Hop to it on microbrew tour

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Tour guides not only should be knowledgeable but also able to convey information in a fun and engaging way. This skill comes more easily for some than others, but PA Brew Tours guide Tom Labanc has an ace up his sleeve -- decades of experience as a high school social studies teacher here in Pittsburgh.

“When I was a teacher I would like to think I was a storyteller” says Mr. Labanc, 67, of Mt. Lebanon. “I want to paint a picture of what Pittsburgh was like before and where it is now.”

Mr. Labanc (pronounced lay-bans) has been guiding visitors to the Carrie Furnace in Rankin for the past three years, and he also gives a “City of Champions” sports history tour. Leading excursions for PA Brew Tours, which was acquired in May by Manchester-based Pittsburgh Transportation Group, is Mr. Labanc’s latest endeavor.

“It‘‍s my way of giving back to the city some of the expertise that I have,” says Mr. Labanc, whose father worked in a mill in McKeesport during his childhood. “I lived through the steel industry, I was there when the industry went downhill, and now with the resurgence that we’ve had here ... tourism is becoming a very popular item, and I’m excited.”

The number of microbreweries in Pittsburgh is steadily rising, and their popularity is highlighted by Mr. Labanc’s tours. A typical outing includes visits to multiple breweries such as Penn Brewery in Troy Hill and Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, and involves taste-testing and and a detailed look inside the brewing process.

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“While on the brew tours we like to give some of the history of the city while we’re going from point A to point B,” says Mr. Labanc, although adding that the breweries bring something new to the table. “Sports and steel is old history, this is new history.”

The most common question asked on the brew tours? “People want to know where Iron City Beer was first made,” says Mr. Labanc, who tells them it was made at the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville across from what is now Church Brew Works, before moving to Latrobe. “And, of course, they always make fun of my Pittsburgh accent when I’m talking about ‘Arn’ City”

As for why microbrewing has become so popular in Pittsburgh, he theorizes it is driven by love of the craft -- the ability of small breweries to fine tune flavors and share them in small batches with customers. The only thing Mr. Labanc couldn’t answer was just how many breweries have popped up in the region amid surging popularity.

“That‘‍s a question for Google” he said with a chuckle.

Info: www.pabrewtours.com or 412-323-4709.

Albert Anderson: aanderson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1454.

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