Monday, January 7, 2019

First Beer Engine in Pittsburgh

This all came from my collection of notes taken over the years for the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers. I wrote the newsletter, The TRASH Can for eleven years. Looking back I wish I took more detailed notes. C'est la vie.

In olden times (‘90’s) Kangaroo’s Outback Café was in the North Hills and in Robinson I visited the North Hill pub and found it to be a nice place with a good beer selection as well as good food. In September 1995 they did something no other beer-serving restaurant in Pittsburgh thought to do; they purchased a beer engine. I did not visit the Robinson location so I do not know if they had an engine nor do I know how many they actually had. I can’t remember how I knew of this but as others from the homebrew club was there I have to think it was from the late Tony Knipling. Tony had his ear on all thing s beer in Pittsburgh. My notes tell me that one engine went to the Fuel & Fuddle and two went to the Fox and Hounds.

Specifically I can’t remember the day we went to Kangaroo’s but Pittsburgh radio personality Jim Quinn was at there that evening as well as a few TRASH members. I think Quinn was having one of his think tanks. We older ‘burghers remember “the daddyo of the radio” when he was a DJ on KQV-FM back in the ’60. I was there for the beer. I also remember getting the swordfish and bursting out with !!!!’s on how good it was.

Nobody in Pittsburgh had any knowledge on how to keep and serve beer with a hand pump back then. Not too soon after its debut it was pulled from duty. It does take dome tender loving care and some find it a tad warm.

The Sharp Edge was the second tavern in Pittsburgh to sell Cask Conditioned Ale. They had one engine and served a new keg every Wednesday at 6PM and ran it until it kicks. I don’t have the specific date but I believe it was in 1996.The first beer out of the swan neck was Rouge Red at $4.25. Eventually they installed a second engine about March 1997. The Church Brew Works as well as Three Rivers Brewing opened in 1996. I can’t find anything squirreled away in my notes when they started pulling the pump but Seam Casey of the Church has pictures of me pulling the first draft.

The third tavern to sell cask ale was the Fuel & Fuddle in Oakland. Fist pull was in June or July 1997.  The only served one keg of Pretzel City IPA and took the hand pump off.  They wanted to continue with the cask but they could not keep the keg at the proper temperature. The beer was on the warm side and more than it should have been for cask ale. There was no room under the bar and no place convenient under the floor. They purchased the one hand pump from Kangaroo's. 1998.

John Harvard’s opened in 1997 and I have to believe they stated doing cask beer right from the get-go. The Foundry Ale Works followed that year but no cask until 1998.

The Carson Street Chop House had a beer engine on the bar during my visit on February 10, 1998. The beer that day was Victory Briar Bitter. The House was a sister pub to Fat Heads South Shore Saloon across the street. We know the House today as Pipers Pub (opened 1999). Fat Heads eventually put an engine on for several years but after a remodeling it was taken out of service. Tony then acquired it from Glenn and used it for TRASH meeting and other events around town.

One engine was installed at Strip Brewery on Penn Avenue in the Strip District (of course) on March 1, 1998. After this visit I went out to the Foundry Ale Works on Smallman. They were closed every Sunday in February for work and reopened today. It was nice to see 2 engines waiting for me. We were blessed on Sunday, April 5, 1998 when the Foundry Ale Works installed three beer engines (at end of March). This was a Pittsburgh first.

On my June 15, 1998 visit to John Harvard’s in Wilkins Township I got nice treat. Today was the day they served their first cask ale. I did not write the beer in my notes but I did take note that it was $2.75. The next day I waddled into the Strip Brewery on Penn Avenue and found one engine. As I recall the Strip and John Harvard’s were the only two breweries serving beer on gravity from wood casks. Penn Brewery did gravity during functions like Christmas and their birthday party but the cask was plastic lined and with regular beer. I never complained.  Gravity beer is not under pressure nor is it pumped or forced from the cask. It just pours out on its own into your mug. 

The Sharp Edge Creek House (opened 1998) next to the Thornburg Bridge on Rt. 60 stared cask beer in February 1999. Jeff Walewski was an early supporter of cask beer. Jeffery traveled with me to Chicago for the first Real Ale Festive in November 1997. It was fun for us, and a learning experience for Jeff. A real treat for me was having drinks and breakfast with world famous beer writer Rodger Protz. We stayed in contact ever since and that is something I will always treasure.  

The Fox & Hounds in the North Hills opened in 1999 and the manager was formerly with Kangaroo's. He had two cask pumps but had no plans to install them. I wish he did as that would have been a perfect place for me to chill between London trips.

On the South Side Pipers Pub (operating 4 engines because I go there a lot) and Carson Street Deli (one pump at my barstool). Smoken Joes had one but I haven’t had a brew there in a while. Rock Bottom has two. East End Brewing has one that is at the ready. The Map Room in Regent Square had one doing Scot Smith’s brews. Now closed Rivertowne Brewery in Monroeville had one and North Country Brewing has one. Although not via an engine the Hofbräuhaus in the South Side Works does a gravity keg every First Wednesday of the moth when they debut a beer of the month. I don’t know the status of today. Over the years they have come and gone. I know I probably missed some spots. Sorry, I need to get out more.

Brewery opening dates not after 1999:
Penn Brewery September 12, 1989 as Allegheny Brewery & Pub
Church Brew Works August 1, 1996
Three Rivers Brewery December 4, 1996
Valhalla Brewery May 1997
Strip Brewery June 1997
John Harvard’s August 26, 1997
Foundry Ale Works November 1997

If I get updates I should repost this for the benefit of future parakeets.
(If you read my newsletters you would understand the parakeet reference)
I wanted to get this out there as I was always in awe that Kangaroo’s had the first beer engine. At that time there were no breweries other than Allegheny and they only served draft and bottles. We had a good representation of imported beer but American craft was nothing like it is today.

Cheers, Ed Vidunas