Local independent breweries unite to form Pittsburgh Brewers Guild
The future of independent craft beer in Pittsburgh has its roots in Philadelphia.
It’s 2016, and Grist House’s Brian Eaton, Hitchhiker’s Andy Kwiatkowski, East End’s Scott Smith and Eleventh Hour’s Matt McMahon are in Philadelphia for the Brewers Association’s annual Craft Brewers Conference.
It’s the biggest conference of its kind – the type of event that inspires big ideas and an eye toward the future.
One night, huddled over a few post-convention beers at Monk’s Cafe, the conversation turns to collaboration: if Pittsburgh is going to break out and become a nationally-recognized destination for craft beer, Pittsburgh’s breweries would need to advocate with a unified voice.
There was plenty of precedent: craft beer meccas like Asheville and San Diego have their own guild or brewers alliance, and Pittsburgh had at least one a century ago: The Independent in Squirrel Hill takes its name from a pre-prohibition alliance of local breweries.
But who among Pittsburgh craft brewers today, already juggling new taprooms and canning lines and dozens of new brews, would have time to take the lead?
So the idea sat, maturing like a heady stout, until a prod came along from a natural ally: visitPITTSBURGH, the official tourism promotion agency for Allegheny County.
As it turns out, visitPITTSBURGH had reached out to members of Brew: the Museum of Beer, to discuss the creation of an “ale trail” guide to local breweries: something that could be used regionally to market Pittsburgh as a craft beer destination and raise its stature nationally.
“We have a lot of great beer being produced [in Pittsburgh],” says Eaton. “Just a little promotion outside the city goes a long way.”
After some initial communication, representatives of 23 local brewers met with the agency in-person at Grist House and expressed their desire to spearhead the creation of such a guide, and work with visitPITTSBURGH to promote it. And so, 28 local craft breweries joined to create the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild.
“VisitPITTSBURGH is looking forward to working with the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild in promoting our craft breweries,” adds VisitPITTSBURGH’s chief marketing officer, Tom Loftus. “The more there is to do, the more people will want to visit and see all of what we have. The more people we can attract, the greater impact we can have on the economy.”
“With 30+ breweries in Allegheny County, it was about time that we had an official organization that would represent the interest of the breweries in Allegheny County,” says Eaton, chairman of the guild. He is joined by Vice-Chairman Matt McMahon, of Eleventh Hour; Treasurer Tom Schneider, of Grist House, Secretary Andy Kwiatkowski, of Hitchhiker, and three members-at-large.
Breweries pay $200 a year to join and each brewery gets a vote in matters before the guild. As 501(c)(6) trade organization, Eaton says they can’t directly lobby; however, as a united front, they will be able to discuss and set policy goals and educate lawmakers and others on issues important to them.
For example, there has been talk among politicians of upping the drink tax to 10%, a move, Eaton says, that could hurt up-and-coming breweries disproportionately as they rely heavily on draft sales in early years for solvency.
One of the guild’s very first acts was to apply for a $30 thousand grant from the The PA Malt Beverage Promotion Board to help fund the creation of the ale trail guide, which would be distributed online as well as in print form regionally.
Eaton says that these types of guides, produced by local breweries, have been effectively by other cities to boost tourism, something that benefits all 28 breweries in the guild.
“Personally, I’m super proud that we’re doing this,” says Kwiatkowski. “It speaks volumes to how tight we are as a community, and how focused and ready we are to grow together as a city.”