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The Church Brew Works: a beer hall in a Church?
The Church Brew Works had long been on my radar as a brewpub to visit. From what I gathered it was Belgian beer influenced and set in a huge old church. It sounded too good to be true and as it turned out, it was. After a few passed through and around Pittsburgh over the years, I finally found myself staying in town for a night. Though I loved another Pittsburgh stalwart, Penn Brewing, I had tried many of their beers already and The Church Brew Works remained a completely unknown quantity. Our local friends had suggested eating dinner at Penn Brewing but we had already had lunch Great Lakes Brewing in Cleveland and even I thought three breweries in one day might be pushing it.
The Church Brew Works looked promising as we pulled up. It indeed was in a large old church, in fact St. John the Baptist Church which dates back to 1936 though it was in the process of being designed and built much earlier. Financial problems in the early 1990s lead to its closing in 1993. It opened as The Church Brew Works in 1996. It won a few medals at the Great American Beer Festival in its early inception, most recently a gold for their Maibock in 2005.
Walking into the cavernous brewpub, it looked more like a German beer hall than a Belgian cafe and this seemed a bit at odds with the otherwise churchly interior. There were rows of wooden tables and benches much like what you would expect in the Hofbrau Haus in Munich which again just seemed odd in a church. Since we had just eaten we sat at the rather nondescript bar. The bartender seemed rather bothered to wait on us and this only furthered to make me critical of the beers that were forthcoming. We had come all the way from South Florida by way of San Francisco and Seattle and about 25 National Parks to sit at this bar in Pittsburgh. The least the bartender could do was do her job.
Favorite Dish: The food menu was pricey especially considering the beer hall atmosphere and setting. We knew this in advance and stuck to trying their beers. 1) Celestial Gold-4.1%-Straw-colored helles w/ fair hops. Clean dry finish but carbonation is a bit off, kind of flat and I am no fan of fizzy beer. 2) Oktoberfest-Light amber malty fest beer lacking proper spicy character but decent dry finish. 3) Pious Monk Dunkle-4.3%-Light brown dunkles w/ roasty malt plate. A bit bitter & served far too cold. It could use more malt presence. 4) St. Denis Imperial Pils-7.5%-Rich malty strong pils w. obvious alcohol in the nose & palate. Fairly dry bitter finish. 5) 4 Grain Harvest Ale-5.3%-Amber grainy beer w/ cereal notes and fairly dry bitter finish. 6) Organ Pipe Pale-Odd butterscotch flavors intrude on in this thin poor pale ale. 7) Blast Furnace Stout-brewed with coconut as a seasonal specialty-Black light-bodied stout w/ definite sourish coconut flavor. Very interesting but the finish is uncertain and anything but clean. 8) Coffee Milk Stout-cask-Black light bodied, more like a porter. Roasty coffee palate w/ dry finish.
Overall, I would say the beers were okay. Nothing was super special and certainly not a place I would travel out of my way to visit again. The service was awful and that did not help me like the place any better. I had very high expectations but if given the chance again, I would opt to go to Penn Brewing. They specialize in Germanic beers and do a great job with them. I was surprised to see so many Germanic lagers on The Church Brew Works' beer menu. Not that they were bad, I was just expecting bigger, bolder beers.
The Church Brew Works
Religion, history, beer and food, all under one big roof. The Church Brew Works is a great local brew pub located in a historic 1903 Roman Catholic Church at the edge of Lawrenceville and the Strip District. Think it's sacrilegious? Think again; in the 7th Century AD monasteries in Europe covered operating expenses by brewing and selling beer. Saint Benedict is known as the patron saint of beer, Arnold, Bishop of Metz is said to have lectured followers to drink beer not water, Arnold of Soissons is the patron saint of hop pickers, Saint Columbanus is even credited with saying, "It is my design to die in the brew house; let ale be placed to my mouth when I am expiring, so that when the choir of angels come, they may say: 'Be God propitious to this drinker.'" So, beer and religion have a long and intertwined history.
The history at the Church Brew Works begins in 1903 when the Roman Catholic Church constructed St John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church to serve the local blue collar mill workers. After 90 years of service to the local community, the Catholic church closed in 1993 due mainly to the decline of the area's population as the mills were shuttered. In 1996 a local businessman worked with the local Catholic diocese to purchase the property, and the Church granted permission for the brewery. The restaurant even retained the original pews for some of the benches at the tables, and the bar was built from the planks of other benches. Our favorite feature was the liquor locker in the confessional behind the bar.
I have been wanting to stop here since about 1998 when I first heard of the bar, but it is located a good two mile from downtown Pittsburgh, and there is really nothing else in the neighborhood to justify the long hike out to Lawrenceville. On a recent trip to Pittsburgh, we finally decided to get a cab and make the almost-religious pilgrimage to the Church Brew Works. After a $7 cab ride, we arrived at this church turned restaurant.
We spent about an hour and a half here at the bar. We tried five fo the eight beers that were on tap that night including the Heavenly Hefeweizen, Pious Monk Dunkel, Millenium Trippel, Black Gold Pepper Pale Ale, and the Celestial Blonde. The dunkel (German for dark) and the trippel were both delicious. The trippel tasted almost exactly like a Belgian Leffe Blonde, one of my all time favorites. Beer prices ranged from $4.44 for the regular beers to $5.14 for the dunkel.
For dinner we decided to stick with a few appetizers. We chose the Kobe Beef quesadilla, which is stuffed with kobe beef, andouille, garbanzo beans, jalapeno and pepper jack cheese and served with guacamole, pico de gallo and red pepper sour cream ($10). We also had the untraditional pierogies, which are a rotating dish described as "a unique twist to a traditional Pittsburgh favorite." On this day we had pork pierogies with a tangy barbecue sauce for $7. Both appetizers were excellent, but I was disappointed by the small quantities; the pierogies in particular were only served a small group of four.
Church Brew Works: Must see
The food is good and the beer is solid, but the setting is what you came for. Situated in a desanctified church, it's a nice start to an evening that may land you in the nearby Strip District.
You'll love what they've done with the alter.
The Church Brew Works - Pittsburgh: As uptight as a real Catholic church!
Food was good. Ambience is interesting.
It's an interesting concept - renovate an old church and turn it into a brewery/restaurant.
The booths look like they could be old pews. The stained glass is beautiful. The wood is very dark. Restaurant itself was a little on the dark side.
Wait staff was very formal - not what I would expect from a brewery.
Service was a little lacking. Food took longer than expected, considering it was pizza and sandwiches. Empty sodas sat far to long - don't feel I should have to ask for refills, especially when you are the only customers being waited on!
Beer was good, and the 6 beer sampler is a good value for $9. Samples were larger than expected.
Favorite Dish: Onion soup. Made with their stout beer. Very flavorful and generous portions.
Church Brew Works: Pay homage to the Beer gods.
This has got to be one of my favorite restaurants in the Burgh. It is an old abandoned church that has been restored to brewery/pub/restaurant. Of course this caused some ruckus around with the folks. How can you transform a “place of worship” into a bar? But since the church laid dormant for years, and this did provide a chance for the church to be, (rather beautifully), restored… and maybe with some $$$, the church said yes. The coolest part is where the alter would be, that is where the fermenting kettles sit.
Anyways, if you are town, and are sick of the IC lights, (and I promise you will be), the beers here are excellent. (Some reaching 8% or 9% alcohol) And the food is GOOD too.
Favorite Dish: The Beer and Pizza. I sampled others' dishes, and they were all pretty good.
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