What do you get when a guy with 16 years' experience in professional brewing — plus a master's degree in chemistry — returns to Pittsburgh's First Church of Fermentation?
If you're Lawrenceville's Church Brew Works, you get a slew of accolades at this year's Great American Beer Festival.
The festival, held Oct. 10-12 and organized by the 1,400-plus members of the Brewers Association, is the Olympics of beer competitions. So it's no small thing that Church Brew Works was just awarded "Best Large Brewpub of the Year," and brewer Steve Sloan named "Best Large Brewpub Brewer."
The awards capped off a monumental year for the Brew Works and Sloan, who re-joined the 16-year-old brewery last November after spending a couple years working with a friend at a California brewery.
Since returning, Sloan says, "We've made a lot of improvements." Indeed, this is the first time since 2005 that the festival has recognized the brewery.
Four of Sloan's beers also won individual medals. Heini's Hooch won a prestigious Gold Medal — awarded only to a "world-class beer [with] the proper balance of taste, aroma and appearance" — in the Old/Strong Ale category. It's cask-aged in bourbon barrels, and part of a class of unfiltered brews that are called "Real Ales" by beer aficionados.
Pious Monk took a silver in European Style Dunkel, a German-style, dark lager; Celestial Gold won a bronze in the Dortmunder, a classic German-style, malty lager; Pipe Organ Pale Ale earned a bronze in International-Style Pale Ale.
(Another Pittsburgh-area brewery — North Versailles' Full Pint Brewing — also received accolades. Its White Lightning garnered a bronze medal in the Belgian-style Witbier category.)
Sloan has even more ambitious plans in store. For example, he plans on experimenting with the wild wine yeast Brettanomyces, which is often considered a contaminant. While it usually creates an "off" flavor in beer, Sloan says the right touch can yield an enticing yeasty, sour tang.
Then again, Sloan jokes, now that he's on top of his game, "I'd like to retire."