Folks looking for East End Brewery for the first time could be forgiven for circling the block a few times looking for the right place. The concrete block building and industrial chain-link fence don’t do much to advertise what’s inside.
On a weekend the car park can be filled with patrons sipping beers while they queue at a food truck, but otherwise just a small sandwich board and sign are the only hint that it’s worth stepping in.
And it’s worth it indeed. Since starting to serve pints in November last year, East End Brewery has been developing into a warm, friendly brew pub. The interior still has an industrial feel, but it’s made more cozy with wooden tables and bar leaners, decorated with bunches of flowers arranged in beer growlers.
East End is a production brewery and growler shop that has been operating in the neighborhood since 2004, and at the current Julius St. location for three years. All the beer served in the tap room is made just through the double doors to the brewery—doors that are opened up when more space is needed for special events.
The brew pub serves a range of year-round beers and a changing menu of seasonal offerings, with a total of 35 different beers produced throughout the year.
The signature East End beer is the Big Hop—they’ve been making it since the beginning, and it’s currently the only beer sold in cans, as well as by the growler or pint. It’s a golden beer with a hoppy bite, but doesn’t lose sight of the malt. And at 5.8% alcohol, it’s less dangerous to put away than many other IPAs. That was the point, says brewery owner Scott Smith. “It was designed to be a hoppy beer but not something that’s so over the top that you can’t have more than one of them, both in alcohol content and style.”
Even safer to enjoy at lunchtime is Fat Gary Nut Brown Ale, another year-round beer, with an alcohol content of 3.8%. A deep brown color with a smooth, malty heart, it’s still light and very easy to drink.
The seasonal beers on tap reflect, well, the season, so naturally current brews on offer are a hop-lover’s delight. Along with the year-round Big Hop, there’s also the Bigger Hop Double IPA, Green Giant, a West-Coast-ish style IPA with a hefty 7.2% alcohol, and Wheat Hop, a wheat ale with a fresh grassy bite.
Alongside those is the Big Hop Harvest Ale, a unique beer made with wet hops, rather than dried. It can only be brewed on the day of harvest, as the fresh hops start to compost quickly. That means a round trip to the farm in upstate New York to collect the hops, before they start brewing that same day. That’s why Smith calls it the “most ridiculous beer we brew on a regular basis.” But the result is worth it: A deep golden ale with a bright grassy flavor. And while they still have some fresh hop buds on hand, you can toss one or two in the top of your growler or pint glass to really bring out the flavor. 64oz growlers range from $10 to $18, and pints range from $4.50 to $7.
For those who, like me, are not such a big fan of hops, the Cream Ale is a smooth, easy-drinking ale brewed with corn. Smith describes it as a “lawn-mower beer”, perfect for drinking on a summer weekend in the yard.
Food on offer at East End is currently limited to cheese platters, and a rotation of food trucks providing sustenance for hungry patrons on Friday and Saturday nights.
The tap room space is shared with Commonplace Coffee, who roast their beans in a corner of the brew pub, but they will soon be moving the roaster upstairs, opening up more space for food service.
Plans are also in the works for a new entrance, and turning the car park area into a beer garden.
The brewery also has a growler shop in The Strip at the Pittsburgh Public Market, open Wednesday to Sunday.
Smith says the Julius St. brewery’s low-profile can have its advantages, and regulars feel a little bit like they’re part of a secret club. “To a point that works with alcohol in this country because we all have prohibition in our blood,” he says. “But it’s also nice to put a sign out so people don’t have to drive around the block four times until they’re convinced it’s the right place.”
Until then: Look for the black sandwich board at the car park entrance, and the blue door. They’ll be happy to serve you a pint or two.
East End Brewery
147 Julius St, East End (Larimer)
Open Tuesday-Friday 4-8 p.m., Saturday 12-8 p.m., Sunday 12-5 p.m.
Heather McCracken is a Pittsburgh-based freelance writer.
Photographs by Heather McCracken