Drinks: It's now the Pittsburgh Bottleshop Cafe and Brewhouse; Koehler Brewing Co. opens, too

The area’s newest brewery is being run by one of its most veteran brewers.

Mark Davis, who for 20 years brewed at Pittsburgh Brewing Co. when it was annually cranking out a million barrels of Iron City and other beer from Lawrenceville, has fired up a little seven-barrel brewery at his Pittsburgh Bottleshop Cafe in Collier.

“I want to get back to my roots,” he says with a grin. 

When he opened it in the spring of 2005, he said he planned to brew small batches there. But he didn’t start building a brewhouse until this spring. This weekend, he unveils it and three of the first house beers — an India pale ale, a double IPA and a blonde — that customers get to help name. 

That’s part of the fun of this weekend’s grand opening. Brewery tours will be offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Whether they can sell the beer for it depends on state Liquor Control Board approval, which hadn’t come through Monday.  

Mr. Davis’ longtime general manager Erik Grieco is brewing with him. Their goal is to slake customers’ thirst for draft beer, which has become more popular than bottled or canned. 

“We’re filling demand here,” said Mr. Grieco as he gave a tour of the tanks, which are set up on the right side of the restaurant, where a big bottle cooler and two tables used to be. They also had to take out the food cooler and build a new one out back. The numbers of different bottled beers, once about 400, is now about 100, which still is a lot. The name has been updated to Pittsburgh Bottleshop and Brewhouse.  

The brewing space is open to the rest of the restaurant, only to be separated, per state liquor laws, by a low wall that is to be made of glass. 

“People want to see everything,” said Mr. Davis, who noted that the setup is costing about $400,000. But he’s betting that customers will be eager to empty the three fermenters that are piped directly to three of the bar’s 30 beer taps. 

He’s certainly got street cred from his days at Pittsburgh Brewing, when he made so many different brews, including the early versions of craft beers including Samuel Adams and Penn. 

Mr. Grieco is a homebrewer and former industrial engineer who is having fun learning this bigger system, while Mr. Davis learns a much smaller one, and learns to do ales instead of lagers.

“The best beer I’ve ever made,” Mr. Davis says, noting in an aside that others back him up, “was I.C. Golden Lager,” first made in the mid-1980s with Bavarian Hallertau hops that became hard to get for a time.

“What I’d like to do is match it here,” he says.

Mr. Grieco says that, once they get their three main beers established, they will experiment with others, including stouts and porters, and he’s got a bourbon barrel at the ready for aging some beer. They’re also planning to do collaboration brews with other brewers, who have been helpful during the past year and half that this project has taken.

“Everybody has been so nice,” Mr. Grieco says. “What you hear about the Pittsburgh brewing scene is true.”

How do they differentiate themselves from all the breweries that have popped up, including several only a few miles away? They’re both confident that if they keep serving good food with good beer, including their stuff fresh from the tanks, they’ll do fine. As Mr. Grieco puts it, “I absolutely expect this to fly.”

While they’re taking customer nominations to name the beer, there’s also a customer ballot that will determine whether one of them will be named for sports media personalities Ron Cook or Mark Madden. 

The place is located at 1597 Washington Pike, Bridgeville, PA 15017. The website is bottleshopcafe.com.

Also on the scene

• Also newly open in Grove City is a new brewpub with an old name. Koehler Brewing Co. reprises the name of a one-time Erie brewery that started in 1847 and a popular brand made there until 1978 by the original Erie Brewing Co. This brewery and taproom is at 231 Park St. When it opened on July 27, the place’s Facebook page invited people via Facebook to “be the first in 39 years to have a Koehler Beer!”

Owner and brewer Bruce Koehler of Cranberry says he doesn’t know if he’s any relation, but his family used to live near the long-gone brewery. “It’s just something I grew up with, and I had an emotional attachment to it,” he says. “I’m trying to bring it back the best I can.”

The trademark had been abandoned, so after years of work, he’s able to use the Koehler name and designs, right down to the distinctive blue label for the lager. He plans to bottle that and an amber ale as well as an IPA. They started out serving those and three other brews in pints and in growlers to go at the taproom, which is decorated with some of his Koehler memorabilia.

With a big 15-barrel brewhouse, he’s looking forward to bottling and distributing the beer, which used to be available across Pennsylvania and neighboring states. He says he’ll be ready to talk more once he gets his bottling and labeling line humming in the next month or so.  

For now, taproom hours are 4 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The address is part of the former Cooper-Bessemer plant at 231 Park St., Grove City, PA 16127. The website is koehlerbrewingco.com

• Laurel Highlands Meadery is celebrating Mead Day at its Irwin tasting room from noon to 7 p.m. Saturday. 

Owner Matt Falenski says there will be a demonstration on making this honey wine at 3 p.m. They’ll be sampling their own wares as well as meads from a handful of other makers from across the state. Confirmed so far are Apis, KingView, Haymaker and Meduseld. As he puts it, “Pennsylvania is turning into a pretty awesome mead destination.

The tasting room is at 106 Fourth St. in Irwin. The website is LaurelHighlandsMeadery.com.

• On Saturday, the new Taproom opened at Voodoo Brewing Co.’s production facility, which it calls the Compound, at 834 Bessemer St. in Meadville. The 3,000-plus-square-foot tasting room has 24 taps, a 48-foot bar, communal seating and snacks. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (voodoobrewery.com). 

• Also open — on Route 40 in Hopwood, Fayette County -— is the Pot Still Pub, selling spirits from the nearby Ridge Runner Distillery that runs it and other Pennsylvania wines and beers. The old stone tavern previously was home to Dr. McCarthy’s Kitchen and, before that, Chez Girard French restaurant. A grand-opening party is planned for Aug. 18 (find it on Facebook). The address is 1186 National Pike; phone is 724-550-4187.

• Tickets went on sale Monday for the 11th Steel City Big Pour beer, food, music and art celebration at Construction Junction in Point Breeze. Tickets ($80 or $35 for designated drivers) are available for both sessions — at noon and 5 p.m. on Sept. 9. Mike Gable, CJ executive director, notes that there are new twists this year, including Monmade, which will be selling locally made craft beer items. According to community outreach coordinator Terry Wiles, new food vendors partners include Shab’s Mediterranean Grill, Hempzels, Piccadilly Artisan Yogurt, Pittsburgh Po’ Boy, Blume Honey Water and Plated Trade, with more additions in the works. New brewers and other beverage pourers include Rhinegeist, Leaning Cask, 11th Hour, Lake Hill, Saugatuck, Allegheny City, Big Rail, Prairie, Nobel Stein, Sole, plus KingView Mead and Laurel Highlands Meadery. More at cjreuse.org/big-pour

Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.


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