Two young businessmen revive borough's rich beer history with its first brewery since the 1930s
September 5, 2013 9:30 AM
Asa Foster, left, and Matt Katase, of The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. hope to open the taproom by the end of the year.
A new brewery is opening in Braddock: The brewery sign on the building on Braddock Avenue was painted by local sign painter Tony Purcell.
The tap handles that the brewery will provide to bars selling its beers.
By Tim Means
This is a story about making beer in Braddock. It starts in 1695, when Edward Braddock was born in Scotland. The son of a general, he was a soldier's soldier who rose through the ranks to be put in charge of all the British armed forces in North America in 1755. When warned by Ben Franklin and George Washington that his march to Fort Duquesne could meet with an Indian ambush, Braddock dismissed the advice -- with disastrous results. Within a few months of being ambushed, the general died of his wounds. His legacy in the world of beer lies entirely in his name.
About 1,500 feet from the site where the general's fate was sealed, a new microbrewery -- called The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. -- is setting up shop in the renovated Harco Electric Supply building on Braddock Avenue. The taproom will feature General Braddock's India Pale Ale, one of the company's flagship beers. It promises to be strong, flavorful, amber-colored.
While it is not the first brewery to operate in Braddock, it will be the first since 1937. It is the vision of two young men, one from Boston and the other from Hawaii, who see potential and have seized the day.
Asa Foster and Matt Katase are the founders of Brew Gentlemen. Their dream is to provide an upscale gathering place where the experience is more rewarding than simply having a beer.
Mr. Foster, the Bostonian, said the pair's arrival on the banks of the Monongahela River is not only their dream but part of a community revival in Braddock. Mr. Foster said they chose the name for Braddock's IPA to honor the history of the town as well as the beer makers who came before them.
"We are in a high-touch business. And there is room to raise the level on the experience of making, selling, and having a craft beer," said Mr. Foster. "The Brew Gentlemen will offer a line of three flagship beers complemented throughout the year by limited releases of seasonal brews. Beer will be sold in draft along with growlers and champagne bottles with wax-sealed caps."
Ten commercial customers are lined up to distribute and sell the beers: White Sky, General Braddock's IPA and Business Casual.
Bringing back beer
The record shows that before Prohibition in 1920, several small breweries operated in Braddock, including C&P Seewald Old Braddock's Brewery, circa 1865; the Gustav Shultz Brewery, 1876 to 1886; and the Home Brewery, 1904 to 1920. The arrival of Prohibition heralded the disappearance of the beer makers, and in 1920 the Home Brewery was converted to make soft drinks, becoming the Home Beverage Co.
In 1933, the end of Prohibition meant kettles could be fired up and beer was back in town. Under the supervision of Dan Rooney and his son Art -- founder of the Steelers -- General Braddock's Brewing made Rooney's Beer from 1933 until it closed in 1937. Braddock has not had a brewery since.
Joe Rooney, grandson of Art Sr., said the prospects of turning hops into gold by brewing beer is alive and well.
"I think they'll do well. Pittsburgh is a great craft beer city with a long history of great breweries. My great grandfather and grandfather were there in the 1930s. In fact, we have some of the old shipping labels and even have an original bottle of Rooney's Beer unopened," he said.
In the late 1990s, the Florida branch of the Rooney family reissued three beers under the Rooney's Beer label, all made from the same recipes used in the '30s. Today in Pittsburgh and Florida, you can get Rooney's Red Ale, Rooney's Lager, and Veterans and Civilians..
Mr. Foster said The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. is the result of smarts, money and a willingness to wing it. The majority of its funding has come from loans and private investments. The partners also had 328 contributors pledge more than $32,000 through a successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign. Kickstarter is one of several Internet-based fundraising sites. Kickstarter's 79 investors who pledged at the $100 level received a signed art print, a glass growler, stickers, coasters and a signed T-shirt.
Mr. Foster also credited Braddock Mayor John Fetterman with creating the possibility of a brewery renewal in a town whose population has gone from 27,000 to 2,700 over 30 years.
"This place, Braddock, has a really unusual energy. It is a town where anything can happen," Mr. Foster said. "... it's kind of like the Wild West, but it is an urban frontier. It is a giant sandbox where we can be part of something bigger than just making beer."
Mr. Foster and Mr. Katase, who attended Carnegie Mellon University, live a few blocks from the brewery in a converted convent. Most days you can find them at the brewery doing much of the renovation themselves. With equipment scheduled for delivery in October and the brewery and taproom operations planned to open by the end of the year, little time is left to break for a cold one.