The Whiskey Rebellion is a natural hook for local distillers. Located just a few miles up the road from Western Pennsylvania’s own flashpoint of sedition, Heidelberg’s Insurrection AleWorks pays homage to the great American tradition of tax protests getting a little out of hand.
But wait: You don’t have to be a Revolutionary War historian to know that ale isn’t whiskey, it’s beer. No matter, there’s room for brewers, too, in the wake of the Whiskey Rebellion. Mix in the beer-swilling reputation of the town’s German namesake, and you get the inspiration for the establishment’s clever logo: a Teutonic lion rampant with a tassel of hops on its tail.
So the branding is on target; what of the beer? Technically that’s above our pay grade, but we sure as shootin’ didn’t drive out to damn-near Canonsburg to eat at a brew-pub without sampling some. Eight ales were on tap, all of them local and most brewed on the premises, with names like Ming Joint (“named after the nuclear welder who saved us when we had a crack in our Brite Tank”) and Yoga Pants (brewed with Himalayan salt and fresh-cracked coriander). Our server cheerfully brought us a veritable flight of samples so we could make an informed choice to accompany our meals; all were hoppily delicious.
But Insurrection’s food is not mere filler, or at least, it isn’t intended to be. The menu is dominated by charcuterie and cheese, with two full pages, closely typed, of a la carte options both local and exotic. This was, in fact, probably the most impressive charcuterie list we’ve ever seen. Our only quibble was that there didn’t seem to be an option for a discount on platters: For an order of one cheese or five, the price per unit was the same.
It would be possible — and pleasurable — to graze for weeks off Insurection’s charcuterie, but since most items on it were brought in, and thus not indicative of the kitchen’s own chops, we reined ourselves in. Mostly. We did succumb to the temptation of pâtés (actually mousses) — three of them, all from a purveyor in Greenwich Village, made with combinations of pork and poultry livers and flavorings like mushrooms, Sauternes and truffles. We received a generous portion of chicken-liver mousse, albeit with a slightly skimpier helping of sliced baguette (more was brought upon request). Befitting the name, the mousse was silken, the flavor rich and well balanced against some grainy mustard served alongside.
All four salads on the menu look pretty good. We ordered the falafel. A pair of the chickpea fritters surmounted a huge platter of chopped romaine studded with pieces of cucumber, tomatoes, red onion and a pour of tzatziki. This was adequately garlicky to hold its own, but everything else was dwarfed by the sheer quantity of lettuce, and the falafel that should have been the star of the show hardly registered in its dry blandness.
Unfortunately, this theme — not enough flavor, not enough kick — recurred throughout our meal. Charcuterie aside, the menu leaned heavily on sandwiches, mostly sophisticated ones like muffuletta and prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella and roasted red peppers. We chose the Cuban, which acquitted itself pretty well, considering the impossibility of finding actual Cuban bread outside of Cuba or Florida. Cuban is somewhere between French and Italian breads, but a touch sweeter; perhaps most importantly, its crust isn’t too hearty, but crisps up beautifully in a sandwich press. Insurrection didn’t use a press, but did choose a hoagie roll that toasted up credibly. The meat, cheese and mustard were par, but the housemade pickles stood out. Real Cuban sandwiches use frankly lackluster dill slices, but Insurrection featured thick slices of smaller pickles, their brine full of peppercorns and coriander for a profile that was light but not dull.
Buffalo wings were small for the price, but beneath the classic sauce they had a nice fried crust, and the meat was tender and juicy. Wings are also available in a couple sauces made with house ales.
A special of “pumpkin flank” swordfish — so named for the color of its crustacean-fed flesh — was simply seasoned with salt and pepper, but a bit on the well done side for our tastes. It came with a side of bland, barely-sauced mac-and-cheese; a full dish of lobster mac-and-cheese featured a sauce more like a creamy bechamel than a cheesy melt and sufficiently succulent lobster bits.
Insurrection AleWorks’ name suggests boldness, whether from a rebellious spirit or simply from an impulse toward something zesty to accompany the product of its brewing. The reality is more timid; true to its name, beer is what Insurrection AleWorks does best.