“To know your future, you first must understand your past” – George Santayana. As you may know, Pittsburgh has always been a beer drinkers’ town. When Pittsburgh was newly established, several local microbreweries slowly started to emerge. Then in the late 1800′s, all those small scale breweries joined forces to form one massive brewing empire. When the big Pittsburgh beer hit troubled waters, microbreweries seized the opportunity to satisfy thirsty Pittsburghers once again. Pittsburgh’s complex brewing history is chocked full of surprises; we’ve got name changes, location changes, fraudulent owners, and some very passionate brewers that passed on their craft to future generations . Here’s a snippet of Pittsburgh’s brewing history and how our breweries came full circle.
Pittsburgh Beer History
Point Brewery (1765-1835) Let’s start with the very first commercial brewery- Point Brewery at Fort Pitt. The British Army built the first brewery at Fort Pitt to keep the soldiers happy and manageable. After the government decommissioned Fort Pitt in 1792, they sold the land and all the salvageable materials (including bricks) to inquirers Peter Shiras and Robert Smith. Once Peter and Robert obtained the land, Peter took all those bricks and built himself a nice home and a brand spankin’ new brewery. The brewery included three separate buildings; the malt house was especially handsome with two-stories and a belfry. Peter’s 20 year old son, George, was commissioned to be the head brewer. In 1802, Peter Shiras retired and sold his land to O’Hara. George (the brewer and son of Peter) retired as well and his two sons stepped up to be the next brewsters for O’Hara and his heirs. The brewery stayed in operation until 1835, when it was moved closer to town. Picture Credits
Pittsburgh Brewing Co.(1844-Present) This Pittsburgh Beer Giant started in 1844, when German immigrant Anton Benitz opened a brewpub named Benitz Brewing on 17th street. Investors for Benitz Brewing, Augustus Hoeveler (Banker and business man) and John Miller (Brewer) partnered together to brew “Iron City Beer” which was served at the Iron City Beer Hall and Restaurant. Then, they were joined by German immigrant and brewer, Edward Frauenheim and his 17 year old apprentice Leopold Vilsack. After combining forces, they legally changed their name from Benitz Brewery to Iron City Brewery. In 1866, Iron City Brewing was such a popular watering hole, it outgrew its original location and moved to Liberty Avenue, where its headquarters remain today.
By the 1880′s, Iron City Brewing became the largest producer of lagers, ales, and porters in all of Pennsylvania. The copious amount of beer was brewed in one of the most extensive and impressive breweries in the United States. In 1886, the brewery upped its total production from 10,00 barrels to 50,000 barrels per year. It was estimated that the brewery’s worth was over $150,000- an impressive amount for the brewing industry during that era. Toward the end of the century, the 12 local breweries (including Iron City Brewing) merged together to form the Pittsburgh Brewing Co. It became Pennsylvania’s largest brewery and third largest in the nation. Their combined assets weighed in at whopping 11 million dollars and turned out over 1 million barrels a year. Picture Credits
When prohibition struck in the 1920′s, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company was able to stay afloat by selling ice cream, soft drinks, and non alcoholic “near-beers”. Once Prohibition was repealed in 1933, Pittsburgh Brewing Company was one of 725 breweries in America that survived.
With the dry prohibition days behind them, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company regained its strength and produced some of the best selling beer in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Brewing Co. was the first ones to utilize the “snap-top” cans. These quickly became the industry standard. Also, they were the first to market the low-carb “light beer” aka I.C. Light. Picture Credits
Unfortunately in 1985, Pittsburgh Brewing Co. started its downfall. Ownership issues caused production to decrease dramatically. In 2007, it could no longer support itself in its Liberty Avenue factory and filed for bankruptcy. Then, the company was purchased out of bankruptcy by Unified Growth Partners. They moved production to the Rolling Rock location in Latrobe, PA. They also reinstated their original name “Iron City Brewing Co.” In 2011, Iron City Brewing was purchased by Uni-World Capital and changed their name back to Pittsburgh Brewing Company.
So if you were having trouble keeping up with all the name changes- here we go Benitz Brewing –>Iron City Brewery –> Pittsburgh Brewing Company –> Iron City Brewing –> Pittsburgh Brewing Company
Iron City beer continues to be a staple in Pittsburgh. You can’t attend a local sporting event without seeing Pittsburghers sippin’ on their arhns.
Fort Pitt Brewing Co.(1906-1957) Founded in Sharpsburg in 1902 by Dr. Herman Hechelman , a handful of businessmen, and Samuel Grenet (local politician). Although many breweries closed due to Prohibition, Fort Pitt Brewing was able to stay alive by selling non-alcoholic beverages (just like the Pittsburgh Brewing Co.) Once Prohibition was lifted in 1933, Fort Pitt Brewing dominated the local beer market until the 1950s. It opened another plant in Jeanette as it continued to flourish. In 1949, Fort Pitt was not only #1 in total beer sales for Pittsburgh, it was also #1 for the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Fort Pitt’s Brewing Co. demise began with major labor issues. In 1952, all Pittsburgh brewery workers (2,100) went on strike. This gave national brands an opportunity to infultrate in the local market. Fort Pitt’s production dropped 40% that year. In 1957, Fort Pitt sold out to Gunther Brewing of Baltimore. In 2014, Mark Dudash of Upper St. Clair bought the trademark and revived Fort Pitt. It’s currently being brewed at the former Rolling Rock brewery in Latrobe. ____________________________________________________
Drink Like You Live Here
Toay, Pittsburgh has come full circle with its brewing. Craft breweries are popping up all over the greater Pittsburgh area. Here’s a list of some of the awesome local breweries here in the “Burgh.
- Penn Brewery* (1986-Present)
- Church Brew Works* (1996-Present)
- East End Brewing Co.* (2004-Present)
- Full Pint Brewing Co. (2009- Present)
- Rivertowne Brewing (2012-Present)
- Draai Laag Brewing Co. (2012- Present)
- Roundabout Brewery (2013-Present)
- Hop Farm Brewing Co. (2013- Present)
- Grist House Brewing Co.(Opened April 2014 )
- Hitchhiker Brewing Co. (Opened May 2014)
- The Brew Gentlemen (Opened May 2014)
- Milkman Brewing Co.(Opened July 2014)
- Aurochs Brewing C0. (Expected to open in August 2014)
*Pioneers in Pittsburgh Beers (we are lucky to have them for this long)
George Santayana was a wise man for stating, “To know your future, you first must understand your past.” Pittsburgh has an incredibly rich and complex brewing history, no wonder why we’re such a beer drinkers’ town. We do not know exactly what the future holds for Pittsburgh breweries, but one thing I do know is that…I can’t wait.
Pittsburgh Brewing Co.
Fort Pitt Brewing Co.