New Pittsburgh Brewing owner wants to rebuild Iron City’s iconic status
It’s a brand with its own entry at the top of most “Pittsburghese” glossaries under “Ahrn,” but it struggled and shrunk to a shadow of its old self as production, staff and even the old brewery were dismantled over decades.
Now, Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s new owner, Armstrong County mining company founder Cliff Forrest , wants the Iron City brand and others to regain the prominence they once had in the Western Pennsylvania market, the Lawrenceville brewer’s CEO said Friday.
“Cliff has this nostalgic appreciation for all the brands,” said Pittsburgh Brewing CEO Brian Walsh. “Cliff has given us the direction to get the business up and running, to become more of a player than we have been in the past.”
Forrest, the founder and president of Kitanning-based Rosebud Mining Co., purchased Pittsburgh Brewing for an undisclosed sum after seven years of ownership by New York-based private investment company Verus Investment Partners, formerly known as Uni-World Capital LLC. He planned to expand upon Verus and Walsh’s work to rebuild the company’s connections to the Pittsburgh region, keeping its headquarters in Pittsburgh and its brewing in Latrobe, Walsh said.
Once producing more than a million barrels of beer per year, the company had struggled under a series of ownership changes and reduced its staff and output. Brewing ceased at the Lawrenceville complex in 2009 and was contracted out to City Brewing Company in Latrobe, itself the former brewery for another local icon, Rolling Rock.
“City brewing has done a phenomenal job: consistent quality, they deliver on a timely basis; they’ve been great partners,” Walsh said. “They have a good combination of high quality and experienced folks.”
After Uni-World Capital, LLC purchased Pittsburgh Brewing in 2011, they installed Walsh, formerly of Vermont craft brewery Long Trail Brewing Co., with a plan to rebuild their beer’s connections to the community . Partnerships with the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates will continue to be the cornerstone of those connections, Walsh said, with increased marketing, promotions and “tasting teams” in and around the stadiums and arena.
Other street marketing teams will promote the brands in bars and events, and the company may put a tap room or brewpub somewhere in Pittsburgh, he said. The company’s beers were currently distributed through wholesalers all around Pennsylvania and in parts of West Virginia, Eastern Ohio and northern Maryland.
Walsh would not say how many additional employees the company planned to hire.
The Brewer’s Association had estimated Pittsburgh Brewing’s output at 80,000 barrels of beer in 2016, but Walsh said they were about 20 percent above that — nearly 100,000 barrels — since 2013, and hoped to increase that under Forrest. In addition to the Iron City, IC Light and IC Light Mango beers, the company sells its American and Old German lagers and various craft brews under its Block House Brewing labels.
Forrest has not been available for comment. He founded Rosebud in 1979; the company currently operates 20 mines and processing plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio, according to their website. Rosebud produced 2.95 million tons of coal in 2016, or about 5 percent of the total production in the two states, according to reports from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
A holding company with the same address as Rosebud, Chemstream Holdings Inc. , owned Freedom Industries in 2014. A Freedom Industries storage tank leaked a chemical for washing coal into the Elk River in West Virginia that January and contaminated the drinking water for 300,000 people, according to bankruptcy paperwork filed for the company, but Forrest was not listed anywhere in the bankruptcy filing.
Forrest is also very active in political donations, contributing nearly $590,000 since 2008, mostly to Republicans and coal-friendly Democrats, including $100,000 each to a Donald Trump fundraising committee and the Republican National Committee in July, 2016 and $10,000 to a committee for Speaker of the House Paul Ryan last July. Forrest also gave $1 million, the largest donation from Pennsylvania, to Trump’s inauguration fund, according to campaign finance records from the FEC.
The American Cancer Society had recognized Forrest in 2008 for donating more than $1 million to its Relay for Life campaign.
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, [email protected] or on Twitter @msantoni.