February brought the requisite cold, snow and complaining we've all come to know and tolerate. Happily for local beer-drinkers, it also brought Spoonwood Brewery, in Bethel Park. The place is named for the folk designation of the mountain laurel, and the image I conjured was one of a small, cozy cabin outside the city, inhabited by a few townies who had caught on. What I found was a state-of-the-art, 15-barrel brewing facility with a full parking lot and beer-garden atmosphere that beautifully toed the line between modern, clean lines and homey warmth.
The owners, Grant and Mary Lou Scorsone, and brewer (and part-owner) Steve Ilnicki are excited to be living their vision. The Scorsones spent a year traveling the country's breweries, learning and developing their ideas. They closed on the property, formerly home to the Montour Railroad, within 24 hours of finding it, and describe meeting Ilnicki as "fate." Spoonwood opened Jan. 31, and its first two weeks in business were "more than we ever imagined," says Ilnicki.
The dining room has community-style seating, so you can walk right in and mingle with your neighbors. The menu is equally approachable. Wood-fired pizzas, salads and soups replace typical greasy pub fare. Meanwhile, a 5-ounce sampler provides a no-risk option to explore the wide range of beer styles Ilnicki is brewing up. The Working Class Hero, a delightfully smooth cream ale, has been the top seller thus far, and it's easy to taste why. For something more adventurous, Smoke & Oats, a smoked amber ale, packs a campfire into a glass on the first sip, only to mellow out lingeringly by the third or fourth. Mead, from Carnegie's Apis Winery, is for those who want something sweeter, and a few wines on tap round things out. In coming weeks, expect to see an American blond ale, Irish red ale and coffee ale. While Spoonwood has no plans to bottle or can its beers, it's well worth the trip to Bethel Park.