When I visited East End in December 2012, the tasting room had just moved to a new location. Parking was tough. It’s is in a warehouse off of a narrow street and I learned on a trip to the East End later that narrow streets are the norm in this part of town. All I can say is trust the GPS as it doesn’t look like much from the outside and there weren’t very many markers at the time telling me I was in the right place. I parked halfway on the sidewalk which would have gotten me a parking ticket in Houston but seemed to be the only polite way to get a car down the street when sharing it with parked cars in the East End. I went to the tasting room on a Tuesday night and basically had the place all to myself with plenty of time to talk to one of the volunteers about these beers.
Customers came in to fill up growlers throughout the night while I was there and I couldn’t help but notice the PVC tubes on every tap. At East End, they only sell growlers (PA law for their type of license). That means they don’t have a tasting menu that you can purchase and you can’t buy a full pint of beer, but they do allow customers to sample a beer or two while their growler is filling up, so I purchased a growler off the shelf to take back with me on the plane and I loaded up on souvenir merchandise in an attempt to compensate him for allowing me to try all the beers over the course of a couple hours. Here’s my review of their sampler.
Cider – “not for kids” it says on the handwritten sign above the tap – not bad. Not too sweet which I like plus some sour with the apple. They start with unpasteurized cider from Trax Farms which is a farmer’s market South of town. It’s not on their regular beer menu on their website but it looks like a Winter seasonal they do each year called Along Came a Cider that’s usually tapped out sometime in February.
Nunkin – This is their take on a spiced ale with no pumpkin in it (name makes sense now that I know that). It tastes kind of like potpourri smells. Surprising. Vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon – pumpkin pie spice but without the pumpkin. It’s surprising at how spiced it is. It’s like drinking what your grandma’s house smells like at Christmas. I like their explanation of it on their website from 2011. All the spice with none of the mess of actually using pumpkins whose flavor is too subtle to come through in a beer anyway. “Embrace the lie.”
Monkey Boy – This is a year-round Hefeweizen with strong banana flavors. I continue to be pleased with their naming conventions. My local friend, Sandy, told me this was her favorite before I came out to the tasting room so I was excited to try it. This is very good and very easy to drink. One of my favorite things about beers in Pittsburgh has been how well they do beers at or under 5%. This concept of having low alcohol session beers works well for folks like me who really are into craft beer for the flavor and not the hangover. For Monkey Boy, they use Czech Saaz hops, Pilsen Malts, and a German hefe yeast. No bananas or banana flavors are added. So just like with the Nunkin, these brewers are keeping the brew house clean when they brew. I can really respect the science behind this beer.
Fat Gary – this is their year round session beer and like I said above, there is a lot of flavor in this 3.7%. The Southern English Brown Ale (17 IBUs) was a great follow up after the Monkey Boy. I was introduced to this one at Bar Symon in the Pittsburgh airport. They’ve always got it on tap there.
Slartibartfast – because the abv is 4.2. Ha! Get it? If you don’t, then I’ll follow up by telling you that this is the name of a character in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He’s the one who takes Arthur on the tour of Earth Mark II. If I have to say more than that, then I hate you and nothing you say will ever make me like you. This is also #42 in their Session Ale series. The style of this beer is English mild (the laughs just keep on coming for me). Light color for something this toasty. Bartender says it’s authentic to what you get in the UK. Kent Golding hops.
My favorite hotel bar of all time is Bigelow Grille in the Doubletree Downtown Pittsburgh. They have six of the best rotating taps in town and I ran into this beer again a few weeks ago when I was in town. Order it if for no other reason than the name is just fun to make the bartender try to say!
Snow melt – winter warmer – higher abv at 6.8. Can taste the alcohol notes. No spice. Very good. Favorite so far. I can’t find anything on the website to give you more details than that, but at this point in the tasting, I’m realizing how weird it is that there’s a coffee shop in the same space as the tasting room and I can’t smell any roasted coffee. The name of the coffee joint is The Commonplace (it’s a local chain, so this is the location on Julius) and the owners know each other which may have had something to do with the relocation of the tasting room but that’s just speculation on my part.
Want more info? Beer Advocate to the rescue! It says it’s a mahogany-red ale and a piney hop flavor which would explain why I loved it. This is a flavor term I’ve recently been introduced to in reference to hops. The fact that they picked a seasonal flavor but kept the pumpkin pie spice out of it is appreciated by this beer lover. Winter can be tough on the local, seasonal beer drinker. If you don’t like most winter warmers, try this one. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Black Strap Stout – they use brown sugar and molasses during the process. And now that I know that, I wonder how many times I’ve confused the taste of molasses in the brew with coffee. I’m highly critical of stouts that pander to the coffee and chocolate flavors and now I know to ask if there’s molasses in the mix before I accuse them of going with a coffee-flavored profile. This is certainly not the stout for everyone but it’s what I personally wish more stouts would be. This is a really great beer. I like seeing a brewery with such a complete set of offerings – low ABV’s and great dark ales all in the same place. Why aren’t you here right now filling up a growler or two or three?!
Blabber and Smoke – light color lager, very smoky with what I’d describe as a plastic and numbing aftertaste (like Robitussin throat spray). It’s okay. Let’s face it, I can’t like them all. I don’t go in for smoke beers anyway but I can appreciate that this one isn’t adding roasted flavors in addition to the smoke. This is not to be confused with their Smokestack Heritage Porter which I haven’t tried and that has a BA Score of 90 on Beer Advocate (as does Black Strap!).
Big Hop – As a casual observer, this seems to be their flagship beer as you can find it in most draft bars around town and it is just awesome. I love this beer and it was the reason I wanted to visit this brewery. Again, I’ve got to go with pine as the dominant flavor profile which probably means that I need to be hanging out with more IPAs that use Centennial and Cascade hops. Bitterness is at 70 IBUs so it’s not the hoppiest you’ll have in this category but certainly well balanced for what I’ve come to expect from American IPA’s.
As a local comparison, my favorite Pittsburgh IPA before I tried Big Hop was Thunderhop from Church Brew Works (my review linked here) and my favorite since I’ve tried Big Hop is Fat Head’s Head Hunter. Now I need to figure out how to get all three of those side by side for a blind tasting to see if that holds up. Maybe my friend Sandy will help me out.
Miss Spelt – They didn’t have this on tap and I liked the label, so I took a growler of this back to the hotel with me to try. You all know how disappointed I typically am in saisons and this one is no exception. Because there’s no pepper and no sour, it’s not the saison for me. The aroma is great though and if I’m going to be ‘wrong’ about what I want out of a saison, then this is how I’d want to be wrong about it. What makes this one interesting from a trivia perspective is that spelt is an ancestor of wheat. Spelt is referenced in the Bible (Exodus 9:32 if you want to look it up). But the bartender said that it was gluten free and upon further research (Wikipedia), it seems that is indeed not the case so hopefully people with coeliac disease aren’t being encouraged to drink this at the brewery and instead are sticking to the ‘not for kids’ cider.
East End’s year round beers are Big Hop, Monkey Boy, Fat Gary, and Black Strap. They do a seasonal Wit in Spring, Petal Pale Ale in Summer, Big Hop Harvest in the Fall (wet hopped), and Snow Melt in the Winter. But wait, there’s more! They also have two sodas and a couple of customers were coming in just to get their growlers filled with these sweet treats. The Ginger Ale is awesome and lies somewhere between the harshness of ginger beer and the sweet of commercial ginger ale. It’s a clear color and would be a great mixer. If they’re not already offering this on the gun to local bars, I think they’re missing a marketing opportunity. Real lime, real ginger, real sugar. Real awesome. The Root Beer was also nice. They use real sugar, buy the syrup, and then add some stuff. The bartender was right – don’t miss out on these when you visit the Tasting Room.
After all that, I ended up at D’s SixPax & Dogz afterwards which is literally suggested to me by every single person I meet in Pittsburgh once they find out I love craft beer. I opted for a mac and cheese hot dog and bought a 6-pack sampler of local IPAs to bring home to Houston with me.