The Church Brew Works
Say a Prayer For Beer | Going Strong After Nearly 20 Years
The idea of making a date to go to church and get a pint of beer may not seem, well, kosher. But that's exactly the point Sean Casey had in mind when he bought the former church in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood nearly 20 years ago to open The Church Brew Works. Some people thought putting a brewpub in a mostly blue-collar area was crazy, but Casey had a vision.
He saw potential in the rougher neighborhood, so he married his love of beer and food with his interest in architecture, opened CBW and has never looked back. That vision has paid off as people come from all over for the award-winning beer and inventive fare.
"When we opened, Pittsburgh was a meat and potatoes town. We did untraditional pierogies — duck and goat cheese; bison and black bean — we became famous for rattlesnake pierogies. It's great for PR." Executive chef Jason Marrone, who has been with CBW from the beginning, has always included unique items, like bison burgers and vegan options to attract adventurous eaters and to ensure that all diners, no matter their diet, had something to eat. Casey also forages for chanterelle mushrooms that Marrone uses in soups and stews.
Church Brew Works also offers more traditional fare like beer-steamed mussels; a BBQ pulled pork sandwich; Southwest chicken wrap; grilled salmon with roasted red pepper smashed potatoes; wood-fired brick oven pizzas; and grilled pork porterhouse steak — even a gluten-free menu — that continues to bring in the crowds. "You combine this with the beer making and that adds up" to a successful restaurant," Casey said.
And he owes much of his success to their beer. CBW produces 25 different beers each year, some are standard draughts like the Pipe Organ Pale Ale, the ThunderHop IPA, the lightly effervescent Celestial Gold and the dark-style Pious Munk Dunkel, the last two both of which earned high honors at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. They also brew specialty beers with interesting ingredients like peppers from their on-site garden or a molé stout. They'll barrel age a number of beers and also age some in Champagne-style bottles for up to six months. "We make beers for our tastes and try to make session beers that are drinkable," Casey said. "We focus on the quality, doing it right and letting the beer age out."
They craft it all in an on-site brewery, which lights up when that sun shines in through the stained glass midday. "At 11 a.m. the sun hammers the rose window and shines on the entire church, especially up where the brewery is," Casey said. "It's a cool feeling to be in there when it's all lit up."
Today, that 8,000-square-foot transformed church with oak-finished plywood and a 51-foot ceiling at its highest peak, attracts upwards of 150,000 people annually. Even though business continued to be strong, over the years Casey realized the need to continually improve. "We constantly reinvest in the place," he said. "In this business, it's easy to stagnate or get complacent." Every so often, Casey will close CBW on Mondays over the course of six weeks to do necessary construction or add new paint to the walls to keep things bright and fresh. They ripped out part of the parking lot to put in a flower-lined paved walkway and even have started growing herbs and vegetables in an on-site garden to use in the kitchen. Talk about local and sustainable!