Millvale-based craft brewery finds Cold War home in Collier
The potential names for varieties of beer seem as endless as a Millvale craft brewery’s new home in a rambling Nike missile command site that was also a concrete bunker built to withstand a nuclear explosion.
The Grist House’s new location at the former Cold War missile defense site in Collier Township will be a place one can safely get bombed, for sure.
The brewery already is on its way with a beer named “Black In The U.S.S.R.,” a Russian imperial stout.
The most unlikely site for a micro brewery, Grist House doesn’t want to just expand operations and repurpose the former military building for production and a taproom, it wants to celebrate the site’s history.
And it’s everywhere.
From special covering on the walls to shield communications during the Cold War to doomsday calculations handwritten on a wall that a room could accommodate a “total 494 sleeping bags.”
The site once housed banks of computers and extensive communication systems. It coordinated nuclear missiles at the other Nike sites that ringed Pittsburgh, including in West Deer, which were thought to be prime targets of the Russians during the Cold War, according to one of Grist House’s owners, Brain Eaton, who is stripping out parts of the building.
There are things to save, though, such as the special shielding on many of the two- to three-foot thick concrete walls that scrambled communications to protect from eavesdroppers.
Everything at the site is out-sized: the land, the hilltop, the giant white ball that was a radar installation atop of one the neighboring Federal Aviation Administration buildings, which once were used for surveillance by the missile command site.
If Frankenstein had a laboratory during the Cold War, this would have been it.
The mammoth generators and electrodes outdoors give an industrial feel, away from the rest of the world on a heavily wooded hilltop.
“There’s more electricity here than I’ll need,” Eaton smiled.
Grist House owns about 2 acres, which is covered mostly by buildings and a parking lot with 70 spaces.
The cavernous space made of concrete is ideal for a brewery, according to Eaton.
While some men are known to buy a house because of the size of its garage, for Eaton, it’s the size of the basement — all 1,700 square feet of it.
“I was looking for another place for years, and I bought this because of the size and the history,” he said.
That is where the beer will be chilled and aged at a constant temperature of about 60 degrees. Certainly, beer can be aged in a number of situations, but the environment of the bunker basement is decidedly better, according to Eaton.
Plus, the layout of the facility, with loading docks, is going to allow easy transfer of brewing materials.
A serving area will include an outdoor deck with a panoramic view of rolling hills and a glimpse of Pittsburgh in the distance.
According to Eaton’s research and media accounts, the site was constructed in the 1950s for control of Nike sites secretly harboring nuclear missiles ready to go in case Pittsburgh was attacked.
In the mission control building/bunker, there are metal rungs in the some of the hallways for extra bunks to house soldiers. There is an air handling system used to create fresh air without opening a window in case there was a nuclear explosion, according to Eaton’s research.
Then, there’s a small water tower to spray the building to rinse off nuclear contamination, according to Eaton.
Bailey Allegretti, marketing manager for Grist House, said “If there was a zombie apocalypse, I know where I’m going: to work.”
There is no set timetable for the opening the site, although workers have been busy removing unwanted walls and other debris.
Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary Ann at 724-226-4691, [email protected] or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.