This past weekend, my brother, Tyler (self-proclaimed beer-aficionado and home brewer) came to visit me in Pittsburgh for the first time since he moved back to Pennsylvania from Florida with his new wife.
Along with some friends, my brother and I embarked on a tour of all the hottest breweries in Pittsburgh that he has been dying to visit.
When visiting each brewery, we evaluated it on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the lowest score, 5 being the highest) in the categories of: variety, atmosphere, and overall impressions.
You may notice that Tyler’s comments are a bit more
pretentious extensive, while mine tend to be simpler (especially as the night went on), so hopefully this will help yinz relate to our experiences. We had a lot of fun going around and trying a bunch of new places and beer, and we hope this inspires you to do the same.
There are a TON of awesome Pittsburgh bars and breweries that are not on this list. There are a lot of breweries in Pittsburgh that are pretty well-known, like Church Brew Works, Rivertowne, Hofbrauhaus and Fat Head’s.
We both love all of these places (in fact, I could devote an entire
series of haikus article to those glorious head-sized sandwiches from Fat Head’s), but we wanted this list to be something that might help beer snobs get out of a rut and hopefully get beer newbies to try somewhere they might not have ever heard about.
1. Brew Gentlemen Beer Co.– Braddock, PA
The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. is exactly what Pittsburgh beer nerds have been wanting for a long time. They make the trendy beers that we are constantly searching for — big, hoppy, citrusy, hazy DIPAs like Akamai; viscous, dark, chocolatey chile beers like Mexican Coffee; quaffable yet complex citra bombs like Certified Personal Accountant. Even their take on “boring” styles like White Sky (wheat beer) are above average.
Couple this with a small selection of meads from the amazing Apis Mead & Winery, and the ability to do small tasters of all of the beers, and you will leave The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. with a plethora of new Untappd badges, and maybe even a few growlers to send to your trading buddies.
White Sky, the chai spiced wheat beer, is my actual favorite beer of all time. I am obsessed with it, and I thought no beer could come close…then I tried the Mexican Coffee and my life was changed. It’s a lot darker and very different from White Sky, but having those two beers gives it a 5 from me for sure.
Sometimes I like to stand on tables, chugging lagers and singing German songs. Most of the time, I don’t. These are the times I look for a place like The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co.
There are plenty of corners for a quiet night out, or larger tables for a night of imbibing with close friends. Easy-to-read electronic tap lists are located in several spots to help with the decision-making process. No one even judged us for lining up our beers and taking pictures for five minutes.
I love the décor in this place. Lots of wood and industrial lighting, but it still feels super classy. They’ve expanded by adding an additional bar and there’s a good amount of seating too. It’s dog-friendly and the open garage door is awesome in the warmer months. There’s a giant projected screen in the room with the second bar, which would be awesome for sporting events (let’s go Pens!).
I also just gotta say, the bathroom here is awesome. It’s the cleanest and most beautiful bathroom I have basically ever been in, which has nothing to do with the beer, but DAMN, it’s a nice bathroom.
Overall Impression and Comments
They have great to-go options — 750ml swing top bottles of every beer (great for trading partners and out of town buddies) and growlers. I like that parking is pretty much a non-issue, except possibly during events. Pittsburgh still hasn’t found its big brewery yet in the eyes of the rest of the country, but I think that this has the potential to be the one.
This place is seriously awesome. I like that the pricing for the different sizes you can order is on a few different screens throughout the place. The $2 tasters are a great way to try a lot of different things without breaking the bank (especially when you’re as indecisive as me).
#SpoonTip: They have no kitchen, but they regularly have food trucks outside, which are AMAZING. The first Saturday of each month is their Food Truck Roundup, which usually features The Pgh Taco Truck, Franktuary, Southside BBQ, Gyros N’at, Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches (which I NEED to try next time) and more.
Check out their twitter for updates on who will rolling up to dish out eats.
Pitt students: The 61B heading outbound can drop you off basically in front of Brew Gentlemen, so it’s pretty easy to get to from campus. They also have great pens to sign receipts with…like they were really great.
2. Voodoo Brewery – Homestead, PA
Voodoo makes some of the best barrel aged beers in the world (I just had a pour of the pappy-barrel aged “The K13” last week and it was glorious). They also make some great IPAs, like Good Vibes and the new/incredible Super Secret Pizza Party.
The tap list on our trip this time consisted of mostly core beers and a few solid seasonals. If you haven’t had any Breakfast of Champions, a coffee oatmeal milk stout with organic cocoa nibs, local maple syrup, and organic coffee, you probably should get on that. Bottles of the coconut version were still available too. The seasonal Schnitzengiggles, their take on the classic Oktoberfest style, was also very good.
Your best bet when looking to go full-on beer nerd is to stalk their Meadville location on Facebook for special releases and to see if the Homestead location will be getting a delivery. That being said, their list will please any non-nerds that you bring, since they offer a ton of easily-palatable core beers at this location.
They seem to have a pretty long list, with a lot of quality names (like the H2P). I liked the Breakfast of Champions a lot. They had me at ‘coffee’ and ‘chocolate,’ but Tyler’s description makes it sound much fancier. The Voodoo Love Child was pretty great too. It had a little bit of a sourness to it, but not so much that it tasted weird.
Voodoo Homestead is an homage to the original Meadville location in every way. The ceiling is covered in chalkboard murals instead of doors, but it has a similar effect. The same chalkboard appetizer menu is there too, this time advertising food from their Foodoo food truck. The community tables were fine on this slow night, but on a more busy occasion I may start to feel claustrophobic. Would be great for larger groups, though.
I love this trend of breweries being dog-friendly. Voodoo has an area where you can pour some water for your pooch so you guys can drink together (#goals). The giant chalkboard and crazy decorated ceiling are pretty cool and make for a fun room. The open garage doors make the place feel a lot bigger than it is, and the long community tables leave a lot of seating options.
Your receipt comes tucked in an old book, where lots of little notes have been scribbled on the inside pages. Being a future librarian, I am obsessed with this, and I took an obnoxious amount of pictures of my books.
Overall Impression and Comments
Voodoo Homestead is still fairly new and I expect it to grow in popularity as word gets out and as Homestead nightlife continues to evolve. I’ll be interested to see whether they stay focused on the typical beer consumer or offer the specialty beers that their original location does.
This place has a cool vibe and it’s definitely unique. The drinks were pretty good and the Breakfast of Champions is a beer that I would definitely come back for.
#SpoonTip: They have their OWN food truck, Foodoo, that is definitely worth checking out.
*Note: They had a super cool bathroom sink, but overall it was nowhere near the epic experience of Brew Gentlemen’s bathroom. Just FYI.
Pitt students: take a 61C from Forbes and S Bouquet and it’ll let you off about a block from Voodoo.
3. Draai Laag Brewing Company – Millvale, PA
For the uninitiated, Draai Laag may seem a little different. Their focus on Belgians, wild ales and spontaneous fermentation may come as a shock to beer newcomers. My dad always has to make the “this is just beer that has gone bad and then rebottled” comment when he drinks wild ales or berliners.
If you enjoy Belgians, saisons, and sours, you’ll find plenty to like here. The standout for me was Geestelijke, a saison coming in at 9% with mild acidity and effervescence. Don’t expect a double IPA though, that’s not their style.
First of all, I have no idea how to pronounce their name. I just sort of mumble it and move on. I’m not gonna lie here, I also had NO idea what any of the beers on this list were. I think the biggest challenge for a casual beer drinker here would be what to order.
They do offer flights, which were a little expensive for my taste, but at least they let you try a variety before you choose. Except that the one that I enjoyed the most in my flight was the Arsenal Cider, not one of their beers, so that’s basically the reason for my low score.
Props for the authentic beer garden and renovated outdoor space. You’ll encounter many different groups, some savoring and scrutinizing their yeasty libations, others wondering why their beer smells like a horse barn, and others engaged with their bartenders. Seriously, ask the bartenders about each beer—they have the knowledge you seek.
The indoor area is nice, but nothing too special. On the other hand, the beer garden outside was super cute, especially at night with all of the twinkly lights (if you couldn’t tell by now, I’m a sucker for twinkly lights). Not sure how they handle the majority of their seating being outdoors during those pesky Pittsburgh winters, so I guess I’ll have to head back to check it out.
Overall Impression and Comments
As this style of beer skyrockets in popularity, it’s great to see Pittsburgh represented here. It’s some of the most unique beer brewed in PA. This could be a great place to take a date who isn’t typically into beer—many of the styles are reminiscent of wine. Oh and Darcy, it’s pronounced “dry log”.
This place is definitely catering to the hardcore beer crowd. I like to think I at least sort of know what I’m talking about when I order my beer, but I was pretty lost here. But hey, just because I don’t know what any of it was doesn’t mean it wasn’t good.
They also host food trucks on the reg (you can check out their twitter page for updates about what they have going on).
Pitt students: getting to Draai Laag is slightly more complicated. Catch any 61 or 71 downtown to Sixth at Smithfield, and then a 1 heading Outbound-FREEPORT will take you right to it.
4. Penn Brewery – Pittsburgh, PA
Ah, Penn Brewery. You know the drill here. German styles, reasonably well done, served in half gallon milk jugs. The Oktoberfest seemed most appropriate, given that the celebrations were in full swing.
Crisp and malty with some underlying roastiness, it was good, but the Voodoo Oktoberfest example earlier in the night proved better. The variety isn’t great, but let’s be real, that’s not why you’ve come to Penn Brewery.
Honestly I don’t even remember the names on their beer list here (and not just because it was the last stop of the night). We ordered the Oktoberfest, which was good for drinking and the atmosphere of the place, but didn’t really stand out in any way.
That being said, I’ve had the Pumpkin Roll Ale with a cinnamon sugar rim from Penn Brewery on tap at Garage Door in Oakland that was pretty awesome, so don’t count out Penn Brewery for good options.
Penn Brewery goes for the classic German bier hall vibe. As you walk into the alley that leads to the entrance, it really feels like you are on a narrow cobblestone street in Europe. As you walk up the maze of stairs, you’ll find several German bands playing inside and in the tents, with lots of dancing and chugging.
Don’t stand underneath the stairs unless you are looking for a beer shower. Please note: this is not to be confused with a shower beer. You DID have a shower beer before going on this brewery tour, right?
This place is FUN. Definitely more rowdy than any of the other places we went to on our mini tour, but that’s probably because we stumbled in during Oktoberfest. The place was packed everywhere, but they have a maze of outdoor seating down a stone pathway with great lighting. The view of the city from the top patio is sick for all of you Pittsburgh skyline lovers out there (AKA me).
Overall Impression and Comments
Penn Brewery has been around since before most of you were born. As the oldest and largest brewery in Pittsburgh, it has some great history, my favorite of which is the existence of stone tunnels and caves constructed below the original brewery buildings, calling back to the old lagering caves that were used before refrigeration was around.
With their lagers, they even follow Reinheitsgebot, old German Purity laws that prohibited the use of corn or rice fillers in beer. Respect.
For some reason, the only time I ever make it to Penn Brewery is during Oktoberfest, so it’s always insane. It probably isn’t always that crazy, but I’m sure it’s always a good time.
Also, you need to drink beer from a half gallon milk jug at least once (or many more times that) so get on that.
#SpoonTip: Penn Brewery has their own kitchen and a full menu of apps, sandwiches and entrees, but they have a limited menu during Oktoberfest (full of German goodness).
Pitt students: The 54 heading Inbound will get you within a 5 minute walk to Penn brewery.
Do you guys have any favorite Pittsburgh breweries that weren’t mentioned here? Do you think we’re stupid and have terrible opinions? Did you love our choices and think this is the best possible list you could have read? Let us know on Twitter or Instagram!