This turned out to be one of my favorite places when I visited Pittsburgh. It’s North of town about an hour in a place called Slippery Rock and the brewpub has a great story with good food and atmosphere. Sure, the service was great and the food was delicious, but my favorite thing about them is they have an almost unprecedented sampler that includes 12 beers (I’ve only ever experienced this at Chicago Brewing Co. in the Four Queens in Downtown Las Vegas) and is served on a block of hand-carved wood. Imagine a clock face with beers instead of numbers.
When committing to 60 oz. of beer, I recommend having a beer buddy, and lucky for me, I had my friend Sandy helping me out. You’ll remember her from the Blind Taste Test of Pittsburgh IPAs. This sampler review represents two visits to the brewery – one in December and one in February – and it covers 20 different beers! That gives you some indication of how often the beers rotate out – you’ll never get the same sampler twice.
Northern Lite – some good balanced hops but not overpowering. More flavor than what you typically get from the average American-style lager. Nice, solid light beer. Easy to drink this one very fast. The mouthfeel is really light and as with all light beers, it really only serves me as a good alternative to water.
Slippery Rock Dew – brewed with local honey. Not too sweet but the honey flavor is ever present. It’s interesting that they didn’t opt to do a mead instead. This still tastes like a beer but I puzzled over when they would add it to the mix. As part of the boil or instead of caning sugar? I suppose it’s a ‘spice’ like anything else. Perhaps it was just added for yeast food or to help carbonate the beer? I did some research later and found this advice on brewing with honey that confirms that the best way to use honey is to add it to your beer during fermentation. If you’re thinking of doing it, it’s like drinking an alcohol-infused tea. This one goes down dangerously smooth.
Station 33 Firehouse Red – an Irish ale with 5% of every draft sale going to local firefighters. Station 33 and Rescue 52 to be specific. This is a nice red. Not a lot of depth but still has some firm malty character. Roasted flavors are the main takeaway. I would still consider this a light beer offering but a great way to prep the palate for what’s to come.
Squirrel’s Nut Brown – very nutty. Toasted malts shine through. Another light mouthfeel beer but a great flavor. A bit of sour in the aftertaste. Easy to drink. Another one you power down in anticipation of what’s next.
Jodi’s ESB – not what I’d call an ESB in flavor but the ‘flatness’ is true to style. It may just be coming off the nut brown. Perhaps this should be tasted before the brown ale. It’s easy to drink. Caramel flavors come through. This would be a good place to start. The first one in the batch that I didn’t feel the need to shotgun.
McCafferty’s Ale – ‘a true Celtic red’ they say in the description and it was popular at the bar when people were ordering growlers. It’s not for me though. It’s confusingly bitter for what seems like a malt-heavy beer. My table mate said it was boring. I said that this beer is like realizing halfway through sex that this is only going to be a one-night stand. Very disappointing. It’s between a red and a brown but it doesn’t do either style justice. It is literally the red-headed step child of this sampler.
Hammer Strike – Belgian pale ale – Our server said that typically belgian rock candy is added but they used locally made hop candy that they melted down for this batch. Interesting. I’m not a fan of the Alcohol notes in Belgians that are present here but an interesting experiment for the brewery that panned out to some accurate style results. Die-hard Belgian fans might not be so amused.
The Other One – an old ale. So after what I just said about the alcohol notes, for some reason, they work for me here. I think that it balances against the toasted malts of a darker beer. Maybe it’s because it’s cold outside and it feels like a winter warmer. Whatever the reason, I love this beer.
Fruit beer – They always have one on tap and cherry was what I had my first visit. The smell is stronger than the taste. You know how you soak cherries in alcohol? It’s the reverse. It doesn’t taste like cherries soaked in beer but like beer soaked in cherries. Light, refreshing but a bit like drinking a Lindeman’s cough drop. It tastes like sugar. It’s not medicine tasting but that’s the flavor of the cherries. Again, I’m not going to criticize their love of doing something consistently different (they have a diff fruit beer on at all times depending on what’s locally available when they brew). This is what the macro beers are going for when they market fruit infused beers to women. Strawberry fields was the fruit beer my second visit and the only note I have for the beer is, “yuck.”
Imperial Amber – perfect follow up to the Firehouse Red. This has a lot of alcohol notes and really warms the belly. Too much for me but this is the choice I think for Belgian beer lovers. Almost like drinking apple cider vinegar to me and that’s not fair. It’s a good beer, just too many esters for my taste.
Heather Ale – Scottish Ale style using heather. Cloudy appearance. Floral. Didn’t leave an impression beyond the fact that it would be good before the Winter Gold.
Buck Snort Stout – Coffee flavors. A lot of body and depth with some nice sour and acid. But not vinegar. Like the sour you get from coffee. This is as good as it gets for me with stouts.
Stone House Stout – has some oatmeal in it but not called an oatmeal stout. Thinner mouthfeel, more head but certainly not enough to be confused with a porter. Side by side, it’s a tough call. I would do this one before the Buck Snort just on mouthfeel alone. If you’re doing the math on where we were in our dinner, then you won’t be surprised that I know firsthand that this stout pairs well with their bread pudding. I really liked this beer.
Friars Coffee Porter – this is a good follow up after the Stone House. I think I like coffee as a porter flavor better than as a stout flavor. If I had it to do all over again, I would have put the nut brown before this in the sampler.
Paleo IPA – added hops to oak barrels. They gave this one to us side-by-side with the draft and cask versions. Obvious differences are carbonation and temperature. Cask was almost too warm by the time we got through 10 other beers and dinner. I taste some orange zest that may or may not be there in the cask version and I may just be confusing a citrus hop flavor with the taste of flowers. Or wood from the cask presumably. It’s not the typical IPA but it’s smooth and satisfying considering it was the only hoppy beer on the menu my first time around. That was not the case during my second visit. Read on.
Winter Gold – this is smoother than the Paleo – a bit plastic in the flavor. I drank it after the Paleo but I should have done it after the Heather Ale and then the Paleo after this. I like this. Some sour. Not sure about the style but geared towards hop heads. It wears on you. Tastes different with each sip.
Double Vision IPA – 2 pint limit. This is smooth. Kinda sweet at first but not sickly.
Psychedelic Nightmare – Belgian Trippel inspired. I gave it to Sandy – fruity – dactyls is apparently what I don’t like – makes my belly feel like it’s on fire.
Simcoe Pale Ale – Cask – no description but this is deliciously piney. Good serving temp. Sandy gave me this one and this is just about the perfect beer for me. Love me some Simcoe hops.
I forgot to talk about the food. Salmon was awesome and the coconut cake was delicious. Second time I had steak and bread pudding. Delish. Did I mention the 12-beer sampler? That was my favorite part. And the fact that I got to try so many beers from one brewery was a real treat. Don’t skip this place if you’re in Pittsburgh. It’s worth the drive. Just bring someone whose willing to drive you back into town.