Where to Drink in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Destinations by | Jun 2013 | Issue #77

Illustration by Sam Brewster

From an outsider’s perspective, Pittsburgh may appear to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. Since the decline of the region’s manufacturing industry, the city has generally been identified by its sports culture and its residual steel town credentials. Only in recent years has this Western Pennsylvania hub been recognized for a very different reason: great beer.

In actuality, Pittsburgh has always been a brewing town. Not unlike a great many other US cities, much of Pittsburgh’s original brewing culture came from an influx of immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe, who congregated in tight-knit neighborhoods and eventually adapted their traditional brewing practices to our shores.

The staff at the nationally celebrated Pennsylvania Brewing Company (Penn Brewery) in the city’s historical North Side have managed to masterfully preserve these traditional practices into the modern era.

In recent decades, Pittsburgh’s strictly blue-collar roots have given way to a vibrant, creative—yet still fiercely independent—beer, food and art culture. Pittsburgh and its surrounding area are home to well over 15 breweries and brewpubs—both locally owned (e.g., Rivertowne Brewing) and nationally or internationally affiliated (Rock Bottom and Hofbräuhaus). The area hosts a rapidly growing roster of nanobrewery startups, and a staggering number of quality beer bars and beer-centric restaurants … not to mention Arsenal Cider House and Laurel Highlands Meadery.

And Pittsburgh’s Church Brew Works brought home five Great American Beer Fest medals in 2012, including Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year. Staying true to its roots while maintaining a strong penchant toward innovation and independence has always—and will always—be hallmarks of Pittsburgh and the city’s thriving beer community.

1 for the Road Beer Emporium & Tap Room [closed]
A family-owned gem hidden in the northern suburbs, this expansive bottle shop and taproom allows customers to snag a pint from one of their 12 rotating taps (more lines to come) or fill up an empty six-pack holder with choices from roughly 650 bottles in stock. Make it a point to stop in during one of their bimonthly, free tasting sessions.

Bites and Brews
Located in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, this sports bar has managed to build a cult following among locals with its hand-tossed pizza (they make their dough daily) and awesome beer. Their offerings include 30 drafts (four nitro) and about 150 bottles. There’s always at least one tap designated for local favorite (and former BA cover model) Scott Smith’s East End Brewing Company.

Blue Dust
Named for the powdery ore that might cover a steel worker’s uniform at the end of a shift, this local beer bar and gastropub rotates 23 of their 26 drafts and offers 300-plus bottles. Their kitchen specializes in smoked meats and vegetarian options; a stark contrast that comes as no surprise considering the place’s eclectic vibe and clientele.

Church Brew Works
This Lawrenceville brewpub (and reigning GABF Large Brewpub of the Year) has inhabited the former St. John the Baptist Church since 1996. Pair their homemade pierogies with some award-winning beers—like GABF silver medal winner Pious Monk Dunkel—all in the midst of some beautiful architecture.

D’s SixPax & Dogz
Do some shopping in D’s “Beer Cave” (a bottle shop offering over 1,000 bottles), or grab a seat in the front bar or restaurant to enjoy any of their bottles or one of the 26 draft beers (six of which are typically local), in addition to some of the best hotdogs in town.

Fat Head’s Saloon
This wildly popular bar and restaurant in the city’s South Side offers one cask and 42 drafts—seven to 10 of which are offerings from Fat Head’s production facilities outside of Cleveland, Ohio—and about 200 bottles from their upstairs 1807 Beer Union six-pack shop. Their world-famous (no exaggeration) Head Hunter IPA is a must-try. Oh yeah, and their sandwiches are insane.

Gateway Grill
This Monroeville institution has been well hidden (and inhabited) by locals for the past 13 years. Their 34 taps and 550-700 bottles (depending on the season) rank it alongside any beer-centric location in the area. The wood-fire grill and the wildly popular pizza and ribs don’t hurt either.

Hough’s Taproom & Brewpub / Copper Kettle Brewing Company
In addition to the Hough family’s bar and restaurant (boasting an impressive 61 taps and more than 250 bottles), they’ve recently renovated a connecting storefront and opened the brew-on-premise operation Copper Kettle Brewing Company. Their popular “brew with the brewer” sessions give patrons the opportunity to brew batches with local and regional pro brewers.

House of 1,000 Beers
This New Kensington beer mecca stays true to its namesake by offering a whopping 1,000-plus bottles/cans on any given day. If that wasn’t enough, the bar has 40 constantly rotating drafts, including selections rarely (if ever) seen in Western Pennsylvania (e.g., Firestone Walker and Cigar City). Expect the addition of a full kitchen in the near future.

Industry Public House
Opened last year, this chic yet laidback spot pours from 40 taps—five local beers and three local ciders—and carries 50-60 bottles and cans. Handmade cocktails, including their smoke-infused Smoke Stack signature drink, are icing on the cake.

Piper’s Pub
This South Side UK-style pub offers an amazingly well-curated 37 taps (12 Pennsylvania taps, 12 domestic crafts, 13 imports) and four hand-pumps. Their UK-inspired menu manages to remain traditional yet creative, and construction is underway on a companion “chip shop” next door, which will focus on Pennsylvania craft brews and Piper’s excellent fish & chips.

Sharp Edge
This family of Belgian-inspired pubs offers a total of approximately 200 taps and over 1,000 different bottles across their five locations in the Pittsburgh area, focusing on hard-to-find Belgian and continental-European beers. Their house brew, dubbed “Over the Edge,” is a hopped-up Tripel brewed exclusively for Sharp Edge by Brouwerij Van Steenberge. Expect upscale bar food with a Belgian influence. They’re especially famous for their fresh mussels prepared with beer.

Smokin’ Joe’s Saloon
This low-key South Side neighborhood favorite opened in 1996, and continues to offer 60 diverse drafts and around 300 bottles. Drafts feature a good mix of regional beers from places like Full Pint, Naked Brewing Company and Great Lakes, plus some smaller US breweries like Finch’s and Kind Beer.

Poor Richard’s Wexford Ale House & Grill
Another unassuming locale hidden in the suburbs, regulars flock to “The Ale House” for their constantly changing taps, which often feature off-beat beers from the big breweries (Bell’s Double Cream Stout, Sierra Nevada’s Blindfold) alongside regional offerings from Penn Brewery and Fat Head’s.

Bocktown Beer and Grill
Displaying 16 local-centric drafts, Bocktown has become a hub for beer folks. They offer weekly tastings and on Thursday nights, they whip out Brewser the Infuser, a Randall-like French press of sorts. Enjoy a draft or peruse their “beer library” consisting of over 400 bottles. Don’t miss their fresh-cut fries, which can be adorned with any combination of 40-plus toppings, many of which are sourced from local purveyors.