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Besides being an absolutely lovely city, Pittsburgh is home to a thriving and bustling "good beer" community.

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Wayward West Coast Traveler Hits Beer Trifecta in Pittsburgh

by Lisa Morrison

     It all started with a phone call from my company's training specialist. A number of us were being sent to several different cities across the country to conduct some training with new staff, and he was trying to figure out where to send each of us.

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     Since I live on the West Coast, the original thinking was that I would cover Seattle and San Francisco╩-- a prospect that enticed me for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the opportunity to do some quality beer hunting after the workday. But that was about to change.

     "So, would it be OK if we sent you to Pittsburgh?" the guy asked. "I am trying to arrange it so that each trainer gets one really cool city and one not-so-cool city, just to make things more fair."

     Apparently, he thought Seattle and San Francisco were "really cool" cities, with Pittsburgh falling in the other category. I agreed to his proposal╩-- not that I had any choice in the matter.

     "There goes my beer-hunting adventure," I thought as I charted my course for the 'Burgh.

     Boy, was I ever wrong. And so was our training specialist. Besides being an absolutely lovely city in its own right, Pittsburgh is home to a thriving and bustling "good beer" community╩-- and some of the friendliest beer fans I've ever met.

     My first stop on my beer expedition was The Church Brew Works, hands down one of the most stunning brewpubs in the country. Located in a 100-year-old former Catholic church that was slated to be replaced by a parking lot, this piece of beer paradise has been judiciously resurrected to much of its original beauty. And for some of us, the addition of the gleaming copper and stainless steel brewing equipment at the altar makes the place even more beautiful than it was in its previous life.

     The hand-painted cypress ceiling and the Douglas fir floor are original, as are the beautiful stained glass windows that bejewel the walls. The most unusual piece of stained glass in the church is the round rose motif that graces the entry. It is also the brewpub's logo and is replicated on the obligatory T-shirts, mugs, Frisbees and pint glasses.

     Patrons can choose to sit on the original pews as they enjoy their pints and food, or they can opt for the zigzagging, modernistic bar╩-- which eloquently fits in with the rest of the atmosphere because it was created from oak planks salvaged when the original pews were shortened to accommodate the restaurant's seating arrangement.

     Behind the bar stand serving tanks filled with Head Brewer Bryan Pearson's fine craft beers. The Church Brew Works always features four standard beers: Celestial Gold, a smooth North German lager; Pipe Organ Pale Ale, a British-style pale ale with hints of East Kent Goldings hops; Pious Monk Dunkel, a mellow Bavarian-style dunkel; and Bell Tower Brown Ale, an aggressive American brown "session" beer. Other brews rotate on the list. During my stay, I was able to try the smooth and well-balanced Penance Porter and the ever-so-tasty Imperial Stout╩-- a rich, roasty, creamy concoction that was just what I needed to help me forget about the snow accumulating outside. I also got my hands on a couple of large bottles of Church's 2000 Tripel. The presentation is lovely, with a foil-wrapped crown and shimmery labels. The liquid inside is worthy of such a fuss╩-- a perfect souvenir of my trip to this house of beer worship.

     I was fortunate enough before my next stop to have had enough time to befriend a local I was training. Pittsburgh is a beautiful city, but it could learn a thing or two about road signage, like maybe having some, for starters. Between that little annoyance and the relentless snowstorm, I was more than happy to let my friend do the driving for a while.

     We stopped at The Foundry Ale Works, located not far from Church in a trendy area known as The Strip District. My first thought upon walking into the cavernous brewpub was "How the heck can they keep this huge space warm?" My answer came when we sat down and the server immediately placed a small space heater beside our table. The huge building offers patrons a chance to enjoy several intimate spaces-within-spaces. In one area, a large group of friends was playing darts, while in another part of the brewpub, a couple was having a quiet tÉte-ł-tÉte while lounging on big leather couches. Still others were simply enjoying a meal and a beer in the large dining area of the brewpub.

     The Foundry offers a rather extensive list of standard brews and specials, so my friend and I chose to order a number of small glasses of beer and share them. I found the Brown to be a good session beer with unusual complexity for a selection low in body and abv. My Iron City friend enjoyed both the Golden Ale, the Foundry's flagship brew, and something on the opposite end of the spectrum: Aran's Breakfast Blend, a coffee stout that nicely married the two flavors. My favorite was the Liquid Brick Barley Wine, a heady concoction of strong maltiness, a hint of hops and more than just a little bit of alcohol╩-- yet one more reason I was happy to let my friend do the driving.

     Everyone who frequents pubs likes to enter an establishment "where everybody knows your name," as the "Cheers" theme song puts it. And I found such a place in Pittsburgh. What's even better is that it has arguably the best selection of draft Belgian beers I have ever seen╩-- even in Belgium╩-- in addition to an eye-popping list of draft and bottled craft beers and imports.

     Before I ventured out on a beer-hunting adventure with my new friend, I had visited the Sharp Edge Beer Emporium and its sister restaurant and pub, the Sharp Edge Creekhouse. The Emporium, which is undergoing a renovation to expand its space, is a true beer bar, but the food offerings are tasty, too. The Creekhouse, which is located in an old Victorian house, is more of a restaurant, with an emphasis on food in addition to beer.

     Owner Jeff Walewski has so many taps (57) at the Emporium that the handles have to be turned sideways for them all to fit! Obviously a Belgian beer aficionado, Walewski offers two dozen Belgians on tap at the Emporium and 16 at the Creekhouse, many of which are served in authentic glassware, including Chimay White, Corsendonk, Bornem, Augustijn and Delirium Tremens. Others aren't served in the authentic glassware but are still worthy of note: La Divine, Maredsous 8, Kasteel, Straffe Hendrick and Gouden Carolus, for starters. Anyone looking for other imports or craft brews can select from among drafts of Young's Double Chocolate Stout, Belhaven, Celebrator (the beer, not this publication), Old Speckled Hen, Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, Victory Hop Devil, Stoudt's Scarlet Lady and Anderson Valley IPA and Oatmeal Stout, just to name a few.

     Walewski is constantly getting new beers in, so patrons learn to look at the chalkboard above the bar at the Emporium for updated beer information. Some recent additions included Dogfish Head World Wide Stout and Old School Barley Wine, Victory Old Horizontal Barley Wine and even some selections from Rogue, just to make this Oregonian feel at home.

     Not that I needed it. The servers and clientele at both of Walewski's establishments have got to be among the nicest people around. The servers, all of whom are very well-schooled in the beverages they serve, are more than happy to answer questions and chat about the beers. And the regulars at the Emporium love to welcome new customers into their fold. Within two hours of my first visit to the Emporium, I was being invited by "the Four Toms" (four regulars each named Tom) to a tailgater the next day. When I returned with my friend a few days later, I was greeted by name as I entered by some of the same patrons I had chatted with earlier in the week.

     Unfortunately, time constraints did not allow me to visit any of the other brewpubs in Pittsburgh. I hate it when work gets in the way of my beer hunting. But with the assurance of good beer, good atmosphere and fantastic people in the Iron City, I have Pittsburgh down as a must-visit-again location.

     Just don't tell my company's training specialist╩-- or he will want to go to Pittsburgh next time around.

Lisa Morrison is known as the Beer Goddess in Portland. When she is not traveling for her company, she writes about beer and teaches beer enlightenment classes around the Rose City.

Copyright 2003, Celebrator No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Celebrator Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!

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