You don’t need this blog or any other online medium to tell you that craft beer is here to stay. Over the past several years, we’ve all been part of a renaissance that’s seen millions of people make watered-down light beers a thing of their past en lieu of innovative, unique, bold-flavored offerings presented in hundreds of popular styles.
This craft beer boom has gotten big enough to make Budweiser fire public jabs at craft beer drinkers via their now infamous ad that first aired during the 3rd quarter of the Super Bowl. Not that that hasn’t been happening behind-the-scenes for years, but the fact it spawned so much backlash solidifies craft beer’s affect on the market and has made the “big guys” take notice.
In our little city of Pittsburgh, we are fortunate to have the craft beer renaissance unfolding in our own backyard. Several new breweries have opened their first production facilities or have expanded their operations in the Pittsburgh market in the past year, bolstering a lineup of local breweries already rewriting the craft beer script. All of them are featuring their own versions of popular beer styles, as well as broadening horizons by offering new styles never before seen or consumed.
Spoonwood Brewing is one of the newest players in the game, but they’ve busted through the gates scorching hot and have made an immediate impact on the craft beer community. I was fortunate to be in attendance at their grand opening on January 31st and, based on the tremendous crowd on-hand and the solid beers on tap, this was one debut that would carry Spoonwood to tremendous success going forward. This month, Spoonwood Brewing takes center stage in the Breaking Brews Craft Beer Spotlight.
Spoonwood Brewing, a 7800-square-foot, 15-barrel brewhouse and taproom in Bethel Park, rests upon the land that once housed Duke’s Station and, even further back in history, sat the Montour Railroad. The entire ambiance of Spoonwood, an alternative name for the Pennsylvania state flower Mountain laurel, gives off the vibe of big-time, world-class establishment, all while capturing the essence of a true microbrewery.
Grant and Mary Lou Scorsone made the decision to open a brewery and partnered with Head Brewer Steve Ilnicki and his wife Patti to make that decision a reality. A clear-cut vision to create a brewing powerhouse in Bethel Park, an area of Pittsburgh not highly-saturated with craft beer options, was evident in the fact that ground first broke for Spoonwood in August of 2014. Fast-forward a mere five months to January 2015 and the doors were open for the very first time.
“Grant and Mary Lou played such a big role in our opening and our early success,” Steve proclaimed. “It’s crazy how fast we were able to get up and running.”
In sitting down with Steve, I could tell he’s a guy who brews with passion for his craft and is eager to create simple, yet unique and flavorful beers at every juncture. Many of you may remember Steve from his days as a brewer at Rock Bottom in Homestead. Steve spent three years there after completing the American Brewers Guild, honing his skill set and building on his dream to be part of his own brewery someday. When the opportunity presented itself to be part of the Spoonwood venture, he dove in head first and didn’t look back.
“I discovered this opportunity and immediately hit it off with Grant and Mary Lou,” Steve said. “I knew this experience was going to be great.”
As you’ll learn on Spoonwood’s website, Steve makes the kind of beer he likes to drink, utilizing traditional styles and ingredients. As he informed me, his favorite aspect is seeing what can happen when beer’s four core ingredients of malt, hops, yeast, and water all come together. The artistic concepts he brews don’t always fit the standard beer style “guidelines,” but the end result is, quite simply, drinkable and quality craft beer.
A lot of the influence for Steve’s brewing process is derived from the world of music and his taste in music preferences is as diverse as a craft beer drinker’s palate. From The Beatles and Bob Dylan to Coheed and Cambria and Jimmy Eat World, there’s no telling what you’ll hear blaring from the iPod speaker sitting in the center of the brewhouse.
“I’m huge on music and brewing and want to make that connection prominent,” Steve explained. “Five Believers (Spoonwood’s Blonde Ale) was inspired by Bob Dylan’s ‘Blonde on Blonde’ album, and Working Class Hero (Spoonwood’s Cream Ale) came from the John Lennon song. On brewing days, I always play something heavier like Metallica, Slayer, or Anthrax to keep the energy up.”
That energy Steve exudes while brewing high-quality beers is one that permeates throughout the building and is replicated by the other members of the Spoonwood team. Spoonwood has an extremely clean, spacious, relaxing taproom with windows behind the bar that peer into the fermentation tank room. As I mentioned in my initial recap of Spoonwood’s opening day, this brewery is the type of place you’d choose to relax and chill on any given night, but has the aesthetic appeal where you’d also be happy to hold your wedding reception.
As of the writing of this article, it’s been too cold for the opening of Spoonwood’s patio. But the Spring and Summer months are sure to see the stools filled in this unique outdoor setting that features a remaining railroad arch from the old Montour. There are fewer combos more relaxing than a warm summer’s breeze and a perfectly-brewed craft beer, and the early trends say Spoonwood will deliver splendidly on this luxury.
Is it Spring yet?
Another great feature that makes Spoonwood a destination is the food. Executive Chef James Hill and his team have put together an exquisite full menu, with selections ranging from small plates, soups, salads, gourmet pizzas from Spoonwood’s wood-burning pizza oven, and more. My crew and I dove into the Pretzel Bites w/ Beer Cheese on opening day, as well as a Great Hambino pizza. Both items were home runs and have led to some anticipation on what we’ll dig into the next time around. Feel free to peruse the menu for yourself here.
“Our vision for Spoonwood is to make this place all about the experience,” Steve said. “We’ve seen an overwhelming amount of support so far and we want to make sure we continue to deliver for everyone.”
Coming up soon, Steve’s got some new beer ideas lined up, including a Welsh Ale. His most recent creation, Cold Drip City, is a Coffee Ale that is currently on tap at the brewery. Coffee-infused brews are typically stouts or porters and take on a darker complexion, but Cold Drip City is a walk on the lighter side in regards to color while still delivering that roasty coffee goodness that many beer lovers clamor for, especially in these brutal winter months.
Steve will also be collaborating with East End Brewing and CoStar Brewing to create a beer for this year’s annual Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week on April 17-26. Spoonwood, East End, and CoStar are one of eight teams consisting of three breweries tasked with producing a new, unique beer for the 10-day festival. These collaboration beers have become a staple of Craft Beer Week and continue to get better each year, so there’s no telling what we are all in for in 2015!
Spoonwood Brewing has quickly moved up the list of must-visit craft beer destinations in Pittsburgh. Friendly staff, relaxing atmosphere, great food, and, of course, solid and approachable beers are all the key components that will continue to keep the spotlight on these guys for a long time to come. They’ve built a tremendous following in a very short period. So what are you waiting for? It’s time for you to jump on this bandwagon as well.