Sunday, November 15, 2015

200 Years of Pittsburgh Brewing by Dick Ober

If you ever paid a visit to the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh’s North Side you may (or may not) be aware that is was a brewery from the mid 1800’s. It was the Eberhardt & Ober Brewery at the time. The F. L. Ober Brother Brewery was next door alon Vinial Street.  The Eberhardt & Ober families controlled the breweries until 1899 when they merged with newly formed Pittsburgh Brewing Company of Iron City Beer fame. Family members continued working in the new company but the E & O closed in the early 1950’s. Richard (Dick) Ober, from Beaver County comes from the Ober family and although not a brewery he is a well-established brewery historian. His new book is out: 200 Years of Brewing in Allegheny County from 1760 to 1960 by Richard Ober and Robert Musson: Zepp Publications, 2015.

The book chronicles Allegheny County’s rich history in brewing. Mr. Ober spent over twenty years gathering material for the book and Dr. Musson provided much of the illustrations. There are many photographs of not only the breweries but of the people who owned and worked in them.

Read about the early history of the Iron City Brewing Company when it started out in the Strip District. How exciting would life be today if the breweries in the village of Oakland were still operating only steps from the Pitt campus. How were the football games in the 1930’s when tailgaters were drinking Rooney’s Ale? But by far the book illustrates how industrious Pittsburgh was. There were small brewers in almost every community because there was opportunity in Pittsburgh.  This book shines light on an often-missed part of Pittsburgh’s past manufacturing history. If you have the slightest interest in Pittsburgh history or beer then you will enjoy this book.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

I don't (always) drink Craft Beer

I don't brink local and I don't drink craft beer. I just drink BEER! I drink beer from around the world and not just from the nearest brewery. I have no idea what craft beer is and I never understood the meaning behind artisanal. And despite being called many names by family and friends, I am not a connoisseur.

Yes, I do support local breweries but at one time there was only one. All the other beer in my city was similar national brands that were, albeit good, rather uneventful. Then the imports arrived. Europe was far from local but the beers were new and exciting. Coming into the pub each Friday was exciting as we would instantly scan the cooler for the new arrivals. Back then drinking beer was like going on a new date each weekend.  I was at the famous Ratskeller in Washington DC and found Kessler 55 form Montana (I believe). I though then as I do now that this has be the best beer ever made. My buddy and me drank the last two bottles they had and was told the brewery was out of business. Had they not I would have lost any desire to even look at another brew.

The Brewers Association have come to define what a craft brewery is. I have issues, as family and friends can attest. First, I don't care what the definition is. If a craft brewery makes great beer and grows (this is what businesses must do) must I stop drinking what I enjoy? If a craft brewery puts out a really bad beer must I not complain and continue to keep buying it? And for those who know me (not that they publicly admit to it) I enjoy a pint with old and new friends at a nice pub. I DO NOT drink with pinky finger extended although fellow drinkers extend one from time to time.  I will drink a pint of beer that I enjoy no matter who makes it.

I enjoy beer. There are so many styles and flavors that you can find one that meets your mood at the time. Finding a new one should bring excitement and old favorites bring comfort. Having a pint should be enjoyable. When I walk in to the pub and see a new beer I never ask to see the brewery’s stock report or mailing address. Just seeing it gets me giddy. 

There are many breweries in my city right now and they all have something to offer. I enjoy every one of them and support them. I don't shun any because they are not local. Some of my favorites are far from home. So, let's not get snobby about this and just enjoy the beer we have in front of us at the moment. It's all about having a good brew. And remember, the next time you see me at the pub please extend all 5 fingers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Other Straub of Pennsylvania

When we think of Straub we think of St. Marys, Pennsylvania. After all who doesn’t know of Straub’s beer? But in Pittsburgh’s history there was another Straub named John. Both Peter and John came to America from Germany but were not related other than by name. Peter from Baden-W├╝rttemberg and John from Hesse-Darmstadt in the Grand Duchy of Hesse by Rhine. John Straub landed in America on July 4, 1831. Talk about a day to remember.


It is said the Peter Straub worked for the Eberhardt & Ober Brewery on what is now Pittsburgh’s North Side. In the 1800’s it was Allegheny City. It is also said that Peter work under John Straub. Facts: They were note related. Fact: er, no, Peter most likely worked for John Straub at the Canal Street brewery. Peter was in St. Marys in the 1870’s and E&O did not buy John’s brewery until 1883. Whilst in Allegheny County Peter Straub worked in McKeesport and then moved to Brookville and Centerville. But then a brewer’s daughter, Sabina Sorg caught his eye and the rest is history.


John Straub came to America and essentially walked to Pittsburgh from Baltimore. He lived in the area near Ross Street and was befriended by a tailor who gave him start-up money to open a brewery. Straub opened in 1834 at Third Avenue at Market Square, then called Diamond Square. John moved from Pittsburgh to Allegheny in 1843 and built a brewery at South Canal Street adjacent to the Pennsylvania Canal that opened in 1834.


John is not listed in the list of Pittsburgh Firsts but should be. In 1849 he sent an order to Philadelphia for something new to America; lager yeast. It came via canal boat and in 1850 John Straub brewed Pittsburgh’s first lager beer.


John’s brewery burned in 1858 and as his insurance expired the day before he was out of business but re-built. The Eberhardt & Ober Brewery bought him out in 1883.


John’s son, Henry went into the brewing business. In 1882 he bought the Union Brewery in Bloomfield from John Gangwisch. There were strong connections between the Gangwisch and Straub families. Two of the Gangwisch boys alone with J. Straub bought the old Depple brewery in Manchester.   


In 1899 the Pittsburgh Brewing Company formed and acquired a number of breweries in Pittsburgh. One on the list was Straub’s Union Brewery in Bloomfield. After 1920 the name Straub was never used in Pittsburgh until Peter’s brews came to town. His brewery continues to thrive to this day. The Henry Straub Brewery closed in 1920 and Pittsburgh Brewing converted the facility to the Tech Ice Cream factory.


P.S., don't ask me how/why this plopped in here with such big gaps. I have no idea how this works.