As craft beer continues to boom, the region has breweries in former churches, in both old and active fire stations, in former auto garages and manufacturing plants, in a passenger train station and in a onetime swimming lake concession stand, among other interesting spaces.
Now we have one in a former dog food factory.
Helicon Brewing Co. very quietly soft opened on the past two weekends in a building that once was part of Joy Dog Food in Oakdale, a small town in western Allegheny County.
Showing off the gleaming open high-ceilinged space that holds his new production brewery and a tap room, Chris Brunetti points out that it once was an eight-story structure that was part of a factory that stretched over 10 acres. On what was an adjacent rail line, trains used to pull up with cars full of animal carcasses.
Now bicyclists on what’s the Panhandle Trail can pull up to the brewery’s bike rack and sip a pint at one of 24 aluminum stools at the W-shaped, black-granite-topped, corrugated-metal bar that has an unimpeded view of the 15-barrel brewing system.
The wide-open design was inspired by Troeg’s Brewing in Hershey, says Mr. Brunetti, the South Fayette former computer programmer whom the Post-Gazette profiled back in January as one of 10 “people to meet in 2016.” He and his friend and co-brewer Andy Weigel have been working hard since then to finish the space and brew the first beers. The highly acclaimed former home brewers are joined by assistants Meghan Stone and Luke Roginksi and general manager Tara Bevilacqua, as well as Mr. Brunetti’s wife, Cherie.
(Mr. Brunetti, Mr. Weigel and Ms. Stone took a break earlier this week to join some 30 other Pittsburgh brewers for an overnight “speed date” at Southern Tier Brewing Co. in Lakewood, N.Y., where they were to be part of a collaboration brew that will be served at Southern Tier’s North Shore brewpub once it opens — in a new building between Heinz Field and PNC Park — later this year.)
Helicon is starting out serving six draft beers, including one of Mr. Weigel’s signature lagers -— a Helles that, at 4.9 percent alcohol by volume, can appeal to drinkers of mainstream American beers as well as craft aficionados.
Mr. Brunetti says he wants his lineup of brews to be approachable so people can enjoy more of them. “I want beers that are under 5 percent alcohol and under five bucks to buy.”
Hours for now are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, but Mr. Brunetti says they eventually plan to open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too. The only heat comes from what Mr. Brunetti and company generate on the brewing system — hence the steamy windows -— so don’t leave your coat in the car ... or on your bike.
He planned to start selling kegs to local bars and restaurants as soon as this weekend, with the first one going to Bocktown Beer and Grille in North Fayette. But he hopes to get taps in dozens of businesses in the West Hills and beyond.
In the taproom at Helicon — Oakdale originally was named Mount Helicon — they’re only serving beer and soft drinks and bags of chips, as their current zoning does not allow them to sell any other food or even host food trucks that do so. But patrons can order in food from local eateries. And already planned for the dog food factory site — spanning both sides of Union Avenue/state Route 978 -— is a big new restaurant and other new businesses.
Meanwhile, the anchor tenant is giving hundreds and hundreds of pounds of the grain that’s left after the brewing process to a nearby farmer to feed his livestock.
And Mr. Brunetti says that his mom is using some of that grain, with the help of his daughters and the eggs they raise at home, to make and sell -— appropriately enough -— dog biscuits.
For more information, visit heliconbrewing.com or call 724-693-4204.
Saturday is Whiskey Smash, a celebration of local spirits at West Overton Village and Museums near Scottdale in Westmoreland County. The place used to make rye whiskey, and in fact there still is a rye whiskey named for the family who did it there: Old Overholt. While the museum plans to start distilling there again, it will use the commercial Old Overholt to make the fundraiser’s featured drink, the Whiskey Smash. For a $50 ticket (available only by advance order), attendees also can try the wares of seven regional distilleries: Blackbird, Disobedient Spirits, Mingo Creek/Liberty Pole, Red Pump, Ridge, Tall Pines and Wigle. The gathering, expanded to two levels of the old distillery building, which includes a museum, also features food — including whiskey desserts -— a cash bar, prizes and live music. For tickets, visit www.westovertonvillage.org.
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.