The following is a Special Feature contributed by James Sites, founder of Stellmacher Brewing Company, a local one-man operation specializing in sour beer production. Check out Stellmacher Brewing on Facebook and stay up-to-date on all the great sour beers James is creating!
It has been said in the past that, “If the world ends today, be happy to live in Pittsburgh because things going on elsewhere take about five years to finally get here.” While it might not take THAT long, we certainly are a bit behind the times regarding a lot of things. Regardless of the perception that we are slow on the uptake as far as trends go here in the ‘Burgh, I’m very excited to find out what is going to happen over the next couple years with all of these breweries that have recently opened. That said, what is it that we need here in Pittsburgh to make our growing craft beer scene one that is not just new, but special?
1) Time: There’s no excuse for not making great beer from the very start. And once a brewery gets dialed in, it’s an incredible thing to see solid beers cranked out all the time. When the beers and the vision for what the beers should be meld, then you have an environment that is conducive to consistently superb beer. Although palates certainly vary, great beer should be able to be appreciated by anyone who has been drinking beer for long enough, but even those new to drinking craft beer should be able to appreciate the difference between a great beer and one that is just OK. Great beers are lively to the nose and palate, satisfying to the senses, and can be from any beer style or brewing tradition. There are great Pilsners and English Bitters out there just as there are great IPAs or barrel-aged Imperial Stouts. My assertion has always been that if you think the beer coming out of your brewery is any less than great, then you should be constantly and consistently thinking about what it would take to make it so.
2) Attention to Detail: This quality can put one brewery ahead of another. The ones who constantly strive to improve and perfect their recipes are the ones who earn the loyal following. Good ends up being the starting point, not the end point, thus leading to variations and different beers…all giving us something great to look forward to. It has been said that a great work of art is never finished. The same can be said of any great beer and the brewery behind it.
3) Differentiation: What is it, besides different locations and different people, that sets one brewery apart from another? The answer is the type of product they produce. What skills will rise and thrive to help one brewery stand out over another? That question asked, the differentiation can be found in brewers who make better and different beers than everyone else. At this point, we have several breweries pushing the envelope and producing diverse takes on certain beer styles, as well as rewriting the playbook with some beers that wouldn’t necessarily fit standard beer “guidelines,” but are enjoyable to drink nonetheless.
4) Creating Community: Talk to many of brewers in the Pittsburgh scene, and the majority will tell you how close-knit the community is. You see a lot of this when a new brewery opens its doors. As the craft beer landscape continues to grow and evolve with every new brewery that arrives, there’s normally a lot of support from their fellow brothers-and-sisters-in-hops in regards to making an impact. Naturally, there’s always friendly competition…who can make the better beer? But ultimately, you see a lot of camaraderie. And in that camaraderie comes collaboration beers, beer dinners, festivals, etc. It’s important that intertwined in these collaborative efforts is a sense of something special…a unique end product that shows a blend of ingenuity, brewing philosophy, and skill.
5) Distribution: As The growth of craft beer in Pittsburgh can be largely attributed to more bars and bottle shops featuring beer from Pittsburgh breweries. And why not? In many cases, the product can stand toe-to-toe with beers from more renowned breweries across the country. More and more, our local guys are getting the distribution they need to enhance their brand. Others have taken the approach of simply making great beers and increasing the appeal to come straight to their taproom to get a taste. If a brewery is operating on a smaller business model, that may be their only intention. But increasing distribution will allow more craft beer enthusiasts in all corners of the city to experience the product.
We are living in very exciting times and watching the craft beer scene grow up and mature before our very eyes. It has taken great strides in the last five years and, over the past year, has been party to explosive expansion the likes of which no one could’ve foreseen. This rapid growth leads to a decreased learning curve. As new breweries hit the scene, they have to find a way to make an immediate impact. Thankfully, this has been the case as the “new kids on the block” have been carving out solid reputations for making uncompromisingly great beer…which is exactly what Pittsburgh’s craft beer loving community deserves!