As we roll into 2016, the expectations for Pittsburgh’s adult beverage scene could not be greater. If the previous 365 days serve as an indicator, enthusiasts all across the region have a lot to look forward to. New bars, new breweries, new wineries and distilleries, and new festivals will undoubtedly join the fray, all adding to a collective effort to make Pittsburgh one of America’s premier libations destinations. In a world where headlines are seemingly dominated by really big breweries with loaded checkbooks buying out smaller craft breweries and making sweetheart deals with distributors to stifle the sales of smaller brands, we are fortunate that so much greatness exists within the confines of our city limits.
There’s no denying one simple fact: Pittsburgh is on the map. 2015 saw the Steel City recognized as one of the country’s most livable cities, as well as the #1 food destination nationwide according to Zagat’s. We have seen a rise in the number of restaurants, cultural activities, and, of course, libation entities…with no evidence of this progress slowing down. The volume of special events (non-beverage related) held in Pittsburgh last year was mind-blowing, thus creating a booming tourism market the likes of which we’ve never seen.
Thankfully, the Pittsburgh experience is in good hands. We have several dedicated, hard-working organizations, such as Visit Pittsburgh, ensuring the city is featured in the most positive light for visitors and citizens alike. And when it comes to showcasing our city’s libation scene, you needn’t look further than PA Brew Tours. Their mission is to partner with craft beer, spirits, and other businesses and organizations throughout the region and bring enthusiasts thirsty for both knowledge and beverages directly to their doorstep, giving each of these destinations an opportunity to display how their business operates.
PA Brew Tours was founded in 2013 by Jake Voelker, one of the founding members of Voodoo Brewery in Meadville, PA. If you’re reading this and are unfamiliar with Voodoo, one thing you can always expect is big, drinkable beers. In other words, securing a ride after diving into Voodoo’s diverse, high ABV lineup of brews is highly recommended.
Jake wanted to bring the Voodoo experience to constituents of Pittsburgh. So, instead of expecting them to drive to Meadville and find a way home, he created PA Brew Tours…a shuttle service that would bring people to and from the brewery. This allowed folks to experience everything Voodoo had to offer without the worry of finding a ride afterward. He partnered with the Pittsburgh Transportation Group to secure the buses for his vision, and the end product was a loyal band of followers clamoring for Voodoo products in the City of Champions.
Fast-forward to January 2015. Voodoo opened a taproom in Homestead, thus satiating the demand for more Voodoo beers directly available in the Pittsburgh market after many people took the bus ride to Meadville and fell in love. They also have a food truck with a menu that rotates weekly. In preparation of this location and the need to allocate more time to Voodoo’s operations, Jake fully sold PA Brew Tours to the Pittsburgh Transportation Group in the Spring of 2014, opening up an opportunity for PABT to evolve and expand.
The growth of PA Brew Tours would not be possible without Sherris Moreira, Director of Tours. The tireless hours and unbelievable dedication she has poured into cultivating this division of the Transportation Group are paralleled only by the results she has delivered. As 2016 kicks off, Sherris has made PA Brew Tours one of the largest brew tour companies on the east coast. She has 35 tour guides on staff, some of them cross-trained to guide other Pittsburgh tours including wine tours, culinary tours, sports history tours, and more.
The driving force, in addition to a lot of man hours, behind Sherris’ mission to bring PABT to another level is her understanding of the one common denominator that all bars, breweries, restaurants, distilleries, and wineries need to survive: people. Without customers, a business can’t survive. And, as I mentioned before, PA Brew Tours brings people right to the front door.
“We don’t just consider ourselves a brew tour company,” Sherris explained. “We consider ourselves a marketing company for all the great libation stops in Pittsburgh. We take this very seriously. We are very careful in how we train our guides because we know they aren’t just representing us, they’re representing the entire industry. And that’s what we are selling. We’ve had many businesses who offer craft beers and other adult libations reach out to us because they understand we are bringing people to them so they can showcase their site and products.”
If you’ve never experienced a Brew Tour first-hand, you can expect fun, entertainment, and education all wrapped into one session. After all, we’re talking about experiencing a product designed to enhance fun, so the need to be super serious should be checked at the door. Tour guides are equipped to provide “edutainment,” meaning you can expect to gain a respect and understanding of how the craft beer industry is changing the face of the United States in a fun, laid-back atmosphere.
In addition, tours often spotlight how breweries have revitalized certain areas by giving people a reason to visit areas formerly written off for dead. The Brew Gentlemen Beer Company in Braddock, PA is a prime example of “brew-vitalization.”
“I coined that term to exemplify how breweries are coming into certain areas and helping to breathe life back into the community,” Sherris proclaimed. “These efforts help other businesses such as restaurants and arts find a home in that community as well. It brings people back and can help drive relocation for other businesses and even home buyers for specific neighborhoods.”
The Brew Gentlemen have resurrected Braddock with their welcoming taproom, consistent food truck offerings, and monthly food truck roundups. They are an active part of the PA Brew Tours experience and can be found as part of the Steel Valley Brew Tour that combines Pittsburgh’s rich steel history with today’s burgeoning craft beer scene. The tour starts at Station Square where guides provide education on the Bessemer Converter and the steel mills. From there, your bus will take you to Jack’s in the South Side. This location is famous for its 24/7 schedule to accommodate steel workers on all shifts many years ago. Next, the bus heads to Voodoo, a major player in the brew-vitalization of Homestead, for samples and history of the Voodoo brand, then culminates with a short jaunt to the aforementioned Brew Gentlemen brewery in Braddock for a tour and samples.
This is just one example of what you’ll experience on a PA Brew Tour. But, ultimately, what you’ll leave with is an increased knowledge of Pittsburgh’s craft beer landscape and how these great libations come to life. It’s a true pulling back of the curtain with an up-close-and-personal look at how the inner-workings of these operations unfold, both from a guide’s perspective, as well as the owners and operators of these establishments.
“I love sharing my knowledge about brewing and beer history on these tours,” said Gregor Bender, one of PABT’s experienced and knowledgeable tour guides. “Brew guiding is the most fun I’ve ever had working. With every tour, I always feel like I’ve made a whole bus full of new friends.”
A brew tour is the the perfect venue for a wide variety of activities, including corporate outings, birthday parties, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and simply gaining some perspective on how beer, wine, and spirits are made. The biggest benefit is that PA Brew Tours provides safety. The tours offer a safe ride, in a safe environment, making for a safe gathering for everyone involved.
Another way they support their community at-large is partnering their tours with non-profits. The PA Brew Tour division is partnered with Brewing Up A Cure – an event sponsored by Three Rivers Underground Homebrewers (TRUB) that raises money annually for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at a public Fall homebrewing showcase. With each Brew Tour ticket sale, a portion of the sale is donated to the event.
“We believe it’s important to show how much local craft beer gives back, on a variety of levels, and it’s important that we do the same,” Sherris said.
With 2016 now officially upon us, PA Brew Tours is preparing for another successful year for themselves and the Pittsburgh libation scene as a whole. You will be seeing an expanded coverage area for PABT, with tours coming together that will feature Butler County, Beaver County, and Indiana County in addition to tours visiting several local craft beer destinations. In regards to evolution, PABT will also be expanding beyond breweries, offering tours encompassing the work of distilleries, wineries, and brewpubs. As Sherris explained, PA Brew Tours doesn’t want to tie itself strictly to breweries and is quickly discovering that many of their partners, regardless of their specialty beverage, are opening their doors so enthusiasts like you and I can see what they’re all about.
“We are very excited for 2016,” Sherris concluded. “We have lots of new tour ideas in the works. We are also very excited about all the new breweries, distilleries, and wineries that have opened up or are planning to open in the Pittsburgh region. We hope to partner with each of them and help them build their brand.”
There are plenty of reasons to get excited for 2016 in Pittsburgh. I, for one, am anxious to see what new experiences come down the pike for all of us enthusiasts to enjoy, from a libation perspective and beyond. And without question, PA Brew Tours is going to be heavily involved in many of those experiences. They have established themselves as a very important element in Pittsburgh’s craft beer landscape and will continue to deliver unique and dynamic experiences for anyone looking to celebrate the greatness of our local libation scene.
Click here to discover some of the tours already scheduled for 2016 and reserve your seat(s) today!