Beer: Craft Beer Week -- It's going to pour for the next 9 days


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You just knew this whole craft beer thing wouldn't last.

Yes, after a decade and a half of working to make better quality beers, some craft brewers now are purposefully trying to make sour and funky-tasting ones.

Consider Inaugural Ale.

It's one of three "collaboration beers" made by teams of Pittsburgh-area brewers for serving during select events of the inaugural Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday, April 28.

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For this celebration of the region's craft beer culture, Penn Brewery, Church Brew Works and Rock Bottom Brewery agreed to donate fermenter space. Brewers from those and other area operations -- Hofbrauhaus, Helltown Brewing, East End Brewing, Milkman Brewing and Arsenal Cider House -- drew straws to form three teams, and those teams decided they'd each start with a German ale yeast donated by Rock Bottom, but go their own creative ways from there.

The Church team -- the Church's Steve Sloan, Penn's Steve Crist and Hofbrauhaus' Shawn Setzenfand -- decided that their Inaugural Ale would be a sour-mash red ale. They added to their wort some extra German pilsner malt and let it sit overnight so Lactobacillus bacteria would produce acid that would give the brew a tangy taste -- one that growing numbers of craft beer aficionados enjoy, or at least enjoy trying.

There is such a huge range of tastes available, and more than 365 Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week events spread out around the city and the region at which you can sample and learn about them.

You could start from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. tomorrow at Jack's on the South Side, which will be pouring Penn brews during its "Beer: It's What's for Breakfast" event. You could close out the week by going on a beer-tasting hike and boat cruise on the evening of April 28 run by Venture Outdoors along and on the rivers on a Pittsburgh Water Limo ($47 or $35 for VO members). And there are dozens of events every day in between.

The longer-than-a-week week is meant to "showcase the best of the city's locally brewed craft beers, its vibrant craft beer culture, and make it a regional destination for the growing trend of beer tourism," according to the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance, a non-profit formed earlier this year and overseen by a board of brewery and restaurant managers, other craft beer industry employees and others to help promote and raise awareness for Pittsburgh craft beer.

Organizers hope events will appeal to both aficionados and people who don't know craft beer, said the group's chairman, Penn brewer Andrew Rich, at a press conference Tuesday. There's certainly more than any one person could do. Mr. Rich said, "I think it's just a matter of exploring and creating your own adventures. Which is kinda in the spirit of craft beer itself."

You can find the full calendar of events at pittsburghcraftbeerweek.com. Events are still being added.

Another of the highlights is the Sour and Funky Beer Tasting from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 21, at the aptly named House of 1,000 Beers in New Kensington. They'll be pouring a range of brews made with souring techniques and containing Brettanomyces yeast and wild yeast: lambics, Flemish sours, Berliner weissen and more. Admission is $45 (724-337-7666).

Inaugural Ale won't be poured there, but you can find it at the Church, which like some other venues, will have all three collaboration brews.

The other two collaboration teams brewed at Penn -- Penn's Nick Rosich, East End's Andy Kwiatkowski and Arsenal Cider's Bill Larkin -- and Rock Bottom -- its Steve Panos, Hofbrauhaus' Shawn Setzenfand and Penn's David Cerminara and Steve Crist.

The Penn team cooked up a British-style India pale ale called Cheeky Yinzer. It was based on a brew with which Mr. Kwiatkowski won gold in the recent Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers, or TRASH, Homebrew Competition.

At Rock Bottom, they made a kolsch-style ale called Home Opener, the idea of Mr. Cerminara, who describes himself as a geek for this top-fermented style from Cologne, Germany, which they brewed with the twist of American hops.

All three brews will go fast, but many venues have a half keg or two.

Many Beer Week events are free -- small tastings and "tap takeovers" that distributors and brewers sponsor at watering holes and other retail outlets. Others require tickets. Some already are sold out.

Some would have been happening anyway, such as tomorrow's Brewers Ball and East End Brewing's April 28 Pedal Pale Ale Keg ride to deliver beer to one bar and money to charity. But there are many that are more unusual, too.

At 9 p.m. April 21, Rivertowne Pour House in Monroeville will debut SteelMan Stout, brewed in honor of the local superhero and Pittsburgh Comicon, which also is happening this weekend. Wear superhero attire and get VIP access!

From 6 to 9 p.m. April 26, Commonwealth Press on the South Side is serving beer at PGHtee, which celebrates Pittsburgh T-shirts and the people who make them. They made the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week T-shirts you can buy there and at other venues.

At 7 p.m. that Thursday, Rock Bottom is holding the first of what is meant to be many Beers as Cocktails Competition. At 7 p.m. Friday, April 27, there's a Beer and Chocolate Pairing at Mr. B's beer store in New Castle. Other events pair craft beers with everything from jellybeans (April 24, Blue Dust in Homestead) to cigars and roast pig (April 26 and 21, respectively, at Hough's in Greenfield).

There are several beer dinners, including a vegetarian one East End is doing at Bigelow Grille at the Doubletree Hotel, Downtown, April 26, and a competitive dinner East End is doing April 23 at its Larimer location with Salt of the Earth restaurant and Wigle Whiskey (sold out in 20 minutes).

The Sharp Edge is doing multi-course beer dinners April 24 and 25 at the Bistro, Downtown (in its Loft), and April 26 at its Sewickley Bistro, plus a five-course beer lunch at its Brasserie location in Peters April 28. Sharp Edge cellarman Brett McMahan, who will preside at all four, emails, "I think it basically showcases the best of what we do, instead of just a sampling."

Fat Head's on the South Side just this past weekend announced its beer week events, including its April 24, first-ever beer dinner, with a local theme, pairing food by Chef Derek Wilson with Fat Head's own brews plus those of Penn, East End and Full Pint plus the Arsenal Cider House. Forty tickets quickly sold out at $50 each, with all proceeds benefitting The Jubilee Kitchen.

There are other beer-for-a-good cause events and angles: The Craft Beer Week website lists several distributors that, for more than a dozen craft beer brands, will donate $1 per case sold to the Mario Lemieux Foundation.

And there's a big social media angle, too. Check in to any two events and you social media fans can earn a badge via untappd (untappd.com).

Organizers estimate that all this activity will pour up to $2 million into the area economy. These days, craft beer has a bigger impact than ever.

The Boulder, Colo.-based industry trade group the Brewers Association reported last month that nationally, craft brewers saw volume rise 13 percent, with a 15 percent increase in retail sales from 2010 to 2011, representing a total barrel increase of 1.3 million. Craft brewers represented 5.68 percent of volume of the U.S. beer market, up from 4.97 in 2010, with production reaching 11,468,152 barrels. The group estimates craft brewers' 2011 sales at $8.7 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2010, accounting for 9.1 percent of the $95.5-billion dollar U.S. beer market.

"The breweries can't expand fast enough," says Chris Dilla, owner of two Bocktown Beer and Grill locations, which are holding a half-dozen events. She's one of the speakers at Pittsburgh Brewniversity's Gender Studies 423: Women and Craft Beer "class" at 7 p.m., April 23, at Bocktown at the Beaver County Mall near Monaca ($25 ticket benefits Operation Walk Pittsburgh; bocktown.com/events).

At both Bocktowns, she's doing what she's describing as "an ultra local tap takeover" called the New Brew Showcase, featuring drafts every day from new local brewers such as Millvale's Draii Laag, Erie's Lavery, and Westmoreland County's All Saints and Helltown.

On any given week, there's more brewing in this region than you might think.

Especially over the next nine-day one.

Mr. Rich says the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance already is envisioning more and more unusual events -- perhaps a party on one of the city's bridges -- for next year's beer week. "I think it's just going to keep getting better."

libations

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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