The conversation as of late amongst the folks in the circles I run with has been the number of big beer festivals and landmark events surrounding craft beer. Without even trying, Pittsburgh has become a city where, if you keep your eyes and ears peeled, you can seemingly find a fun event to attend every single weekend. As a guy who works his backside off to supply a daily events calendar through a mobile beer app (download PCBN Connect for free today hashtag cheap plug), I made the comment that so many cool events have been popping up, it’s hard to keep track of it all.
Trust me, that’s not a complaint. It’s validation. Craft beer has cast its net and captured the hearts, minds, and adult beverage consumption habits of thousands of people. And that number continues to grow thanks to the hard work of so many people, as well as events that showcase the plethora of beers we have at our disposal. In addition, our local food scene has skyrocketed thanks in part to a world of incredible beers that pair with the diverse selection of culinary creations, both savory and sweet.
Through this evolution of beer-centric life here in Pittsburgh, I’ve seen many new events come into fruition and successfully serve the purpose of perpetuating the craft beer movement in our fair city. Beers of the ‘Burgh immediately comes to mind as the new cornerstone in local craft beer celebration. The annual Beer Barge events hosted by Commonwealth Press do the same. The Winter and Summer Beerfests held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and Stage AE respectively provide first-hand evidence of Pittsburgh’s dynamic craft beer diversity. And Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week has become a 10-day extravaganza where craft beer enthusiasts and destinations region-wide shift into pure, unadulterated beer mode. And all these events make up just 16 days of what’s become a year-round craft beer renaissance in the Steel City…no question the other 349 are overflowing with excitement, too.
We live in pretty remarkable times, and I, personally, can’t get enough of being in the thick of it. But through it all, one event has managed to pass me by. Until 2015, my adventures failed to bring me to the craft beer event that was a craft beer event before craft beer events were cool: The Steel City Big Pour.
But thanks to beer friends, my drought officially ended.
I’ve learned one thing about myself attempting to purchase tickets online for big beer events in Pittsburgh when they first go on sale: I’m ridiculously slow on the trigger. One time, I missed Beer Barge tickets by ONE minute (they sold out in four, I was in at five). Same with this year’s Big Pour…just couldn’t click fast enough. But thankfully, my friends at Pennies Pints Pittsburgh came through with my golden ticket at the eleventh hour. I was finally going to get to see the chocolate river (in a matter of speaking)!
I’ve heard tales of a festival so big, it needs two sessions. Anecdotes of beer as far as the eye could see and enough food to stuff a water buffalo to content. Beer life isn’t worth living ’til I experience this live, right?! After all, a strong variety of beers, ciders, and meads partnered with a smattering of delicious foods represent the sheer essence of what a well-run beer event is all about. Could the Big Pour live up to what I’ve experienced at other festivals all across the city? Let’s find out.
By 4:45pm, the first Big Pour session was dismissed and the rest of us were in out of the rain, anxiously awaiting the floodgates to break and allow us to funnel into the show. You know that unnerving feeling you sometimes get waiting in line? Like, at the grocery store when someone wants to pay for their whole order with pennies and you really have to hit the restroom? That feeling was completely removed from this line as attendees took time to hit beach balls to one another, combining the sport of volleyball and the rock-concert activity of mosh pitting (sans body slamming and heavy metal). Fortunately, no injuries were suffered and no sample glasses sacrificed in the midst of all this pregame fun.
As the 5 o’clock hour hit, it was game on. The next three hours were spent sampling beers, chatting with friends, getting to know more about breweries, and eating my weight in bacon (thanks, Harris Grill). There was a pterodactyl that made an appearance, to which Rock Bottom Head Brewer Brandon McCarthy and I could think of nothing better to do than to take a selfie with it (see photo right).
There were squirt guns and other shenanigans, but ultimately there were signs of a well-organized, well laid-out festival with incredible representation from destinations all across the region. Live music filled the air, food entered our bellies, and beers filled our glasses. As an enthusiast, it’s refreshing to look around and smile knowing this much greatness can be yours simply by venturing out into the Pittsburgh wild.
Big Pour also served as a nice stage for some up-and-coming breweries. Big beer festivals are the perfect opportunity for those cutting their teeth in this landscape to get in front of thousands of enthusiasts. One of this year’s featured breweries was Couch Brewery, which is not yet open but is getting close to operating in Irwin. Their IPA was very straight-forward and drinkable and the stout was one I’d definitely come back to again. Thick and roasty, well-balanced and extremely approachable. Go Like their Facebook Page and join in the fun of naming their upcoming Black Raspberry Stout!
Also setting up shop at Big Pour was Reclamation Brewing in Butler. I had a chance to visit their brewery a few weeks back and sample a couple beers. Although I missed a chance to taste their offerings at Big Pour, I can say their Double IPA is a home run. Their grand opening is set for September 16th…just a day away!
Rounding out the new tables were Abjuration Brewing and Dancing Gnome Brewing. I’ve had their beers at past events and, just like the aforementioned Couch and Reclamation Breweries, we will soon be seeing these guys mixed in with the established breweries that were pouring some of our favorite local offerings at this year’s event. It’s a true testament to the hotbed our city has become for craft beer. Breweries opening left and right and camaraderie continuing to build…every little bit of it keeps making a phenomenal scene even stronger.
From a food perspective, if you left Big Pour hungry, you did it wrong. Pulled pork sandwiches from The Porch at Schenley, hot sausage meatballs from Bocktown Beer and Grill, and the aforementioned bacon along with mac and cheese from Harris Grill (pictured left). This was only the beginning! Like the legend said, food was abundant and accurately narrated the story that Pittsburgh will never run short on places to dine.
To try and capture every detail of such an enormous event in one blog post would take many chapters. But I will say the stories lived up to my experience and I’m glad I can cross Big Pour off my beer festival bucket list. I highly recommend you see for yourself when the 10th edition rolls around in 2016. Just make sure you click fast enough!
To all the men and women who put Big Pour together, to all the volunteers who served their posts well, and to all the vendors, breweries, wineries, beer reps, and ANYONE whose contributions made it all come together: THANK YOU. You all deserve a tip of the cap for working like mad to ensure we got what we came for…nine years running. Those involved with the event have helped blaze a trail and create a blueprint through which all new, current, and potential beer events can establish success.
At the end of the day, it’s not just about what’s in our glasses or on our plates. It’s the ability to be amongst fellow enthusiasts, friends, significant others, and colleagues. It’s the ability to leave with a new-found knowledge of a product located in your backyard. It’s the ability to make new friends and establish new relationships.
Our local craft beer and food scene isn’t just about the beer and the food. It’s about the memories made and the experiences shared that keep us coming back for more. We owe a thank you to the Big Pour for starting a trend that’s snowballed into something truly epic in our town. Beer events and festivals will continue to surface and, if executed properly, accomplish the task of bringing a community of enthusiasts together as one to share their love in the most fun ways imaginable.
And you can’t script that.
Were you at the 2015 Big Pour?! What was your favorite beer, food, and/or memory from the event? Share in the Comments below!