WARNING: Content may contain small amounts of nostalgia.
Where It All Began…
If you’ve been a fan of Breaking Brews since I started this blog last February, you’ve undoubtedly realized an underlying theme in the articles I visualize and publish. I love beer, but have never claimed to be a spot-on expert to the extent that many of the brewers, bar owners, and home brewers I have the privilege of conversing with thanks to this blog are. When it comes to determining flavor notes and brewing techniques, so many of them are in a league of their own. But I learn more and more every day from these intelligent, cutting-edge, forward-thinkers and will continue to evolve my knowledge base through constant education.
But make no mistake about it, I know a good thing when I see it, and that’s why I’ve made it my mission to be a voice of craft beer advocacy and promote this segment of the beer world from my own comfortable nook of the World Wide Web. This craft beer boom we’re experiencing today is something I saw years down the road as I transitioned myself from the yellow, fizzy, water-down options of my youth to the full-bodied, flavorful, creative options I crave today. When I discovered the vast landscape of options at my disposal, I knew, eventually, this craft beer thing was going to be kind of a big deal.
Throughout my own personal appreciation growth, I’ve found many places to frequent and know my experience will be memorable. But in my formative craft beer years, one bar in particular served as the foundation for my appreciation and helped me discover my consumption of adult beverages is not confined to flavorless swill.
Smokin’ Joes Saloon on Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s infamous South Side is one of most notable craft beer bars in Pittsburgh. They’ve made a name for themselves by jam-packing the coolers with plenty of craft bottle options, as well as keeping a steady rotation of drafts on tap at all times. They feature a killer menu with some of the best wings in Pittsburgh, and it’s one of those places where it’s easy to kick back and unwind for a refreshing beverage after a long day’s work. Thanks to Smokin’ Joes’ commitment to craft beer excellence, as well as serving as the destination where my relationship with craft beer truly sparked, this month’s Craft Beer Spotlight is dedicated to them.
When I first moved to Pittsburgh in September of 2003, craft beer wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I was your typical light beer drinker, having little to no exposure to anything but in the small town of Bradford that was my home for 22 years. My late uncle introduced me to Breckenridge Avalanche, which was one of his favorite beers but one not available in our area. If he had it, it meant someone brought it to him. I liked it, but I was unaware of its numerous counterparts.
As I got acclimated to the “big city,” I started making new friends and discovering great places to hang out. I was only here a few short months when I first stepped foot across Smokin’ Joes’ threshold. From that point on, beer as I knew it had taken an adventurous, fun-filled right turn.
Ironically, it wasn’t craft beer that brought me through the door. It was a chicken wing and Yeungling special that myself and fellow co-workers decided to do after work one night. While pitchers of lager flowed like wine, I noticed a variety of beer options both bottled and tapped that I wasn’t accustomed to seeing. The handles displayed names and logos of breweries I never knew existed. I decided this was the perfect opportunity to break way from the norm and try something different.
Just prior to my first trip to Joes, a friend of mine introduced me to Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I remember taking my first sip and thinking this is heavier, but much more flavorful than any beer I’ve drank before. I quickly connected the dots and realized I was frequenting a place where the beer lover in me could run wild and never get bored! Simply stated: Smokin’ Joe’s had the goods to take my appreciation of beer to the next level.
The rest is (in some cases, a bit hazy) history!
As a craft beer enthusiast, you most likely have a story that resembles mine, or at least elements of mine. We all have that special boy or girl meets beer story that has ultimately shaped our appreciation for the offerings we love. In my opinion, it’s places like Smokin’ Joe’s that help lay the groundwork for this appreciation to evolve. When I started Breaking Brews, my mission was to inform, educate, and promote the great things that surround craft beer and, at the same time, point enthusiasts towards the places in Pittsburgh that focus on craft beer and strive to provide education themselves. Smokin’ Joes fits into that category like a hand into a custom-made glove.
With over 60 taps providing offerings courtesy of breweries from Pittsburgh to California and everywhere in between, you’ll be hard-pressed to visit Smokin’ Joes and not find something you haven’t tried. One of the great features of Joe’s, just like most successful craft beer bars, is the friendliness and knowledge of the staff. If you’re just breaking ground on your craft beer foundation, the bartenders and wait staff are more than happy to make suggestions for beers you’ll enjoy based on your style preference.
In addition to the taps, you’ll find hundreds of bottles available to enjoyment in-house or on-the-go. That big cooler behind the bar was one of the first things to catch my eye when I first visited. Again, coming from a small town with hardly any craft options, a cooler of this magnitude was typically reserved for Swanson dinners at the local supermarket. But with this much beer staring you in the face a mere seconds upon arrival, you know business just picked up for the night.
A big element I always look for in the establishments I repeatedly frequent is the overall feel of the environment. Joe’s creates a very laid-back, chill atmosphere. I can’t count how many times my friends and I have come to Joe’s just to enjoy a few cold ones while shooting pool or throwing darts. This unpretentious atmosphere allows you to take in a ball game, converse with friends, and let your evening unfold. Pairing all that with extensive beer choices and a killer menu is the icing on the cake.
I mentioned the wing special that lured me in before my craft beer appreciation began. As my love of beer grew, my love of wings remained constant and does to this day. I’ve had wings from several different establishments from around the city and there are many I give tremendous praise. But with all the different varieties of sauces smothering those wings, nothing has topped the Hot French Honey wings on Smokin’ Joe’s menu. These wings are well-sized, but this particular sauce puts it over the top for me. This, of course, is just one of 17 different sauces for you to enjoy, but take my word for it…Hot French Honey is aces!
As your appreciation of craft beer evolves, the place where it all began for you will remain the same. I’m a pretty nostalgic guy, and the places where things begin are ones I always remember. When it comes to craft beer, I needn’t look further than those four walls on East Carson Street where my eyes were opened to a galaxy of options I never knew existed, nor thought possible. Smokin’ Joe’s will always remain near the top of my staple list of craft beer destinations in Pittsburgh not just because it’s where it all began, but because they continue to knock it out of the park with everything they do.
No matter what chapter your craft beer story’s in, you owe it to yourself to check out Smokin’ Joe’s and, as they put it, never find an excuse for drinking a boring beer ever again!