Firewhistle Brewing Will Heat You Up With Cold Beer and Warm Hearts
The one-barrel brewery in Elizabeth hopes to expand this year to a site in Pittsburgh.
Jason Berman is a volunteer firefighter with a burning passion for beer.
In July 2022, after two decades of making beer at home, he opened Firewhistle Brewing at 107 N. Second Ave. in Elizabeth Borough. It’s open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and 9 a.m. and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.
What was once a jewelry store is now a community-centered, beer-producing gem in the heart of Elizabeth.
Located about 40 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, the structure housing the tiny taproom sits beneath the Elizabeth Borough Volunteer Fire Department’s alarm. When the siren wails, Berman, who is also a paramedic, springs into action.
His best friend and business partner, Buddy Wickerham, will pour you a beer to wet your whistle. The one-barrel brewhouse churns out a variety of styles, from a chocolate peanut butter stout to an ale as red as a fire engine.
Although it’s only been operating for six months, Firewhistle has become a community hub. Half of the neighborhood residents appear in a locally produced commercial for the brewery and they regularly stop by for Dungeons & Dragons meetups, trivia, open mic nights and warm weather hangouts in the backyard.
Berman enjoys taking novice brewers under his wing and showing them the ropes in Firewhistle’s brewhouse, which is about the size of a large walk-in closet. He’s gearing up for Fueled By Hops’ Drink the Cookie Table 2, a dessert beer festival at Necromancer Brewing Co. in Ross on March 4. There’s a charity beer in the works to benefit Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, a site the EMT is all too familiar with.
The taproom is brightly lit with an ornate, gold ceiling and a colorful mural by artist Zachary Rutter. There’s a piano in the corner where Berman and Wickerham, both veterans of the local theater group, will belt out a tune. The next door restaurant, Fellini’s Pizza, Hoagies and Wings, delivers to Firewhistle.
“The biggest thing for us is community,” Berman says, who grew up in nearby Large, Pa. “I looked at a map and thought, ‘I can put a brewery anywhere. Why not open a place where I spent a lot of time as a kid? Elizabeth is growing. We don’t have a local business tax. Rents are smaller. It’s like an incubator.”
And while their social calendar continues to heat up, so does business. Berman says he’s looking to open a second location with a 15-barrel production facility and taproom in 2023 at a Pittsburgh site.
He dipped his toe into the craft beer world in 2002 at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery at The Waterfront in Homestead, where he developed a love of traditional red ales, lagers and stouts.
In 2018, he wrote his business plan. With help from The Progress Fund, a nonprofit community development financial institution that’s also assisting hop-friendly projects such as Hazelwood Brewery and Velum Fermentation, he was able to give Elizabeth its first sud’s maker.
There are usually five beers on tap on any given day and Firewhistle also offers Pennsylvania-made wines and libations and gluten-free beer from Aurochs Brewing Co. in Emsworth. Wickerham, who spent decades in the restaurant industry and has been sober for 15 years, whips up seasonal cocktails and mocktails at the bar.
“This is the first job I’ve had in 15 years that I’m proud of,” he says. “When that whistle goes off, Jason runs toward danger, but when he comes back he’s all smiles. He’s good at saving lives, including mine.”