburgh’s geography and culture work in craft beer’s favor.
“It’s become more of like a regional, a local thing, a township thing,” said Mindful co-brewer Nick Jones. “Everywhere has their own brewery, their own little spot that everyone can be proud of.”
Meyer agreed and said there’s some historical context for microbreweries.
“You know, it was two years ago, we finally passed the number of breweries in this country before Prohibition,” he said.
Meyer added, the way people see craft beer and breweries is also changing.
“I think, much like pre-prohibition, things are going back to the local brewery,” he said. “Every town will have one or two breweries, so you can go to the end of your street, get a growler filled and go home with it or spend some time there with your friends. The brewery is really going back to that community gathering place kind of feel.”
Jones said it all leads to a feeling of excitement, which many of the other brewers shared gearing up for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.
“Just looking at and comparing to some of the bigger markets, and the quality of beer out there, if we’re not there yet, we’re really close and it’s only going to get better,” Jones said. “A little more national recognition, I think, is up for Pittsburgh craft beer.”
As for Craft Beer Week, there are some changes this year. Meyer said in years past, breweries and sponsors have flooded the week with activities – hundreds of them and feedback has been that it was overwhelming. This year, there are intentionally fewer events, which organizers have tried to make more exciting and unique. Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week is expected to have a $2.4 million impact on the local economy, organizers said, adding that they expect the annual celebration to continue to grow in coming years.
“It’s a good time to be a beer drinker in Pittsburgh,” said Helicon Brewing owner Chris Brunetti.
Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week kicks off Friday, April 21.