February 2016 – Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant
At just about every juncture, the city of Pittsburgh has re-established itself as one of the best cities with the brightest futures in the country. Tourism is booming, the arts and cultural scene is top shelf, the culinary scene is experiencing tremendous growth and success, and the libations scene is flourishing in nearly every conceivable way. I was recently at an event held at the offices of Google in Bakery Square where a representative of Mayor Bill Peduto shared with the crowd that President Barack Obama recently posed the question to the Mayor, asking, “How did Pittsburgh do it?”
That’s right…the comeback Pittsburgh has made has reached the Oval Office…to the point that our nation’s leader asked for the blueprint in hopes of applying it to other cities in need of resurrection.
It’s safe to say: Pittsburgh is no longer just the town with the great football team. Queue polka music…
The rising phoenix known as the Steel City, a town forged on blue-collar work ethic and a steadfast determination to succeed at all costs, is now a hotbed for new business ideas to grow and prosper. In the world closest to us as libations enthusiasts, craft breweries are opening in all corners of the region, furthering the argument that Pittsburgh is on the cusp of becoming a major player in America’s craft beer movement. Many of these breweries came together in remodeled buildings, others started from scratch and built from the foundation up. But size, brewing capacities, and distribution abilities not withstanding, every single one of these breweries became operational because of the people whose vision of opening a craft brewery became reality through blood, sweat, tears…and beers.
Today, we are going to squash a common misconception that a “chain restaurant” cannot be part of the local focus that has defined Pittsburgh’s craft beer landscape referenced above.
Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant rests in Homestead, namely The Waterfront, an area of Pittsburgh where the heartbeat of our nation’s steel industry once existed. Over the years, The Waterfront has since become a thriving metropolis of restaurants, retail stores, and overall consumer activity. And nestled in the thick of said activity is Rock Bottom, a spacious full-scale restaurant with a 12-bbl brewhouse where their own beer is brewed for on-site consumption and growler fills to-go. This month, we celebrate Rock Bottom as a big-time player in Pittsburgh craft beer in the latest installment of the Breaking Brews Craft Beer Spotlight Series.
While Pittsburgh’s Rock Bottom is one of 32 spread across the country, the offerings on tap are not born from recipes carbon-copied via corporate memo. They’re just as original, innovative, and high-quality as any craft beverage you’ll find at any craft brewery destination in town.
“There has been a common misconception among consumers that each and every Rock Bottom is a cookie-cutter mold of the one that opened before it,” Head Brewer Meg Evans explained. “Truth be told, we are only given about 5-6 mandated brews a year. Given that we have many more beers released throughout the year, we have quite a bit of freedom that allows us as brewers to create our own local feel within our restaurant.”
Meg brings a wealth of brewing knowledge to the kettle at Rock Bottom. After gaining valuable experience as part of the teams at Southern Tier Brewing Company and Pittsburgh’s Rivertowne Brewing, Meg discovered her passion was brewing in the brewpub setting. She’s been part of the brewing crew at Rock Bottom for nearly two years and became the Head Brewer in September of 2015 when Brandon McCarthy accepted the Head Brewer position at Rock Bottom’s Richmond location. She is joined by Matthew Gibb, who formerly brewed at Hop Farm Brewing in Lawrenceville, and Adam Kubala, also from Hop Farm.
Since taking the reins, Meg’s mission has been to raise awareness of the fact that Rock Bottom is a local-centric brewery devoted to producing quality beers while sharing in the camaraderie that makes Pittsburgh’s craft brewing community so unique. Meg and the crew are embarking on producing some interesting one-off beers and more collaborations with other breweries in 2016.
“We are looking to work with many more people on some really fun projects,” Meg teased. “We have a couple in the works…stay tuned for more details!”
One of those projects is already in motion. Not one to shy away from swinging for the fences, Meg is joining forces with Natalie Baldwin, a brewer for Burnside Brewing Company in Portland, OR, to collaborate on a beer that will be released at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia in April. Natalie will be making the cross-country trek to brew what Meg describes as a Sake/Saison blend.
“We’ll be taking some methods of sake brewing and using them in this collab,” Meg said. “It’s a pretty big deal to have been approached about doing this beer. I think it’s a good foreshadow to what 2016 has in store.”
One thing you may have noticed while occupying a stool at your favorite watering hole is a lack of Rock Bottom beer. This is another point of focus for Meg and her team as they look to enhance the visibility and availability of their brews to craft beer fanatics at all corners of town.
“Distribution is on our list this year as well,” Meg stated. “It’s currently a work in progress, but we do hope to get ourselves on tap around the city soon enough. If you like our beer, ask for it!”
To familiarize yourself with the creative beers Rock Bottom is pouring today, a trip to The Waterfront is definitely worth your time. Personally, I made friends with the High-Level IPA, an American IPA brewed with Bravo, Centennial, Citra, Columbus, & Simcoe hops…you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. This incredibly drinkable beer tips the scales at 7.3% ABV and 60 IBUs. The bitterness is present but very tame. I am also a cheerleader for their current rotating dark beer, Lively Stout, a 7.0% ABV beauty with bold, roasty characteristics.
Click here to discover what else is on tap at Rock Bottom.
Rock Bottom has taken some major strides in the last few months to establish themselves as much more than “another chain restaurant.” They have a Happy Hour that runs Monday thru Friday from 4:00pm – 6:30pm with deals on food and beer, but they added some flair by including complimentary tastings and one-off beer releases one night a week. They’ve also reached out to the brewing community by starting a beer industry happy hour, a Brewer’s Brunch (open to the public and a very cool opportunity to rub elbows with the guys and gals who brew your local favorites), and other great events. As Meg explained, she’s very excited about these events because it allows Rock Bottom to invite people in to see what they have to offer.
You can stay up-to-date on all of Rock Bottom’s events on Rock Bottom’s website and PCBN Connect’s Events & Happenings calendar. Also, take a look at what’s coming out of the kitchen to pair with your favorite pint.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but when I think of the term “corporate brewery,” Anheuser-Busch is what comes to mind. Never once have I put Rock Bottom in that category, and neither should you. They have the ability to flex their creative muscle and, speaking from first-hand experience, the beers pouring at Rock Bottom are complete validation of that artistic freedom. There may be several Rock Bottoms nationwide, but there’s only one in Pittsburgh…and the beer on tap is as Pittsburgh as french fries on a salad. As 2016 roars on, expect to see more of what makes Rock Bottom a major part of the local craft beer destination checklist.
“This year, expect collaborations, barrels and more barrels of aged beer, great seasonals, and rad events,” Meg concluded.
2016 is going to be the perfect year to hit Rock Bottom.
Click here to check out the Over a Couple of Beers Podcast we did with the Rock Bottom crew!