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Pittsburgh

September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Having visited eastern Pennsylvania just two weeks earlier, this trip to the western hub of Pittsburgh was icing on my Pennsylvania cake. My handy brewpub guide (see www.beertravelers.com and Lew Bryson’s informative “Pennsylvania Breweries”) listed six in the area, not including recently closed Three Rivers Brewing.

When I discovered that my beer sleuthing partner for this particular journey would be delayed, I set off for parts unknown and found Valhalla Microbrewery & Restaurant in the warehouse/industrial district, an area undergoing old town renovation. Open since June 1997, Valhalla shares common-ownership with Crescent City Brewing of New Orleans. Brewer Sean McIntyre, formerly with John Harvard’s, uses Crescent City’s recipes, as well as his own. Like its cajun sister, the restaurant features southern Louisiana cuisine, thankfully eschewing its gothic Viking decor. An appetizer of spicy steamed muscles, with a broth of tomatoes and onions, were prefect accompaniment to my sampler tray of Valhalla’s five brews.

Served in miniature goblets, these mostly lager beers were interesting. Sporting a frothy head, Pillage Pilsner was tasty with lingering hops taste. Seasonal Hefeweizen, with quickly dissipating head, was yeasty, emitting clove essence. A Vienna lager, Eric the Red was immediately likable, smooth with slight malt sweetness. Black Forest, a deep reddish-brown doppel, was medium in body, malty with sweet alcohol finish. The only ale, the aptly named Porter, was very brown, mid-bodied with dark flavor notes and dry bitter aftertaste. Seasonal selections are categorically called “Odin’s Offerings.” All full-size beers were served in tall pilsner glasses.

As does the dining areas, McIntyre’s brewery occupies two floors. Brewhouse resides directly above the street-level fermenters. Valhalla presents live jazz four nights each week. Spicy music, spicy food and delicious beers- Valhalla is heaven on earth.

Having discovered that nearby Strip Brewery & Ale house had recently gone out of business, the next Pittsburgh stop for this beer bus was Foundry Ale Works. Situated in an old steel foundry that made bells, cannons and cannonballs during the Civil War, this high-ceiling brewpub, complete with overhead crane, has been in business since December 1997. Its owners also own River City Ale Works in Wheeling, West By God Virginia.

Between brewers- original brewer John Zangwill had just departed -Foundry featured an amazing count of eleven beers. It took two sampler trays to get through them all. With a large lunch crowd buzzing behind me, I started with Golden Ale, their “flagship brew,” and actually a pretty good rendition of Canadian-brewed, Australia-originated Fosters. Lyte was another training wheels brew, while Steam, a lagered ale, was a less hoppy take on Anchor Steam. Grainy taste and hefe/clove yeast flavor, Ryeitzen was fruity with thick mouthfeel, not really benefiting from its 33% rye bill. Brown Ale, boasting American and English hops, was sour and too bitter for either country’s brown ale style.

From tray number two, Apricot Wheat was pleasant. Its fruity flavor appeared only briefly in the aftertaste. Summer Ale was reminiscent of a quaffable pilsner lager. Combining a Belgian Wit and Bavarian Hefeweizen (strange, indeed), Witt’s End presented very unique banana tones. An acidic tinge almost overwhelmed clove and citric components. Orangish-gold Belgian Gold, sweet from candi-sugar and spicy from juniper, coriander, grain of paradise and orange peel, was surprisingly drinkable and packed a strong alcohol punch. Amber Steam was a maltier version of Foundry’s Steam, complete with good bitter finish.

Two cask beers are usually available, but the Belgian Pale Ale had recently expired. So I was left with only the Pub Draught. Served from a keg resting in an iced tub on the floor, this English House Ale made for a fantastic drink-all-night-and-brush-your-teeth-with-it-in-the-morning session beer. Nicely balanced with a dry hopped hoppy finish, its flavor improved as it warmed.

Though Foundry Ale Works features an interesting menu of pizza, calzone, jambalaya, stuffed peppers and more, their beer menu, because of its breadth and variety, was much more enticing.

Follow along: Still Pittsburgh.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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