Tag Archives: Penn Brewery

Pittsburgh Part Two : Churches, Lagers, Ales, and More

We had sampled nearly everything that East End Brewing had to offer over the course of a few hours, and decided it was time for dinner. After some basic Yelping and being unable to find anything that excited us food-wise we decided to  head straight to our next brewery for some grub.

Sometimes I do my drinking in church... well most times.

Church Brew Works is exactly what it sounds like – a former church that has been renovated and converted to a brewery. The building is a bit intimidating when you approach from the front, a large brick building that maintains all of the Christian iconography and decor. Little adjustments have been made here and there, and I have to have respect for a crew that took this place and turned it into my kind of house of worship.

It's the little things.

We made it inside and checked out the main room – it’s expansive as you would expect from a former church, and the layout points all eyes straight toward the brewhouse where the altar used to be. We asked if there was a table for two, but they weren’t sure when one would be available so we grabbed two seats at the bar instead. One wall consists of a long bar and stools, almost from the entrance to the pulpit so we grabbed a seat directly in front of the beer menu and one of the taps.

The handles are appropriately ornate and shiny.

We started off with a plate of fries and asked what the server would recommend we try on the beer list. He told us he liked the Hefeweizen but didn’t really drink much beer, and so would send someone else our way. After a few minutes the other server came by and let us know she would try one of the year-round beers to get an idea of what they usually have on offer. That seemed like a solid idea, and so I went with the Dunkel on tap and our trusty co-pilot ordered their Celestial Gold.

The Church Dunkel was a medium brown color with lots of carbonation and a tremendously sweet nose. The smell hit me from a few feet away and consisted of caramel and sugar. The flavor was pretty cloying, and it was hard for me to finish the pint so we traded halfway through our respective drinks as co-pilot was struggling with hers. Celestial Gold is listed as a pilsener and hits the notes you would expect a noble pils to hit. It’s light and bubbly with maybe a finger of head and a faint aroma of hop. There was a bit of a papery flavor, which I think is what put off my partner, as that is one of her pet peeves we’ve found with lighter beers. I noticed it less, but it did have a metallic aftertaste that I thought was prominent. All in all a solid B- but not something I would seek out on their menu.

There was a layer of glass between us and the tanks, explaining the aliens in the bottom right corner.

For whatever reason the seasonal menu didn’t sound appealing to us, so we decided to go ahead and finish off the year-round menu posted on the wall. I went with their Pipe Organ Pale and she opted for the Millenium Tripel.

Our food arrived a few minutes after our second pint, and so I had a burger to pair with my Pale and she had Pulled Pork with her Tripel. The Pale was a light red, almost copper color with a mild smell of piney hops and a hint of malt sweetness. It was a bit thin on the first sip, though not as thin as other Pales I tried recently so maybe that’s a thing in this area, and I’m overly used to West Coast style full body. Smooth and drinkable through the whole pint, but far from my favorite Pale Ale because of the missing hop flavor and thin body. Living in San Francisco has undoubtedly spoiled me.

Coolest brewery ceiling?

The Tripel was a different story altogether, and unfortunately our least favorite of the night. It’s main discernible smell was acidic and green apple/lemony while the first sip was dominated by a sweetness that overpowered most everything with a still very present acidic quality. Not sure if acetaldehyde was created by overused yeast or we got a strange keg, but something was off. Would like to try this one again if I’m back in Pittsburgh to compare/contrast.

After our meal and pints we were ready to call it a day  of tasting and make our way home to save strength for the following day’s drive. But then we were invited to Penn Brewery by our hosts to grab a beer and chat for a while at their outdoor tables. I have a confession here – Penn Brewery was the only place we had been warned away from in all of Pittsburgh. We were told the beer was awful, the brewery unattractive, and it was located on the wrong side of the tracks. On the other hand, we knew a group of folks who would be drinking there and it was likely we were going to be able to sit outdoors which sounded good considering it was still about 80 degrees at 8 or 9 o’clock at night.

So over a bridge, almost into the wrong lane, around a few corners, and to Penn Brewery we went. I left the camera behind but I’ll break down the brews here.

Kaiser Pils – The first beer on the list was a solid pils, and I preferred it to the one I had at Church Brew Works earlier in the day. Well filtered and with a big noble hop smell I got excited after the first sniff. The flavor was solid and paired nicely with our fried appetizers by being clean and crisp. With no off flavors present I was optimistic moving forward after what I had heard before.

Penn Gold – An awesome Helles-style lager this one would have been my favorite if it weren’t for the next beer we drank. A mildly sweet smell that has a pleasing background hop scent is complimented by a smooth German malt profile and golden straw color. Perfectly balanced and easy drinking.

St. Nikolaus Bock – Somehow there were a few left-over kegs of this elixir at the brewery, and I wasn’t complaining. An excellent doppelbock that pours a medium brown with amber edges and smells divinely of roasty and toasty malts. The main flavors are sweet and malty with a moderate ABV and clean finish that keep it drinkable. I imagine this to be amazing in the winter, and it was damn good in the summer.

Penn Dark – Last but not least the eponymous offering from Penn Brewery is a solid dunkel lager that deliver roasty flavor, smooth mouthfeel, and a clean finish that add up to a quality lager. Easy to drink and fun to drink make for a not to be missed pint, and though I finished here I would recommend it or the Gold as a great jumping off point for the brewery’s other offerings.

As we were packing up we were talking about the brewery, and apparently within the last year they’ve had some shake-ups within the brewing crew, and it seems to have worked out in their favor. The beers coming out of this lager brewery were all solid, and as a fan of the art of lager brewing this was a fantastic stop on our trip. Similarly to L’amere a Boire in Montreal this was a lager brewery our host recommended that stood out immediately because of the brew quality.

So what’s the takeaway? First, go to Pittsburgh – the beer is good and the beer is cheap which makes for fun exploring. Second, no matter what you hear go try things for yourself – allow yourself to be surprised and don’t get cynical. Third, if you’re traveling and you have to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for a few hours of fun you damn well better. There’s no point in taking a once in a lifetime trip and avoiding the once in a lifetime experiences.