A new business is offering to drive you to drink -- at several of Western Pennsylvania's far-flung craft breweries.
Pennsylvania Brewery Tours, which started publicizing itself online just before Christmas, will be running trips in shuttle buses and other vehicles to breweries that are "slightly out of reach," including Lavery Brewing and Erie Brewing of Erie, Voodoo Brewery of Meadville, North Country Brewing of Slippery Rock (where it's building a new production brewery), Full Pint Brewing of North Versailles, All Saints Brewing of Greensburg and Helltown Brewing of Mt. Pleasant.
Trips start at one of two area watering holes -- Carson Street Deli on the South Side or House of 1000 Beers in New Kensington -- where attendees can buy bottles to drink on the trip.
On the road, tour operator Jake Voelker, 28, will warm up travellers with some history and color, then turn them over to staffers at the brewery for a tour and some tastes before everyone heads back home with their gift bags of goodies.
"Everybody is incredibly open-arms," says Mr. Voelker of the brewers he's worked with to set all this up. "I did a lot of groundwork."
He plans to add features, such as all-inclusive tours that include all beverages on the bus and at the breweries and more, and already is offering to customize tours. He plans to offer trips to Pittsburgh's craft breweries from Erie, which is where he's from, and add more brewery destinations.
Mr. Voelker came down here to go to the University of Pittsburgh, where he was in ROTC. He earned his officer's commission in the U.S. Army and served a tour in Afghanistan and one in Iraq before returning two years ago to Pitt, getting his MBA, and working on his plan for Pennsylvania Brewery Tours.
He sold out the first Jan. 12 "Yinz Going Up North Tour" to Voodoo and North Country by publicizing it at House of 1000 Beers. Twenty-five seats are full at $49 a pop.
There still are seats for the Feb. 16. "Full Pint Tour" ($31).
Others include the "Saints and Sinners Tour" to All Saints and Helltown ($44) and a "Farm To Table Tour" to Sprague Farm and Brew Works ($69).
This summer he plans to add a "North Coast Brew Tour" to Erie, which may include an overnight stay.
Obviously, having someone who's not drinking drive you back from a brewpub should be safer than driving yourself back after a few pints, and Mr. Voelker says the brewers recognize that, too.
All Saints' co-owner Beth Vreeland also recognizes, well, an opportunity to build brand recognition.
"It would be really great if people took a bus to visit us, had our beer, loved it (of course) and then went back to Pittsburgh and said to an establishment they may frequent, 'Hey, you should have All Saints on draft. They make great beer and they are local,'" she emails. "In addition, we try to support local businesses, just like ourselves." It doesn't hurt that Mr. Voelker likes All Saints' St. Mosey's Black Pils.
Mr. Voelker, who's running the business out of his and his wife's home in Aspinwall and doing the driving himself for now, says he can use a passenger van for smaller tours and bigger buses for bigger tours.
You can hear in his voice his passion for craft brewing and this region and his new business, which he describes as "veteran-owned and operated." He's giving a portion of profits to the Wounded Warrior Project, something else brewers like about him.
Looks like he's on his way.
"It's been almost a rush," he says, "on how successful it's been getting it off the ground."
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com or 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.