The Pittsburgh trip I'm telling you about -- Red Star, Church, East End, Full Pint, an' 'at -- is, of course, not complete. It's because there are two huge holes in it: Iron City and Penn.
I stopped and stared at the big, silent Iron City brewery Wednesday morning when I was visiting Church Brew Works: the huge graphics coming off the walls, the little sign still saying "Beer Gear Shop." The silence. The cold breeze with none of the huge smell of malt.
When I came off I-279 onto E. Ohio Street Tuesday afternoon, I looked over to Penn, saw the tower, and it hurt to know there was no point in driving over there. No more gleaming brewery, no more schnitzel (no more turkey sandwiches, Sir), no more aromatic glassfuls of Dark. No more gemütlichkeit.
I talked it with a knowledgeable insider who requested anonymity. "You tell me," he said. "How do you kill a successful business, a successful brand, that fast?" Indeed, I said; with Iron City it took repeated cycles of criminal management -- literally (pretty good summation of the whole story, only a couple small errors) -- to do it. We laughed softly, ruefully.
Iron City is being brewed at Latrobe, Penn is being brewed at The Lion. I haven't had any of the 'new' Penn, but I did have a bottle of Latrobe-brewed Iron City. I drink Iron every time I visit Pittsburgh, just something I do, and to me, this tasted just like it always has. But in both cases, it doesn't really matter whether the beers are accurate renditions of what the beers used to be. What matters is what their regular drinkers think, and it's already clear that they are not pre-disposed to think they're the same.
Will something be worked out to return Penn to the brewery, or to a new brewery in Pittsburgh? There was an article in the Tribune while I was out, how Tom Pastorius was trying to round up money and investors to put a deal together...but I don't give it much of a chance. Don't get me wrong: I hope for the best, my fingers are crossed, and if it were to be done -- and done right -- it would have to be with Tom. I cannot imagine his despair in watching the crowning accomplishment of his life crumble and fail, just as I cannot imagine anyone else being able to successfully revive Penn. But there are just too many things against it right now.
If the brewing of Penn does not return to Pittsburgh soon -- and I have no idea how that might happen -- the brand will disappear. Iron City? I'm afraid there is nothing that can save the brand at this point. A terrible waste of heritage -- in both cases -- a terrible waste of years of hard work, a terrible waste of potential.
Hard thoughts on a Saturday morning. I grieve, truly.
Maybe I'm burying Penn too soon. Thanks to a reader for this link to a story in today's Trib; the Urban Redevelopment Authority has authorized a $300,000 loan to Pastorius and his partners. Good news, and while the bottling line is gone, the brewhouse is still intact (I'd thought it was gone, and that's a big plus). But...they still have to buy the business back from Birchmere Capital, and then successfully buy or lease the building again, and that's not going to be easy at all. My fingers are still crossed.