American Craft Beer was recently invited to Pittsburgh to cover its craft beer scene. And although we’d touched on Pittsburgh beer in the past, we’d never spent any real time there and jumped at the chance.
Pittsburgh turned out to be more interesting, more vibrant, and more fun than we ever expected, and its beer scene, which is pretty amazing, was only part of the ride.
Any great beer destination starts with a combination of things, the city, its people, character and vibe…and of course its beer.
And as it turns out Pittsburgh has all of those things in spades…
The second largest city in Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh is located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers which come together at the base of Mount Washington, a towering hill with a mind-blowing view of the city that USA Weekend once rated as one of the most beautiful in America.
Pittsburgh is also a city of forested hills that make each of its more than 90 diverse neighborhoods feel like distinct enclaves, some of them only accessible by steeply sloped two lane roads that are not for the faint of heart.
With its more than 800 outdoor stairways climbing seriously steep hills, Pittsburgh’s urban landscape has been compared to San Francisco but with more trees and rivers, rather than bay views.
Known around the world as “the Steel City” which alludes to its rich industrial past, Pittsburgh is also called the “City of Bridges,” a title it owns with its 446 bridges which span rivers which once helped transport its products across the nation.
“Steel City’s manufacturing legacy was built around its manufacture and the city remains home to more than 300 steel-related businesses today. But it’s also a city with major universities like Carnegie Mellon, a thriving arts scene which includes The Andy Warhol museum and a growing tech sector that now numbers more than 1,600 firms.
In spite of its challenging neighborhood inclines Pittsburgh’s downtown is incredibly walkable. Many of its skyscrapers have a retro art deco quality that Christopher Nolan used as a backdrop for Gotham City in his third Batman movie The Dark Knight Rises which he filmed on the streets and bridges of the city in 2015.
So yeah, Pittsburgh’s got vibe to spare, but it’s also becoming a serious beer destination.
Pittsburgh Craft Beer
With a rich industrial past that attracted several generations of Scots-Irish, German, and Eastern European immigrants, Pittsburgh has always been a beer town. And for decades pre-prohibition regional breweries like Iron City, Duquesne and Fort Pitt ruled.
Craft beer’s emergence in the city can be traced back to the Penn Brewery which opened its doors in 1986 and Church Brew Works which opened in a re-purposed church in 1996. Those two breweries laid craft beer’s foundation in Pittsburgh along with Scott Smith’s tiny East End Brewing which opened in 2004 and really gave birth to the city’s local craft beer community.
But in 2014 Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene experienced the beginnings of a serious boom that reverberates into today…
Brew Gentlemen opened in the historic steel town of Braddock, twenty minutes east of downtown Pittsburgh and quickly took hold. Grist House Craft Brewery opened its family-owned and dog-friendly doors that very same month as did Hitchhiker Brewing in Mt. Lebanon.
Andrew Witchy opened Dancing Gnome on October 1, 2016 and Allegheny City Brewing opened its doors on Pittsburgh’s North Side that very same day. And for a while it seemed like there was a new brewery opening in one of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods or boroughs every few weeks.
Today there are 44 craft breweries online in Allegheny County, (which is Pittsburgh proper and its closer surrounding areas), each of them as different as the neighborhoods they call home.
Another thing that makes Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene interesting is that it doesn’t have a big name craft brewer like Stone Brewing in San Diego to dominate the scene. This is a city of smaller breweries with a character and collaborative spirit more similar to a Pacific Northwest beer mecca like Portland, Oregon than any city we’ve visited east of the Mississippi.
With more breweries per capita in Allegheny County than any county in Pennsylvania (Aadam Soorma, the Head of Marketing at Trace Brewing estimates that there’s one brewery per 10,000 residents) and seven different beer trails that the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild have designed, “Steel City” is maybe the most overlooked beer destination in the nation, but we don’t expect it to remain that way for long.