The New York import lasted just under a year in Pittsburgh’s North Side.
In the introduction of his 2012 book “Brewing in Greater Pittsburgh,” Dr. Robert Musson estimates that from the 1800s to the pre-Prohibition era nearly 100 different breweries existed in what is now considered metropolitan Pittsburgh.
But like an increasingly ornery bartender clanging the bell, flipping the lights on and yelling “GIT AHT!” at last call, a combination of the Volstead Act, consolidation, industrial decline and the rise of the national macrobrews all conspired to eventually drain the region’s brewing culture from that of a once flowing keg to a veritable skunked pull-tab can by the mid-1980s.
It’s been a monumental recent few years on the area beer scene, as we are in the midst of a Pittsburgh brewing renaissance not seen since local craft beer forefather Penn Brewery was still the Eberhardt & Ober Brewery in the early 1900s.
Roughly three dozen breweries and brewpubs of varying size and ambition — national award winners among them — now reside in greater Pittsburgh. The next thing will be local beer shooting from the Point fountain (a man can dream!).
And, if you enjoy a good nosh with your cold gold, then all the better. Based on a packed Friday night at Spoonwood Brewing Company in Bethel Park (named for an alias of Pennsylvania’s state flower), the “drink local” message is resonating.
In a bright space with an industrial warehouse motif, brewmaster Steve Illnicki is crafting quality beer while a team of pizzaioli bake some very respectable pizzas in a sleek red Pavesi brick oven from Modena, Italy.
Pizzas include the “Great Hambino” topped with bacon, ham, sausage, pepperoni, house-made mozzarella and chili flakes and the “Rueben Pie,” which is exactly what it sounds like, topped with corned beef, Swiss cheese, kraut and thousand island sauce (both $11.95).
We went with the “Wake & Bake” and were not disappointed ($9.95). With bacon and sausage, banana peppers, a fresh cracked egg in the middle, smoked provolone and house-made mozzarella, it covers three of the five major Munch food groups (those being pork, cheese and eggs; the other two are french fries and wings) and the crust was a delicious and crispy base.
The “Not Yo Mama’s Meatloaf” is the kind of sandwich I was put on this earth to consume, with ground chuck, sirloin, rib eye, Italian sausage, seasoned arugula and a tangy house-made ketchup all on a house-made focaccia bread ($9.95). Though it sounds like a massive food coma inducer, in addition to being tasty was a manageable size and did not require an immediate nap upon eating.
Another winner was the “Drunken Turkey” — ale-brined roasted turkey, smoked provolone, red pepper pesto, Italian pickled vegetables on a baguette from La Gourmandine ($7.95).
Both came with sweet house-brined pickles. Service was consistently good and the food arrived quickly.
Then there’s the beer: solid across the board. I wasn’t blown away by anything, but that’s more a reflection of how much outstanding beer is out there than it is any criticism of Spoonwood’s suds.
Though I prefer a sawed-off double barrel blast of hops in my IPAs, the Chinook and Willamette hops of the “Killer Diller” gave a clean, almost effervescent taste enhanced with the addition of dry-hopped Meridian hops.
The Cold Drip City coffee ale was the most unique offering. Coffee beers are typically porters or stouts and so thick they’re almost chewy; instead this was a blond ale mixed with a cold drip coffee that gave great taste but wasn’t heavy.
Other highlights: the “Working Class Hero” cream ale is a classic “lawnmower beer”; the Scofflaw American Strong Ale seemed a homage to Stone’s Arrogant Bastard or Rogue’s Dead Guy; and the Tuffy Gruffudd, a Welsh ale with a terrific depth of flavor and raisin notes like the Dogfish Head Raison D’Etre.
For local beer, we are living in heady (pun intended) times, and Spoonwood is a welcome addition to the fold.
Spoonwood Brewing Company is at 5981 Baptist Road, Bethel Park; 412-833-0333 or spoonwoodbrewing.com.
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412.