Beer: Friends' beer society celebrates new brews

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Shaun Gilmour and Coby Sunderman don't just go to a bar to have fun and drink beer.

Annie O'Neill, Post-Gazette
Shaun Gilmour, left, and Coby Sunderman believe beer is better as a shared experience.
Click photo for larger image.

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No, they convene as the Pittsburgh Beer Society at a bar to have fun and drink beer.

"It's better to try it with a bunch of friends," says Mr. Gilmour, who, with his buddy Mr. Sunderman, has started the Pittsburgh Beer Society.

As they describe it, the new group is all about exposing people to different, good brews.

For $10, meeting attendees get four-ounce tastes of six different beers -- some of which would cost more than that for a bottle.

They discuss, and even rate, the beers. But attendees need not be certified beer judges, or even certifiable beer geeks.

"We're not people who know everything," Mr. Sunderman says. "We're just common guys who like beer."

This all started with some beer -- some brews from New Belgium, the Fort Collins, Colo., brewery that distributes only in the West -- that Mr. Gilmour had fall in his lap in the fall of 2005. Part of the stash were big bottles of La Folie, a limited-release sour beer, and La Terroir, which wasn't even officially released.

"I thought, 'How can I just sit on this stuff? I need to share it,'" he recalls. "So I came up with the idea of having a party series called Fridays in Fall."

It became a beer-tasting bash on the last Friday of each month at his apartment in Bellevue. They featured brews from friends at Otto's in State College and the Bullfrog Brewery in his hometown of Williamsport.

This fall, he wanted to take it even further and got an idea from the high-definition cable show "Beer Nutz," which featured the Chicago Beer Society, a group that started in 1977 and now has 422 dues-paying members. His core group of friends liked the idea of starting a Pittsburgh version.

So now they're doing just that.

They held their first meeting on Jan. 17, their second last night, and plan to continue meeting on the first and third Wednesday of each month.

Though they may eventually move around, their home for now is D's Sixpax and Dogz in Regent Square, home of the renowned Beer Cave. Twenty-one people -- most of them friends via a local Internet music discussion list -- attended the first meeting and tasted the following beers: new-to-this-area Magic Hat No. 9, Rogue FestivAle, Anderson Valley Brother David's Triple, North Coast Brother Thelonious, Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and a mix of Hoegaarden and Lindemans raspberry lambic.

Mr. Sunderman looked over the group's rating slips afterward and marveled, "Everybody has such different taste."

Which is the whole point.

They've already lined up a beer representative to come speak and pour for the group, and a brewpub friend said he'd come, too. Eventually, the two say, they would like to expand the group's beer explorations into beer and food pairing dinners, even field trips to brewpubs and breweries.

"Anything anybody wants to do," says Mr. Gilmour, who expects the group to have a musical bent, since music is what brought him and many of his friends together.

In fact, the 37-year-old father of one plays with the group Grimace and works with many other groups, managing several Internet discussion groups. His day job is as a marketing assistant for US Bank.

Mr. Sunderman, 32, lives in Churchill, works as a geologist for the civil engineering firm of D'Appolonia and gets his kicks by playing kickball as well as listening to live music.

They're having fun coming up with musical titles for their board members and plan to outfit them with IDs that look like "laminates," or backstage passes.

Membership is free, they point out; all the meeting fees go toward the bar tab and tip.

Or to make it sound more genteel, Beer Society expenses.

Looking way ahead, if the group grows big enough, Mr. Gilmour would like to "not just take money in and pay for beer, but put money back into the community" with a charity fund-raiser.

The next meeting is set for Feb. 21. For more information, visit the group's Web site: www.pittsburghbeersociety.org, or e-mail pittsburghbeersociety@gmail.com.

Check out the Chicago Beer Society at www.chibeer.org.


Correction/Clarification: (Published Feb. 9, 2007) In this story about the Pittsburgh Beer Society as originally published Feb. 8, 2007, co-founder Coby Sunderman's last name was misspelled.

Send beer news, tips and ideas to Bob Batz Jr. at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930.


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