First Draft: Spring Hill vision inspired by farm brewery concept
Beneath the derelict social hall’s oil-saturated bowling lanes and broken floorboards are the nutrients that will give Greg Kamerdze’s beer its terroir.
Hops, honey, maybe fruit or herbs for a Belgian ale, grown on the one-acre patch tucked into a quiet bend on Varley Street in Spring Hill.
Kamerdze stood amid the rubble and pointed to a darkened room where the threshold was crossed with caution tape. He imagined taproom visitors enjoying pints of golden ale with caprese salad.
“I like the idea of being able to slice up a tomato that we grew on the grounds,” says the 33-year-old Bloomfield resident. “Some pepper and drizzle a little olive oil, serve it with a Pennsylvania-made cheese.”
Kamerdze wants to bring the pastoral setting of a farm brewery to Pittsburgh’s North Side. He and his partner, Michael Seamans, expect to open Spring Hill Brewing this year alongside a nursery at the century-old Workingmen’s Beneficial Union hall.
The idea was born from a trip Kamerdze took several years ago to New England, where there is no shortage of brewers working in converted barns, many inspired by Wallonian farm breweries in Belgium that set the bar for lovers of funky, sour and entirely different beers.
Beers made with ingredients grown on-site are like time capsules of a singular place. Cascade hops, exposed to the fickle weather patterns of a particular region and nourished with minerals from that patch of soil, won’t taste anything like the Cascade hops grown in Oregon’s Willamette valley. The farm brewery is Kamerdze’s model.
His pipe dream became possible after he met Bill Brittain, who owns Shadyside Nursery as well as the Spring Hill property. Brittain was planning to put an apiary and greenhouses there, but didn’t need the entire 13,000-square-foot building. Kamerdze, a longtime homebrewer looking to go pro, thought it had potential.
Construction has yet to begin, but they hope to get started next month and have the brewery opened by fall.
There aren’t any parallels to the farm-brewery model within the city limits. Hop Farm Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville has a few hop plants on-site, but most of the ingredients it grows come from a 5-acre farm in Indiana, Pa. Other breweries that grow hops tend to use them for decoration.
Even still, there are limits to what can be grown on such a small patch of land. Kamerdze will have to look beyond Varley Street for most of his ingredients, though he plans to use Pennsylvania-grown hops and barley.
Spring Hill Brewing will evoke rusticity more than replicate it. Farm breweries have a relaxed intimacy that is intoxicating beyond the beer you’re drinking. Visitors can tour the gardens or maybe picnic on the lawn outside. These are breweries that invite you to stay a while.
Brittain gets the appeal. He hosts a weekly concert series, called Weather Permitting, at his nursery with bands, beer from local breweries, food trucks and a farmers marketplace.
The events have a “backyard kind of appeal” that has made them popular, he says.
“It’s a well-manicured space,” Brittain says. “People respond to that kind of hominess that many events or places may not have anymore.”
The Spring Hill social hall is a long way from homey. It is a charming catastrophe.
Kamerdze directed his flashlight to the shoes and scorecards left from a Y2K party on New Year’s Eve 1999. A box of dusty bowling pins added to the clutter in an adjacent room, resting atop wooden planks between which gaping holes exposed a gravel floor. Framed photos dating to the late 1920s of the social club’s members sat on a board balanced across two saw horses.
“It’s cool that we’re in this building and that there’s rich history to it,” Kamerdze says.
Kamerdze will keep the relics as brewhouse decor. But this isn’t about living in the past.
His beer and the nursery will carry the history forward, from the ground to your glass.
Chris Fleisher doesn’t claim to have a green thumb, but he has never brewed a pale ale better than the one he made with his homegrown hops. Reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @brewsreporter.