It's been a while since you last heard from me, but now that I'm on the other side of a beery and boozy family vacation*to Asheville, NC and Louisville, KY, I'm back and fatter than ever.
My friends, I have been to the mountaintop of Craft Beer, I'm pleased to report that, regardless of the hype, Pittsburgh lays as much claim to it as Asheville does.
As many of you know, in the last several years, there has been a considerable amount of (well-deserved) press, hype, and accolades heaped upon Asheville's beer scene. Asheville boasts more breweries per capita than any other city, and by a considerable margin. As of the date of our visit, the city limits contain 15 Breweries -- some of those breweries have multiple production locations, so the actual, physical brewery count is, in fairness, actually closer to 18 breweries. Asheville is a small city, with a population of roughly 80,000 people living within 45.3 square miles. To give you a sense of perspective, there are more than 300,000 people living within 58.3 square miles in Pittsburgh, and there are (within the city limits) 6 breweries making beer: Costar, Church Brew Works, East End, Hop Farm, Penn Brewery, and Roundabout. Of course, Pittsburgh relies quite a bit on its suburbs and countryside to add a lot of volume and diversity to its brewing scene, but so does Asheville. Western North Carolina has dozens more breweries, including two huge production facilities (with tap rooms) for Sierra Nevada and Oskar Blues, which are contributing a lot of jobs and volume to the Asheville area.
Yes, the shear magnitude of the craft beer scene in Asheville is impressive. And, yes, it's also envy inducing. At one point, we unwittingly passed** three other breweries in our walk from our car to the our first brewery destination of the day. But, after getting over my initial puppy love, I started to recognize that with all that beer, we didn't get a significantly better product. I had just as many mediocre beers as I had great beers. I saw a lot of very similar tap lists and tasted a lot of very similar beers. At the end of the day, I didn't see anything*** that we don't have here in Pittsburgh, readily available and made with the same high-level of brewing acumen, right here in Pittsburgh.
That's not a knock on Asheville -- I tasted some very good beers of a wide-range of styles there, in some beautiful, hip, and laid-back spaces. No, instead, that's a credit to Pittsburgh, and, specifically, that's a credit to what has happened in Pittsburgh recently. We have caught up, folks, and it's time to acknowledge that fact. In the last four years, we've closed the gap with a lot of new brewery upstarts. We've watched a lot of existing breweries expand their facilities (and with those expansions, expand their range). We've added beer festivals and other ways to engage not only our community with our brewers, but also to engage brewers with each other on a more frequent basis. In short, if Asheville, as a city, marks the height of a beer scene's maturity, we're there. Could we add some volume? Probably. Will we need to as more and more people change their tastes from macro beer to craft beer? Of course. But, right now, do we have a mature enough brewing scene that us nerds can wake up one morning, crave a particular and esoteric style (within reason), and find a well-brewed one on tap somewhere within a reasonable driving distance? Yes. That's a wonderful feeling, and we have our local brewers to thank for that.
Thank your Pittsburgh brewers the best way you know how. Go to their breweries. Buy their beer. Take your friends. Order their products when they're on tap at your local bars.
Wednesday 9p-12a: Live at the Independent: Our very own (and very talented) Victoria puts down her server book and picks up her guitar for a solo, acoustic performance. Come support live and local music as you support local beer.
Thursday 5p - 12a: Lucky's Last Tiki Night: Fear not, tikiphiles, Tiki Thursdays will continue with friend-of-the-bar Will Groves, but Lucky is moving on to a full-time gig at Acacia and we couldn't be happier for him. You'll recognize him as Lucky's "intern," i.e. the guy who has joined him every Thursday for the past several months. Previous to being Lucky's intern, Will was the bar manager at Butterjoint. We'll miss our painproof man, but he'll always be part of the Independent family, regardless of what side of the bar he's on. Come enjoy a few more Tiki drinks made by the man who has an exotica vinyl collection that Rhode Island would struggle to contain.
Saturday 5p-12a: International Rum Cocktails with Adam : Adam is back behind the stick again on Saturday and will be making International rum cocktails. Have the feeling that we're using a lot of rum lately? Seeing a lot of internationally inspired drinks? Wondering what all this Tiki stuff is about? Think that might be a sign of things to come next door? You're probably right.
Thanks folks, and see you at the Independent!
* Vacationing with a 20 month old is more akin to combat than vacation. Anytime you enter an establishment, you must have an exit strategy. Your failure to do so will result in scorn and extended casualties.
** Why didn't we stop, you ask? They were closed as it was 11 a.m., which is the exact time that it is socially acceptable to start drinking with your toddler who woke you up at 4 a.m. that very morning ("Happy Birthday, daddy!")
*** One exception (and something I'd like to see happen here in Pittsburgh): Wicked Weed's "Funakatorium," a separate brew facility and barrel house devoted to Wicked Weed's sour program. The volume, diversity, and quality of the sour beers produced there is unlike anything I have seen in Pittsburgh or any other city. That, my friends, is cause for you to go to Asheville, even if the rest of the city were dry.