When you think of the number 66, do you automatically think of Mario Lemieux? Here’s where Jeff Foxworthy would pop up and tell you, “Herrrrrre’s your sign.” You’re a true Yinzer. But a true Pittsburgher would know that 66 also stands for the number of taps available at Pig Iron Public House, located north of the city in Cranberry. I recently sat down with Shawn Lang to talk about Pig Iron and the craft beer scene.
Managing a lot of taps isn’t a foreign concept to the Lang family. Twisted Jimmy’s and Steel City Samiches in Indiana, PA have about a third of the lineup at Pig Iron, but they really pioneered a strong craft beer scene in Indiana – no one else has 20 taps or a wide selection of crafts like they do. And we can thank our lucky stars they ignored some beer advice they received in the quaint little college town.
“Someone told us college kids aren’t into craft beer,” Shawn said. Sure, some of them go for the El-Cheapo, I’ll Stick with a Safe Domestic Beer Special (my name for it, not theirs), but half their tap selection is crafts. He’s found that kids are more willing to venture down that path in today’s golden age of craft beer.
Kids these days have it so good. Think about what was in the fridge when we were growing up. I bet all the money in my savings account it wasn’t an East End Big Hop or even a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. Nowadays, parents have a wider selection to choose from and kids are exposed to craft beer before they’re able to order it at the bar.
I suppose this is the part where I have to go yell at kids to get off my lawn. Excuse me for a moment.
About five years ago, the Langs were thinking about expanding, possibly to a brewery. They’d be the first ones (at that time) in Indiana to open a brewery. Since then, Noble Stein and Levity Bewing Company have set up shop and have continued enhancing Indiana County’s craft beer landscape.
But with all this restaurant experience, what do you do? Open a restaurant. Besides a few places like Hough’s and Industry Public House, they were the first in Pittsburgh to offer an enormous selection of taps. They had a vision of what their selection would bring to the Pittsburgh beer community and jumped in with both feet when they opened the doors to Pig Iron in 2015.
As this Craft Beer Spotlight went live, half the beers pouring at Pig Iron are local and they try to keep as many taps in the region as possible. Eventually, as more breweries open and increase distribution, that will shift towards nearly 100% local beer representation.
Even with 66 on tap, the kegs rotate heavily, so the hardest thing is keeping a solid ratio. Some beers are on all the time, like local staples by Spoonwood, East End, and others. But without knowing what’s going to kick, especially during a weekend dinner rush, they really have to pay attention to what’s on the menu so the selection has enough variation.
And that variation is the beautiful thing about Pig Iron.
“It’s a different atmosphere here,” Shawn explained. “We make it easy to try all kinds of beer to find what you like.”
Kind of like tasting wine. Shawn points out that you wouldn’t say, “I don’t like red wines, so I don’t like wine.” Similarly, you wouldn’t say, “I don’t like stouts, so I don’t like beer.” You have to taste a bunch until you find what you like. And by no means is that a bad thing.
For Shawn, that beer was Victory HopDevil.
“I had it at Fox and Hound on McKnight,” he says. “I’d never had a beer like that before. It made me realize there’s more out there.”
The dedication to keeping things local is another beautiful thing about Pig Iron.
It’s locally owned by local guys from a local town. Their food is as local as possible, too. Maggie’s Farm Rum, Wigle Whiskey, Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, and Pittsburgh Pickle Co. are a few of the local players gracing the menu.
Did you catch that this is a local spot? Wasn’t sure if that was clear.
“Lots of people think we’re a corporate company. We’re local. We grew up in Millvale,” Shawn says. It’s apparent they hold themselves to a high standard, but they’re just local boys learning from their mistakes.
“We learned really quickly when we opened. We’ve updated our menu, changed and fixed issues we had.”
Even though Shawn is used to working with 20 taps and is a veteran in the restaurant business, he admits that he learned more in the first month at Pig Iron than he has at his Indiana establishments.
Oh, and to those people who think the craft beer bubble will burst, Shawn says you’re wrong: “The craft scene won’t go away, it’ll just get more local.” There are towns where the craft beer scene was of legal drinking age before Pittsburgh’s was born. They’re still going strong.
When you support local, the money gets re-invested here. And by here, we mean Pittsburgh. So here’s your sign that you need to visit these guys.
Even if you aren’t around Cranberry, a trip to Pig Iron Public House is a must. Make it on a weekend and take advantage of their incredible brunch. No matter when you visit, it’s worth it to explore their fantastic, local beer selection and their amazing food.