A hop-pickin' party, then Hoptober

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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Meet, if you haven't already, the Church Brew Works Brew Crew: from left, Donald Caldwell, Mike Escourt, Jeff Ellena, Justin Viale and Garth Dellinger. 

The Lawrenceville brewpub-in-a-former-church is inviting the public to come work with them there, for just a little bit, this Thursday, Sept. 25. That's because the hops -- on the green plants there in the HopGarden -- are ready for harvesting. Help pick them from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday and you'll get free appetizers and a souvenir Church Brew Works glass.

Marketing manager Patty Goyke says, "We are hoping to not only get a great batch for brewing but [also for] possible additions in the kitchen."

We've told you about the big Hoptoberfest this Saturday, Sept. 27, at Hop Farm Brewing in Lawrenceville. Thursday's Post-Gazette also previews Wet Hoptober, which is happening next Friday, Oct. 3 at the Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse in Spring Garden. Wigle will be releasing its new locally hopped whiskey and serving East End Brewing Co. beers that were wet-hopped with hops grown in Garfield by the GTECH Hops on Lots Project. Marty's Market will provide the edibles. Tickets are $35 (or $18 for designated drivers, plus a service fee) via eventbrite.com. You get to keep the souvenir glass, and proceeds will help GTECH continue to creatively reuse vacant spaces.

Church Brew Works photo

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Time to harvest some beer events

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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From 1 to 4 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 13, it’s the Mars/Cranberry Craft Beer Tap Fest at the Double Wide Grill in the Adams Shoppes on Route 228. Under a tent in the parking lot, you can sample more than 60 beers from 20-some breweries. Tickets are $40 in advance and $45 at the door and include live music, and there’ll be food for purchase. More here

It’s a festive season, as other places around town gear up for Oktoberfest. Penn Brewery’s Oktoberfest will be held Sept. 19-21 and 26-28, and for the first time, are offering a VIP package. For $30 each, according to a Penn news release, 50 people on each Friday and Saturday can get: 

“• Access to a tented, reserved seating area

“• One meal including sandwich, side, and non-alcoholic beverage ($9 value)

“• VIP-only lines for beer in the Biergarten and upper tent

“• 22-oz. plastic Oktoberfest souvenir mug ($3 value) and one fill ($4.75 value)

“• Private indoor restrooms.”

It’s that last one that might make other revelers really hate the VIPS. 

Get tickets via Showclix; get more information here.

Over at Southside Works, Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh’s Oktoberfest is Sept. 20-12 and 27-28 (more at hofbrauhauspittsburgh.com).

Focusing on fall brews of all sorts will be the Harvest Brew Fiesta at Mad Mex Robinson on Sept. 20. A ticket ($35 in advance or $40 at the door) includes sampling from 1 to 4 p.m., a tasting glass to keep, fall games and “a never-done-before Gobblerito Taco plate.” For tickets, go here. 

Also on Sept. 20 is BrewFest in Mt. Lebanon. Tickets are $40 for craft beer, music and more from 4 to 7 p.m., and there'll be barbecue for purchase; proceeds benefit the Mt. Lebanon Veterans Memorial.

Lawrenceville’s Hop Farm Brewing is celebrating its one-year anniversary on Sept. 27 with “Hoptoberfest,” where harvest beers will be paired with small plates from local restaurants and food vendors. Tickets are $45 (plus a service fee), and 100 percent of proceeds will go to Children's Foundation of Pittsburgh’s Camp Chihopi (for kids who have had organ transplants). Details and tickets (limited to 300) can be found here

Hop Farm Facebook photo

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Blind pumpkin beer tasting, Drunkin' Punkin' set

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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It's September and so it doesn't feel TOO early to share some events specifically about pumpkin beer.

Vintage Estate Wine and Beer, the store you wished were in Pennsylvania instead of just over the border in Boardman, Ohio, is inviting you to help rate the best pumpkin beers of the year.

Just sign up, for $25, to attend the annual Blind Pumpkin Beer Taste that was announced today. It's from 3 to 7 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 5. 

Participants each will taste the same beer in the same sequence -- more than a dozen in all -- and rate them on rating sheets. 

Then after crunching the numbers, VE will announce the "Taster's Choice overrall pumpkin beer of the season." 

For more information and to register, go here

The following Saturday, Oct. 11, Hough's in Greenfield holds its third-annual Drunkin' Punkin' festival featuring more than two dozen pumpkin brews. Tickets, which also just went on sale on this first day of September, are $50 and include 10-ounce samples, snacks and you also get a voucher good for a 32-ounce can of the pumpkin beer of your choice. 

Check it out here

Vintage Estate image

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Meet Ray Searage and Bucco Blonde

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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Thursday night, Aug. 28, starting at 5 p.m., you can meet a beer called Uncle Ray Searage's Bucco Blonde as well as the Bucs' pitching coach, Ray Searage.

He's called "Uncle Ray" by his players as well as by some folks at Slippery Rock's North Country Brewing Co., which brewed up this American blonde ale this year and released a limited amount of it on draft.

Try it and meet Coach Searage at Local Bar + Kitchen at 1515 E. Carson St. on the South Side. 

You'll be able to help a charity he likes, Make-A-Wish.

North Country's longtime sales manager Donnie Knight explains that Mr. Searage's wife, Vicki, is Mr. Knight's aunt's husband's first cousin. Or at least, that's what we think he said. 

Anyway, Coach Searage was all for lending some help to make some money for Make-A-Wish, and so was born this baseball-y beer to his tastes, said Mr. Knight. "We wanted to brew a beer that'd he'd want to put his name on and drink himself," which he has. 

A portion of all sales the brewery will donate to the charity. The beer, on draft only now, is available in PNC Park at both the Hall of Fame Club and Club 3000, as well as most of the bars in the vicinity and many around town, as well.

Local also is making a donation to Make-A-Wish, and at the event, there will be a brewery gift basket that patrons can try to win by purchasing tickets in North Country glasses, and all that money, along with a bit from each Bucco Blonde sold, goes to the good cause, too. 

Coach Searage and the other Pirates have a rare night off, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing at home, so it should be a good night for a beer out. 

By next spring, Mr. Knight says, North Country plans to have a label approved (see below) and the beer in cans for sale in Bradenton, Fla., where the Pirates do their spring training, and of course the cans should be for sale in Western Pennsylvania, too. 

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Peter Diana/Post-Gazette photo at top

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Steak sandwiches at Morton's for a buck

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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Knowing how much our readers love free food, we had to post this news about almost-free food: 

On Wednesday, Aug. 13, all 73 Morton's The Steakhouse locations around the country, including the one Downtown, will offer $1 filet mignon sandwiches in their bar areas, all day long, to mark National Filet Mignon Day. 

The bar at the Pittsburgh location, at 625 Liberty Ave., is open from 5 to 10 p.m.

Landry's Inc. photo

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Raise it! The new I.C. Light can

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer



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Pittsburgh Brewing Co. announced the release of a "Raise the Jolly Roger" I.C. Light can, at right, the third and last in "Collector Series." 

The package is sold alongside the gold "Vintage P" and pinstriped "Heritage 1887" I.C. Light cans in 12-, 24- and 30-packs during the baseball season.

As old beer-can collectors like myself know, Pittsburgh Brewing Co. has a rich history of releasing sports-themed and other collectible cans.

The new-school twist is that in each Pirates-branded 30-pack, there's a code that gives customers a chance to enter to win prizes over "95 Days of Summer" ending Aug. 31.

Pittsburgh Brewing Co. photo

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Hough's in Greenfield debuting the Crowler

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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For about a week now, customers at Hough's in Greenfield have been wondering what the weird new contraption is on the bar. 

Starting tonight, they can see it in action, as the beer bar starts firing it up to seal the tops on 32-ounce aluminum cans their manufacturer, Ball Corp., has trademarked as "Crowlers." Like the name, the containers are a cross between cans and growlers, the typically glass jugs that many brewers and bars will fill with draft beer. 

I took my family out to this most comfortable neighborhood bar for a nightcap last night and manager Bridget Smidga, above, kindly demonstrated how the machine works. 

I simply had to pick one of 71 draft brews that I wanted to take home with me. I had my eye on the Helltown Pale Ale on the "Tap Wall" in the adjacent room, but to make it easy, picked one from the "Top Tower" behind her: Southern Tier Live. 

She took one of the topless can blanks (literally, blank) and filled it to the top, set an aluminum top on it and -- voila, the electric machine "seamed" or sealed on the top. She handed me a chubby, cold can to take home, where she said the beer inside, as long as the can was unopened, should be fine for at least as long as it would be in an unopened glass growler -- about a week. 

I doubt if mine will last that long. I'll probably pop the tab top on it after work tonight. 

She said Hough's will be selling these takeaway containers (with hand-written labels for now) for the same price as two pints in the bar. The place fills regular 64-ounce growlers, too, but Crowlers are smaller -- better for one person, perfect for sharing with one person -- as well as lighter, better for protecting the beer from light, and completely recyclable. Plus novel and cute.

Hough's will launch Crowlers tonight through Thursday with the beers of the Colorado-based Oskar Blues Brewery that helped pioneer the resurgence of canned craft beer as well as helped launch the Crowler early this year.  The celebration starts at 7:30 tonight with Buzz Worthy Pub Trivia. 

Bob Batz Jr. photo

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New Pittsburgh beer is REALLY local

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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The region is blessed with a lot of local beers, but there's a new one that's REALLY local.

It's being billed as locally grown as well as locally brewed, and it is going to be locally and pretty much totally drank this Monday, May 19.

From 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. that night, at the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, the Local Beer Project will debut Eden.

The beer is part of the very cool master's thesis of Chatham University food studies student Elisa Loeser.

As she explained, "For the past year, my thesis work has focused on organic hops production and the role of craft-beer culture in a local food system. As part of my thesis project, I brought together a team of community members to brew a 100-percent local, indigenous beer, which we named Eden."

The photo below shows some of the team: From left, Church Brew Works brewer Matt Moninger, Ms. Loeser, Nigel Tudor of Weatherbury Farm (the Washington County source of organic red winter wheat) and Noah Petronic of The Pittsburgh Hop Project.

But there were many others involved in this effort, which was crazy local.

Chatham director of sustatinable agriculture Allen Matthews donated winter rye from his Matthews Family Farm. Led by Mr. Moninger and with the help of food-studies student Lori Diefenbacher, the team malted the wheat and the rye, and wound up also using some of the house-malted local barley from Sprague Farm & Brew Works in Venango, Crawford County, whose Minnie and Brian Sprague have been pioneering that here.

For hops, they had about 3 ounces of Chinook and Cascade hopes that Ms. Loeser harvested and dried from 11 hop plants (some donated by Mr. Petronic) that she planted last year at Chatham's Eden Hall campus farm.

For water, her team wanted to use rainwater from another Chatham project, but that wasn't ready, so, with help from food-studies students Tony Miga, they collected 100 gallons of snow at Eden Hall -- enough for 30 gallons of filtered (and boiled) water.

And for yeast? They wanted that to be local, too, so they collected some wild strains in Church Brew Works wort that they left out in the open of Eden Hall's student garden. The Church's Mr. Moninger harvested some of the wild yeast and propagated it in the brewery's lab.

The team worked on the recipe and brewed -- on equipment loaned by TRASH homebrewer extraordinaire Keith Kost -- in February, augmenting the yeast with a little of a local strain of commercial Chico yeast. The result?

"It came out a lot better than we expected," says Ms. Loeser, who describes the wheat-rye brew as a little cloudy, balanced, with a nice mouthfeel. "It's a good summer beer."

They brewed just 13 gallons, enough to fill 119 12-ounce bottles, most of which they'll be pouring at Monday's party. It's open to the public, but you need to email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get a free ticket to try one of the 200 samples. Of course, there also will be Church brew to drink, and some Sprague Farm, too. Ms. Loeser says "we will have displays and people are encouraged to mingle, network, etc., so certainly the more people the merrier! "

The Eden beer is more than just a thesis piece, as she says it will continued to be brewed through the sustainable fermentation course offered in the summer in Chatham's food-studies program. That means "we will hopefully be serving up this beer at other events (quite possibly the Big Pour) in the fall."

Meanwhile, she's graduating on Monday, so the Church Brew gathering is her graduation party.

She's accepted a job in Washington, D.C., with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a international program specialist working on trade issues and initiatives.

But someday, she might hop back into hops, which more universities are studying as people try to resurrect the hop-growing industry that used to thrive in the East.

She says she'll always be committed to sustainability, which has a component to it that most people might not think of, but that her project demonstrates:

"This project for me embodies community and collaboration."

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Elisa Loeser label, Ellen Ordons photo

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Do it for the kids: Drink a beer

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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Drink beer, help kids at the Obama Academy of International Studies.

To support the East Liberty school's German Club’s upcoming visit to Germany -- 11 Obama students will visit a German school and stay with German families -- the Independent Brewing Co. in Squirrel Hill is sponsoring a fundraiser on May 15 that the bar is calling "Weizenfest."

From 5 to 11 p.m. that night, $1 from the sale of each German-style wheat beer will go directly to the Obama Academy’s German American Partnership Exchange.

"International travel is one of the best educational opportunities available," says a note from the school. "Help our students experience it for themselves."

Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette photo

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Try a new bar with your new beer

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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We're deep into Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, the calendar of which is packed for the next four days with events.

Tonight I'm planning to pop into the Helltown Cask Takeover at Piper's Pub for some local real ale with two ol' mates. If I can get in the door.

I've heard from some people who are a bit intimidated by Craft Beer Week events, especially ones that involve buying an advance ticket or having to squeeze into crowded venues.

If that's you, or the planned events don't fit your schedule, think of this: You can plan your own Pittsburgh craft beer event. Here's how you do it:

1. Pick a bar or a restaurant or a brewpub that serves craft beer -- preferably a place that you've never been to before and want to try.

2. Go there. Invite a friend or two if you like.

3. Order a craft beer.

I pulled one these this past Sunday, when I made an hour for myself in the early evening after another day packed with family and work activities. I drove to Mt. Lebanon's Korner Pub, whose new young owners have transformed it into a cozy craft-beer corner -- at the corner of Bower Hill and Washington roads. Several of my friends and neighbors have told me how much they liked the place. I just hadn't had time to get in there.

I pushed in through the open screen door -- like -- and perused the coolers before eyeing the 10 taps and the chalkboard draft list. It was a great lineup, but most of the crafts were really high-alcohol. I ordered a pint of an IPA from a brewery I'd never heard of: Free Will.

That in itself was fun. And the beer was very good. I settled into a table in the glow of the pub's great neon signs and savored it, while getting a kick out of the conversations of what seemed like a bunch of regulars around me. One group of young guys wanted to leave but couldn't, because a couple they hadn't known bought everyone at the bar a round.

I bought myself another Free Will. It was like my own personal tap-takeover, at least until I had to take off and go home for dinner.

I later found out that Free Will is an Eastern Pennsylvania brewery that's new to this market. I look forward to trying more of its brews.

And I look forward to going back to the Korner Pub, which from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight, in fact, is having its official #PCBW2014 event: A "Weyerbacher Tap Takeover and Tarte Nouveau Release," at which attendees can get first tastes of that Eastern Pennsylvania brewery's newest sour ale, as well as Heresy, Double Simcoe, 2012 Insanity and Merry Monks.

Bob Batz Jr. photo

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Real Ale Festival is postponed to fall

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on . Beer

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The Pittsburgh Real Ale Festival, one of the signature events of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, is being postponed.

Mindy Heisler of sponsor Piper's Pub says they just did not sell enough tickets to cover the cost of an event, which had been set for Highmark Stadium this Saturday, May 3.

She says that organizers got feedback that the ticket price of $65 was too high, but that was partly because of the venue. Fest organizers have decided to reschedule the event at a different venue sometime this fall.

In the meantime, she says, they've contacted ticket-holders and told them they will get refunds and first dibs on tickets to the fest when it is rescheduled.

The homebrewer part of the fest, which was part of my Post-Gazette story on the fest and on real ale, will go on. Five area homebrewers won the chance to pour firkins of their brews for the public, with the most popular one getting a chance to brew a batch at Helltown Brewing in Mount Pleasant. 

"We still want that to be a thing and these folks want you to sample their beers and vote on your favorite," owner Drew Topping explains in a note on Piper's Facebook page, "so we talked to Dan at Commonwealth Press and he has kindly given us permission to throw a free BBQ at his warehouse" at 2315 Wharton St. on the South Side. That'll happen in the same time slot, from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

"We are going to have the five homebrew firkins, plenty of other beer, Piper's Pub & The Pub Chip Shop are going to hook up some treats, we have a grill…," he writes. "We know that it isn’t on the same scale as the Festival, but we would really love it if you came down to the Warehouse, tried and voted on the beers, grabbed some food and some high fives. No cover, no tickets, no strings attached -- just a fun time, great beers and good food."

Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette photo

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