Less than a year ago, Scott Smith, 38, of Regent Square, was a home beer brewer. Today, in a near-freezing unmarked industrial building in Homewood, Smith has just tapped his first kegs of craft beer done in his new microbrewery, East End Brewing (www.eastendbrewing.com). He showed off his brewhouse, mash tun and other vats ("I always say, don't trust a brewery with a dry floor") and the tons of grain housed in the room above, where he makes Big Hope IPA (on tap at D's Six Pax and Dogz in Regent Square) and, soon, a stout made with molasses and brown sugar and a Belgian white beer.
Is a craft beer anything made outside the big brewers?
It's kind of a loose term. Guinness could even be called a craft beer, but it's a multi-billion-dollar corporation. It more describes the quality of the product. The craft-brewing scene -- they're more focused on the fundamentals of beer. Flavor, primarily. The [Pittsburgh] brewing community has this communal spirit, even though we're competitors. Because everybody has passion for the beer.
You don't filter your beer, as the big brands do.
As somebody said, that's what livers are for. When you filter beer, you take out a lot of flavor and some body. There's really not a need for it, except for appearance's sake. I can put fresh beer on the market with fresh yeast.
How do you choose the alcohol content?
People have an opinion that darker beers are stronger beers. Guinness is pretty low in alcohol. I like to keep the beers at a pretty low alcohol level so I can enjoy more than two of them before I want to go to bed. One of the hazards of the job is tasting beer at odd times of the day. It almost puts you off beer when the evening comes around. I clearly didn't get into this for the cheap alcohol. When I was a home brewer, I used to say my goal was to put more good beer into the world than I took out.
This seems like a risky business to quit your day job for.
Nobody's really doing, in Pittsburgh, as a microbrewery, what I would call American ales and stouts. I thought the market might be fertile for a local brand. I'm just kind of cutting my teeth getting into the market. The reaction to the beer has just been tremendous. The beer-tasting [Dec. 13 at Kelly's in East Liberty] was packed. For a Monday night, in a snowstorm, it was quite a turnout. We blew through about two kegs of Big Hop. Usually a keg at a bar will last a week or two, if it's running well.
And your capacity is 1,200 to 1,500 kegs?
We're operating nowhere near that capacity now. Drink all you want -- responsibly, I should say.
You say you're big on sustainability. What does that mean in the beer business?
Just about everything in this place is used, or salvaged. Construction Junction -- I've pulled so much stuff from there. Clearly the building has gone through difficult times. If you look at the crack right there, you can see daylight. Everything from where we're buying our electricity to the bags we get the malt in -- we chose a supplier that had paper bags. Our spent grains are going to a dairy farmer as cattle feed. We've been talking to the guy from [a local bakery]. Yeast is a by-product of the brewing process. I generate quite a bit more yeast than I can use. If I were to run that down the drain, it would affect the work ALCOSAN does to treat our wastewater. [The bakery] is running a test today. I've baked with it at home. It rises like gangbusters.
You're having a contest to name your stout. How important is the name?
Actually, it just got a name. I had to give it a name to serve [test batches]. So it's Black Strap Stout. It is important to draw people in, but the beer has to live up to that name.
What were the losing names?
Somebody had Black and Gold Stout. It's a good name -- it actually pours black, with a gold head on it. Somebody had an idea of calling it a "Staht," very Pittsburghy.