Cask Ale in Pittsburgh
On the Pubnetwork™
This PAGE originated at pubnetwork●comTM
and the barstool of Ed Vidunas
January 1, 2014
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Cask conditioned ale can be found in all of the brewpubs but maybe not all of the time. Local people except for Rock Bottom being tied to a corporation owns all the places below. Fat Head’s, Piper’s, Map Room and some of the Sharpe Edge taverns serve cask on a regular basis. Other taverns have installed an engine or two but they seldom last. I have more about cask ale below.
All places here use the swan neck beer engines (made by Angram and sold through UK Brewing Supplies) although not all use a sparkler. As much as I don’t like sparklers and swan necks they are the norm these days.
Update Note: Smokin Joe’s has been added to this site. Talk coming down the bar has it that Blue Dust in Homestead (Waterfront) may be adding an engine soon.
Cask Ale Spots in Pittsburgh
(If I missed some please let me know)
Carson Street Deli
1507 E Carson Street (river side)
Pittsburgh (South Side) 15203
Phone: 412 381 5335, Web: http://www.carsonstreetdeliandcraftbeer.com/
A traditional deli serving an interesting array of food as well as of craft-brewed beer. It may not be New York but it’s godfather approved.
Church Brew Works
(Brewpub & Restaurant) 1 engine w/ sparkler
3525 Liberty Ave at 36th St
Pittsburgh (Lawrenceville) 15201
Phone: 412 688 8200, Web: www.churchbrew.com/
This brewpub has one engine usually serving an English Brown or Pale Ale. Although this brewery makes some higher gravity continental beers, the English versions are normal for their style; coming in around 5% by volume.
Beer Styles: Predominantly English and German with Belgium at times. Look for Pipe Organ Pale on cask.
East End Brewing Company
(Brewery, not a brewpub)
6923 Susquehanna St
Pittsburgh (Homewood) 15208
Phone: 412 537 2327 (-BEER), Web: http://www.eastendbrewing.com
The East End Brewery is not a brewpub but a small regional brewing company. The beers of Scott Smith can be found in many local establishments in addition to those listed here. It is worth looking at Scott Smith’s site as one can pop in at certain times to take home a growler. Opened in 2005 the beer styles are English & Belgium style beers. As for his cask ale, look for Fat Gary Nut Brown (3.7%) and Pedal Pale Ale (?). He recently came out with a Scottish-Mile ale (?). Look for more to come.
During November 2011, Scott’s beers were placed on draft (keg, not cask) at the Cask Pub & Kitchen and the Craft Beer Company, London, England. I do think this is a first for a Pittsburgh brewer. I first visited in early December 2011.
Fat Heads South Shore Saloon
(Bar & Restaurant) 1 engine w/ sparkler and gravity at times
1805 E Carson St just east of South 18th St
Pittsburgh (South Side) 15203
Phone 412-431-7433, Web: http://www.fatheads.com
On Pittsburgh’s South Side, it has one beer engine and it gets a workout. The only time it’s off is when we finish it and they need time to replace it. Every so often it's Firkin Friday when they put a cask on the bar and serve it using gravity. The beer menu (39+ taps) is dominated by US Microbrews and the cask is usually from US brewers.
(Brewery & Restaurant) No engines but gravity at times
2705 South Water St at South 27th Street
Pittsburgh, (South Side Works) Pa. 15203-2391
Phone: 412 224-2328
Technically, one does not usually think of a German beer hall as a home for cask ale. The English do not have a lock on the cellar, so to speak. Any beer can be served in a cask. All beer was before metal kegs and refrigeration. Home brewers do this all the time. The HB does not do this all the time, sad to say. But, once a month when they debut their seasonal beer it comes on in a wood cask. It’s free but limited and there is a long line of patrons fighting for it. When the seasonal beer runs out on the regular tap, the put on their lager. Well, that is always on tap but as a replacement for the seasonal this lager is unfiltered. Not all bartenders may know to inform you on this so ask.
McKnight Road in the North Hills
I remember this as being the first restaurant in Pittsburgh to install a beer engine sometimes in the 1980’s. I don’t have any written notes nor can I find any printed material on this. Should anyone have information please pass it on to me.
(Bar) 1 engine w/ sparkler
1126 S. Braddock Ave between W Hutchinson Ave and Sanders St
Pittsburgh (Regent Square) 15218-1238
Phone: 412 371 1955, Web: http://www.maproompgh.com does not work for me
They have one beer-engine serving Scott Smith’s East End Brewery’s beer exclusively on cask. This is a nice pub that does things right and it is good for beer. I do need to make it back here for a look see how the engine is doing.
North Country Brewing
(Brew-pub & Restaurant) 1 engine w/ sparkler
141 South Main St
Slippery Rock (Butler County) 16057
Phone: 724 794 2337, Web: http://www.northcountrybrewing.com
This is the only place that I have listed in my site that is NOT in the Pittsburgh area. Others up north may be doing cask ale but I have not included them here. Sean McIntyre (formerly of Valhalla, Pittsburgh) is the brewer and does a full range of styles. They have one beer engine incorporating a sparkler. They supple Piper’s Pub with cask ale.
(Pub & Restaurant) 3 engines and NO SPARKLERS
1828 E Carson St between South 18th & South 19th Streets
Pittsburgh (South Side) 15203
Phone 412 381 3977, Web: http://www.piperspub.com
Drew installed four hand-pumps and he is committed in doing things right. He has casks conditioning so that when one is finished another is ready to go. The cask ales here come from local breweries. Typically the beers are from East End, North Country and Full Pint but regional breweries come in often. For the most part, all cask ale in Pittsburgh goes through a sparkler but Piper’s does not use one. More about the little buggers, below. Hart is the man in the cellar (as well as behind the taps).
Rivertowne Pour House
(Brew-pub & Restaurant) 1 engine w/ sparkler
312 Center Road at Beatty Road
Monroeville, Pa. 15146
Phone: 412 372 8199, Web: http://myrivertowne.com
The sparkler is always in use with the one beer engine. The brewers are tops in their craft so a delicious beer can be expected whether cask or draft. You will find about 20 on tap and a nice range of English in the pump.
Rock Bottom Brewery (Brew-pub & Restaurant) 2 engines w/ sparklers
171 E Bridge Street (under the Homestead – Grays Bridge)
Homestead (The Waterfront), Pa. 15120
Phone 412 462 2739 Fax 412 462 4514, Web: http://www.rockbottom.com
Rock Bottom has two engines for their English Ales and they are just what you would find in the UK. They usually serve one cask at a time and when that is finished the next one may not go one for a day or two. The gravity for the cask ales are normally under 5% as typically found in English pubs. As of late 2011 the brewery is aging beers in the side dining room.
Beer Style: English with some German
Sharp Edge Creek House
(Bar & Restaurant) 1 engine ⊗
288 W Steuben St Rt. 60 (Crafton) 1520
Phone: 412- 922 8118, Fax: 412 922 3603,
Only one engine here but it always has a cask working.
Sharp Edge Emporium
(Bar & Restaurant) 2 engines ⊗ but not all the time
302 S. St Clair St between Balm Blvd. and Friendship Ave (E Liberty) 15
Phone: 412 661 3537, Fax: 412 661 2713 Web: see above
Two engines stand on duty here and usually one is working but both have been called to action at times. Although they have had both working expect to fine only one dispensing beer. They seldom run dry of cask ale here. The Sharp Edge is a major player for cask in Pittsburgh. The Emporium and Creek House has 50 regular taps and about half of them are Belgium but the casks are US Micros.
Yes, I do know that I have omitted the Sewickley, Downtown & Peters locations. Stay riveted to this site for up-dates.
Smokin’ Joe’s Smoking permitted
2001 East Carson St (river side) at South 20th St
Phone 412 431 6757, Web http://http://www.smokinjoessaloon.com/
They put one engine on in 2010 but they haven’t promoted it too much, but neither do the other places in Pittsburgh. This is why you read this site. Joe’s has a good reputation for being a good beer bar and with the number of taps and bottles they have the engine should get a work-out here.
Distributors Supplying Cask Ale
Some cask ale at Piper’s Pub may come in thru various distributors from time to time, but I would not say they are regular cask ale outlets.
Vecenie Distributing Co. Millvale, Pa. (They sell to the public)
Distributors hold cask ale promotions at area bars from time to time. The bars listed above try to serve cask ale all the time while others not listed have it only for a promotion. Although a few of the brewpubs that served cask ale have closed, it seems that cask is far from dead in Pittsburgh. I like to think that I am helping. As more bars put it on for a night they may be willing to keep it on. But it does need customer support.
Cask Ale Notes
Taverns and brewpubs serve from metal containers but from time to time the beer can be in the wood. Unless the beer is served with gravity it is dispensed with a vacuum (created when the bartender pulls the handle) and almost always with a sparkler. I think sparklers change the true taste of the beer, but that’s my opinion. I think the owners think you have to use sparklers but you do not. They do force a head on the beer and there is nothing wrong (cough-cough) with that. I think I just drink too much in Southern England.
Here’s a true story, boys and girls. In merry old England the word meaning to pull is draught. The draught horse is the primary example. So is drawing water from a well. The act of pulling the handle on a beer engine is a draughting operation. Maybe that’s why so many draftsmen (of which I am one) drink? This is how draft beer got the name.
True cask ale is a living beer. It is not pasteurized or kept too cold as the yeast is performing a secondary fermentation. Cask ale must be allowed to settle before serving. That allows the yeast and other solids to drop to the bottom of the cask. To help this along a cellar-man would add finings to the ale. The yeast in the ale is attracted to the finings and fall (called flocculation) under their combined weight. Cask ale when served should always be bright. Living beer has B vitamins that are good for us and drinking cask ale in moderation will help keep you regular.
Cask ale is not the same as beers served with nitrogen gas. Guinness and other brands that have a black utter for a sparkler are served with nitro. The combination of nitrogen and carbon dioxide produces a creamy-smooth head but sometimes with a washed-out taste. This works well in Guinness and other dark ales but I think it takes away from Ordinary Bitter. But that just may be my tongue talking!
I will try and keep abreast of who is dispensing cask ale in the burgh but if I have missed something or you just want to chew me out then mail me at my address on my home page. For other sources of information on cask ale see my links on my Bar Buddies page.
The Swan Neck and Sparkler
The original beer engines had a sparkler that allowed a lot of beer to pass through without being agitated. A good example of this can be found at the Churchill Arms in London. If done right a bartender could draw a pint with two pulls and the beer would be spot on. The Swan Neck and the sparkler were developed for a specific type of beer. The sparkler is a little white aerator at the tip of a swan neck. It acts like the aerator on your kitchen sink. It is made to disrupt the flow so that a head is produced, even if the beer is not supposed to have one. The sparkler can be adjusted (not everyone knows this) tight or loose for different ales.
Beer in England for use with a swan neck and sparkler is different than what it would be if served the “old way”. It is made with a bit more bitterness. Beer forced through a sparkler (similar to your kitchen faucet) has an artificial head created. This agitation and aeration allows the bitterness to disburse through the head and provide aroma for the drinker. The trade-off is that the bitterness is now lacking in the taste. I don’t think the Pittsburgh brewers alter their beer for this.
The swan neck is thinner than the old spigots and helps restrict flow. This will give a larger than normal head even if the sparkler is not used. The neck also allows the sparkler to be placed down near the bottom of the glass. Not all bartenders do this but either way you get an induced head.
Not all beer should go through a sparkler (or sawn). Actually none should; but that’s my opinion. I can tell a difference and I do not prefer the bugger. Some bartenders will remove it and other will not. Tipping helps. Unfortunately all of the beer engines I have seen in the States have been with a swan neck. May the Churchill Arms never give up!
Alex Hall’s Real Ale Page is good to find cask all everywhere www.cask-ale.co.uk
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