A buddy of mine named Mike Neilson started a pretty humorous blog a couple years ago. It has received a lot of recognition around Pittsburgh and photos from said blog recently appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Its subject matter? How entrepreneurs have transformed buildings that Used To Be A Pizza Hut (the blog’s namesake) into new businesses. Adult video stores, funeral homes, used car dealerships, even new restaurants, UTBAPH chronicles how these venues have moved beyond their former hut-shaped beginnings and brought their communities something more than just substandard pizza.
I do miss the tabletop PacMan games, though.
Today, I’m here to argue the case for arguably the best use of one of these former pizza joints: a bottle shop. And not just any bottle shop; a bottle shop devoted to an incredible selection of craft beer not just in the coolers, but on tap as well. On top of all that, you can’t go wrong with any meal you order off the menu and the staff exudes knowledge when it comes to the liquids we love.
This is how you build a craft beer destination. This is what 99 Bottles has established in the heart of Carnegie. Let’s take a closer look in this month’s Craft Beer Spotlight.
99 Bottles first hit the scene in 2012 with a simple mission: bring six packs to Carnegie. However, the neighborhood had other ideas.
“We wanted to be just a little six pack shop, but Carnegie wouldn’t let us do that,” Nick Jones, General Manager at 99 Bottles, explained. “We set up a ‘grab-and-go’ kind of spot, but we quickly realized people wanted to stay for a couple beers. This led us to offering more beers on tap to allow that. We are very happy with how we’ve progressed.”
Since its inception over four years ago, 99 Bottles has added over 500 different beers to their extensive bottle selection and, because Carnegie demanded more, is home to 30 beers on tap with an emphasis on local offerings. In 2014, they added a full-scale kitchen and gave beer enthusiasts looking to replenish their at-home beer supply plenty of reasons to stick around for a session.
I’m a firm believer that bottle shops have played a big factor in helping beer drinkers transition from macro beers to craft beers. When a full case is your only option, sometimes it’s difficult to commit to that much beer not knowing whether you’ll be a fan or not. With six-pack shops offering the flexibility of buying individual bottles or, better yet, mixed six packs containing different options, styles, and variations on those styles, those just beginning to dip their toe into the plethora of beers at their disposal are able to experiment and discover new go-tos.
In my many conversations with Nick, he told me 99 Bottles has seen it all when it comes to beer consumption. Some patrons have held true to their light, domestic strongholds while many have transitioned completely, having once wandered into 99 knowing nothing but Miller Lite and having left with a mind open to a world of beer options they never knew available.
99 Bottles pays tribute to local, regional, and national breweries consistently by featuring a Brewery of the Month throughout the year. Each month, a brewery’s offerings will pour prominently from the taps and, typically, at least two events will be held with representatives from that brewery. This is a great opportunity for one-off beers to be featured, special firkins to be tapped, and enthusiasts to drop by and learn more about their favorite breweries and the beers they create. 99’s commitment to spotlighting these breweries is another positive step forward in the continued growth of craft beer.
Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week presents a platform to bars and breweries across the city to truly showcase their business philosophies during a 10-day period where our city shifts into “beer mode.” An argument can be made that Pittsburgh is in beer mode 24/7/365 and, chances are, I’m the one that would start the argument. But during PCBW, destinations have a grand stage on which they can show off and host some pretty stellar events. 99 Bottles did their part this past April as they hosted events every day throughout PCBW. From local brewery showcases and happy hours to tappings of unique beers and plenty more, the crew at 99 embraced these days and gave the city a true taste of what they’re all about year-round.
When the decision to add food to the menu was discussed, Nick and company knew they wanted to make an impact with their offerings. Their menu features smoked meats, pulled pork, hoagies, salads, and, probably the most popular item: chicken wings.
“We smoke our chicken wings, which truly makes them stand out,” Eddie Lilliock, head chef at 99 Bottles, proclaimed.
99 has a nice variety of wing sauces and every Wednesday is Wing Night featuring .50 wings. I highly recommend going for broke and trying several different varieties, as my friends and I did during PCBW. Photo evidence of our wing buffet can be seen to the right.
With 99 Bottles securely planted as one of the South Hill’s best destinations and bottle shops, what’s next? If you said “these guys should open up a brewery,” circle gets the square.
Amid the hills of Castle Shannon on the corner of Castle Shannon Blvd. and Route 88/Library Road sits what’s soon to be one of Pittsburgh’s newest craft breweries: Mindful Brewing Company. The newly-renovated building is the former home of McGinnis Sisters market. Owner Dustin Jones, who also owns 99 Bottles, has partnered up with Nick and Eddie to create what’s sure to be a unique beer and dining experience for Pittsburgh. Not only do they plan to feature their own beers brewed in-house by Nick and Marcus Cox, an experienced brewer who relocated here from Australia to join the team, they’ll also have beers from other breweries on tap. In addition, they plan to offer farm-to-table food selections along side a diverse lineup of bottles to-go, much like you’ll find at 99.
Mindful Brewing will be open for business in the very near future. Stay tuned for more on their arrival.
The South Hills has quickly climbed up the ranks of craft beer destinations in the Pittsburgh region and a lot of that can be attributed to the work the crew at 99 Bottles and, soon, Mindful, have done. If there’s a bridge or a tunnel between you and Carnegie’s premier bottle shop, it’s time to put on a brave face and make a trip to see what they have in store. They’ll be waiting for you, with plenty of beer to go ’round.