Updated 4:45 p.m. Dec. 3
Dear holiday season shoppers,
On behalf of all craft beer lovers, let me say: You’re welcome.
Every year at Christmas, I agonize over what to get my non-beer-drinking wife, so much so that I inevitably exceed our self-imposed price limits because buying her a gift card to the local book store is getting pretty stale.
But us beer lovers? We’re super easy to please. Laughably easy. Heck, just fill a growler with almost any non-macro beer — except pumpkin beer; never pumpkin beer — and we’ll be ecstatic. Throw in a T-shirt with our favorite brewery’s logo on it, and we’ll be calling it the best Christmas ever in no time.
And thanks to the ever-expanding merchandise options provided by Pittsburgh breweries, we’re easier to shop for these days than ever.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re an apparel store disguised as a brewery,” says East End Brewery’s founder Scott Smith. And that’s a good thing.
Why are brewers moving beyond beer and into swag?
Demand: Say you’re an out-of-town visitor, and you hit up Roundabout or Hop Farm in Lawrenceville. You can’t fill up a growler and bring it on the plane back home. But you can get a shirt, a pint glass or any number of keepsakes.
Marketing: People who pull on that shirt, hoodie or hat become walking billboards for the brewery, which is good for brand recognition.
“Does it help to have people wear our stuff? Yes, absolutely,” said Keana McMahon, co-owner of 11th Hour Brewing in Lawrenceville. “But more than anything, when you are building out your dream like this, you really like to wear it yourself.”
A bonus for shoppers: A lot of this stuff is surprisingly inexpensive because brewery owners want people to wear their logo. Dennis Hock, founder of Draai Laag Brewing Co. in Millvale says he’s “not looking to make a profit” on merchandise because the benefits of the free advertising outweigh the benefits of making an extra buck. That’s why their T-shirts cost $15 and their hoodies ring up at $29.
“People want it,” Hock says. “Sometimes we do a T-shirt that has something tied to a very specific beer — like in October, we released a beer called The Plague, did small batch of T-shirts and sold them with the beer release. We sold out the day the beer went on sale. It’s a combination of satisfying what customers are asking for, a little bit of marketing for sure and a little bit of brand recognition.”
On that note, here are a few options of what to buy your beer-loving loved one this year.
Brewery license plate
In Pennsylvania, for some reason, we don’t have front license plates. So you’re free to put anything you like on there — which is why we apparently have a first place tie involving thousands for “No. 1 Steelers/Pens/Pirates fan.”
11th Hour offers an alternative with their brewery license plate. They also sell stickers ($1), tote bags ($7) and baseball hats ($20), among other brewery trinkets.
East End Brewing Co.
East End Brewing Co. has long held its regular “Grains-to-Glass” tour, an hour-long session costing $25 that covers the entire beer-making process and some of East End’s history, then ends with a $15 credit in the tap room. Now they’ve added two more tours.
The “Brewery 101” tour ($15) is about 30-minutes long and is catered to those who don’t need a complete rundown of the brewing process but want a quick glimpse behind the scenes. Then there’s the “Good Wood Tour” ($25), which lasts about 45 minutes and focuses on East End’s extensive history of barrel-aging beers.
East End’s website offers many more items for sale, including bars of beer soap ($7), cycling jerseys ($70) and growler koozies ($10). But Smith notes that they bring in so many new items, half of the lineup doesn’t even make it online, including disc golf sets, bar towels and long-sleeved flannel shirts.
(Note to Santa: I’d like the Monkey Boy Hefeweizen shirt ($15). The Beer Belly Yoga shirt — “Come for the yoga; Namaste for the beer” — will also do.)
Fat Head’s Saloon
For the person in your life who loves both dogs and beer, this collar is the perfect gift. It’s made with eco-friendly, antimicrobial materials — and the leash attachment ring doubles as a bottle opener, per Fat Head’s website. Fat Head’s has a ton if items for sale, more than most breweries in Pittsburgh. In addition to T-shirts, hoodies and hats, also available are bobbleheads ($20), keychain bottle openers ($6), Santa hats with the Fat Head’s logo ($12) and sunglasses ($9).
Stainless Steel Growler
Southern Tier Pittsburgh
We’re highlighting Southern Tier’s stainless-steel growler here because the upstate-New York brewery is still relatively new to the city, and Pittsburghers are nothing if not welcoming. But truth be told, a ton of local breweries offer these growlers, in 32-, 64- and even 128-ounce sizes, including but not limited to East End and Penn Brewery.
Back to Southern Tier: Their online shop has many options, including winter scarves ($9), beanies (or tossle caps, as we say here, for $14.25 or $23 with a pom-pom on top) and a retro lunch pail ($15).
City Brew Tours
Want to visit four breweries, sample beers at each one, talk to the brewers, get free lunch, and — most importantly — NOT have to drive? City Brew Tours can help.
Their Saturday tours, per the website, bring visitors to Couch Brewery in the East End, Hop Farm in Lawrenceville, Allegheny City Brewing in Deutschtown and Draai Laag in Millvale. Sunday tours include stops at Spoonwood in the South Hills, Penn Brewery in Troy Hill and Hop Farm and Allegheny City.
Tours last about five hours. Weekday and “after hours” tours are also available.
This guide is just a starter-list. Walk into any local brewery, and you’ll find plenty of gift options. Because beer is the gift that keeps on giving.