When it comes to drinking at Pittsburgh's breweries, we know a thing or two about it (we have been to nearly all of them, after all).
But what do you do if you want to try out our 50+ breweries without making the drive all over the western half of the state? The answer is simple, go to Beers of the Burgh.
This one is the best festival for local beer in western Pennsylvania, and will be a new tradition for us moving forward.
Pittsburgh's Premier Beer Event
Beers of the Burgh is an annual event that takes place each June, and in 2018 was hosted at the historic Carrie Furnace– a perfect backdrop if there ever was one.
The event itself featured 50+ local breweries (including three meaderies, Arsenal Cider House, and Red Star Kombucha), all of which are located in Western Pennsylvania. (The furthest of which was Erie Brewing Company but nearly all of the rest can be reached in an hour's drive.)
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Each brewery had their own station, many manned by the head brewers themselves, and most brought 1-3 beers to sample while a few others upped the game and offered 4-6 that cycled in throughout the evening.
Do the math, and you'll quickly realize that there was the potential for about 150 samples of local beer- a win in our book even if the base ticket was a rather expensive $45 for the three hour event (2018 early bird prices).
In addition to drinking ample beer, many popular Pittsburgh food trucks were on site including Blue Sparrow, Gaucho, PGH Sandwich Society, and Mac and Gold to name a few (available at an extra charge). We also spotted many local celebrities wandering the grounds as well, although that is not guaranteed in any given year!
Armed with our tasting glass, a VIP ticket for an extra hour's worth of tasting, we hit it hard and visited about 45 of the 56 or so breweries on site and really had a good time! This is not only just enjoying the stellar drinks, but having Carrie Furnace be the backdrop for it all.
In this respect, the convention center just doesn't do drinking justice like in other Pittsburgh beer festivals (admittedly, the mostly sunny day helped a lot with that, too).
So, what about the beer?
Well, we had many favorites, including Shaky Wheel (Peach – Milkshake IPA) from Butler Brew Works, Ale of Eros (Belgian Style Fruit Beer) from Butler Brew Works, _____apricurrant from Dancing Gnome, Tenured Tango (Double IPA with Jalapeno and Mango) from Levity Brewing, and Wastin' Away Again (Margarita Gose) from Rusty Gold Brewing to name a few of the 50+ we sampled over the course of the evening.
If you see these anywhere, give them a try!
It is also worth noting that Beers of the Burgh does not offer printed lists of the beers at the gate, so if you want to pre-plan (like we do), definitely print out your beer list in advance. The pre-event list from 2018 is available here and was about 75% complete at the time of the event.
Is a VIP Pass Worth It?
As with most events of this nature, we purchased the VIP tickets to determine whether or not the extra hour at Beers of the Burgh was worth it. At a cost increase of about $20 per ticket, we were really curious as this was a nice jump from the already expensive base ticket price.
So what do you get with the VIP ticket? Well, the ticket itself allowed for one hour of early tasting (taking the event up to four total hours)- giving you first access to the beers. As we found out, this came with two perks.
The first perk was the early access itself. We went to the furthest row of beer stations and started sampling one by one. We made it through about 10 samples and noted that the hour must be winding down before the general admission crowd entered in. We looked at our phone, and it was 3:18pm. We had 42 minutes left.
As it turns out, we made our way through roughly a third of the breweries before the 4pm opening for general admission, and made our way over to the food trucks for a well deserved break while the general admission crowd made their first pass through the beers. Timing wise, we couldn't have asked for a better setup.
The second perk was access to VIP only beers. Now, this one is very much dependent on what the breweries are actually offering in any given year, but many do bring five or six different kegs and switch up their pours throughout the night. During our visit Dancing Gnome had the last keg of _____apricurrant exclusive for VIP ticket holders, and a friend of ours made us rush over to get the last few pours as it wasn't advertised at all.
It kicked right when general admission opened and was quite frankly the best beer of the night.
After the general admission crowd rolled in, we slowed down significantly but still managed to hit most of the 55 or so breweries at the event, with the usual suspects being the only ones with lines of about 10-20 deep at their busiest (Dancing Gnome, Strange Roots, Hitchhiker, etc).
We lost our taste for beer at about 5:45pm and were on the first shuttle out (we called that) and overall think that the VIP ticket helped us achieve a great balance here.
But is it necessary to buy one? We don't particularly think so.
If you had the three hour general admission you could probably drink just as much as we did with the trade off of slightly longer lines and save yourself the potential $20 upcharge per ticket. But at the same time, that extra hour was a whole lot of fun to have free reign of it all and we'll probably buy it again just because we always buy the VIP tickets to begin with.
Beyond the regular VIP ticket, Beers of the Burgh also offers a Super VIP ticket which is another $20 on top of the regular VIP ticket that includes a 45 minute tour of Carrie Furnace prior to the start of the event plus an official t-shirt ($15 value). Considering a tour of the furnace is $21 on its own, this is a good deal even if the tour is truncated a bit (not to mention, also ended 15 minutes after the start of the VIP tasting, whoops!).
But having been on the tour before we skipped it ourselves (although in retrospect, since we bought the t-shirt as well, the extra $5 would've been a deal to do it again).
Overall, Beers of the Burgh is the premier beer event for lovers of local beer and is the kind of event we will make an annual tradition (cost be damned). Well, as long as it is at Carrie Furnace at least. The ambiance makes this one almost as much as the beer does.
We'll see you there next year!
Beers of the Burgh takes place in June each year. Tickets are sold in pricing tiers with the early bird VIP ticket pricing selling out the fastest (even we missed this one!). Tickets are often sold out several weeks prior to the event. Advanced parking at Carrie Furnace was an extra $10 in 2018 and was $15 day of. Porter Brewery Tours offered a complimentary shuttle service to Rock Bottom in the Waterfront that we used and fully enjoyed for the convenience aspect, but note that the line gets quite long during the last hour of the event.