It’s been a monumental recent few years on the Western Pennsylvania craft beer scene with numerous nanos popping up from Mt. Lebanon to Millvale and spots in between, and several breweries medaling at the Great American Beer Festival. But the brew news that’s most made my hop-hardened heart flutter came out of Homestead in June.
That was the announcement that Meadville’s Voodoo Brewery – also a GABF medalist – purchased the 109-year-old former Homestead borough building – abandoned since 1987 — on Amity Street and will open … something, someday.
To clarify, there’s no specific word if it’s to be a production facility or a brewpub (or both, or neither), nor a defined timetable for completion. But regardless, if Voodoo’s existing curriculum vitae vis-a-vis super-centenarian buildings, food and beer serves as a harbinger, then the Mon Valley is in for something special … eventually. But, in the mean time, it’s worth the time to head 91 miles due north of Downtown to check out the original.
Head brewmaster Matt Allyn founded Voodoo in 2007 in the Crawford County seat, and the brewpub opened in June 2012 in an 114-year old Victorian building that was originally a mortuary. In addition to giving new life to an old building, nearly everything in Voodoo is in its second incarnation as well (bad puns not intended).
Fixtures large and small are made from reclaimed or recycled materials, from the taps that run through a pair of antique red refrigerators, to the chandeliers made from the metal rings of leftover bourbon barrels, to tables made from the barrels themselves. Old doors line the ceilings and are fashioned into dining tables. They’ve considered nearly every detail, right down to the trash liners, which are the leftover malt sacks.
The satellite radio was tuned to killer blues station that played everything from Muddy Waters to the Black Keys, and refreshingly there is no television, just conversation or solemnity, depending on your mood and the crowd – which during our visit included heavy beer talk with half of Pittsburgh, as folks from Crafton, Dormont, the North Hills, Greenfield and the South Side were represented (we agreed next time we’d car pool).
Ten house beers are on tap, including six from their regular stable and four seasonals or one-offs.
We tried the light and effervescent Gose, brewed in the traditional Leipzig-style, with subtle tart, salty and spicy coriander notes.
The Poznan Zdjecie is a Polish-style lager brewed with two varieties of Polish hops. Creamy, not too fizzy and with just enough bitterness to excite the palate, it was a great surprise and obviously superior to the watery, limp swill from Pottsville that passes as the lager of record in Pennsylvania.
Two excellent IPAs, HooDoo and Good Vibes both have a 7.3% ABV and while technically are of the same style, couldn’t be more deliciously different. Hoodoo has a super crisp, strong piney and citrus taste that if personified would be like a clean-cut jock in a Letterman jacket. That’s compared to its super-danky brother Good Vibes, which would be the dude burning one after a hackeysack game.
Also on tap was the “Summertime Living’s Easy,” a session IPA – a concept that’s often a poorly executed oxymoron, but with only a 3.5% ABV this managed to pack a piney punch.
An afternoon of suds required soaking up and the scratch menu by Chef Peter Zimmer, which changes weekly and incorporates as many locally sourced items as possible, did the trick.
An appetizer of chips with a house-made strawberry salsa – which started sweet like jam and finished with brow-moistening heat – was a nice beginning ($5).
My girlfriend and I each had a personal pizza ($13 each) with dough made from spent grains from Voodoo’s brewing process. Cooked, it had a consistency almost like buttered toast, which is probably why it tasted so good on the breakfast pizza, topped with eggs, sausage gravy, red onion, a Monterey Jack-Cheddar blend and steak cuts from nearby Pasture Perfect Meats.
Though I wouldn’t recommend it on a first date (at least not if you want a second one), the decidedly sharp, although not overpowering blue cheese and garlic sauce, along with roasted potatoes on the “Pot Pizza” was an excellent nosh.
We finished with a chocolate milkshake ($5) made with Meadville’s own Marcie’s Homemade Ice Cream.
With a cool space, good food and fantastic beer, a Voodoo visit is a worthwhile excursion from the city. And lucky for us, in the near-future that trip will be much shorter.
Voodoo Brewery is at 215 Arch St., Meadville; 1-814-337-3676 or www.voodoobrewery.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412