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Local homebrewers score points at charity event

"I have mad respect for homebrewers," said Beth McHenry at Brewing Up a Cure, the annual charity fundraiser held by Three Rivers Underground Brewers. "It's a good way to see what people are doing and how they are being creative at home."

That creativity was apparent even in the names of the beer McHenry could sample: products like The Great Pumpkin Porter, Beam Me Up Scottish and Hopocalypse. Other reasons to respect homebrewers were also evident: The Oct. 8 gathering, held in the basement of Oakland's Pittsburgh Athletic Association, raised more than $35,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The fifth annual event brought out 18 Pittsburgh-area homebrewers, who served more than 60 handcrafted beers to a sold-out crowd of 500. 

Overall, the beers served were terrific. Styles ranged from traditional to novel; pale ales and stouts were served alongside Perfect Pitch Brewing's "Precisely Plucked, Procrastinatingly Picked, Prize-Winning Poblano Pepper Porter."

Asked what motivated them to begin fermenting at home, brewers gave answers as diverse as their products. Bill Oates, for one, received a homebrewing kit as part of a white-elephant gift exchange, while Shane Terrick started brewing at his wife's suggestion. ("We started drinking craft beer," he recalled, "and she was like, ‘Why don't you start making it?'") Almost universally, though, club members were motivated to drink something better -- or at any rate more distinctive -- than the macro-brewed beers they were used to.

Three Rivers Underground Brewers is a tight-knit community, whose members meet monthly to swap fermentation war stories. "It's such a wealth of people who have been through the same things," Oates said. "If you fuck up on a brew, there's someone who's like, ‘I did that too, here's how to fix it.'" The brewers work together too, sometimes combining forces on a 100-gallon batch.

Many in attendance were already fans of handcrafted brews, but the event also created converts. 

"I thought most homebrewing was skunky. Some of my friends did it and it sucked," said attendee John Onufrak. "But this is really good."

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