The World in a Glass
Pittsburgh’s craft brewers mix global styles with local traditions to spoil beer fans with choices
Every decent-sized American city has a craft beer scene these days, so if you’re a brewer with ambitions beyond the state, you’ll have to do something pretty special to get noticed.
You could follow the example of Pacific Northwest brewers and build an international reputation for making one style of beer (IPAs) extremely well. Or, you could draw inspiration from a dynamic new crop of Pittsburgh-area brewers and build a broad portfolio of innovative beers that not only satisfies the tastes of modern drinkers but complements any cuisine.
“Pittsburgh breweries are pushing each other to make this a destination beer city,” says Tim Garso, beverage director of Galley Group, a food hall and restaurant accelerator. Garso runs the drink programs in four locations, including downtown Pittsburgh’s Smallman Galley, which exclusively showcases Pennsylvanian beers.
Garso explains that the state’s legacy breweries have long focused on American lagers, leaving space for upstarts to create a local beer scene of their design.
“When people think of Pennsylvania beer, they think of heritage breweries like Yuengling or Straub,” he explains. But over the past decade, Pittsburgh has enticed new brewers armed with the talent and business plans to put their own ideas in motion.
“You can find a very diverse Pittsburgh brewery tour and have something for everyone,” Garso adds. “There are breweries that specialize in current trends, whether it be hazy IPAs or sours, and breweries with world-class, barrel-aging programs.”
Among the details that set Pittsburgh brewers apart is a collective desire to push the boundaries.
“Five-plus years ago it seemed like breweries were content to be good Pittsburgh breweries, but now they want to be, and expect to be, in the national beer conversation,” he says. “Brewers have been expanding their roots, looking into historical styles, and applying techniques they’ve learned through collaborations locally and nationally.”
With such a varied collection of beers, partnering with chefs makes lots of sense.
“Brewers and tap room workers run in the same circles as restaurant employees and the line between beer and food is becoming extremely blurred,” Garso explains. “You see a lot of beer-pairing dinners, and we host a number of them at Smallman Galley, often working with breweries who brew a special beer just for the event.”
While it’s difficult for Garso to pick favorites among Pittsburgh brewers, he’ll share three that are emblematic of the area’s beer renaissance.
“Any discussion of Pittsburgh beer has to include Brew Gentlemen out of Braddock. You can walk into their tap room and enjoy so many different styles,” he says. “Dancing Gnome has done exceptional things with hazy IPAs—they’re constantly learning and collaborating. And Voodoo Brewery has become nationally known for (its) barrel-aged series.”