Don't let your beer get too cold

Written by Bob Batz Jr. on


Here's a photo I took of two of the well-dressed attendees at Saturday's Mt. Lebanon Winterfest, which I blogged about here.

These two dark beauties were bottled by local home brewer Jeff Bower. They're wearing Pub Sweaters hand-knitted by Kate Hitmar, and available for sale at Lebo's Koolkat Designs, a way-cool store of artisan-made goods where Mr. Bower's wife, Samantha, works.

Ms. Hitmar says she retails her 100-percent wool creations for $20, or $25 for bicolor ones and $28 for tricolor ones. She also sells them at the Shop at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside. "I do a lot of custom orders as well, especially in team colors." The sweaters actually keep beers cool and absorb condensation. 

I wore a wool jacket under my fleece jacket for Winterfest tasting, during which I tried Mr. Bower's Mocha Java Porter and 18 other homebrews from five different brewers -- amateurs and aspiring pros.

Attendees gave the People's Choice award and plaque to Carey Me Home Double IPA, a 10-percent-alcohol India pale ale made by Reclamation Brewing. In the photo below, that's Ben "Dennis" Smith and his father, John Smith, down to their last beer at the end of the tasting. They are signing a lease that begins March 1 on a building in Butler where they told me they plan to open their brewery by the end of the year.

My Judge's Choice I awarded to the Schwarzbier made by much-decorated homebrewer Keith Kost, who also writes about the region's beer scene for Great Lakes Brewing News.

As I told the crowd, it was hard to judge such a wide variety of brews against each other, but this one, which Keith rewrote on his booth card as "black lager" for those who didn't know from "schwarzbier," was 5.3-percent alcohol, spot-on roasty and delicious -- just the unusual thing for a chilly February Saturday of outdoor sipping.

The beer that stuck in my head afterwards was a style I don't usually like -- the d'Hiver Farmhouse Saison from local graphic designer Dan Pipitone, who brews at home under the moniker of Straw Bale Brewing. Only 5.5-percent alcohol, his dark winter saison was sweet but not too sweet and very complex in flavor, what with the vanilla and cinnamon in it. He also was pouring a fine Provision IPA. Great stuff. You might get a crack at it when Mr. Pipitone does a tasting at Bocktown Beer & Grill sometime in the next several weeks.

Winterfest participant Jeff Bloom, who's hoping to start Bloom Brewing somewhere near his home in Rostraver, will be doing tastings at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Bocktown Monaca, and at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at Bocktown Robinson.

I enjoyed chatting with him, too. And with Jeff Bearer and his buddy Greg Weiss, who were recording interviews for a podcast that you'll be able to find on their Craft Beer Radio.

In the end, I thought the beer in general was quite good, and these brewers were very generous in sharing it at this event, the proceeds of which benefit the cancer-fighting efforts of Relay for Life Mt. Lebanon.

I was so busy tasting brews that I didn't taste any of the chilis competing for Winterfest honors, but can report that per the crowd's vote, the Mt. Lebanon Police Department avenged last year's chili cookoff loss to the Mt. Lebanon Fire Department.

Best chili runner-up was Bistro 19.

And the best chili was made by Rania's Catering.

Lebo's economic development/commercial districts manager Eric Milliron says some 600 people attended and raised nearly $7,000 -- "Not bad for a day in February!"


Bob Batz Jr. photos

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