Craft Beer Week shows off brewers' inventive sides

By Dave DeSimone

The popularity of craft beers in our backyard has risen unabated for over 15 years. As proof of craft beer's growing mainstream acceptance, the expanded third-annual Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week festivities unfold from April 25 through May 4.
“It all started a few years ago when local beer geeks, craft brewers and industry folks followed the lead of other cities by stepping up and collaborating,” says industry veteran Tony “Beerman” Knipling of Vecenie Distributing Co. “The week celebrates local breweries and beer drinkers by basically tooting our own horns through fun events.”
A fun, extremely popular river cruise sponsored by Commonwealth Press, South Side, kicks off the week's festivities on the evening of April 25.
“It will be a mini beer and music cruise,” according to Knipling. Not one, but two Gateway Clipper fleet boats will link for the cruise.
But in true Craft Beer Week spirit, the fun continues afterward as local craft beer fans enjoy Commonwealth Pale Ale, a featured “collaboration beer,” which debuts on the cruise. Taps at pubs throughout the area will feature the brew.
Commonwealth collaborated with Penn Brewery in making the beer, says Pete Vicinski, who coordinates activities at the North Side brewery, a key participant in Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.
“Special collaboration beers play a big part in the celebration,” Vicinski says. “For example, our beer master, Andy Rich, also collaborated this year with Fat Head's brewer Matt Cole to create a special imperial pale ale.”
Dubbed “Alpha Mandarin,” the beer carries more than 6 percent alcohol by volume and features aromatic citra hops as well as mandarin orange segments. The brew embodies craft beer's creative core and thirst for plain, old fun.
On April 29, Fat Head's, South Side, will feature “Alpha Mandarin” and several other beers in a special beer-themed dinner. And while it lasts, the brew will be available on tap at Penn Brewery and Fat Head's flagship pub, as well as other pubs in the region.
A total of 12 collaboration beers will debut during this year's Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, according to Knipling. Pittsburgh's own East End Brewing worked with Lavery Brewing out of Erie on two beers. The first is a hop-laden “Saison” beer and the other is an intriguing “Chili Smoked Amber Ale.”
The latter used cherry wood smoked malt in the mash. Guajillo, chipotle, pasilla and ancho chile peppers also went into the mash and brew kettle. East End owner-brewer Scott Smith says the peppers bring a little heat to the beer's incredibly rich smoky smells and flavors. The beer debuts at East End Brewing's Pittsburgh location during Craft Beer Week.
On the evening of April 30, many of the collaboration beer brewers will gather at Sharp Edge Beer Emporium in East Liberty to meet fellow beer drinkers for casual beer talk and tasting. Most of the collaboration beers will be available on draft.
The “Real Ale Festival” on May 3 at Highmark Stadium, South Side, is another Craft Beer Week highlight. Known as the “Release the Firkins Fest,” the day features over 60 kegs served in traditional English-style firkins. (
Laid on their sides, the 10.8-gallon “full metal firkins” use gravity rather than carbon dioxide to flow from the keg. The server “pulls” the beer from the keg, as in the English pub phrase “pulling a pint.”
Food from sponsor Piper's Pub will be paired with ales from a veritable “All Star” lineup of participating breweries. They include Bell's, Church Brew Works, Dogfish Head, East End Brewing, Oskar Blues and Stone Brewing, to name but a handful.
Also May 3, Blue Dust in Homestead will host the “Bloomin' Beer and Oyster Fest.” Twenty craft beers from local brewers and national breweries will be paired with fresh oysters.
Meanwhile on May 3, House of 1,000 Beers in New Kensington will host a special keg tapping of three rare beers from Voodoo Brewing's Barrel Room Collection. For a complete day-by-day calendar of Craft Beer Week events, go to
Dave DeSimone writers about wine for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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