As a beer lover, my idea of heaven is being surrounded by free flowing and delicious creations from some of the world's best breweries. While I may not be in this particular heaven just yet, Pittsburgh does have an annual event that is about as close as you can get to my ideal scenario- the Pittsburgh Beerfest which during the winter edition featured here is at the convention center downtown.
Although this event is relatively young, the hundreds of samples available from local, national, and even a few international breweries makes this one as close to my picture of heaven as I can get.
Armed with an eight-ounce glass, an early admission ticket with all-you-can-drink access, and the Uber app on my phone ready to go for the end of the night, I was prepared to hit this one as hard as possible to try and find some new favorites.
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Sampling From 400+ Beers and 120+ Breweries
If four-and-a-half hours of unlimited access to free-flowing beer is not enough to get you excited, then perhaps the beer list will- as it certainly did for me.
The Pittsburgh Beerfest features over 120 breweries from around the country, including several Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania brewers, and features a sampling menu of well over 400 creations. Yes, 400. Although I can drink a fair bit of beer given the opportunity, I knew I had to restrain myself as trying them all would still be an insane amount of beer even with just a few ounces at each stop (I don't know about you, but I don't think Angie and I are capable of enjoying 19L of samples each before even factoring in full pours).
As such, for those who are planning on enjoying the Pittsburgh Beerfest, you need to go in with a master plan and stick to it.
Tips for Tackling the Beerfest
When it comes down to it, having 120+ breweries and over 400 beers to choose from is a challenge in and of itself. As we noted above, it is very much impossible to try them all even with the smallest of samples, so preparing for the Beerfest requires a bit of work. After experiencing this one for ourselves, we recommend preparing for your visit by doing the following:
- Purchase an early admission ticket to get an extra hour with a smaller crowd (and enjoy a slightly higher sample-per-minute ratio)
- The regular admission crowd was not that bad on Friday night, to our great surprise.
- Check out the beer list ahead of time and mark the ones you want to try (while also familiarizing yourself with the map online).
- Ask for small pours rather than a full glass if you are on a quest to sample many. (And we truly mean small pours, like a splash.)
- The dump buckets and water stations will be your friend (even though you may, like we did, feel dirty wasting good beer).
- Grab a snack from one or many of the local vendors like Rowdy BBQ, Pizza Parma, or Emporio Meatballs along the way, and bring cash.
- Make the extra effort to go to the downstairs bathroom by the entrance for a cleaner bathroom experience earlier in the night. Trust us.
- Plan for an Uber or designated driver at the end of the night.
The second point is perhaps the key for this event as it is quite difficult to keep all the beers separate in your head without having some sort of plan outlined before your visit. Although you will come to find no rhyme or reason to the layout of the breweries in the room, making sticking to any sort of plan difficult, having a rough list of what you want to try does help you keep things in mind even when you are 40 samples down.
We decided to break up the beer list based on three main criteria: local PA breweries, national breweries we've always wanted to try, and two or three beer styles we wanted to sample all of (namely Hefeweizen, Belgian/sours, and stouts). Between these, and a few others that caught our eye, it allowed us to reduce the beer list from 400+ to a manageable 90.
Split between the two of us and with reasonable pours each, this plan amounted to about one liter per person per hour, giving us enough room left over to try a full glass of a few beers that we enjoyed the most as well. (This consumption rate was a lot less than we had at Oktoberfest in Munich, so the pace worked well for us.)
Overall, the extended session at the Pittsburgh Beerfest is a lesson in pacing yourself, and following the above tips will ensure you have a pleasant experience like we did and also get to sample the beers you want to try the most!
So, What Beers Stood Out?
Although we kept our sampling to the regional breweries and beer styles mentioned above, we did manage to try roughly 80 unique samples between the two of us (getting our cost per sample ratio down to about $1.50 each, a good deal if you ask us).
While it would be impractical for us to talk about every single beer we sampled during the 2017 Beerfest, the following were standouts that we look forward to enjoying more in the future.
Note: We skipped some of our favorites from many of the local Pittsburgh breweries because we had already tried many of them before. Check out our Pittsburgh brewery post at the previous link for even more ideas on samples to try.
- The Bittersweet Nitro (coffee milk stout) from Left Hand Brewing Co (Jeremy's favorite from the night)
- Two Hour Delay (brown ale with honey) from 412 Brewery
- White Rascal (Belgian white ale) and the Gose from Avery
- The Weissenheimer Hefeweizen from Destihl Brewery
- Brandy Barrel Aged Spiced Winter Lager from Lakefront Brewing (Early Admission only)
- Willy Vanilly (vanilla wheat ale) from Alpine Beer Company
- One Hitter (barrel aged stout) from Lagunitas
- Sherman Street Stout from War Streets Brewery
- Rochefort #10 from the Merchant du Vin importers (all European high-proof)
- Dark Rye Barrel Cider and the Crafty Cranberry Cider from Wyndridge
- Melon Gose from Anderson Valley (Angie's second favorite from the night)
- Rose Cider from Rhinegheist (Angie's favorite from the night)
- Double Chocolate Bock from Block House Brewing (Jeremy's second favorite from the night)
- Dragon's Milk (American double) from New Holland
If you like these styles of beer, do yourself a favor and check them out at the Pittsburgh Beerfest. If not, don't worry, this one has something for lovers of all styles.
You won't be disappointed!
To check out more of the Pittsburgh Beerfest, click here.
We would like to thank our friends at the Pittsburgh Beerfest for inviting us to attend. As always, all opinions are our own. Please drink responsibly and arrange a designated driver or an Uber when attending the Beerfest.
Looking for more things to do in Pittsburgh in February? Click the previous link for some of our favorite recommendations!