When Beer Geek Friend (BGF) and I departed the South Hills to explore Voodoo Homestead and fuss over the attributes of its drafts, we expected pints. What we didn’t expect, but were no less happy to encounter, were pups.
A golden retriever idling with his owner at the bar. A pit bull puppy catching a tossed piece of pulled pork, courtesy CarnivoreMobile, the South Side BBQ Company‘s food truck. And numerous other patrons walking their pooches in and out of the opened double garage doors of Voodoo Homestead.
All of this, plus free doggy massages, a 50/50 raffle, a doggy photo booth, and live music, constituted Pups-n-Pints. Proceeds benefited The Proper Pit Bull, a Pittsburgh pit bull advocacy and rescue non-profit. The event was one of many that have cemented this pub as a Homestead fixture since it opened in January 2015. The week prior saw a fundraiser for the local volunteer fire department, and Monday game nights always draw a crowd.
Voodoo Homestead’s commitment towards community inclusion starts with aesthetics. I earlier mentioned garage doors. Decades ago, fire wagons, not high tables and barrel-shaped chairs, sat behind them, ready for the alarm bells to sound.
When Voodoo Brewery bought this long-abandoned firehouse, they didn’t gut the place. Rather, they incorporated aspects of Voodoo Meadville, their base, with the building’s relics, making it not only a pub but also a sort-of firefighters museum. Similar to Meadville, the draft list behind the bar reads in technicolor chalk, and the walls flush green, purple, and red. One can still spot those alarm bells—silent now, yes, but their function not forgotten. The firefighters’ jackets may be gone, but tulip glasses now drip-dry inside their metal lockers, upon which sits a fire engine’s blue beacon light. Between the restrooms, an old battery charger has been modified to dispense not electricity but water. Fire hoses sit coiled like boa constrictors beneath the iron staircase leading to the upstairs stockroom and office. Ceiling art, created by local artists, adds the final touch.
Voodoo Homestead general manager Jake Voelker is quick to compliment those from Homestead and beyond who helped with the remodeling.
“We built the entire project on a lot of volunteer labor,” Voelker said. “Without them, we would have never been able to do it.”
He adds, “There is no industry in this world that you can make something that makes people happy, and they’re happy to help you make them happy.”
Those volunteers’ names now radiate in chalk alongside the draft list that would not be there if it weren’t for their help and dedication.
The decor taken in, the dogs petted, it was time for BGF and I to move to the bar to have a drink.
I began my evening with Super Happy Fun Time Birthday Extravaganza Extra Spectacular 29; BGF began with Breakfast of Champions. SHFTBEES29 was a new American Indian Pale Ale, unveiled less than a week ago. Although brewed with three hops, mosaic, hull melon, and Motueka, SHFTBEES29 tasted less citrusy than Voodoo IPAs I’ve drunk in the past, like HooDoo and Good Vibes. In fact, the citrus came through only on the aftertaste. More prevalent was its hoppiness and the residual dry mouthfeel it left, all qualities I prefer in an IPA.
“Very well done, low ABV stout,” BGF said upon sipping Breakfast of Champions. (ABV, by the way, means “alcohol by volume;” it lets the drinker know what percent of the beverage is alcohol.) During the pour, we had admired the body of this brew, like chocolate syrup drizzling from the draft. Its taste, evidently, wasn’t disappointing, either. BGF complimented its maltiness as well as its gustatory and olfactory overtones of coffee.
He also emphasized its hoppiness, a characteristic most closely associated with IPAs, not stouts. His observation evinces an important point about Voodoo Brewery and echoes something Voelker said when I asked him what his favorite drink was.
Voelker answered he gravitated towards Good Vibes but prefaced his response with a declaration: “I’m a hop head.” The same could be said of most Voodoo beers. Yet never do the hops overpower. Always malts and yeasts work to fortify and balance these hops, creating brews that offer a cornucopia of flavors for customers to re-experience and reexamine a second, third, fortieth time. That’s the key to Voodoo’s success.
Of course, as I type this, I realize I ordered Gran Met, my second beer of the evening, as a “met-mosa,” or, as the Beastie Boys would call it, a Brass Monkey. The bartender added a splash of pineapple orange juice, masking not only the hops but also the entire beer, save a sharp alcoholic aftertaste. Think of it, though, not as an improvement, but as simply a variation, and a potentially dangerous one at that, if you’re not counting your met-mosas.
“I could drink this in one sip,” BGF said after I let him try it. “I think it’s really good.” (I agreed.)
BGF was also DDF (Designated Driver Friend), so he was not joining me for a third round. Wanting a summertime drink, I ordered White Magick of the Sun, a Belgian-style wheat ale. The body was a dull gold, but the taste, like all great Belgian beers, sparkled with malts and yeasts, and I could really discern the 7.3 percent ABV. Hints of banana cloves were present in both aftertaste and aroma.
As I quaffed the ale, BGF and I turned from the bar to admire the ambience. It was about 8:30 p.m. The live music, provided by Nameless in August, a folk quintet, had wrapped up a half hour earlier, replaced with an indie playlist. Pups-n-Pints also was over, though a few canines and their owners stayed until last call. BGF noted both dogs and people had behaved throughout the evening. We missed out on getting noshes like the Bar-Ba-Cone!—that’s chicken or pulled pork, coleslaw, and mac n’ cheese in a waffle cone—from the CarnivoreMobile. This left only chips or pretzels from the bar, but foodies, fear not, a Voodoo food truck is coming soon.
Before departing, BGF bought some libations and merchandise: a 12-pack sampler, T-shirt, and tulip glass for him; a tulip glass and TeKu (long-stemmed) glass for me, which, in addition to everything else, makes him a capital-F Friend.
We hope to return soon, perhaps on the release day of a barrel-aged brew. These brews take on the aromas and flavors of their containers and whatever was stored in these containers prior, like bourbon. Always a hit, barrel room releases see lines a half-mile long and clearance by 5 p.m., so those interested should consider contacting the pub to reserve bottles.
If unable to attend such an event, BGF and I would settle for another night of great beer, great conversation, and maybe a puppy or two.
205 E. 9th Ave., Homestead
Open 4 – 10 p.m. Monday – Wednesday, 4 p.m. – midnight Thursday – Friday, noon – midnight Saturday, and noon – 10 p.m. Sunday.
Photos: Christopher Maggio
Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh writer, who enjoys live music and a good summer ale.