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Monday, December 6, 2010

Western PA, Day 2

Yes, I'm still here, just got really busy with book signing and family life.

To pick up where I left off... I got up the next day, Sunday, then went to get breakfast. Sigh. Cranberry Township is a lot of things, but there aren't a lot of independent diners around. So, oddly, despite having gone to grad school at CMU back in the 1980s, and having been back to Pittsburgh on an almost annual basis ever since, I went to an Eat'n Park for the first time ever. Hey, at least it's a locally-based chain, okay? And the blueberry pancakes were pretty good.

Back to the room, did a bit of work that was hanging fire, suited up for the day, and I headed into town. It was a gray, raw, rainy day, and when I found a spot by the loading docks at the Strip (just about across from Kaya), I was unloading books in the rain. But it was all worth it: I got into the Pittsburgh Public Market and was knocked out by the great selection of local merchants and shtuff. I hustled down to the far corner where Scott Smith has opened the truly ground-breaking East End Brewing Growler Shop, and dumped my stuff. More about the growler shop shortly -- it was lunchtime. I got a recommendation: "Go up there to Sito's, get the wrap, they put an assload of stuff in there." And they did, and it was awesomely good. I wanted to get that plug in there because it was one tasty sandwich thing.

So, the growler shop. The way Scott explained it, the inkling came from a 2006 inquiry he made with the PLCB on another topic, in which they happened to mention, unprompted, that he would have the same ability to fill and sell growlers at an off-site storage facility that he did at the brewery. Busy as hell just staying afloat at that time, he didn't really think anything of it, but three years later he started thinking about opportunities, and that came to the top. It sounded like the off-site "stores" PA wineries are allowed to have, and that would be great, to get a growler outlet in a more consumer-friendly area than his famously out-of-the-way brewery, a place with more retail traffic.

It would be, but there was a PLCB odyssey to go through first. (Stop me if you've heard that one before...) Scott started going through layers and layers of bureaucrats, all of whom seemed baffled by the idea of an interpretation of the Almighty Liquor Code that actually made things easy for the brewer. "You'll need a license for that," he kept hearing, but like Virgil in Dante's Inferno ("This has been willed where what is willed must be, and is not yours to question.") Scott brandished the letter, saying "But I have a ruling from the Board." Because it was a letter direct from the actual Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, not one of their lawyerminions, Scott won through, and has an off-site storage facility at the Pittsburgh Public Market: a lockable cooler with tap outlets next to a serving area with a ton of East End merch.

And let me tell you, they do a land office business. On a wet, cold Sunday, there were people lined up five-deep happily waiting to get growlers filled, sometimes six at a time. And quite a few of them were interested in books! It kept me pretty busy, and Scott kept me supplied with tasters (can't get enough of the Fat Gary brown ale), but all good things had to come to an end...I packed up, shook hands all round, and made for the door.

It was seriously raining now, and I had to make my to [two of the colleges in town] to pick up [four college students I happen to know]. Yeah, I'm covering up identities here, you'll soon see why. I took the kids to one of my favorite spots (and my late father's very favorite spot) in Pittsburgh: Max's Allegheny. It was hopping, the Steelers were at home that evening, and Max's runs a shuttle to the arena. They managed to stuff us into the basement, where I got me some hassenpfeffer and Kostritzer.

So, why I covered the identities: they filled me in on the Four Loko thang. Yes, everyone drank it (this was pre-ban by about two weeks); it was compact and easy to smuggle in under a jacket, and a can is four 'regular' beers. "Oh, it tastes awful," they freely admitted, but they were equally open about why they were drinking it: for effect. One of the colleges had a no-drinking policy on campus, even for students of legal age, and the effect, they told me, was that no one drank beer, because it was too bulky to smuggle in. Instead, it was 'handles' (1.75 liter bottles) of cheap liquor (rum seemed to be preferred), bags of weed, and Four Loko. Great policy! I tried to set them a good example by praising the taste and low alcohol content of my schwarzbier, but it's truly for naught, given the 21 LDA; Max's was clearly a better environment for drinking (and learning to drink) than a dorm where every drink was contraband, but what's logic in the face of dogma?

I took them back to their campuses, and considered just going to my hotel in Monroeville...but I had gotten a Facebook message from Steve Lander, a true alpha beer geek (and funny SOB to boot), that I should meet him at The Headkeeper in Greensburg. Well, I'd put Headkeeper's into the book on recommendation, so I felt duty-bound to check it out. Glad I went, though I wish I'd et a bit lighter at Max's: Steve was eating, and the food smelled fantastic. He'd been eating his way through the menu over a couple months and said it was almost all outstanding; this from a metro New York guy. The beer...well, no possible argument, the beer selection, draft and bottle, was exceptional. If I hadn't already had a couple, and had a 30 minute drive back to my room... But instead, I hung with Steve and talked geek for a while, and had a Schlenkerla Lager (always welcome), and finally did check into the Holiday Inn Express (I gotta start finding more non-chain motels...). And that was Sunday. Next day: breakfast with an old high school chum, lunch at Rivertowne, a visit to Full Pint (finally!), the Church, and Penn, and the big PA beer dinner at Bocktown... stay tuned.

(I'll get some pix up on this one as soon as my PC stops acting like Betty White; maybe I should try a Snickers...)


Jeff Bearer said...

Next time, if ever, you are looking for a diner in Cranberry Township remember the Freedom Square Diner.

AL Luccioni said...

what. no Dutch Club Dark?

Anonymous said...

Whats up with Stoney's Dark? any sightings. Check out

Freak of Le Nature said...

good beer ruined by a not so great ownership

Tim said...

Lou, could we get some more details on your visit to Full Pint? I've always been a big Pourhouse fan, I'm diggin' the Chinookie they've got on the shelves, and my wife like's the White Lightning.

Their website just isn't very *informative* yet... is it a place the general public can visit? Are they giving tours? A tasting room? Food? Would love to hear answers to those questions and more of your thoughts on your visit there.

Lew Bryson said...

You do know it's "Lew," right, Tim?

Yeah, I've got some details on Full Pint, coming up in the next installment. There's not much for the general public yet, but there will be soon.

Tim said...

Lew, I did know that. I was typing in a hurry, trying to get that post up before I had to go to a meeting (not a valid excuse for butchering your name, but it's all I got). My mistake. That's embarrassing.


Lew Bryson said...

No prob, Tim, don't know why I bothered to gig you for it!

sam k said...

Anony, no Stoney's Dark, but the regular version's better than it's been since Jones closed, thanks to the relatively modern plant in Latrobe (and brewed in Westmoreland County again!).

Freak, no good will come from a Podlucky ownership of any-damn-thing, and we'll all be better off once they're all put to rest. At least you can still buy a Stoney's, thanks to consumer loyalty to the Jones family. Just try to find a Le Nature's product...anywhere.

Tim said...


Any chance we can get that "next installment" and "further info on Full Pint" that you eluded too?

I hope ill health or misfortune isn't the explanation for your slowed blogging these days... hopefully it's because you've just been busy thoroughly enjoying the holidays.

Lew Bryson said...

Tim, sorry! Blogging's off because holidays AND increased workload. But I've already started on that "next installment', and hope to finish it up this I can write about the stuff I saw and tasted in central PA the week of Christmas.