The story of a great brewery often begins with the smallest of ideas snowballing into something enormous. Arguably, one of the most recognized and world-renowned craft breweries is Dogfish Head in Milton, Delaware. Their name is synonymous with forward-thinking craft beer excellence, having built a reputation through consistently going against the grain and ignoring the naysayers who said their product was, what they’ve coined, ‘off-centered.’
But this brewery whose name spans the globe started off as just a small brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, deadset on a mission to bring original beer, food, and music to the community. Through 20 years of growth, they’re recognized as one of the best in the business.
What’s so special about that, you ask? Well, the answer is this: We have a story like that brewing right here in Pittsburgh!
Rivertowne Brewing started off as a small brewpub and has grown into a brand with multiple locations, a full production brewery, and distribution in six states. Their steadfast dedication to evolving with the industry and supplying beer drinkers with the highest-quality craft beer has not only made them incredibly popular in Pittsburgh, it’s also landed them center stage for this month’s Craft Beer Spotlight.
The Rivertowne concept began in 2002 when Christian Fyke and his family bought the original Rivertowne Inn located in Verona and focused on creating a destination that would bring people together to share great food and better beer. In 2007, Christian partnered with Andrew Maxwell to create Rivertowne Brewing, the source of beer for the Rivertowne Pourhouse in Monroeville. The brewpub maintains at least 16 distinctive craft beers on tap and captured the hearts of craft beer enthusiasts from all corners of the city.
By 2012, demand for Rivertowne beers in their now four locations had outgrown the production space within the Pourhouse and expansion was inevitable. An old, dilapidated industrial building in Export, PA was chosen to be the new home of what we all have come to know as the Rivertowne Brewery. Millions of dollars were poured into erecting a 25,000-square foot building that houses Rivertowne’s offices, a taproom, a full production brewery with state-of-the-art brewing equipment, and a canning line.
Geographically, the brewery may be a little off the beaten path to Pittsburgh, but Rivertowne offers many unique features that make going the extra mile worthwhile.
“We’re not downtown, so we like to do some different things to get people out to see us,” Al Barnett, Rivertowne’s Media Meister, explained. “We tap one-offs that are available only in our taproom and offer other limited-quantity beers as well. We want everyone to experience the entire brewery in person.”
In addition to the one-offs, Rivertowne offers one of the most thorough and enjoyable brewery tours in town. Head Brewer Dale Walters does a fantastic job explaining the brewing process and pointing out all the intricacies that make up the production of their beers. And, of course, there’s an ample supply of Rivertowne samples to enjoy during the tour.
And speaking of tours, they are holding Haunted Brewery Tours every Friday and Saturday in October! Learn more.
One of co-founder Andrew Maxwell’s axioms is “If you’re not making it better, you’re just making it.” It’s operating under this belief that has led to Rivertowne being nominated and subsequently winning Best Brewery in Westmoreland County for 2015! They’ve made improvements to existing recipes and added new and exciting beers to their portfolio, but they’ve never steered away from the philosophies that have made them a household name.
“We want to make as much beer as we can and grow,” Dale stated. “But we don’t want to sacrifice quality or hurt a market we are already in to do so.”
Rivertowne brews seven year-round beers, several seasonal beers, a variety of nitro beers, and a handful of brewmaster reserve beers. The year-round beers include Grateful White, Hala Kahiki, Babbling Blonde, RT Lager, Old Wylie’s IPA, Always a Home Game, and Maxwell’s Scottish Ale, which won a silver medal in the Scottish-style Ale category at the 2014 World Beer Cup among 30 other entries. Rivertowne’s seasonal lineup consists of Hop-Lace White IPA, Jah Mon IPA, Oktober Fest, Headless Wylie Pumpkin, Sassamanash, Rudolph’s Red, and All Aboard Anniversary (Imperial Oatmeal Coffee) Stout. You can learn more about these beers by clicking here.
In addition to this established series of beers, Rivertowne will be expanding their portfolio in the upcoming months. They are currently working on a Double IPA that should be available to us in January or February of 2016. Rivertowne has also introduced a Nitro program exclusively at the taproom and to distribution partners that have pre-ordered the product. This program features small batches of beer on nitrogen.
August saw the launch of Wylie’s Wednesday Pin series. A barrel of Rivertowne production liquid is extracted, aged on ingredients from the brewer’s imagination on cask, then tapped and served on a first come, first serve basis.
Oh, and just between you and me: Rivertowne is barrel-aging! My media credentials weren’t high enough to get the full scoop of what’s in the barrels to your left, but Dale and Al informed me it’s going to be one to write home about. Oh, and the Imperial Oatmeal Coffee Stout I mentioned before…some of that is going into an undisclosed barrel as well. The barrel-aged beer will be available at the brewery only, with a very small quantity going into 22oz. bomber bottles for purchase.
“We have the tools to refine what we are doing and always be creative,” Dale said. “We are always looking for ways to make a better product for our customers. We focus on agricultural changes and do everything we need to do to ensure our beers are the same each and every time they are produced.”
Regardless of how big Rivertowne gets, they never want to deviate too far from their roots. They still utilize the 15-bbl system at the Pourhouse for smaller batches. They’ve even resurrected Andrew’s 5-gallon home brewing system and use it exclusively at the brewery to test out different malts and hops.
“It’s a great creative outlet for the production team,” Dale said.
Any beer from these experimental batches will be available only at the taproom as part of what will be known as the “Lab Rat Series.”
Another philosophy strong at Rivertowne is listening intently to market demand. This has led to availability of their beers in PA, Ohio, West Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, and Florida (wildly popular near Bradenton where the Pittsburgh Pirates hold their Spring Training). It’s also led to Rivertowne taking over the rights to the Hall of Fame Club inside PNC Park, as well as their own branded bar in Section 106 at Consol Energy Center, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins (pictured right).
Listening to what the public wants also led to Rivertowne’s decision to package their beer in cans instead of bottles. In a way, this makes them a trendsetter in the craft beer community as many breweries opted for bottles as their primary package. Only in the past couple years have we seen select breweries adding cans to their packaging lineup. Rivertowne is continuing to evolve in their canning and, earlier this year, they launched both 12oz AND 16oz cans. The 16oz cans are predominately available in sports and concert venues across the city.
“Andrew believes in taking info from the market to see what we can do with it,” Al explained. “If it can work for us, why not go for it?”
In addition to producing great beer, Rivertowne Brewing strives to be active in the community. All of their spent grain is donated to local farms and they are heavily involved in raising money for charitable causes across Pittsburgh. At the end of August, Rivertowne hosted “Rhythm and Brews,” a craft beer and music festival that featured the band Rusted Root, as well as several other musical acts, local craft beer breweries, food vendors, and more.
“Rhythm and Brews was a great event for us and we made donations totaling $10,000 to various organizations around the city,” Jenn Weir, Rivertowne Brand Builder, proclaimed. “We are looking forward to doing it again next year.”
Rivertowne is also involved with Pennies From Heaven, a charitable organization that helps ease financial hardships for parents so they can stay with their children while they’re in the hospital. They recently held an Oktoberfest and, thanks to their involvement with the charity, Rivertowne served as the exclusive beer provider.
What started as a small brewpub in Verona has grown into a brand known all across Pittsburgh and beyond. For my money, one of the best seats in PNC Park is in the Hall of Fame Club, Rivertowne brew in-hand. It was from that perch that I watched the Pirates fall to the Giants in the 2014 Wild Card game and, as all the energy got sucked from the stadium, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, at least my beer is solid.”
Growth is always on the minds of those at Rivertowne. But no matter where the future takes them, they strive to remain just like so many other craft breweries do: small at heart.
“We are still craft…no matter how big we get,” Dale concluded.