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Still Pittsburgh

September, 1999

By Bobby Bush

As I mentioned, there are six brewpubs in the Greater Pittsburgh area. Since I was headed toward the west side of town and time was at a premium, I chose to skip John Harvard’s Brew House on William Penn Highway. I’ve been to three of the Massachusetts-based chain’s 14 brewpubs and figured that this one was just as nice and beer friendly as the others.

So I found my way to Pennsylvania Brewing Company instead. This sizable operation began life as a contract brewery back in 1986 when founder Tom Pastorius arranged for nearby Pittsburgh Brewing, manufacturer of Iron City swill, to brew his mainstay Penn Pilsner. With help from his family, Tom opened the microbrewery/brewpub in late 1989 in part of a building that once served as Eberhardt and Ober Brewing Company.

Today regional Jones Brewing Company brews the Pilsner, because demand outstrips the capacity (20,000 barrels) of Penn’s 45 barrel brewhouse. Bottles and kegs of the Pils receive wide distribution throughout New England and beyond. The remainder of Penn’s five regular beers and rotating seasonals are all brewed on site.

Penn sticks totally to German-style lagers, because, as Tom was quoted in Lew Bryson’s “Pennsylvania Breweries,” the brewery “exists to brew the kind of beers that I like.” They also do not have sampler trays, so we (my business associate finally showed up, with a suitcase and $30 cab fare) decided on pint tasters instead. Penn Gold was crisp and dry. Its thin gold body presented a nice hops touch. Less dry, Kaiser Pils was almost like a hoppier version of the light Penn Pilsner. Penn Hefeweizen, available only in bottles on this visit, was unfiltered. A distinguished sweetness somehow escaped mid-tongue from the typical banana/clove flavor. Malty, dark and smooth, Penn Dark held a lightly bitter aftertaste.

Unfortunately, Penn was between seasonals, so we left without. For the record, the seasonal offerings include: Oktoberfest, St. Nikolaus Bock, Maerzen, Altbier, Maibock, All Star Lager and Pastorator Double Bock. Check out www.pennbrew.com to find out what’s on tap today.

Trying to make amends for all my past transgressions, all of a sudden I had an unnerving call to go to church. (How did you know there was a catch)? St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, a Lawrenceville community landmark, had a 1993 appointment until a demolition team when a group of local investors saved the deconsecrated church from the wrecking ball. With a fair amount of internal modification, rebirth arrived in August 1996 as Church Brew Works.

Coexisting with walls of colorful stained glass windows, balcony-ensconced pipe organ and sky high vaulted ceiling is an alter brewery manned by Bryan Pearson. From his holy pulpit, Pearson, who has been at Church since the early days, brews four house beers. The pilsner Celestial Gold, a sinner’s tricycle beer, was clean and golden, a great start to an inspirational afternoon. Caramel malty, Pipe Organ Pale Ale was a perfect session brew, with a short dry finish. American-style Bell Tower Brown Ale, which was also served as a hand-pumped cask conditioned treat, closed with pleasing hops flavor. Pious Monk Dunkel, a nicely balanced Bavarian-style lager, closed our the regular line-up. Two seasonals were also on tap. Heavenly Hefe-Weisen, less clovey than expected, had that omnipresent banana ester twang, while Dunkelweisen, though flat in mouthfeel, left a sweet aftertaste. Pearson’s Gold Dunkel seasonal took a GABF medal in 1998.

Church Brew Works features American Regional cuisine from the kitchen of chef Erik Cantine. The award-winning culinary artist works closely with brewer Pearson to develop entree selections that are beer friendly, such as Pan Seared Ostrich Medallions, Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops, Kentucky Bourbon Chicken Breast and Vegan Miso Dunkel Stew. Completing the building’s conversion from Catholicism to zymurgy, Pearson, who previously brewed in Houston, TX, grows several varieties of hops in the outdoor beer garden.

“On the eighth day, man created beer.” Though no challenge to established religion, Church Brew Works brings an entirely new meaning to “going to church.” Worshippers can join the congregation at www.churchbrew.com.

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

© Bobby Bush

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