Beer: Philly a better beer-drinking city than Pittsburgh? Sez them.


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Philadelphia says it's a better beer town than Pittsburgh.

Better than any other town.

So says the logo for "Philly Beer Week," an event debuting there tomorrow that is humbly subtitled, "America's Best Beer-Drinking City."

I'm not big enough to pick a fight with hardly anyone from Philadelphia, and certainly not with event co-chair Joe Sixpack. That's the nom de plume of Don Russell, who certainly is one of America's best and best-known beer journalists. He's gone from being a longtime Philadelphia Daily News staffer to working from home (www.joesixpack.net) and is just releasing his first book, "Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide: A Reporter's Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City in America" (Camino Books, $14.95).

It'd be fun to argue with him about the claim over a pint or three, but I'd have to concede:

Philly has organized a beer week and Pittsburgh hasn't.

As you can see on the event's Web site, the coming week-plus is now packed with nearly 200 fun and tasty events -- talks and brewer meets and meals.

Some highlights I like:

• The Pennsylvania Breweries and Game Dinner at the Grey Lodge Pub hosted Sunday by beer writer Lew Bryson (who's doing a beer brunch the following Sunday).

• Next Friday's "A Tribute to Michael Jackson" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

• The Ladies Beer Tea.

Mr. Russell kicks it off tomorrow night with "Joe Sixpack's Philly Favorites," a tasting of brews from 22 area brewers at the Marketplace at East Falls.

Mr. Russell, part of the nonprofit corporation running the 10-day event, stresses, as does his book, his city's beer diversity, the fact that nearly 400 taverns in it and its suburbs -- from corner joints to fancy restaurants -- have impressive and varied beer lists. He says, "Come to the city and find out yourself."

Philadelphia is a much bigger city and metro area than Pittsburgh, a seaport, and older ("We've been crafting [beer] for more than 300 years, since the days of William Penn," brags the Philly site.) It is blessed with several excellent breweries, albeit some are in the outskirts -- Victory, Dogfish Head. The city itself has only four brewpubs. That's why, reported the Philadelphia City Paper last week, New Mexico beer guru Stan Hieronymous gives best beer city edge to Portland, Ore. But he ranks Philly among the top, with San Francisco.

Though it wasn't and won't yet be mentioned in that tier, I think Pittsburgh now can hold its own as a great beer city, too.

Maybe someone should organize 'Burgh Beer Week. All it would take is grouping some of the many events that already happen here regularly -- from Venture Outdoors beer hikes and Cultural Trust "Beer School" to fests and fundraisers -- then building on those with more and letting businesses and groups jump on the beerwagon. Perhaps it could be planned around our beer high holiday: the Pennsylvania Microbrewers Fest, which will be held for the 13th time at the Penn Brewery on Troy Hill on June 7 (www.pennbrew.com).

Penn Brewery's brick complex is one of the highest landmarks on the local beer landscape, having been started 20-plus years ago at the start of the craft beer revolution in the former Eberhardt & Ober brewery, which is connected to our deep "Iron City" beer-making roots. Penn beers are among the diverse styles made right here, from Munchner-style helles to kvass, several of which have brought home medals from beer competitions around the globe.

Heck, you could organize your own 'Burgh Beer Week, and hold it just about anytime you wanted. Here are seven days of ideas to get you started.

Thursday

Visit a local brewer. On a Thursday (or a Tuesday or a Saturday), a good one to visit would be East End Brewing Co., a mostly one-man (Scott Smith) outfit in a nondescript warehouse in Homewood. Three times a week Mr. Smith props open the door for "growler" hours, during which he'll fill his $3 glass jug "growlers" with a half-gallon of one of his handmade draft beers for $10 to $12. Tonight, from 5 to 7 p.m., he'll be pouring seven. Get some on your shoes. Shake Scott's hand.

You can meet the brewer at several fine brewpubs: Penn, Rock Bottom in Homestead, John Harvard's in Wilkins, Rivertowne Pour House (17 house-made beers!) in Monroeville, Hereford & Hops in Cranberry, and Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville (more on that one later).

Friday

Visit one of our great beer bars. Pittsburgh has dozens, in real neighborhoods just like Philly's. Start with The Sharp Edge, which, in addition to its original location in Friendship, has comfy pubs in Crafton and Sewickley. The Edge is nationally and internationally noted for one of the best selections of Belgian brews, draft and bottled, in America.

I love bellying up to the bar at Fat Head's on the South Side because it always has a remarkable and rotating 42 mostly American craft brews on tap.

But hey, you find your own favorite watering hole.

Saturday

Take a beer road trip. Hey, "Philly Beer Week" is including breweries from the greater region, so Pittsburgh can claim some farther-out beer destinations, too. Don't miss North Country Brewing Co. in Slippery Rock, Butler County, and its gorgeous North Woodsy decor (in a 200-year-old storefront that once sold caskets). A bit farther north in Crawford County, fill a growler at Sprague Farm & Brew Works, where friendly Brian and Minnie Sprague make beer in a former dairy barn (and they'll put you up in the adjacent farmhouse lodge). A bit farther north and you can visit The Brewerie in Erie's former Union Station.

And speaking of train stations, it is possible to take an Amtrak train from Pittsburgh to Greensburg, where you can disembark at the gorgeous train station that also is Red Star Brewery & Grill. According to the current schedule for the daily Pennsylvanian train, you'd leave Pittsburgh at about 7 a.m. and get there at about 8 a.m., then head home at about 7 p.m., but you could make a day of it. You could even go to and from Johnstown, home of the Johnstown Brewing Co.

If you're able to, venture farther. No beer pilgrimage to this end of the state would be complete without drinking from "the Eternal Tap," which flows freely from the Straub Brewery in St. Marys, Elk County, one of the country's few independent production breweries (it was started in 1872 by Peter Straub, who'd started at Pittsburgh's Eberhardt & Ober). Enjoy a free draft, if you're 21 or older, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays.)

Sunday

Go to church. The Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville is a beautiful brewpub in a former Catholic church. As beer experiences go, it is religious.

Monday

Go beer shopping. If you haven't been to one, hit one of the six-pack and bottle shops that have been popping up. There you can buy one bottle -- say, of a brew from Meadville's Voodoo Brewery -- to take home and try. D's in Regent Square is home of the famous "Beer Cave." Bocktown Beer & Grill in North Fayette has a "Beer Library." Most offer vast selections and regular free tastings (Wednesdays at Bocktown, Thursdays at Barley's & Hops in Bethel Park as well as at 3 Sons Dogs and Suds in Pine.)

Or make reservations for a beer dinner, something that more local restaurants are holding. On March 19, the Bigelow Grill, Downtown, hosts another of its sell-out vegetarian beer dinners featuring nine courses each paired with a different East End brew ($50, bigelowgrille.com).

Tuesday

Tour a brewery. Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville is a classic brick brewery that, despite financial woes, continues to brew a lot of beer. You still can tour it, too, if you set it up with Bierhaus-bar-owner-turned-tour-guide Jerry Lorenz (e-mail jlironcity@com-cast.net). He promises a real view of the brewing process, not some sissy behind-glass peek at computerized bottling lines, and afterward, he'll take your group of two to 15 back for a free tasting at the Ober Haus hospitality room (Pittsburgh Brewing was formed from Eberhardt & Ober, Iron City and some 19 other breweries in 1899, making it the third largest in the country).

With Alcoa, the brewer pioneered the pull-tab can back in 1962. Smell the history. And the beer. And ask Jerry about his private beer museum.

City Brewing Co., which operates the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe, does not offer tours. But you could drive past, and do a scavenger hunt for the Duquesne, Fort Pitt, Jones and other closed breweries that dot the region.

By December, we're to get a new one: one of just three German Hofbrauhaus beer halls in this country.

Wednesday

Join a beer group. The 550-strong Pittsburgh Beer Society is one that meets on the first Wednesday of each month and holds other fun events. But there are others, including the similar Pittsburgh BrewMasters, the bar-crawling Pitt Stops and the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers (TRASH).

Pittsburgh has so much good beery goodness, I don't have room for all that I know about, and I'm sure I missed some, too.

That just proves my point.

Certainly we have enough good brew to raise a toast to our big brotherly city: Best of luck with the first Philly Beer Week!

For a full schedule and more on Philadelphia's event, visit www.phillybeerweek.org and www.gophila.com/beer.


Send beer news and tips to Bob Batz Jr. at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930. First Published March 6, 2008 5:00 AM


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