The 'Burgh Beer Bible
Your guide to the city's best bars, microbreweries, beer caves, cocktails and more.
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Pittsburgh, you might’ve heard, is a shot-and-a-beer kind of town. What you may not know, however, is that it’s also a shot-in-a-beer kind of town (at least for those with slightly more adventurous palates).
Beer cocktails have allowed imaginative bartenders and amateur mixologists alike to expand their repertoires with unlikely combinations of liquors, ciders and juices … and the star ingredient: their brew of choice.
At Meat & Potatoes in the Cultural District, bar manager Mike Mills uses the quintessential working-class lager in a whimsical concoction known as Pimm’s Blue Ribbon: After mixing Pimm’s No. 1, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, lemon juice and simple syrup, Mills cracks open a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon (which he says gives this crisp, refreshing cocktail its unique drinkability). Served with a sliver of orange peel and a cucumber slice — and perhaps a twist of irony — the Pimm’s Blue Ribbon goes down like a citrusy soda.
You also might consider taking the edge off at Round Corner Cantina in Lawrenceville, where mixologists make a mean Michelada Mexicana. Combining Dos Equis, lime juice, a pinch of salt, a jalapeno spear and a sprig of cilantro, this is a drink that hits you in the nose — before it plants a smackeroo on the lips.
For something a bit more, well, stout, there’s the Black Velvet — which, unlike the whiskey of the same name, can be enjoyed a pint at a time. At Claddagh Irish Pub in the SouthSide Works, expert bartenders start the drink with about 8 ounces of Strongbow, a crisp amber cider that provides the foundation for a separate layer of dark, heavy Guinness on top. With its distinct black-and-gold hues — not to mention the cheers rising from all around the bar — this might just be the perfect beer cocktail for the Steel City.
In 1990, Pittsburgh native Jeff Walewski had a hunch that good things were about to happen for local beer lovers. After dedicating 10 years to learning the world of microbrews while living in Colorado, Walewski set up shop with seven drafts and 32 imported bottles. The Sharp Edge Beer Emporium, a Friendship landmark for worldwide brews, was born.
Walewski’s plan worked. The Sharp Edge brand — which now boasts five locations — is a Pittsburgh staple; it’s also home to the acclaimed triple IPA Over the Edge, an in-house brew. The food is as varied as the beers, from mussels to venison burgers to the irresistible signature buffalo bites.
“We’re always getting good quality beers that are hard to find,” says Walewski. But Sharp Edge is just the beginning for beer lovers.
Out in Robinson or — more recently — Monaca, Pittsburghers can sip and eat at Bocktown Beer and Grill. From the menu to the weekly live music to the “Buy Fresh Buy Local” partnership, Bocktown pays homage to western Pennsylvania. There are “snacks n’at” and “‘dahn the hatch” dinners, Turner Dairy products and Smallman Street Deli pickles. On draft, Bocktown offers 16 rotating American brews (growler-ready, of course), but most impressive is the 400-choice “beer library.” Patrons can drink as they dine, but there’s also a mix-your-own-six-pack option (a special treat around these parts).
If options are your thing, make a trip to Fat Head's Saloon in South Side. The joint boasts 42 taps, including three from Lawrenceville’s Arsenal Cider House. The restaurant (which has a Cleveland counterpart) showcases many of its own creations — including the award-winning Head Hunter IPA and the unusual-but-delicious Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale (your uninitiated friends can watch, entranced, as fresh blueberries bounce around your glass).
Everything at Fat Heads is big — from the menu itself to the infamous headwiches (which are, quite literally, the size of your head). Patrons can also sign up for a Frequent Fliers Beer Tour, wherein you get the chance to work your way through a list of your favorite beers (and theirs, too); survivors wind up with their name (or alias) enshrined on the “Wall of Foam.”
For a different take on bar food, Rivertowne’s four locations can serve your needs in Verona, the North Shore, Monroeville and North Huntington. Beer selections include in-house brews, popular domestics and imports from around the world. And no matter the source of the beer or the location of the restaurant, beer buffs can indulge in seafood perfect for a three-river city — such as Cajun catfish, salmon burgers, and coconut shrimp.
For restaurants you can visit both in and away from Pittsburgh, check out Rock Bottom at The Waterfront and Hofbräuhaus on the South Side. Pittsburgh’s Rock Bottom is one of 34 national locations with 125-plus brewing awards to its credit. At Rock Bottom, you can find hand-crafted brews ranging from kölsch to red ale to the signature Special Dark. The restaurant also offers 11 house favorites — made-from-scratch dishes like Tuscan chicken pasta.
Hofbräuhaus Pittsburgh has a different atmosphere altogether. The original was founded in Bavaria in 1589, though it took until 1828 to become the beer and food hall we recognize today (in between, the brewmasters were busy inventing Oktoberfestbier). Hofbräuhaus opened its first U.S. branch in Kentucky in 2003; Pittsburgh joined the fun in 2009. Grab a bench in the busy bier hall and enjoy Bavarian classics like bratwurst and spätzle. A visit to Hofbräuhaus would not be complete without a liter of Hefeweizen and a singalong to a rendition of “In München steht ein Hofbräuhaus — oans, zwoa, g’suffa!” (or, “In Munich there’s a Hofbräuhaus — one, two, and down the hatch!”).