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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The cat's out of the bag...

The rumors you may have heard for months are true: Tom Pastorius is out at Penn Brewery.  Check this local blogger. (Thanks to Brew Lounge's Bryan Kolesar for the link.)

There's not a lot I have to add at this point. I was just in Pittsburgh, and no one wanted to talk about this, except to ask questions: is it true? What happened? Was he forced out? Is it the old owners?

I'll tell you what I know, which is not much. Tom started this business, the first brewpub/craft brewery in Pittsburgh. After some hard work and great beer, he sold part of the business to try to raise capital for much-needed expansion. That didn't go well, and the business almost went under. Tom and some well-monied partners (with some public money as well) managed to get it back before it completely crashed. People were hired, the beer flowed, and the restaurant re-opened. At that point, things get very hazy, and pretty he-said-she-said, so I'm staying out of that. On the far side of that part, we find Tom out of the day-to-day operations of the brewery, not in evidence at all. There will probably be some public bad feelings about this, for obvious reasons.

And yet...the beer continues to flow, good beer. Brewer Andy Rich, two of the new owners, and sales/marketing head Eric Heinauer (who worked for years at Penn) were at my dinner at Bocktown Monday night, very much supporting the beer and promising new stuff. Like what? How about year-round Kaiser Pils, draft now and in 12 oz. bottles in February? How about a rye imperial stout (delish)? How about they bought the building -- something Tom tried to do for years but was never able to do -- and are making improvements already, like creating a new entrance, opening a 2nd floor hall with an awesome iron beam overhead (the Eisenhalle), or re-opening the lagering vaults for a planned barrel-aging program?

My advice -- as always -- is to wait and see before you judge the new owners, the new Penn Brewery. We do owe Tom Pastorius a debt of gratitude; he brought forth a great place, great beers, and some awesome festivals, working against inertia and a constant lack of capital. Great things. And's the next chapter. Read on.


sam k said...

This has been a happy-sad-happy-sad story for some time, and this is just the next chapter, I guess. Sorry to see you go Tom, and when St. Nikolaus bock goes on tap at Olde New York next week, I'll hoist one to your energy, enthusiasm and devotion to the cause.

On the other side...Kaiser Pils in bottles? I'm drooling already!

Tim said...

This news saddens me. Now I'm torn like Natalie Imbruglia as to whether or not I should continue to support Penn Brewery. Pittsburgh's a great beer-drinking town... but we just don't have an over-abundance of breweries/pubs that produce quality local stuff. Penn was/is one of those... Not good.

The better news here is that you're blogging again, Lew. Let's get a recap of that visit of yours to Pittsburgh!

Lew Bryson said...

Recap is underway; may have to stage it. A lot happened!

As for "quality local stuff," I'll say that the Kaiser I had over the weekend was so good that I went back on Tuesday to work on my Ale Street column in the restaurant so I could drink more. Cross the fingers.

Eli said...

Thanks for clearing this up a little Lew and adding some levity.

Al Luccioni said...

quality of beer most definitely suffered in his absence and surely improved upon his return not happy to see him leave again

Anonymous said...

Lew did you know about this when you state he said she said, "I don't want to get into it"...this should have been broke by someone who writes Pennsylvania Brewries, not some business website.

I know you have hosted beer events there and what not, some of the beer is getting better, however their carbonation issues with the bottles being released have been a big issue for beer drinkers in the Burgh.

Why is this news just coming out? Why doesn't Penn have a comment?



Tony aka WVbeergeek

Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, I did. I didn't say anything because there was a lawsuit underway at the time, and I didn't know anything more than the (literally) "he said, she said" stuff that was in that lawsuit. I did not feel comfortable commenting on this one; I'm too close to it. There are a couple other potential similar issues in brewing (PA and elsewhere) that I'm not talking about for the same reason: impending lawsuits.
I used to speak up on these things, and got pretty badly burned. I don't anymore; I stay focused on the beer when this happened. If that's sticking my fingers in my ears and going LA LA LA LA LA, well, so be it, and I'll take the criticism and nod, yes, I did that. It's not anything I feel comfortable talking about. There's a lot I didn't talk about with the Yards/Philadelphia Brewing breakup in the book, because when I did the interviews, the stories just didn't match up. Pick one? Print both? Not what I'm doing.
But like I said in the original one really wants to talk about this. Well, me neither.
The bottling issues, that's different, and I hadn't heard about it. What's the problem?