Our picks for the best craft breweries and beer ’emporiums’ in Steel City
It should hardly be a newsflash at this stage to note that there is a brewing revival underway in virtually every major and most minor cities in North America. And unsurprisingly, Pittsburgh is no exception to that rule.
What sets the former Steel City a bit apart, however, is its heritage as a regional brewing centre, anchored by the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, a.k.a. Iron City Brewing, producers of Iron City Beer and I.C. Light. Although no longer in the city – all the beers are now produced under contract in nearby Latrobe, Pennsylvania – the roots of Iron City run deep in Pittsburgh and mark it steadfastly and resolutely as a beer drinking town.
Unless you’re inordinately fond of beer that tastes like a mix of sweetish grain and the water used to steam last night’s broccoli, however, or you’re watching a Steelers game and drinking from an ice-cold can, quickly, you probably don’t want to find yourself sipping Iron City Beer. Better to opt for a pint of the citrusy summer seasonal, Pedal Pale Ale, from East End Brewing or perhaps the tropical fruity Horizon Shine from the Grist House Craft Brewery.
East End and Grist House are, of course, two of Pittsburgh’s ever-growing coterie of craft breweries, the former one of the older guard, in business since 2004, and the latter among the city’s most promising young guns, with a mere two years under its belt. They are joined by the likes of the Penn Brewery, which has been in operation since 1986, but has suffered numerous ups and downs over its 30 years of existence; the Roundabout Brewery, located in the popular Lawrenceville neighbourhood northeast of downtown since 2013; Hofbräuhaus, a German transplant faithfully replicating the Munich beer hall experience on the south shore of the Monongahela River; and the Church Brew Works, a decommissioned church turned brewpub near where Iron City once brewed.
These and other Pittsburgh breweries are laudable destinations for any visitor, but they are destinations in the truest sense of the word. For unlike cities such as Toronto and Montreal, Pittsburgh’s best beer producers are neither neatly grouped together nor easily accessible by transit, so while the patio at the Grist House is an excellent spot at which to while away an afternoon, it will require that you find a ride there from your downtown or north shore lodgings, be it taxi, Uber or a co-worker with a rental car.
The good news, however, is that downtown and environs afford the visitor numerous places in which to essay the wares of several local breweries at once, beginning with one smack dab in the middle of a prime Pittsburgh destination for tourists and locals alike: the Strip District.
The Beerhive is a two-storey beer bar on the north side of Penn Avenue with a dozen mostly local draught taps downstairs and a handful more on the upper floor. Bolstering its beer cred are fridges filled with local bottled and canned brews, while for the hungry there are burgers and tacos and chicken wings, plus a handful of other snackable items. Although the place can become boisterously busy, especially on weekends, the atmosphere still manages to be more cool and collected than wild and crazy. Even at 1 p.m. on a Saturday game day, the Beerhive can still serve as refuge from the madness of the Strip. Soothe your soul here with a Gran Met Tripel from the Voodoo Brewing Company up the road in Meadville, Penn.
Closer to downtown is a beer destination even further removed from the street level crowds, mainly because it’s on the third floor rooftop of the Sienna Mercato restaurant. Located just a couple of blocks from the Convention Center, Il Tetto has less of a local brewery flavour to its 36 taps than do other Pittsburgh bars, beer-focused and otherwise, but when the weather is right – and, thanks to a retractable roof, sometimes even when it’s not! – there are few other downtown spots that can top it for atmosphere. Fill your glass here with a Fat Heads Head Hunter, a local IPA so ubiquitous that you’re bound to try it sooner or later.
Il Tetto at Sienna Mercato
In Pittsburgh the people enjoy beer patios with strings of lights overhead
Also on the roof, in this case nine storeys up atop the Hotel Monaco, is the Biergarten, a fair weather-only bar that is a “garten” in name only, since it is by necessity more concrete and brick than grass and shrubberies. Still, despite its resolutely urban vibe, it nonetheless manages to deliver the atmosphere of a genuine German beer garden, with picnic table seating, 16 taps, many of which are kept stylistically Germanic, a menu of wursts plus the inevitable burger, oversized pretzels, and even games with which to pass the time. Try a Penn Wiezen or decidedly non-local Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock and see if you can resist the temptation to stay all evening.
Like we said: In Pittsburgh the people enjoy beer patios with strings of lights overhead
For the committed beer hunter, then, there is no shortage of destinations in Steel City, from the three mentioned above to the non-brewing Independent Brewing Company on Squirrel Hill, the downtown beer emporium Sharp Edge, and the South Side gastropub, The Urban Tap. Our advice would be to make one brewery visit – Grist House or East End recommended – and save the remainder of your exploring for the bars.