Love beer? Here's why you should visit Pittsburgh

Breweries are becoming a big part of the conversation in the Steel City. Aadam Soorma, head of marketing and guest experience at Trace Brewing, tells us how Pittsburgh's beer scene reflects the area’s past — and how to make the most of it today.

By Angela Locatelli
Published 1 Jul 2022, 10:00 BST
Drag queens perform and greet guests in the taproom at Trace Brewing, as part of the brewery's ...

Drag queens perform and greet guests in the taproom at Trace Brewing, as part of the brewery's monthly 'drag brunch' series. The S&S Productions drag queen group has partnered with Trace for 13 months of queer-aligned programming, making space for underrepresented groups in the beer and beverage community.

Photograph by Julie Kahlbaugh

Pittsburgh has developed a reputation for its drinking spots, especially among beer lovers. Why is that?

In my eyes, it comes down to approachability. This city has a working-class, blue-collar past in steel manufacturing. It also has a brewing heritage: Iron City lager has been produced in the Pittsburgh area for well over 100 years. Consider this workforce culture. It’s not that folks don’t like wine, cocktails or spirts — and they’re all available here — but beer, beer is the one because of its familiarity. It’s been baked into the history of the city.

How does the city’s beer scene reflect its character today?

It’s becoming what we’re known for a little bit. We’re a city of about 300,000 people, but there are about 46 breweries, half of which opened in the past four or five years. You'll find one in every area, each with its own neighbourhood vibe. It’s very common for them to become gathering places for an event, a birthday or a happy hour for your team at work, part of what you do day to day.

When you put this many breweries together, there’s going to be some tension, but it’s crazy how in touch they are with each other. The city’s culture is collaborative; that’s the most Pittsburgh-like thing about the beer scene, that people care about one another. They believe a rising tide lifts all boats together.

What makes Trace Brewing special?

Trace started as a two-beverage programme — half beer, half coffee. When you walk in, the cafe is right up front, open from 8am to 3pm. Past that, there’s our bar, with all beers made on-site. We specialise mostly in IPA, lager and saison, but we do different styles throughout the year, including sours, stouts, porters and pale ales. We also book food trucks seven days a week.

We’re trying hard to be inclusive. We do a ton of events geared towards bringing in folks who might not normally go to breweries: women, people of colour, or those in the gay and queer community. All these groups intersect here in Bloomfield, where we’re located. We’d love to have a beer for every type of drinker and welcome every type of person.

Pittsburgh-based multidisciplinary artist Trenita Finney completes a painting during a live art night in the beer garden at Trace Brewing. 

Photograph by Julie Kahlbaugh

The Pittsburgh Brewers Guild creates trails to help visitors discover the city’s breweries. Which ones would you recommend?

We're part of the City Trail, and when guests come to Trace, I love recommending Cinderlands in Lawrenceville and the Strip District. It has a very good food programme; everything is made from scratch on-site. We also recommend Two Frays, just one mile from our own brewery, and 11th Hour. You can easily jump between the three. But come with an open mind. The number one advice I’d give is: talk to your bartender. I promise they’re going to be knowledgeable and know some gems that even I might be unaware of.

What about great food options for beer lovers?

You can certainly count a few food trucks in the mix, especially ones that do sandwiches — Pittsburgh is a handheld-food kind of city. Stuntpig does a different take on meat sandwiches, while Blue Sparrow is another community favourite specialising in global street food. Its chef used to be a brewer, so dishes that pair well with beer are baked into what it is. I’d also include Taqueria el Pastorcito, Bridge City Brinery and Alberta’s Pizza. It’s exciting to see these trucks find their little home bases.

Describe your perfect day in the city.

I’d start with coffee at KLVN, in Larimer, or Redhawk, our coffee partner at Trace. My next stop would be The Thyme Machine, a breakfast sandwich cart on Liberty Avenue in Bloomfield. Then, I’d venture to Sharpsburg and grab a beer at Dancing Gnome, one of the best-known breweries in the Unites States — certainly in Pittsburgh. If I was hungry, Strange Roots in Millvale has an in-house kitchen called Pittsburgh Sandwich Society that does incredible burgers.

Then I’d check out the botanical gardens at Phipps in Oakland, which is a lovely hangout spot. I’d also comfortably recommend the Carnegie Museums — we’re lucky to have such a vibrant cultural scene and you can’t go wrong with either the Carnegie Museum of Art or the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

There are many dinner spots I love, but for my perfect day, I’d get takeout from Maenam Thai in Blawnox and take it next door to Old Thunder brewery. I’d end the night dancing at The Goldmark in Lawrenceville, which has probably the best music in the city.

Pittsburgh is…

Crunchy, approachable, unconventional.

Members of the Pittsburgh Brewery Diversity Council (PBDC), with Aadam Soorma on the left of the front row, at Trace Brewing. The PBDC debuted its collaborative beer series — She Knows Beer — at Trace alongside partners at Necromancer Brewing. Portions of sales proceeds from all breweries who produce She Knows Beer are donated to local nonprofits working to elevate women and minorities.

Photograph by Julie Kahlbaugh

Read more: Three rivers, five ways: discover Pittsburgh via its waterways

Plan your trip

British Airways now flies direct from London Heathrow to Pittsburgh International in just over eight hours.

The new Pittsburgh Mixed Culture beer festival, hosted by Trace Brewing and Cinderlands, is taking place on 30 July to celebrate the city’s beer-loving community.

For more information, visit visitpittsburgh.com

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