Novelty hike ends at East End brewery

Packing for a hike? You'll obviously have a list of necessities for the day.

Boots, check. A backpack, check. Some water, check. Proper clothing, check. A trail guide, check.

Beer, wine, cheeses and fine chocolates? Check.

Though not requisites for enjoying nature, they certainly can enhance the experience, especially afterward. And that's the thought behind a series of hikes sponsored by Venture Outdoors, combining romps through Western Pennsylvania's many hills and valleys followed by a gastronomical treat at the end. Past and future novelty hikes have featured Irish ales, coffees, soups, wines, cheeses, fine chocolates, pies, stews, cocoas, microbrewed beers and even gourmet hot dogs.

Lora Woodward of Venture Outdoors says the events are among the organization's most popular.

"We want these outings to be social," she said. "These aren't tastings so much as they are a chance to try new things and learn about them while unwinding in a social atmosphere after a hike."

And that was exactly what transpired on a recent pristine Saturday afternoon. About 30 hikers gathered to enjoy the first day of spring on a traipse through Frick Park -- and ultimately the craft beers of Homewood's East End Brewing Co.

Beer geeks ranging in age from 27 to 72 turned out, donning T-shirts of their favorite beers and breweries -- including Stone Brewing, East End Big Hop, Yuengling Black & Tan and, appropriately, Long Trail Ale -- although this hike was only a 3.2-mile easy jaunt on the Braddock and Nine Mile Run Watershed trails.

The group shared the trails with myriad joggers, mountain bikers and dog walkers, all seemingly celebrating the end of a nasty winter with a day in the park. Hawks flew overhead as the group meandered along Nine Mile Run. The course started with a gradual downhill ramble and then a rise near the end of about 200 feet that piqued the hikers' thirst.

Afterward, the group convened at East End Brewing for a tasting, and founder Scott Smith personally led a tour of the brewery with an explanation of the brewing process and the company's commitment to sustainable practices. Each hiker was sent home with a half gallon reusable glass "growler" filled with a choice of one of East End's beers, which was included in the $34 cost of the hike (Venture Outdoors members pay a lesser rate).

Robert Habegger, a volunteer for Venture Outdoors, has led this particular hike a few times before. He said it's consistently among the most popular offered.

"The only problem was we had to change our meeting place, some people stopped off at [nearby] Ryan's Pub beforehand to do some shots," Habegger said.

East End partners with Venture Outdoors for several events throughout the year, including an annual bike ride to launch their seasonal Pedal Pale Ale. The brewery hike and tour is scheduled four times a year. The next one will take place July 10.

"It's fantastic," Smith said. "It's a great way to expose our beers to a new crop of people, and after the hike, the beer tastes much better. Obviously we're happy to capitalize on thirsty customers."

Bob Rock of Ross has been a Venture Outdoors member since the Pittsburgh-based non-profit outdoor recreation organization's inception in 2001. He estimates he's done about 15 or so of the food and drink based hikes. His favorite was a Merlot Hike through Settlers Cabin Park that concluded with a wine and cheese pairing.

"These are my favorites," Rock said. "They're just so well done."

His hiking partner, Martha Braun of Bellevue, preferred the Teas and Trails hike through North Park.

"It's more of a chick hike," she laughed. "A lady from England led our group through the hills of North Park, and when we got back to our starting point, the park benches were covered with white tablecloths, and we had ...," she pauses and breaks into a faux-British accent, "... teas, and scones with clotted cream, and cucumber sandwiches. It was wonderful."

For Adam Cratty and his wife Bridget, the beer hike was their inaugural outing with Venture Outdoors, and they were pleased with the experience.

"The beer is what got us here, but I can't imagine anything better to do on a beautiful day than to go for a walk in the woods and end up at a brewery," Cratty said.

Rich Roginski of Bon Air, and his friend John Stewart of Sewickley, echoed those sentiments. Neither had done a Venture Outdoors event before, nor seen the inside of East End's snug brick warehouse brewery.

"It's definitely worthwhile. It was a nice hike, some good exercise with a good goal at the end," Roginski said.

So which did they enjoy more, the hike or the beer? In near unison they laughed:

"The beer."

Dan Gigler: or 412-263-1884. First Published March 28, 2010 4:00 AM


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