A few samples earlier and I might not have tried the pickle beer. It sounded like exactly the sort of thing I usually hate, a can-do and not a should-do. But we were a few hours and a few-ish beers into Brewing Up a Cure — the annual festival thrown by the Three Rivers Underground Brewers to raise money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation — and I was feeling bold. Besides, I love pickles and I love beer, so perhaps it would be great.
And you know what? It was. The Rill Dill, as the oddball brew was called, was a dill-pickle gose from seasoned homebrewer Bill Oates, who beat the odds and pulled off a tart, refreshing and undeniably memorable beer. As I thought about it later that night, it occurred to me that, although strange on paper, the idea made perfect sense. A gose is a traditional German style of sour beer that is brewed with salty water. It’s sharp and briny, rather like a pickle. And gose beers are usually flavored with coriander, a not-so-distant relative of dill. The pickle beer went from attention-grabbing novelty to an elegant triumph.
The night’s stars, on Oct. 17 at the PPG Wintergarden, weren’t all so unorthodox. Many of the brewers simply brought expertly executed classics, from crisp English bitters to thick imperial stouts. Others took big swings at wild flavor combinations and style-bending mash-ups. While not everything connected, the many successes revealed the level of talent in Pittsburgh’s homebrewing scene. From a sour ale brewed with backyard rhubarb to a stout tinged with Maggie’s Farm rum, the array proved that there is no shortage of creativity bubbling in basements and kitchens around the city.
The atmosphere at Brewing Up a Cure was one of collaboration, not competition, as brewers swapped suggestions, praise and only the occasional good-natured jab. Plus, the event raised money for a good cause, let amateurs and pros rub elbows, and got me craving pickle beer — a win all-around.