The South Hills hip need no longer drive through a tunnel and over a bridge for quality craft brewing. They can now go by foot, by T, or perhaps by pointed thumb to Hitchhiker Brewing Co. in Mt. Lebanon.
Hitchhiker, which opened in May 2014, is a unique addition to the scattered businesses on an otherwise residential stretch of Castle Shannon Boulevard. The brew pub sits between Vicar Antiques & Gardens and Luma Restaurant. The building’s stone-front exterior is dressed with homey touches like a handmade wooden sign, while the main attractions—handmade beers—await inside.
My Beer Geek Friend was delayed, so my sister, not wanting to see her brother pull a George Thorogood and “drink alone,” deigned to join me. We arrived a little after seven on a Saturday evening. A brave batch of the Mt. Lebanon beautiful had fought through frigid temps in order to watch the NFL playoffs. The bar was already filled, but no worries. Hitchhiker has extra seating. A wooden counter runs the length of the wall opposite the bar. Lighted candles enhance this “mini-bar” area. After hanging our coats, I went to order the first round.
Hitchhiker has quite a few standards, though not all of them are always served. (A “Current Draft List” is posted online, right on the pub’s home page.) Favorite standards include the Cobblestone Kölsch, the Roadie IPA, and the Tumbleweed Oatmeal Brown. The pub also has rotating beers, which are sometimes season-based. That night there were eight beers on tap. I went with the IPA. My sister, amused by the name, got one of the rotating varieties, No Pun Intended Blonde Ale.
The Roadie IPA
Beer Geek Friend (BGF), who eventually made it and also ordered this brew, said, “A very solid IPA. Not too hoppy; definitely an IPA.” I concur. I would add that citrusy hops give it a grapefruit flavor, a description which the Hitchhiker website corroborates. This IPA has a dry aftertaste as well. For something much hoppier and with more of a bite, I recommend the Centerline Black IPA.
No Pun Intended Blonde Ale
BGF again: “A solid body that goes down smooth, similar to light beers.” My sister said, “It’s not too overpowering.” For someone new to the craft brew world, this is a good gateway beer. Not too unusual, but definitely something to get one out of one’s Coors Light comfort zone. And the brewers weren’t punning. The color makes for a gorgeous towhead at the bar.
A Quick Nosh
Hitchhiker sells non-alcoholic root beer as well as outside wines and ciders. There is also a quaint menu of bar food, from beer nuts to chili. Thinking “whiskey stix” was a full, whiskey-battered pretzel, I was surprised, but not disappointed, to receive a bag of candy-cigarette-sized pretzel sticks. Also like candy cigarettes, they were sweet. Unlike them, they had a salty, almost spicy aftertaste. One of the bartenders said she was eating some when I ordered, and I understand why. I would nosh on them, too, if I were a bartender at Hitchhiker.
Hitchhiker welcomes patrons to sample beers before ordering them. I tried the Cobblestone Kölsch. Like No Pun Intended, this would also be a good gateway beer. An emphasis on malts gave it a sweet, smooth taste. I knew from a previous visit not to try the Drifter #014 Cranberry Kölsch. Too fruity for my liking. Also sampled: Rucksack Porter. Porters are hit-and-miss for me, but this one, with its dark body and coffee hints, made it an enticing choice to order.
Not wanting to get too sloshed, though, and speaking of coffee, I ordered the Tumbleweed Oatmeal Brown instead. I asked for this beer without sampling it and was not disappointed. If breakfast is your favorite meal, and if drinking coffee is in any way like a religious experience, get the Oatmeal Brown. A deep waft of the brew was like an inhalation of the morning java pot. The full-bodied taste is surprisingly like coffee for a brew that doesn’t contain any, and since it is made with flaked oats, the oatmeal flavor also comes through. My sister contributed another description: “It’s spicy.” A pause. “It’s spiced!” Yes, like the condiments that one might add to a latte, the spicy hops give it a bold aftertaste.
I was struggling to describe the pub’s decor when my sister said, “You clearly don’t watch enough HGTV.” (True. I don’t.)
“Well, how would you describe it?” I asked.
“It’s like a rustic industrial.”
She gave an exasperated sigh, one usually reserved for my love of the band Animal Collective. “Because of the exposed pipes, the wooden bar, the empty malt bags hanging from the walls,” she said. “And the stools remind me of every art class I’ve ever taken.”
BGF then noted the Edison bulbs, soft lights in small steel cages which contribute to the relaxed, warm feel of Hitchhiker.
So “rustic industrial” it is. The evening’s recorded music alternated between light alternative rock and oldies, playlists which my sister and I both approved. On the wall across from the bar is a charming chalkboard menu. Also charming: the bartenders, who were nothing if not attentive.
The Rewards of Craft Brewing
When asked what has been the most rewarding aspect of Hitchhiker since it opened, founder Gary Olden responded, “A few things, [first] of all educating customers about different beer styles. Also having the opportunity to work with and employ some great people. And lastly, having the ability to brew really unique beer based on classic beer styles.”
BGF, my sister, and I felt rewarded ourselves upon cashing out. We look forward to trying other options at Hitchhiker in the future—the weekly live music (including bluegrass nights), flyers of three 9-ounce bottles, growlers to go, and, once this cold weather breaks, outdoor seating.
Hitchhiker Brewing Co. is open Wednesdays through Fridays from 4 to 11 p.m., Saturdays noon to 11p.m., and Sundays noon to 6 p.m. It is located at 190 Castle Shannon Blvd., Mt. Lebanon. Perhaps we’ll see you there. Olden said the pub’s name comes from the idea that craft brew, like hitchhiking, has the ability to connect all kinds of people who otherwise wouldn’t have met.
Chris Maggio is a Pittsburgh native and a fan of great music and fine dining.