What is Pittsburgh beer? That’s a question that continuously rolls through my head. As we brew, as we taste, as we meet beer drinkers, and as we read beer forums it’s hard to ignore a few trends. Some of these include the downgrading of the homebrew turned pro, the idea that Pittsburgh beer is somehow inferior due to a lack of national focus (outside of a few fellow brewers), that Pittsburgh is oversaturated, that certain people will only respect a brewery when someone outside the Pittsburgh community tells them at it is good. I call horse shit.
As some may know, one of our brewers completed a Doctoral degree in Information Systems and Communications with a focus in marketing. And of course this had to do with beer in Western PA. The long and boring title is, “COLLECTIVE BEER BRAND IDENTITY: A SEMIOTIC ANALYSIS OF THE WEBSITES REPRESENTING SMALL AND MEDIUM ENTERPRISES IN THE BREWING INDUSTRY OF WESTERN PA.” What the hell does that mean? Not much. It means that I looked at the communal brand identity of western PA breweries in 2013 to discover what Western PA brewing meant to someone on the outside who was looking at all of our websites. The concept was that each region of the US as a specific “brand” of beer. We often hear about the Vermont IPA, or the Colorado mountain influence, or the Asheville weirdness. What are we, if we are anything?
But first, how the hell does this relate to my original questions. Well first, through this examination, I was able to prove a Western PA beer identity. So maybe those who don’t have faith in the current state of beer in Pittsburgh would just prefer a different brand of regional beer. Unfortunately and fortunately, I don’t think Pittsburgh beer is trying to be an imitator. It seems that Pittsburgh is where beer comes to be beer, not try to be the next xxx scene. In our humble opinion, this is a very good thing.
Secondly, part of that freedom for beer to be beer is the ability of the homebrew to turn pro brewer. As someone who has completed a ton of education, I can firmly say that it has the ability to educate the creative process out of a profession. Thank God we have homebrewers turning pro brewer! Yes, mistakes will happen, but without mistakes and experimentation, how will we grow! I know there are those people saying that these mistakes should be ironed out as a homebrewer, and again, horse shit. Any pro brewer that says they don’t make mistakes is lying, however, I will concede that as a pro brewer and the pressures that come along with that, it’s harder to dump a questionable experiment. Some mistakes encountered on a pro brewing set up can’t be replicated with a homebrew set up… and I say, welcome mistakes… but also, pro brewers, be humble and learn and dump the mistakes for the good of us all!
So, back to what is Western PA brewing. I can’t say for certain that this still holds true as brands develop and change over time, but as of the publishing of my dissertation in 2014, (Direct quote from the conclusions section so I apologize for the dense nonsense)
“On first examination of the regional brand identity of the western PA brewing industry, two themes emerge as dominant for the region, religion/myth/fable and traditional brewing. These themes are communicated through fantasy and offer in a way that allows the identity of the region to be read as a story. The storybook-like quality of the religion/myth/fable theme creates a platform for the imagination as the ideal is presented. This is reinforced by the evidence that the ideal/new and ideal/given are prevalent in this communal identity. The ideal is a platform to separate the viewer from reality and present close framed elements for reference and association to a dream like place. The western PA breweries are places that nod towards traditional brewing and the roots in the German traditions; however, take those traditions and infuse a modern story tale that occasionally hints at the region of western PA.
The prevalent themes are traditional brewing and religion/myth/fable; however, it cannot be ignored that this list goes deeper and the taxonomy must be fleshed out. It is apparent that the breweries of western PA present their webpages as resources for information followed by a tool for reinforcing consumption or a consumerist theme. The western PA brewing industry focuses on their identity as a part of the western PA geographic region as the fifth most important and prominent theme. The themes of technology, nature/organic, and history/tradition round out this taxonomy as the least prominent themes, but still are present to add depth to the regional identity. The lack of focus on nature/organic and history/tradition shows that this industry is fairly young, with very little in the way of generational roots or processes that encourage ecofriendly activity.”
So what you say? Well, if nothing else, Pittsburgh does have a brewing scene and an identity. Whether you like that identity or not is another story. The other choice is to take the words given to be by some sage soul who I cannot remember, “You don’t have to like something to appreciate it.” But you should respect it. If everyone made the same beer and everyone was educated the same, and everyone brewed on the same system and with the same ingredients and never made a mistake, I for one, as a brewer, would be out. That’s boring. That’s not beer.
Pittsburgh beer is Pittsburgh beer and I can honestly tell you, every brewer in the city is proud of what we are doing, and what we creating. We’re growing and I hope no one ever comes to me and says, “Now Pittsburgh is there, I could imagine having this beer in Colorado/Portland/Asheville etc…” because then I’d just go to one of those cities and drink their fabulous regional beers!
And anyone who wants to bore themselves stupid and read a 300 page dissertation on how communal brand identities are created through shared signs and symbols and gain a little insight into the 2013 brand of Western, PA, just email us. I’ll gladly send you a copy as the first one to actually read that monster.