"Congratulations on both your babies," one beer drinker said to Matt Gouwens.
"This is my big baby," replied the proud papa, as he enjoyed opening day Saturday at his Hop Farm Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville.
His little baby, Samuel, also was literally hanging out in the newly remodeled storefront, in a harness on the chest of his mom, Emily Gouwens, who was helping to serve tastes of Hop Farm's three first beers: India pale ale, brown ale and saison.
For the young couple -- of Indiana Township -- last weekend's soft opening was the culmination of years of dreaming, planning, planting and construction that has culminated in Pittsburgh's newest craft brewery and the second one to open this year on Butler Street.
They only lightly publicized that they were going to open from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, but were steadily busy with beer fans eager to taste the brews. Many customers were sent up to them at 5601 Butler St. from 4901 Butler St., where Steve and Dyana Sloan's Roundabout Brewing opened July 12.
Hop Farm is a similar setup, in a corner building, right at a bus stop, dispensing free tastes and selling full growlers of draft beers. But soon, they plan to also sell canned beer, from the brewery and at outlets around town.
Hop Farm's tasting room, in a space that had been office cubicles, has been transformed into a pretty green room decorated with dark, rough woods.
The centerpiece is a bar Mr. Gouwens made himself, using rough-cut, bark-on boards from a West Virginia cherry tree, plus weathered locust from an old fence on his property and vintage corrugated metal.
On one wall are big photos of hops. One of them, taken by Mrs. Gouwens, is of hops the couple grows on one-third of an acre at their home, and hence the Hop Farm name. They grow a wide variety of hops, mostly to see what does well here, though there are some of their own hops in all of the brews. They've contracted with a farmer in Cranberry to begin growing hops for them on a larger scale next year.
Hop Yard was the name Mr. Gouwens started with when he began actually pushing towards opening his own brewery several years ago. He initially planned to open it at or near his house, then wound up looking all over Pittsburgh for a spot, finding this one in May 2012.
When they found out that Roundabout was opening just blocks away, "To be truthful, it probably gave me more pause," Mrs. Gouwens said. "But there's so much camaraderie."
Mr. Gouwens can attest to that, as he reached out to hundreds of breweries for advice, and heard back from many good ones, including Deschutes and Dogfish Head. "That's what's so cool about our community."
If Saturday was any indication, plenty of beer lovers will visit both breweries on the same trip. (Both are likely to be part of a "libations trail" that's being organized to link breweries and distilleries along both sides of the Allegheny River.)
A native of Northwest Indiana, Mr. Gouwens came to the University of Pittsburgh in 1998 and stayed, working in restaurants, then in marketing for Dick's Sporting Goods, and then as a consultant in Web design and website optimization.
He met his wife, from Eastern Pennsylvania, here and they have two other children: Grace, now 5, and Harrison, 3.
Samuel was born July 22, as Mr. Gouwens was pushing to finally open the brewery. "It was a race to see who could deliver," said Mrs. Gouwens, on leave from her job in online advertising. "It's been a busy year."
She's the one who bought her husband his first crude homebrewing kit. "It was the worst-tasting thing I ever had," said Mr. Gouwens, who went on to teach himself full-grain brewing. In 2008-2009, he and his friend Cory Ross (who's helping out at the brewery now) attended the Vermont-based American Brewers Guild school, and Mr. Gouwens had his internship at Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster.
He and his wife are the sole owners of Hop Farm, and they have one investor. The brewery, in an expanse behind the tasting room, is built around a 10-barrel brewing system and has a lot of room for expansion.
They hope to fire up their canning machine within weeks.
They'll do a bigger opening this weekend, but did a nice steady business Saturday. Many people just happened to notice activity as they drove past, including beer aficionados Denise and Al Porco of Richland. They sampled all three beers and headed home with an amber growler of the India pale ale ($15, including $4 for the glass jug).
Mr. Gouwens has spent years perfecting his recipes, including the Saison, which comes in at 4 percent alcohol by volume. "I've gone higher alcohol on it," he said. "I just find that with the lower alcohol, I think you get a better flavor. And you can enjoy more of it."
He said he picked his three base beers to have a range of colors, but plans to do all kinds of brews, including a Russian imperial stout and sours.
"He makes a coffee porter that's out of this world," his wife noted.
"Are yinz going to open a brewpub?" Mrs. Porco asked.
"At some point, we may add food," said Mrs. Gouwens, who said they plan to add barrel tables to the room. They'll be adding other things, too, such as root beer, which they joke that their daughter Grace can sell there from a stand. They do plan to foster a family atmosphere in the tasting room.
For now, hours are 4:30 to 9 p.m. Weds.-Fri. and noon to 6 p.m. Sat. For updates and more information, visit hopfarmbrewingco.com.
Also just opened: ShuBrew Handcrafted Ales and Food, the project of Zachary and Erika Shumaker that we first wrote about in June 2012. Their brewpub is located at 210 S. Main St. in Zelienople. She reports, "We opened up last Friday [Sept. 13] and had a great turnout." They're already pouring a half-dozen-plus brews. To start, hours are 5 p.m. to midnight Fri.-Sun., but they hope to expand that soon. Learn more by visiting shubrew.com or calling 724-766-4426.
Another just-opened place I'm looking forward to visiting is Christian Simmons' and Mark Pavlik's Four Seasons Brewing Co. in Latrobe. One of the new breweries that participated in this year's Steel City Big Pour earlier this month, the place on Sept. 1 started selling growlers of Almost East Coast Pale Ale and 60 Degrees & Snowing Belgian Single, and this past Sunday released High Hopes IPA. It's located at 745 Lloyd Ave. (directly behind the AutoZone store). Hours now are 3 to 7 p.m. Tues. and Thurs., 4 to 8 p.m. Fri., and noon to 6 p.m. Sat. and Sun. A grand opening is planned for Nov. 9. Check it out at fsbrewing.com (or call 724-520-4111).
As part of this semester of Post-Gazette University, or PGU, workshops, I will be helping to teach one on beer.
It's called "Beer: It's a 'Burgh Thing" and runs from 7 to 9 p.m. next Wednesday, Oct. 2, at the Fort Pitt Museum at Point State Park. The museum's Mike Burke will speak on the history of beer in Pittsburgh, and Lawrenceville's Roundabout Brewery will supply a tasting. Cost is $40.
To register for this or other courses, visit post-gazette.com/pgu or call 412-263-1302.libations
Bob Batz Jr.: firstname.lastname@example.org and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.