Best beer to Bier: North Side man’s porter tops at competition
The winner’s last name, fittingly enough, was Bier — pronounced “beer.”
“I hoped I’d win, but I didn’t expect to,” said Jake Bier, 26, of the Mexican War Streets, who won the homebrewing beer competition Sunday at Wigle Whiskey’s barrelhouse in Spring Garden. “I’ve been home brewing for five years, my last name is Bier, and I love beer.”
Bier was among 54 homebrewers who submitted their unique, homemade beers. His winning recipe was for a spiced pumpkin porter.
The competition illustrated the surging popularity of homebrewing in Western Pennsylvania, which in turn fuels the region’s love and support of craft and micro-breweries, said judges at the event.
Hart Johnson, cellarman at Piper’s Pub in the South Side, said customers increasingly seek out distinct locally brewed beers.
Years ago, he said, Piper’s sold three cases of a national brand such as Miller Lite on a Saturday night. “And last night, we sold just six bottles of it,” he said.
Dozens of breweries have opened in Western Pennsylvania in recent years. So many, in fact, that one bar in Squirrel Hill sells only beer made here.
“That wouldn’t have worked 15 years ago — there weren’t enough breweries,” said Matt Wein, a bartender at the Independent Brewing Co. bar. “Now, we can’t get all the local breweries into the bar.”
The competition kicked off a week of events, organized by Wigle and East End Brewing Co., to celebrate beer aged in spirit barrels. About 200 people crammed into Wigle’s barrelhouse to sample the beers.
For winning, Bier won one of Wigle’s spirit barrels, which he can use to age his next batch. Wigle sells its freshly drained 10- and 15-gallon barrels for $150. Other prizes included bottles of Wigle whiskey, T-shirts and barrelhouse tours.
The panel of eight judges included local beer experts and journalists, including the Tribune-Review’s Chris Fleisher, who co-writes the First Draft beer column.
Even homebrewers who did not win said the experience was valuable.
“To come here and serve your beer to people who really know and appreciate good beer, and then get their feedback … it’s such a cool thing,” said Linda Willhide of Ross as she poured samples of her husband Mike’s “Shiver Me Timbers” English-style amber ale.
“People like local,” Mike Willhide said. “You want to have a good hometown beer.”
Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or [email protected].