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Strip Brewing has fun with woody, still beer

Thursday, July 16, 1998

By Bob Batz Jr., Post-Gazette Staff Writer

You wouldn't think a brewpub would purposely serve flat beer. But that's what's on tap - in a special way - each Friday at the Strip Brewing Co.

"Your friendly brewers," Bill Ehlert and David Achkio, have been playing around with a small oak barrel, and the result is a weekly "beer from the wood."

It's not flat, but nearly so, in terms of carbonation. Actually, the brewers call it a "still beer."

They make this unusual brew by pulling out a portion of one of their house beers, and aging it in the 3-gallon barrel for a few days. Then they serve it from the barrel, through a simple wood spigot.

The result is low on bubbles but high on flavor.

"It kind of takes on the character of a sherry," says Ehlert, the head brewer. "You get the wood flavors coming through."

They serve a different "woody" each Friday until it's gone. Ehlert says, "If there's any left, I like it on Saturday," since the flavors tend to intensify as the cask sits out, warms up and mixes with the air.

The beer is served in a special 14-ounce stemmed glass for $4. Tomorrow's is the Pale Gal Ale.

The two brewers also continue to experiment with rotating "cellar conditioned" beers. To make these, they draw off some house beer into five-gallon steel kegs and then handle each batch in an unusual manner - say, by "dry hopping" it. That is, they might add a special variety of hops to the already-fermented beer. Or they might krausen it by letting it further ferment with a small amount of a dissimilar style of beer - say, a gold with a darker nut brown.

"Cellaring" the mixes - letting them age in the cool basement - results in distinctive brews that the Strip serves via a hand pump, a la true cask-conditioned ales.

Just put on this week is the nut brown ale, krausened with Hopus Maximus, and dry-hopped with Irish seedless northdowns.

Not knowing how it's going to turn out is part of the fun, Ehlert says with a grin. "We pretty much wing it."

Strip Brewing, at 2106 Penn Ave., is one of four destinations on another brewpub crawl being sponsored by Dave Lockerman and friends on Saturday.

The tour starts at noon at the Foundry Ale Works on Smallman Street, also in the Strip District. From there, the shuttle goes to the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, then Strip Brewing, then Valhalla (also in the Strip, on Smallman) and back to the Foundry until 7 p.m.

Cost is $35 and includes beer samples and appetizers at each place. For reservations (required), call 724-265-4267.

Lockerman's first spring tour, in March, was a big success, selling out all 45 seats.

If bar crawling sounds fun, you might want to hook up with the Oasis Club, a very loose group of folks that regularly runs such revelry. On Saturday, July 25, they plan to hit the South Side. Sometime in August, they'll cruise the Strip District.

The group says it's held some 20 crawls around the city, and that each one attracts an average of about 50 people, a good mix of men and women. The person who invites the most crawlers wins the coveted Oasis Cup, which is sorta like hockey's Stanley Cup, only much easier to drink beer from.

For more info, check out the group's cool Web site: Or call Jim Robertson at 412-341-4514.

Speaking of Valhalla, head brewer Patrick O'Neill reports that within the next week or so, it will be serving its first ale: an American-style pale ale.

Previously, the Strip District brewpub made only lagers, but O'Neill says he's heard cries for ales from the local homebrewing crowd. (There are many differences between the two, including yeasts and aging temperatures, but basically, ales tend to smell and taste fruitier, while lagers are smoother and "cleaner.")

"Hopefully we'll give them the best of both worlds," he says, noting that, come September or so, he plans to try something else new: a fruited wheat beer. "Probably blackberry. I love blackberries."

In competition with more than 100 beers, two local brewpubs won medals at the first State College MicroBrewers Exposition, held June 20.

Penn Brewery, on the North Side, took not only a gold but also best-of-show for its Weizen, or wheat beer. Penn Gold won the silver in light lagers, and Penn Dark won the bronze in dark lagers.

John Harvard's Brew House, in Wilkins, also came away with three medals: a silver in browns/porters/stouts for its nut brown ale; a bronze in bitter ales for its pale ale; and a Peoples' Choice silver for its nut brown.

Organizers say more than 800 attended the event, which they plan to hold again next summer.

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