New life for an old label: Rooney's ale returns here after at least six decades

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There's a new beer in town that's also an old beer in town: Rooney's Old Irish Style Ale.

Yes, we're talking the Rooney family, of Steelers fame. The new craft brew, just rolling out in bottles and kegs at area watering holes and distributors, is a product of the family of Patrick J. Rooney, one of the five sons of Steelers founder Art "The Chief" Rooney.

The Rooney family has beer running through it.

It was The Chief's Irish immigrant father, Daniel, who around 1913 opened the Dan Rooney Cafe & Bar on West Robinson Street in what is now Pittsburgh's North Side, between Heinz Field and PNC Park.

As noted in the book, "Braddock, Allegheny County" by Robert M. Grom, Daniel and his son, Art, later founded the General Braddock Brewing Co., which after Prohibition made Rooney's brand beers in Braddock at least until the late 1930s and possibly through World War II. Possibly even during Prohibition, acknowledges Joe Rooney, a grandson of Art Rooney who's been keeping that aspect of the family legacy going.

A family photo of the original North Side saloon is being used in marketing the new beer.

The ale is being launched at a party and media reception from 5 to 7 p.m. tonight at Jerome Bettis Grille 36 on the North Shore.

The old Rooney's beer brand leaves its mark here and there, including on old papers and bottle caps on eBay. Carnegie Museum of Art has a photograph by Charles "Teenie" Harris of two men standing in front of the Hill District's Crawford Grill, which has a sign for "Rooney's Famous Beer" in the window.

As Mr. Grom writes, among the brewery's best-known brands was Rooney's Irish Red Ale.

That name was resurrected in 1999 by Joe Rooney and brewer Fran Andrewlevich, and it has been selling since as draft only at Rooney bars in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, Fla., as well as at Rooney's Public House at Palm Beach International Airport and the Palm Beach Kennel Club, the greyhound racetrack that is part of the family's business holdings.

Mr. Andrewlevich explains that the beer has been contract brewed by four breweries, the most recent being Thomas Creek in Greenville, S.C.

But that brewery didn't have the capacity when the family decided to expand into bottles, too, and distribute the beer more widely.

So the Florida Rooneys came to Western Pennsylvania.

They met with several craft brewers and decided to work with Penn Brewery on the North Side, where Mr. Andrewlevich brewed the first batch of Rooney's Old Irish Style Ale with Penn's Andrew Rich and his crew about two weeks ago.

The ale is being marketed by the Rooney's Beer Co. of Pittsburgh, which is run by Joe Rooney; his brother Patrick Rooney Jr. and his wife, Patricia; and Joe's and Patrick Jr.'s sisters, Theresa Rooney Meis and Monica Rooney; plus Mr. Andrewlevich.

The new ale will be distributed in this region -- 11 counties -- by Wilson-McGinley Distributors in the Strip District. Barney McGinley was partner to Art Rooney, the Steelers founder, in the original General Braddock Brewing Co. (as well as the Steelers and other ventures). His great-grandson, Wilson-McGinley vice president John McGinley, is tickled to be among "the fourth generation of Rooneys and McGinleys who've gotten to work together."

The first bottles of Rooney's Old Irish Style Ale came off the line at Penn on Tuesday, in six-pack holders bearing a likeness of The Chief, complete with cigar. Suggested retail is $29.99 a case.

Mr. Andrewlevich said the Rooney's Beer Co. has plans to make several other varieties, including a classic pilsner, and might contract with other Western Pennsylvania brewers, including Full Pint Brewing in North Huntingdon and Erie Brewing Co.

Bob Batz Jr.: or 412-263-1930. First Published December 8, 2011 5:00 AM


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