I still remember the meal that hooked me on wine.
In California between my junior and senior year of college ("a long, long time ago"), I was crashing with an uncle when a visiting friend of his stared into his bare cupboards and creatively came up with a most divine steak and pasta dinner.
The steak was prepared simply with salt and pepper and cooked with wine. The pasta was a homemade sauce, also created using the wine—which we drank later with the meal.
The pairing of it all made me realize just how good a simple meal and carefully chosen drink could be. Before then, food was something hastily put together from a box or a can and eaten too quickly to think about. Wine was just grape juice. With that glimpse into a new world, I began to teach myself to cook—and I began exploring wine, growing to appreciate not just how it could change the flavor of the food in front of me but how much it could be enjoyed all on its own.
With the world of wine in front of me, I often snubbed beer. A few college experiences with Natty light and the kegerator of Bush beer in my dad's basement may have contributed to my reluctance to give beer much attention.
But then I moved back to Pittsburgh. And found the beer options changed and far more numerous than I knew beer could be. And I met friends who are as passionate about beer as I can be about wine. I began exploring, selecting and tasting beers on their recommendations—not the Bud Lights or the Miller Lights or even the Yuenglings (which I have sentimental fondness for), but what are known as craft beers. These are beers created by small, independent brewers who play with recipes and produce limited batches of their creations.
I found that like wine, beer can range widely in flavor—and pair very nicely with food. I'm hooked.
Those friends who sold me on craft beers are now trying to sell the entire Pittsburgh population on them.
Today marks the start of Craft Beer Week, organized by the nonprofit Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance. Local breweries, distributors, bars and restaurants throughout the Pittsburgh area—including in Oakmont and Verona— are featuring tastings and special events to spread, as they say, "the gospel of all things craft beer."
"There are the people who enjoy craft beer, and the people who don't know about it," said Andy Rich, chairman of the Pittsburgh Craft Beer Alliance and head brewmaster at Penn Brewery on the North Side.
Some of the local events include:
- A tasting of Penn Brewery beers with a Penn rep to answer questions at Beer Nutz at the Rivertown Shopping Center on Allegheny River Boulevard in Verona. The event will be held today, April 20, from 5 to 7 p.m.
- A tasting of Brooklyn Brewery beers at Beer Nutz at the Rivertown Shopping Center on Allegheny River Boulevard in Verona from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 21.
- The Oakmont and Verona California Pub Crawl with Stone Brewing and Anderson Valley brewing on Monday, April 23. You can sample brews from northern and southern California at Rivertowne Inn in Verona from 5 to 7 p.m.; at Oakmont Tavern in Oakmont from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.; and at Carnivores in Oakmont from 8 to 9 p.m.
- Tommyknocker Night at Carnivores on Thursday, April 26, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. There will be Tommyknocker Brewery samples and some discussion.
But you're not limited. Events are taking place throughout the Eastern Suburbs and the rest of the city, at all different times. A calendar can be found here.
Not only is the week full of fun events, it should also be of benefit to the local business community, bringing an expected $1.82 million into the regional area, said Chris Momberger, a member of the executive council for the Alliance and an economic systems engineer.
Are you a craft beer fan? How did it happen? Tell us in the comments!