Using the Brewers Association’s directory, I counted over 40 breweries in the Pittsburgh region (extending as far north as Erie and as far south-east-ish as Mount Pleasant) currently operating and producing the liquid we love. In addition, there are over a dozen breweries in planning with a handful set to open up in the next few months. Combine this cornucopia of high-quality beer with the dozens of wineries, meaderies, and award-winning craft distilleries also operating throughout the region and you have seemingly have all the ammo you need to argue that Pittsburgh’s libations scene has reached destination status.
Well…here are a couple new bullets to add to your arsenal: Within the next two years, Pittsburgh will be home to America’s first beer and whiskey museums.
Overall, Pittsburgh has undergone a storybook transformation over the past couple decades, reinventing itself from its former steel-driven, blue-collar roots to one heavily ensconced in technological and medical innovations. This evolution naturally led to a movement that helped blow the door wide open for advancements in several areas, including art, education, our exceptional culinary scene and, of course, craft beer and spirits. Wine and mead, too. People demanded more and destinations from one end of town to the other delivered.
The growth of our beer scene is thanks in large part to long-standing staples like East End Brewing, Church Brew Works, and Penn Brewery forging a successful path with beer styles not typically found pouring from taps across town a decade ago. In addition, local wholesalers and distributors saw the direction beer was headed and started making more artisanal offerings available, both on tap and in bottles for at-home consumption. This elevated beer’s overall profile, making it en vogue to drink IPAs, stouts, hefeweizens, and others not of the domestic light adjunct variety. This paved the way for a burst in homebrewing, which saw many talented men and women transform their passionate hobby into a profession, opening breweries in a town thirsty for more, more, more.
The spirits scene wasn’t too far behind, with companies like Wigle Whiskey bringing American Whiskey back to its birthplace right here in Pittsburgh with multiple award-winning products and Maggie’s Farm Rum capturing accolades on a national level with several of their offerings as well. Arsenal put cider on the Pittsburgh map and Apis Mead continues to excel in honey-fermented wine. Both Arsenal and Apis products can be found at most breweries as an alternative for the non-beer drinker.
With all this growth, the need for knowledge and education that provides a foundation for the who, what, why, when, where, and how surrounding these products is at an all-time high. Thankfully, we live in a world where many platforms exist to quench the thirst for knowledge. Breaking Brews was started as a blog to help people in that transitional phase between the macro and craft. Other blogs, podcasts, websites, video series, and tour companies like PA Brew Tours on a local and national level give enthusiasts an opportunity to absorb product knowledge. Destinations themselves have become beacons of education with knowledgeable staff and brewers themselves eager to demonstrate why Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Beerdrinker should be excited about their latest release.
When I think about Pittsburgh libations, I think two things: 1) hotbed, and 2) a lot of potential ahead. ‘Hotbed’ because, without a doubt, big things are happening. And ‘a lot of potential ahead’ because I believe there’s a huge chunk of the population still unfamiliar with what’s unfolding. This in and of itself proves we’ve got a ways to go before the supposed ‘bubble’ bursts.
This is where education becomes critical. This is where two museums dedicated to adult beverages past, present, and future can weave Pittsburgh even tighter into America’s craft libations tapestry and cast a wider net over constituents still not privy to the scene.
I was still coming down from the news that Wigle was involved in a project to bring an American Whiskey museum to town when I caught wind that a beer museum was on its way as well. As someone who started this blog as a platform for providing education, raising awareness, and helping perpetuate a scene I love forward, I can’t help but feel giddy about what WAM! Whiskey of America Museum and Brew: The Museum of Beer can do to amplify our current plight. Both are tentatively planning to open in 2018, both aspire to continue establishing Pittsburgh as a nationwide destination, and both have ambitions to celebrate everything regarding the history of whiskey and beer, respectively.
“Beer-cation destination” is the new buzz term that defines an area of the world where enthusiasts can travel and experience a plethora of libations spots, be they breweries, wineries, distilleries, or a combination of the three, all within close proximity to one another. Pittsburgh has established itself as just that and the addition of libations-fueled museums makes it an even bigger draw. Tourism in Pittsburgh has already skyrocketed in recent years thanks to a well-managed convention facilities, elevated dining, theater, the arts, sports, culture, and, of course, alcohol. With the number of enthusiasts diving headfirst into craft libations across the world, I have a feeling we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Think of what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame does for Cleveland. As Bob Batz from the Post-Gazette reported in his feature on Brew’s arrival, over 400,000 people visit that destination every year. It’s hard to fathom Brew and WAM! not experiencing similar, if not way better, foot traffic given the undeniable popularity of craft beverages this day and age.
There is still a lot of work to be done, but the potential these two projects have for shining a brighter spotlight on a town that’s already earning national recognition as a must-visit beer and spirits destination is astronomical. The initial crowdfunding campaign for WAM! is already up and running on Kickstarter and Brew plans to launch their campaign on October 18th via Indiegogo. Your support is encouraged in the continuation of these ideas and taking them from concept to reality.
When it comes to craft beer and spirits in Pittsburgh, we’ve got it good. Damn good. Some may speak of bubbles bursting and dams breaking, but today, I urge you to forget that nonsense and embrace the fact that we live in abundant times. Times that give us craft beverages with seemingly no end in sight. Times that allow ideas such as whiskey museums and beer museums to not only be conjured up, but to become tangible things. Let’s celebrate what we have, continue to spread the gospel of good beer, wine, and spirits to those yet to experience them, and continue pushing Pittsburgh forward as America’s biggest craft beer and spirits destination.