With Pittsburgh’s craft beer scene continuing its epic and monumental rise, it brings a smile to my face to always see a big turnout for event after event after event. No matter how many craft beer-themed festivals and fund-raisers come to town, our beer-loving community comes out in droves to show their support and, well, drink really good beer.
This past Saturday night was no exception.
The 11th Annual Pittsburgh Brewfest, hosted by the Pittsburgh Rugby Club, set up shop inside the Sheraton in Station Square for three hours (four hours for VIPs) of craft beer celebration and enjoyment. This event is organized by and supports the Pittsburgh Rugby Club and also benefits local charities chosen by the PRFC as well. This year’s event had many solid local craft beer breweries in the house, putting their brews center stage for the Steel City’s hop and malt-fueled fanatics to consume. In addition, many beers from across the region and other parts of the country were on tap as well.
Myself and fellow beer nerd/beer podcaster/beer (insert your favorite title here) Doug Derda from Should I Drink That were chosen to judge a handful of select beers and rank our top three. After a considerable amount (or none at all) of arm twisting, we both began the journey around the room to see who could live up to our ridiculous standards of beer judgment or was willing to offer us a bribe…
…wait, was that out loud? Abort!
In all honesty, we perused the selected list of beers “walking the runway,” so to speak, before we took our first sip and knew the competition was going to be stiff. I’ve had several on the list in the past (imagine that), a couple as recently as Thursday and Friday (again…imagine that), and so had Doug. But, like the troopers we are, we sampled them all nonetheless and, among an impressive amount of great beers rose one that made us both do a double take.
Noble Stein Brewing Company out of Indiana, PA is probably the newest brewery you haven’t heard of. Yet. They are a few licensing steps away from being fully operational and, let me be the first to say, that’s a really good thing. They were pouring two beers: Grist Grouse IPA and Hop Hired Hand Saison. Both were solid…but the saison was one of the best I’ve ever had in its style. You expect a saison to be crisp and hit you with a nice balance of fruit notes and hops, and Hop Hired Hand does just that. But it’s probably the most full-bodied saison I’ve come across, and Doug was in full agreement.
After working our way through everyone’s best, our initial thoughts of a tight race could not have been more true. We sifted through our choices and whittled the field down to our favorites, ending with a Top 3 that read as follows:
1) Noble Stein Hop Hired Hand Saison – It came into our lives and stole our hearts. With the Spring weather creeping up, I’m highly anticipating a growler of this on the patio one night soon. Great job guys, and best of luck with your final steps. (By the way…whoever was behind the chocolate chip cookies…those were solid, too). Follow Noble Stein on Twitter and give their Facebook page a like as well.
2) Grist House Brewing Horizon Shine Pale Ale – I was fortunate enough to get to Grist House this past Friday night for their first firkin tapping which contained Horizon Shine. In fact, I got the last pint from the firkin…talk about timing! I’ve loved this beer since the first time they poured it and believe it takes pale ales to a brand new level. Incredibly balanced, one that could easily become your go-to beer. If you haven’t checked out Grist House on Facebook and Twitter, now’s your chance.
3) Spoonwood Brewing Cold Drip City – Head Brewer Steve Ilnicki had me excited for this one before it even left the tank and it totally lives up to the expectations he laid out. Not your every day “coffee beer,” this ale packs all the roasty punch of a cup of java while taking on the appearance of a bold, full-bodied ale. Since this one hit the taps, I’ve drank it each time I’ve visited Spoonwood. And you should, too. Find them on Twitter and Facebook, and read all about them in this month’s Breaking Brews Craft Beer Spotlight!
A big shout-out to all the other breweries in attendance for making it incredibly hard to narrow down the list to three. It’s a true testament to all the great beers our craft beer community gets to experience each and every day.
All in all, this event was superb. The venue was perfect for the crowd size and the mix of breweries was spot on, supplying those in attendance with a diverse selection of beers to sample. A big shout goes to the Pittsburgh Rugby Club for putting together this event and making it run as smoothly as it did. Looking forward to making a return in 2016!