Coalition Through Collaboration
What makes a great craft beer destination? The answer to that question is as subjective as the beers you love to drink. Everyone has their own “thing” they gravitate towards when it comes to finding an establishment they choose to think of as a second home. On a personal level, the three things I always look for are great beer selection, solid food menu that complements the beer, and a great atmosphere fueled by dedicated people hell-bent on ensuring my experience is memorable and worth repeating. And if I were to lay down money, I would bet you’re looking for any or all of these same traits as well. I mean, what’s a great craft beer destination without great craft beer, right?
At Caliente Pizza & Draft House, these three cornerstones have been mastered. Their dedication to bringing craft beer enjoyment to never-before-seen levels led to a surge in popularity that spread through the Pittsburgh region like a brushfire. Rumblings of good pizza and the ability to go one-on-one with beers rarely or never found between these three rivers began to snowball…and before Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week 2013 came to a close, ‘Caliente’ and ‘craft beer destination’ collided in the same sentence in nearly every conversation.
Caliente owners Nick and Angie Bogacz were able to capitalize on their success by offering consistency to their loyal customer base. You know you’re in for something good each and every visit. The incredible beer selection has become second nature. The award-winning pizza is worth a hundred-mile trek if necessary. Even their wings have earned local awards and notoriety. The staff is awesome, the ambiance is superb, and their dedication to doing what it takes to stand out led to the opening of a second location in Hampton Township in November 2014.
In other words, they’ve constructed a winning formula and haven’t lost sight of it since day one.
So, with a brand so harmoniously connected to the craft beer mainstream in our city, you may be wondering what Caliente can do to up their game even more. The answer to that question lays in the brew kettle.
It all started during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week 2014. The crew from Caliente teamed up with Church Brew Works to create Hop Confession, a Belgian-style IPA that tipped the scales at 8.8% ABV. It had tremendous floral hop tones on the nose with mild sweetness and fruitiness in the mouth. This beer was the first of its kind in that it served as the first brewery/restaurant collaboration beer featured during PCBW. It also opened up the flood gates towards Caliente’s newest game-changer: partnering with breweries not only in Pittsburgh, but state-wide, to produce their own series of one-off beers for your enjoyment.
The project with Church in 2014 put Caliente in partnership with Matt Moninger, who at the time served as Church’s Head Brewer. Matt was part of the team at Church for 10 years and had a big part in their rise to fame here in Pittsburgh. He represented them on stage at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival, which is worth noting since that’s the year Church came back to the ‘Burgh with medals in four different beer categories AND captured the Best Large Brewpub award. Not a bad haul.
Today, Matt has stepped back from full-time brewing and serves as Bar Manager for Caliente’s Hampton location. His love of craft beer and the continued evolution of Pittsburgh’s scene makes him the perfect fit for this role. His knowledge of the brewing process made him the natural lead for Caliente’s collaboration project.
“It’s a lot of fun and gives us a good opportunity to work with local breweries,” Matt stated. “And it’s a good opportunity for me to spread myself around, work with other brewers, and work on lots of different brewing equipment.”
With the success of Hop Confession, PCBW 2015 found Caliente in lockstep with East End Brewing in an effort to top the previous year’s collaboration. With Matt’s skills once again in the fold, combined with East End’s propensity to always deliver incredible beer, a hazy-gold American Double/Imperial IPA known as East CaliENDe Hop Slice hit the streets just in time for Pittsburgh’s 10-day celebration of craft beer. This citrusy, lemony delight clocked in at 9% ABV and offered a fruity front end with a dry, hoppy finish.
Caliente’s brewing adventure continued with The Plague, a Belgian-inspired stout brewed in collaboration with Draai Laag Brewing. With Draai Laag being known for producing complex beers, The Plague continued to build on that trend with this particular creation. A portion of the batch was aged in French Oak Petit Syrah wine casks. From there, aged and the remaining unaged portions of the beer were blended and fermented over a trio of briar berries. A unique, wild brew was the final result, one Matt ranks high on the list of beers he’d made over the years.
“Working with Draai Laag and brewing The Plague was definitely my favorite,” Matt said. “I loved the overall complexity of that beer.”
The Plague was tapped at both Caliente locations, as well as Draai Laag’s taproom, and had a limited release of 600 bottles that have all been spoken for. There are rumors of a follow-up to this project known as The Antidote in the future. Stay tuned…
Finally, The Caliente band of nomadic brewers packed up their game headed east for a special collaboration with Yard’s Brewing. Nick has established a strong relationship with breweries across the country and Matt had contacts at Yard’s, making this project come together in seamless fashion. Yard’s and Caliente joined forces to create I-76-PA, a single-hop IPA utilizing Eureka hops and expected to top off between 6.5 – 7% ABV. Look for this beer to release at both Caliente locations in the upcoming weeks.
“These collaborations are a good way for both myself and the breweries we partner with to do things we normally don’t do,” Matt concluded.
So what’s next? With winter a’brewin, the focus is shifting towards the thick, robust, blood-warming beers that make this frigid time of year easier to bear. With that in mind, Caliente is partnering with Spoonwood Brewing to create a BIG Russian Imperial Stout that’s expected to hit you between 12 – 13% ABV. This release will see limited bottles available to purchase and taps at both Caliente destinations and Spoonwood’s taproom in Bethel Park.
“We are always trying to bring the best beer to Pittsburgh,” Nick added. “Now, we are trying to brew the best beer in Pittsburgh. Our goal is to always keep things interesting for all the fans of Caliente.”
When one becomes a big part of the mainstream, it’s important they don’t rest on their laurels. It’s imperative to remain on the cutting-edge of innovation and finding new and exciting ways to keep operations fresh. Caliente is in a unique position to have a talented brewer on their roster, one that allows them to attack this mission with expertise and come through it with quality beer as profit. The goodwill they’ve built by collaborating with these breweries, in addition to featuring their beers in steady rotation, proves, once again, that Caliente is truly tapped into the growth and success of Pittsburgh’s local craft beer landscape.