Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, which runs April 19 through 27, encompasses dozens of events across the city and region. But perhaps the best way to get a good taste of it is to get a taste or tastes of the "collaboration brews" made for that week at five local craft breweries.
For this second-annual celebration of craft beer, 27 brewers from 15 area breweries and homebrewing groups drew names from a hat to divide themselves into five teams. They collaborated on cooking up five unusual brews and brewing small batches of them at five breweries, and will be sharing the results, so you should be able to find them at multiple venues, including the centerpiece Release the Firkins Real Ale Fest on Sat. April 20.
Another place is Penn Brewery, where they'll pour all of them at a Collaboration Celebration from 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 24. "We will offer all of the five PCBW collaboration brews as well as the collab we did with Bill Larkin from Arsenal Cider, a hop cider," says Andrew Rich in an email. He's Penn's head brewer and chairman of the board of non-profit Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance, a coalition of beer industry folks who put on the week to "highlight the Pittsburgh region's craft beer culture, expanding the reach of craft beer through education, collaboration, cooperation and responsible libation."
At its celebration, Penn also will pour tastes of the "Commonwealth Press Ale" it brewed, kegged and bottled for the South Side screen printing and design firm, which organized the sold-out April 26 Beer Barge cruises. CP also designed the tap markers for the collaboration brews, and CP's Dan Rugh generously shared them so we could publish them here.
The hop cider, described by Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar's Mr. Larkin as "hard cider with the hop profile of Penn Kaiser Pils," will be available at Arsenal and at its first Pittsburgh Cider & Mead Festival on April 27 at the former Pittsburgh Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville ($50 in advance, $60 at the door).
Mr. Rich gave this overview of what collaboration brews and brew names the creative brewers made. The only "rule" was to keep them lower than 8.5 percent alcohol by volume:
Fakin' the Funk
Style: American wild ale
Brewed at: Penn Brewery, North Side
Leader: Nick Rosich, Penn Brewery
Justin Viale, Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville
Jake Lyons, Hofbrauhaus Pittsburgh, South Side
Dave Cerminara, Penn Brewery
Asa Foster, The Brew Gentlemen, coming together in Braddock
Mr. Rosich says this sour wild ale, about 5.5 percent alcohol, is aged on French oak and dry-hopped with Willamette hops, giving it "the taste of lychee fruit and tart cherries with a slight oaky character."
None More Black IPA
Style: Belgian black India pale ale
Brewed at: Full Pint Brewing, North Huntingdon
Leader: Jake Kristophel, Full Pint
Sean Gentry, Helltown Brewing, Mount Pleasant
Trip Gentry, Helltown Brewing
Andy Kwiatkowski, TRASH (Three Rivers Association of Serious Homebrewers) and TRUB (Three Rivers Underground Brewers)
Dave Cerminara, Penn Brewery
Style: Pennsylvania swankey/Kentucky common ale
Brewed at: East End Brewing Co., Larimer
Leader: Scott Smith, East End Brewing
Team: Ryan Bove, Aurochs Brewing Co., coming together in Emsworth
Steve Sloan, Roundabout Brewing, coming together in Lawrenceville
Steve Crist, Penn Brewery
Mr. Smith describes this mashup of historical styles on his website as "a kettle-soured brown ale ... of 5.4 percent [alcohol], very lightly spiced with Star Anise ... negligibly hopped with Cluster (the most common hop grown in this region at the time), and brewed from Pilsner, Brown, Chocolate, Cara, and Wheat malts... along with a good bit of corn."
Fear of a Black Walnut
Style: Smoked black walnut oatmeal stout
Brewed at: Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in Homestead
Leader: Brandon McCarthy, Rock Bottom Brewery
Steve Ilnicki, Rock Bottom
Ryan Miller, Rock Bottom
Jeff Guidos, All Saints Brewing Co. in Hempfield
Matt Gouwens, Hop Yard Brewing Co., coming together in Lawrenceville
Josh Gauger, North Country Brewing Co., Slippery Rock
Nick Taylor, North Country
Zachary Shumaker, Shubrew, coming together in Zelienople
D'Pomme Rye Saison
Style: Rye saison
Brewed at: Church Brew Works, Lawrenceville
Leader: Matt Moninger, Church Brew Works
Team: Bill Larkin, Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar, Lawrenceville
Brendan Benson, East End Brewing Co., Larimer
Chris Rafferty, Rivertowne Brewing Co. in Murrysville
Matt Katase, The Brew Gentlemen, coming together in Braddock
Mr. Moninger describes it as "20-percent rye, 20-percent apple juice and is being brewed with a saison yeast and will be finished with a wine yeast from Bill's place."
Mr. Rich noted that this "is not a competition," except maybe among beer aficionados who want to try all of them. But you'll have multiple chances.
For instance, half of the Pennsyl-tucky Uncommon will be sold during Growler Hours at East End Brewing, but the other half will be distributed to area watering holes.
The Church is serving its D'Pomme with one of the courses of its seafood-themed Brewers Dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25 ($50).
The Brew Gentlemen and Bar Marco in the Strip District will serve all five of the brews at their Collaboration Beer Dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25 ($60, via ShowClix.com).
Rock Bottom's Mr. McCarthy says Fear of a Black Walnut will go on tap starting Friday, April 19, and also be part of the Homestead brewery's first "triple threat" tapping at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 25. They'll also tap:
• "Surely You Zest," an unfiltered wheat lager brewed with lime zest. He emails that "my hands are still sore and green from zesting 40 pounds of limes," adding, "It's no Bud Light Lime, though -- it's got some real substance to it, and the citrus character is beautifully delicate."
• "Ship Out of Port," which is "Old, Old Wooden Ship" barleywine aged in in a port barrel. "The base beer was already complex, but I was really taken aback by the surreal depth of color and character the port barrel lent it," says Mr. McCarthy, who notes that they'll also serve this, appropriately, on the Beer Barge.
At their Homestead event, they'll give to Animal Friends the proceeds from the sale of food, which will include local pierogies and Isaly's ham BBQ sandwiches. They'll also give the charity the proceeds from an auction for a "Brewer for a Day" experience, so you can see what these folks do first-hand.
Brewers do seem to get along pretty well, as collaborating, informally or formally, is something brewers pride themselves on doing all the time.
Outside the official parameters of Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week collaborative Brews, Full Pint and Erie's Lavery Brewing Co. also have collaborated on a beer for the week. It's an India pale ale, made with the following hops: Apollo, Bravo, Cascade, Chinook, Columbus and Delta.
The name: Alphabet Soup.
That one, says Jason Lavery, will be released in Erie on April 20, after the Erie Micro Brew Fest (1 to 4 and 5 to 8 p.m.; $33; wqln.org). They'll also serve it at a Lavery/Full Pint beer dinner at Willow in Ohio Township from 6 to 8 p.m. on April 25 (five courses, five beers, $55, willowpgh.com), and on April 26 at South Side's Carson Street Deli.
For more on Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week events -- there are more than 150 of them -- check out the calendar at pittsburghcraftbeerweek.com, or check with your favorite bar, six-pack shop, distributor, restaurant or craft brewer.
The website will list locations that have the collaboration brews. Also there, if you're at least 21, you also can sign up to be a volunteer at the bigger events such as the Real Ale Fest and the Beer Barge cruises.