In October 2015, I made a long overdue trek to visit family in the Pittsburgh, PA area. Although it was only a 3 day trip, my goal was to make the most of every minute I had. I scheduled a full day catching up with my Aunt, Grandmother and Cousins I hadn’t seen in quite some time. They took me to a little Mom and Pop Italian restaurant called Lenzi’s that made everything from scratch. I indulged in Italian Wedding Soup, garlic bread and homemade cheese ravioli. It was fantastic! I love to frequent and support small eateries where the food is made with care. You can certainly taste the difference.
I also spent a day exploring breweries one of which being Draai Laag Brewing Company in Millvale, PA just outside of Pittsburgh.
I wasn’t new to their beer. In fact, my first experience was during Harrisburg Beer Week 2015 at the Black Gryphon in Elizabethtown, PA. Tony Z. (Brewer) and Dennis Hock (Founder & Yeast Cultivation Genius) were there introducing us to their brand of small-batch, artisanal ales. I sampled complex wild ales (Red Briar, Blue Briar, Black Briar and R2 Koelschip), a Belgian Quad (Yodeler) and a saison/farmhouse ale (Goedenacht). Funky. Tangy. Old-world brews. I was instantly hooked! Not many breweries are doing these types of creations in Pennsylvania or even the Mid-Atlantic region for that matter so it was a nice change of pace from my usual IPA guzzling. Needless to say, I put “visit Draai Laag this year!” on my to do list for 2015 and penciled the trip in for Fall on my calendar.
We couldn’t have timed our visit any better. Draai Laag had just released their highly-anticipated The Plague dark sour stout. The dark rich ale was fermented with red raspberries, blackberries & blueberries then aged in wine casks. In the photo above, it’s the far left glass. The bottles sold out quickly a few days before we arrived. I knew they probably would by the time we arrived – everyone was clamoring about the release on Twitter. But The Plague was still on draft when we rolled in. Score!!! I grinned widely as I ordered. I’m such a crazy beer hunter! It was like winning a prize or unearthing a treasure. I couldn’t contain myself. I’m sure the bartender thought I was overly-excited to order a brew. And, I’ll tell you, it was well worth the 3.5 hour trip for this collaboration between Draai Laag and Caliente Pizza & Draft House.
The brewers are definitely making a name for themselves in the past 3 years since they opened their doors. It’s their knowledge of Belgian and French-style brewing techniques used to create each ale that makes Draai Laag stand out from most breweries who serve up a standard lineup of IPAs and Stouts. What’s more interesting is that they cultivate their own yeast and use spontaneous fermentation. Not many breweries do this – only a handful in the U.S. It truly sets them apart.
Next up was Extra Special Critters. I so love that name. And, the artwork is so playful and fantastic, too. This one is an American wild ale aged in Pinot Noir French oak casks. Why does it mention “Critters?” Well, that’s referring to the lively yeast incorporated. Each year they use a different strain.
Haviken (Belgian Dark Wild Ale) and Cru (Wild Fermented Old Ale) were also sampled. Cru was my ultimate favorite of the day. Aged on lees and featuring Draai Laag’s signature strain of yeast cultivated in their first year of operation. They call it Wild Angels.
The awesome crew at Draai Laag sent me home with a box full of bottles to enjoy. Some were brews from their own personal stash in the cellar of past releases. (Thank you, Dennis & Tony!) I’ll be cracking them open throughout the next few months. You can follow my beer exploration on Untappd.
Please note that it is currently undergoing renovation inside (as of Jan 2016). They secured a grant to spruce up the place to make it their own since opening in 2012. Can’t wait to see photos of how it all turns out.
Here’s what it looked like during my visit:
Newly constructed and opened in Fall 2015, the outdoor space allows folks to gather as a community. In an age where we’re all about our mobile phones and clicking away on social media, this space encourages conversation among friends and other visitors to the brewery. It’s a nice addition to Draai Laag’s space in an otherwise industrial and up-and-coming Millvale location.
Food trucks are there on a rotating basis to keep imbibers well fed and happy. You can also bring in your own food to enjoy while sipping on Draai Laag ales. The day we visited, there was a BBQ truck that had the most succulent pulled pork paired with cole slaw. Yum! The smokey meat drizzled with a sweet and savory sauce hit the spot.
WILD BY DESIGN
It sums up Draai Laag’s mission perfectly: Wild by Design. I do a lot of brewery visits and it’s not every day that you see one striving to craft art on and in their bottles. Sours and saisons aren’t for everyone but it is a growing segment in the craft beer movement right now. The styles are gaining more and more fans as they become more accessible and affordable. I look forward to exploring Draai Laag ales as they continue to grow and experiment – pushing the envelope with each new brew.
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