By Amanda Narcisi
When you walk the cobblestone pathways around the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh, it is hard not to picture the rich history that goes into this building. From it’s beginning in 1840 when a German immigrant opened its doors in 1848 as Eberhardt & Ober Brewing Company, the old brick walls and deep caves housed some of the most classic beers of the area. The brewery back then took up an entire block, and now it takes up two buildings, but the caves that the beer was kept cold in still exist. Little is left of the knowledge of the Eberhardt and Ober Brewing Company. They were contracted brewers that specialized in German-style beer and was started by John Peter Ober and his brother-in-law William Eberhart, the son of another Pennsylvania Brewer. In 1883 the small brewery merged with Straub Brewing.
All but one of the original buildings still stands, which was sold and transported to Iron City Brewing. There is currently the restaurant and brewhouse with a few offices above and then the buildings on the site are now open office space for rent. The building itself has been through the many stages that Pittsburgh has seen including its current renaissance.
The actual business of Penn Brewery is going through a renaissance of its own. Since the reopening of the business, it had remained the same as it was the years before until now. Under new management, there is a new passion put forth that is going to bring new brews and new events.
If you have never made it to Penn Brewery during Oktoberfest or even just for dinner, it has many new things to enjoy and I suggest a tour. The tours vary in times and are about an hour long. Included in the cost is a t-shirt and growler of beer of your choice. Steve was my tour guide. He has been a brewer at Penn Brewery for 7 years and gave an excellent tour. It included the main mixing area, the fermentation tanks, and then the bottling area. The tour was well informed and interesting for everyone from a home brewer to just a tourist.
I know we should talk about the beer, but I will save the best for last. Let's talk about the food and more importantly the new menu. Part of the revival of Penn Brewery is a new menu. It also includes a kids menu for a family environment. It has kept with the usual German fare, but there are some Pittsburgh heritage surprises. My choice for the afternoon was one of these mash-ups. The Deuschtahn Burger is a mouthful in its name and existence. It is ½ lbs of beef with muenster cheese, a potato pierogi, sliced kielbasa, fried egg, slaw, lettuce, tomato, onion, and fries all on a Breadworks brioche bun. It was definitely a Pittsburgh burger and it was delicious. I had a hard time fitting it in my mouth so I admit it is a messy burger, but the tastes mesh well together.
For dessert, I chose The Pittsburgh Cookie Table a selection of cookies from the Priory Bakery. I had a shortbread, a peanut butter, an m&m cookie, white chocolate chip, and a nut roll. Under each cookie was chocolate drizzle and then some powdered sugar.
The best reason to come to Penn Brewery is the beer. Oktoberfest is what they are known for, however, some of their other beers are amazing. During the tour, I got to sample Penn Ginger Beer. Penn Ginger Beer is only one year old. It is smooth, light and hits the back of the tongue. For lunch to go with my Deutschtahn Burger I had the Penn Dark-The Munich Dunkel it has caramel, nutty and toffee notes that go down smooth. It is a surprise beer for it looks like a stout with its darkness, but it is a smooth lager. For my dessert beer, I got the Chocolate Meltdown. It was my favorite story during the tour where they broke up these giant dark chocolate bars and threw them in the batch.
Growlers are also for purchase and I took home one filled with The Penn Kaiser IPA. I recommend drinking this within 48 hours of getting the growler for the best taste. The Kaiser was a great IPA. It was smooth but tangy, I would say it was a good summer sipping beer.
During my talks with Steve, the brewer, and Gene Mangrum, the general manager, I got the inside scoop that a summer sour beer was coming next followed by brewing of the Pumpkin Ale and then right into brewing Oktoberfest. Both agreed that with the changes that are being made at the brewery they can keep up with the craft beer scene in Pittsburgh. Gene wants to make changes to attract people year round not just during Oktoberfest when they are the busiest.
In 2018 Penn Brewery opened a second restaurant in the Pittsburgh International Airport. With about ten beers and ciders on tap and a menu that rivals the North Side location, travelers can enjoy this taste of Pittsburgh. For the early flyers, there is a breakfast menu that includes breakfast skillets and breakfast sandwiches.
In 2019 Penn Brewery opened a Tap Room on First Ave in Downtown Pittsburgh. About a dozen taps are available for growlers and enjoying a pint. Penn Breweries full line up of beers is also available for taking out. The menu is composed of small bites like wings and pretzels.
For more information, complete tap list, menus at all three locations and to book a tour visit https://www.pennbrew.com.
If you like this piece, another great spot for food and beer is Coughlin’s Law on Mt Washington.