Crafting the Perfect Summer Beer Festival

A good craft beer can change minds. And Penn Brewery is helping the craft trend. At the brewpub, palates are stimulated by the nuanced Microbrewers Festtastes of its housemade beers. Located in Pittsburgh’s Deutschtown neighborhood, the brewpub has a storied history in the Steel City, maintaining a reputation as one of the most integral breweries in the region.

Come the first weekend in June, the brewpub once again will celebrate its craft and microbrew brethren during the 16th annual Microbrewers Fest. Welcoming between 25 and 30 microbrewers from the region, as well as some brewers that make the sojourn from the West Coast, the fest is the perfect summer kickoff for the brewery.

To recruit brewers, Penn’s co-owner Linda Nyman sends recruiting letters to brewers based on historic participation and those who have showed interest in attending the fest. “A lot of local players are very interested because they’re right in our backyard,” she explains. “Sometimes it’s just personal relationships that bring people to Penn to participate.”

Split into two different three-hour sessions, guests can “buy as many samples as they wish to try,” Nyman says. Guests “get a glass to sip beers,” she says, a meal and live entertainment — this year the fest will host The Flow Band and Big Leg Emma — for a ticket price of $45 until the end of May and $60 after that.

“Obviously, we want to bring in beers that are true craft beers,” Nyman says, and Penn Brewery’s commitment to high-end housemade beers lends itself to being a fundamental aspect in the craft brew phenomenon.

“If you look at what’s driving the beer category, it’s craft beer,” Nyman explains.

Penn Brewery has been a craft beer trailblazer. As a hangout for locals, the Pittsburgh hotspot embraces beer lovers and novices alike; during the Microbrewers Fest, “we anticipate 800 to 900 tickets per session,” Nyman says. “It’s a good time, and people really like coming out.”

Penn Brewery

Pittsburgh's Penn Brewery will host its 16th annual Microbrewers Fest in June.

In many cases, Nyman says, brewers come out to learn about and try new styles during the outdoor event.

But it's not easy to host more than 1,600 people. Years of practice mean the brewery knows what it’s doing: It has been honing its skills and perfecting the event with each passing year.

“We generally make little tweaks each and every year,” Nyman says. The layout and traffic flow are important to the event and that often changes as well as food offerings and the different beers featured.

“One of the deliberate improvements is simply making sure we have more Porta-Johns,” she quips.

Although courting brewers and guests is time-consuming work — not to mention hiring extra staff to help collect tickets or hand out sample glasses — the event has a lucrative return on investment.

“This is definitely a profitable event for us,” Nyman says. “It is a nice event. This and Oktoberfest are high points for us on the calendar, and people enjoy coming.”

Part of the proceeds will be donated to the Community Alliance of Spring Garden and East Deutschtown and Make-a-Wish Foundation.

As Pittsburgh grows and evolves its beer-loving ways, Penn Brewery benefits from this progress, and Nyman notes that the changing attitude is drawing adventuresome palates to the blue-collar city. During the recent and inaugural Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, Nyman explains the city rallied around the event, showcasing several hundred functions, ultimately surpassing all expectations.

“That was really, really successful … We were expecting 50 or 60 (events). It gave Penn and everyone in the industry a shot in the arm and introduced what craft beer is all about and that was the intent.”

That positive momentum is just what Penn Brewery needs as it gears up for Microbrewers Fest.

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