Hough’s – Pittsburgh’s Brew on Premise and Craft Beer Heaven

brew kettle thumbnailLately I’ve been obsessing about the feasibility of a “Brew On Premises” operation in my locality which is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This started as an obsession of understanding the technical issues and legalities of converting a homebrewery to a nanobrewery, but the thought of using that equipment in a dual purpose setting with a Brew On Premises seemed like an interesting twist.

If you don’t know what a Brew On Premise operation is, it’s where customers come to an establishment and basically brew their beer. The proprietor provides the brewing equipment, ingredients and cleanup afterward. The customer gets to spend a few hours among their friends and other brewers cooking their beer, watching sports, and (if properly licensed) drinking beers from the attached bar.

I started to get really interested in this idea because you could effectively turn a functioning bar into a Brew On Premises with the expected amount of red tape (See Homebrewery to Nanobrewery), but this equipment could also act as a brewery to which you could distribute your own craft brews directly to your own bar!

Then I used the Google machine on the interwebs and found out someone already thought of this. The Hough Brothers (and family) own a bar in the Greenfield section of Pittsburgh and are weeks away from opening what I believe is Pittsburgh’s first Brew On Premises operation.  A news article from a year ago indicated that things were going full swing. A quick check of their website indicated nothing about a Brew On Premise. Hmmm, what does it all mean?

So we took a trip to Hough’s today and even though they didn’t open until 4, Papa Hough, as I’ll call him let us in to see the place. This is what we saw.

Brew on Premise Kettles
I Want This In My Garage!

It’s beautiful. Six 15 liter steam-fired kettles line the wall. Counterpressure bottling station on the other wall, fermentation and cooling tanks in the basement. Flat screen tv’s on the wall, tile floors. I could go on but let’s just say it was a beautiful operation. I am a straight up sucker for automation, copper, stainless steel and beer and I really wanted to stay and just start working on stuff.

Then Papa Hough upped the game by showing me their custom-made tap wall. Here it is:

tap wall
Wait, Where’s The Bud Lite?

Ok so this place was totally not what I was expecting. It’s got the dark wood English pub feel going on,  this awesome tap wall of craft brews, and a Brew On Premise operation. The friend I had with me is from the area and was completely excited to realize this was a place within walking distance of his house that he could get a decent craft brew and burger.

So in all I wanted to thank Hough’s for bringing something a little new to Pittsburgh, and for letting me into their business off-hours to poke and gawk at all their shiny things.

Brodie Sediment Extractor

Brodie Sediment Extractors
Brodie Sediment Extractors

How many times has this happened to you? You’ve created your perfect ale or lager, bottled it carefully, let it sit and condition for what seems like forever until the day finally arrives that you can taste your brilliant concoction. You pop the cap pour into your glass when….dammit! The yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle breaks loose and makes it into your beer!  Granted this is not a major emergency and the yeast wont kill you. But dammit yeast, I’m done with you bitches and I want you out of here.

The Brodie brothers don’t like to drink yeast from homebrew either so they created the Brodie Sediment Extractor. This little device takes the place of capping in that you attach a sediment extractor to your bottle and let it condition upside down. The yeast falls down into the extractor and when conditioning is complete you simply detach that part of the extractor with the yeast in it and pour your beer – sediment free!

I’m not positive if you would want to use this with certain styles such as wheat beers, which rely on the yeast as part of the flavor profile but I could see this working very well with nearly any other style. I know I’ve had a few ruined pours in my time where giant chunks of yeast fall into my otherwise clear beer so I can definitely see the desire for something like this.

From Homebrewery to Nanobrewery

Red Tape
Red tape. The hallmark of starting your own nanobrewery

The idea of converting your homebrewing operation into a nanobrewery is a truly involved operation. There are multiple levels of government you need to pass through before you can start selling your beer.  This being said it’s not impossible as long as you accept that you will be working hard physically and mentally for some time.

First and foremost you should become as knowledgeable about your legal needs as you are about creating the perfect ale. Buy a good book on starting a brewery such as the Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery. A membership to the Brewers Association (about $155 for an individual) can also help you along the way to answering pertinent questions that you just can’t find on random web forums. This also counts for deciphering legal mumbo jumbo that you may have trouble with on governmental websites like TTB.gov.

While I’m a big advocate of ‘you get what you pay for’, there are some websites out there that offer excellent free advice on legal matters revolving around starting a brewery:

  • Legal Brewing has created an ebook about 21 questions  about opening a brewery in the United State.
  • Legal Libations offers legal advice but it’s in blog format which personally I don’t care for (yeah I know I’m a total hypocrite)
  • The Hess Brewing Odyssey has a great breakdown on the red tape you need to cut through to open your own nanobrewery.

Personally I would go with the Brewers’ Association book to get a more rounded picture of what you are in for. After that start mapping out every detail about how you would expect things to run in your nanobrewery.  When I mean every detail I mean everything:

  • Who is going to buy this beer?
  • Who is going to deliver my beer?
  • Should I upgrade my system so I’m not brewing 3 batches a day for the rest of my life?
  • If demand rises, will I be able to source ingredients in time?
  • What if someone sues me for some stupid reason?
  • How do I hire an accountant/lawyer/consultant without destroying all (if any) profits?

If any of these questions make you sick of reading or shake your confidence then you probably want to calm down, have a homebrew and reflect on how important this is to you.  Knowledge, understanding and planning are key foundations to a successful business which is what you are trying to create. Do yourself a favor and start cracking the books/blogs to become a master of as many ‘what if’ scenarios as you can.

Don’t give up! With a lot of hard work and perseverance you could be the local nanobrewer everyone is talking about!

Recommended Reading: The Brewers Association’s Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery


33Beers Beer Journal

My first real beer festival was at the Penn Brewery in Pittsburgh Pa. It was a magical session of tasting a cornucopia of different beer styles and flavors, all produced in Pennsylvania. I made a mental note of all the beers and styles that I enjoyed best so that I could buy or try to clone them later that year. I was having such a good time I decided I didn’t have the time to wait in line for the free lunch. Things got hazy near the end and I remember sleeping draped across an ottoman back at my house for several hours. I was also greeted by an outstanding 10 pm hangover that kept me awake until the early morning. What beers did I enjoy most from that excursion? Hell if I know.

The gentlemen over at 33beers.com got it right when they created their beer journal. If you’ve every gone to a beer festival with intentions of finding styles or brands you would buy again, you’ve found that by the end of the festival your memory has failed you (for some reason).

The 33beers Beer Journal is a compact booklet that can fit in your back pocket. Aside from general notes and ratings this journal incorporates a unique ‘flavor wheel’ that allows you to visually represent how the beer tastes to you. This is important because it’s easier to fill in some dots on the Flavor Wheel while on your 20th sampler rather thank trying to make a note of or god forbid remember the characteristics of the beer.

The Electric Brewery

Electric Brewery Control Panel
Electric Brewery Control Panel

There are lots of cool ways to use electricity to improve your brewday. Heat sticks, Heat exchangers, and Automatic Temperature Controls can take some of the burden off of you and leave more time for quiet contemplation and drinking.

I have a partial electric brewery in that my hot liquor tank automatically heats itself to a desired level without any input from me. This is great because before that I was heating my mash and sparge water in a pot with a propane burner and then dumping it into the HLT. This became a real problem when I had kids because managing all these tasks takes a long time and is outright dangerous with curious monkeys lurking around.  My setup involves a March pump, a hot water tank heating element and a Ranco temperatur conroller. I based most this off of John P Subsavages designs and I felt pretty special about myself when it was done.

The Electric Brewery” on the other hand, is not screwing around. When I found this site (thanks Reddit) I couldn’t believe my eyes. This guy created a brilliant, beautiful brewing setup.  On top of creating this masterpiece, he provides a complete parts list and how-to on his website so you could do the same.  This setup and website are, in my eyes, perfection. It’s actually a little jealously inducing. Not only has this guy created a jaw-droppingly beautiful brewey AND bar. He’s done it while raising two little ones himself. Well played sir.

The overall cost of creating this system is under $6000 and that’s actually pretty great considering it’s made from all new parts, looks amazing and costs about $2 per session to brew your batch. I think with some Kickstarter funds and a Brewers license one could easily start up a Nanobrewery or small Brew On Premises business relatively easily.