Pittsburgh’s Historic Beer Pedigree
In Pittsburgh, the only flowing thing more beloved than our rivers is beer! Almost as soon as people settled in the region, the brewing of beer began. Let’s take a look back. In 1765, the British Army established a brewery at Fort Pitt, making it the first brewery west of the Alleghenies. In 1803, the Point Brewery was founded by Colonel James O’Hara, making it the first commercial brewery in the Pittsburgh area.
After that, brewhouses flourished. Over the years, numerous Pittsburgh area breweries have opened, changed hands and names, consolidated, failed, and then were revived. Early efforts included the Wainwright Brewery in Lawrenceville, which was in operation from 1818 until 1920. The M. Winter Brothers Brewery, which was established by a trio of Bavarian brothers–Alois, Wolfgang, and Michael Winter–operated on Pittsburgh’s South Side at Josephine Street from 1833 to 1899. The Winter Brother’s brew was not bottled but sold in wooden kegs to biergartens and taverns.
Another of the first brewers in the city was Edward Frauenheim, who came from Germany and established his Iron City Brewing Company in 1861. The brewery began 150 years ago on 17th Street in Lawrenceville and remained there until 1866, when it outgrew the facilities and moved to Liberty Avenue and 34th Street.
The successful Eberhardt & Ober Brewing Company was founded in 1870 by John Ober and his brother-in-law, William Eberhardt. It was located on the North Side at Vinial Street, at the foot of Troy Hill in Deutschtown, Allegheny City.
The Pittsburgh Business Directory in 1895 reported approximately 30 breweries in the Pittsburgh area. By 1860, there were 1,269 breweries in the U.S. which produced more than one million barrels of beer for a population of 31 million inhabitants. New York and Pennsylvania were the leading producers, brewing 85 percent of all the beer produced in America.
The Pittsburgh Brewing Company
In 1899, the beer world in Pittsburgh went through a huge reorganization. Twelve local breweries joined together to form the mega brewery known as the Pittsburgh Brewing Company. Brewers joining the conglomerate included: Wainwright Brewing Company, Winter Brothers Brewing Company, Eberhardt & Ober Brewing Company, Iron City Brewing Company, Phillip Lauer, John H. Nusser, Hippely & Son, Ober Brewing Company, J. Seiferth Brothers, Straub Brewing Company, Phoenix Brewing Company, and the Keystone Brewing Company. Nine breweries from the outlying areas joined in as well, consolidating 21 local breweries into the behemoth Pittsburgh Brewing Company.
From Latrobe to Smithton, Local Breweries Thrive!
In the Pittsburgh region, outside the city, beer was just as popular. In 1865, The Benedictine monks at St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe began brewing beer and selling their Monastery brew to raise funds, the proceeds of which were used to help the poor. After 42 years, they closed the brewery in 1898.
In 1881, Welsh immigrant William “Stoney” Jones immigrated to Sutersville, PA, and legend has it that Jones won the Eureka Brewing Company in a poker game and renamed it the Jones Brewing Company. The locals referred to the beer as “Stoney’s” beer, thus establishing the brand’s name. In 1907, the brewery moved to Smithton, PA. Actress Shirley Jones is the granddaughter of Stoney Jones and is a Smithton native.
The Duquesne Brewing Company was established in 1899 and was known as the “Prince of Pilsners.” It operated on the South Side and eventually joined the Independent Brewing Company of Pittsburgh in 1905. The brewery dissolved in 1972. However, besides its beer, Duquesne Brewing was also noted for its large clock. This Pittsburgh icon was larger than the clock face of Big Ben in London and kept the time until 1999. Then Pittsburgh Brewing took it over and since then there have been a succession of advertisers using the clock to trumpet their brand.
Rolling Rock beer was established in 1939 by the Tito Brothers in Latrobe, PA. It’s distinctive green bottles and the mysterious “33” on the bottle’s label has made Rolling Rock a stand out in the crowded beer market.
The Changing Beer Industry of Pittsburgh
Prohibition wreaked havoc on the brewing industry, and many of the breweries that did survive the national ban on alcohol soon saw their companies change hands as larger companies bought them out. Pittsburgh Brewing Company and its Iron City brand of beer, the beer most associated with Pittsburgh, changed hands several times before City Brewing Company acquired it and began brewing the beer in Latrobe. In 2006, the Rolling Rock brand was purchased by Anheuser-Busch and the brewing of Iron City beer was transferred to their brewery in New Jersey.
Brewing has come full circle in Pittsburgh. The industry started off with numerous, small breweries until the late 1800s when many breweries merged to form brewing giants. Now with the large breweries falling on hard times, the market has reopened once again for the smaller brewers. Micro-breweries and “nanno” breweries are revolutionizing the industry.
The Eberhardt & Ober brewery building has come full circle as well. In 1989 Penn Brewery opened its doors in the old Eberhardt & Ober building. There has been some turbulence during the last few years at Penn Brewery, but its beloved Penn Pilsner is still being brewed there.
In August of 1996, the closed St. John the Baptist Church in Lawrenceville reopened as the Church Brew Works, where the actual brewing takes place where the altar once stood. In 2010, attorney Mark Dudash mortgaged his house to re-launch Duquesne Pilsner. Contracting with City Brewing in Latrobe, Dudash brewed 500 barrels of the beer, and it sold out in a week.
Full Pint Brewing near North Versailles, the East End Brewing Company in Pittsburgh, North Country Brewing Company in Slippery Rock, Rivertown Pourhouse in Monroeville, and Rock Bottom Brewery are some of the micro-breweries opening the taps in our area. Pittsburgh is such a “beer town” that it was selected as only one of a few cities in the country to welcome a Hofbräuhaus, which is modeled after the legendary Munich Bier Hall.
Nanobreweries are small operations with a few people who brew smaller amounts of beer than microbreweries, but they nevertheless are making a large impact on the beer-drinking scene. The Beaver Brewing Company and Milkman Brewing Company are two brewers in the area that have embraced the art and science of brewing to develop creative beers that compete for space in Pittsburgh’s vast brewing palette.
As always, when it comes to Pittsburgh beers, the bottom line is bottoms up!