Breweries and Ballparks

I didn’t really know what to expect of my first visit to Pittsburgh. The recesses of my mind still had visions of steel mills and smoke stacks.thumb_IMG_4127_1024

I wasn’t heading to the steel city for its architectural character or cultural charm, but rather to join Sid the Younger for a late June weekend of ballgames and craft breweries in a stadium and town we’d never visited. What’s better than a toad trip with your son to root for the Dodgers in a faraway land?thumb_IMG_4101_1024

thumb_IMG_4120_1024First off, Pittsburgh is surprisingly beautiful, at least at this time of year in the areas we visited. I should have guessed, having driven through the Amish country of Pennsylvania with Beth many years ago. Rolling green hills covered with lush trees overlooked the three rivers that meet near the downtown area a few hundred yards from PNC Park, just down the block from Heinz Field where the Steelers play.thumb_IMG_4114_1024

My ever-efficient and loving wife Beth booked our hotel literally right across the street from PNC Park, where restaurants and bars line Federal Way and General Robinson Street. On game days (at least on weekends), Federal Way closes to vehicular traffic in favor of a stage outside the stadium as fans cross the Clemente Bridge to enjoy the music and pre-game festivities. I’ve never seen so many fans wearing caps and jerseys; they were everywhere we went, but especially at the stadium.thumb_IMG_4105_1024

The Pirates haven’t played in a World Series since 1979, and they’ve had more bad years than good over the past four decades. Still, the fans are loyal and forgiving. More impressive is how remarkably welcoming they are to out-of-town fans clearly rooting against their team. Unfortunately for us, the Pirate fans had the last word, with the home team winning both games I attended and three of the four weekend games against the Dodgers. No question, Pittsburgh people love their Pirates, Steelers and Penguins.

thumb_IMG_4103_1024The sports were only part of the reason for our journey. After our self-guided tour around the statues of Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Bill Mazeroski and Honus Wagner that surround PNC Park, Sid and I walked along the Alleghany River toward its union with the Ohio and the Monongahela rivers. After lunch at the Jerome Bettis Grill (he wasn’t in, but our waitress gave us a tour of his private lounge filled with memorabilia), we went to explore the city’s craft breweries.thumb_IMG_4117_1024

Pittsburgh is a great sports town, but it hasn’t yet caught up in the craft beer arena. Understandably, it’s still an Iron City Beer town (I used to have many of the commemorative championship Steelers and Pirates beer cans in my since-sold can collection). Still, they are trying.

Grist House Brewing is set in an old house-turned-brewery in the middle of a neighborhood outside of town in the city of Millvale. The atmosphere there is welcoming and the setting is charming, even if the beer is just average.thumb_IMG_4123_1024

From there we headed to the Lawrenceville area, where there are breweries up and town Butler Street, which runs parallel with the Allegheny. We were able to easily walk from Hop Farm Brewing to the Full Pint taproom and then to Roundabout Brewing.

thumb_IMG_4124_1024Our last stop before game time was back in Pittsburgh at Church Brew Works – easily the most impressive brewery structure I’ve ever visited. The brewery has taken over a restored Roman Catholic church originally built in 1902, but is now filled with large silver brewing tanks and picnic benches in an environment that reminded me of the cavernous Hofbrau Haus in Munich.thumb_IMG_4125_1024

The breweries were great and the people were more than kind, but the beer was mostly watery, unexciting and lacking the big bold flavors that we’ve become so accustomed to at home. Of course, as Sid the Younger reminded me, unless you’re in California, Oregon, Colorado, Michigan or Vermont, you’ll be lucky to come across great craft beers.

Bad baseball and bad beer, but we had a great time and loved Pittsburgh.














2 thoughts on “Breweries and Ballparks

  1. Its a shame you only made it to the 5 most mediocre (the beer atleast) breweries in town. If you wanted to be blown away by beer in Pittsburgh, you have to travel slightly outside downtown proper. Brew Gentlemen in Braddock produces the best IPAs in town and have recently been put up against the likes of Trillium, Treehouse, and other NE IPA giants. For Belgian style and sour beers, Draai Laag in Millvale (a block or so from Grist House) cannot be beaten. Voodoo, albeit a satellite of their Meadville brewery, is a guaranteed winner for all styles – especially anything barrel aged. Insurrection Ales in Heidelberg is a great source for sours, IPAs, and rustic farmhouse beers. For lagers, Penn Brewery in the Northside (very close to where you were) is killer. On top of those, there are 40+ breweries open or in the process of being open within a 30 minute drive from the center of the city in the next year. Yes, Pittsburgh may not be on the map for craft beer just yet, but it’s not far off. Come back soon and talk to some local craft beer people where you should go. You’ll leave a much happier person. Cheers!

    • Thanks… We really could only go by what we saw online, and then we were pressed for time. I was thrilled we got to five. But yeah, they were pretty mediocre. Thanks for the info and the heads up… Loved our visit and hope to return soon! But I’ll wait for those others to open first! Thanks!

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