It’s called sticker shock.
You’re in an airport. You like craft beer. You enter a bar in your terminal … and then you see the prices.
Outside of professional sports venues, there is no place on earth where businesses jack up beer prices more than in an airport. Want a locally brewed pint? At the airport, you pay growler prices.
And there’s really nothing you can do about it. They know this. You’re thirsty, perhaps a bit anxious at the thought of being 35,000 feet in the air, and you have no other options.
Penn Brewery is set to open its new brewpub at Pittsburgh International Airport on Tuesday, which is the newsy part of this column.
The really good news, however, is that a pint of Penn beer in the Terminal A taproom will cost exactly the same as it costs at the brewery: $6.
“Why is beer so expensive in airports? Because it’s a captive audience,” said Penn Brewery’s Food and Beverage Director Gene Mangrum, who is managing the airport taproom. “You want a beer? That’s what you’re going to pay.”
I visited the new brewpub last week for a sneak peek. While I was there, I checked beer prices at other airport restaurants and bars. The cheapest locally made craft beer I could find was $8.03.
So … looks like Penn Brewery now has the lowest-priced craft beer at the airport.
Just like Troy Hill
Beyond the pricing, the scenery here will also be familiar.
Anyone who’s visited the brewery knows the sight of the glass wall on the east-facing side of the brewery, behind which loom the large copper brewing cauldrons. That scene will be on display at the airport too, in the form of a massive photo-turned-canvas that will cover the south wall of the taproom.
The food menu will also be similar, with one notable exception: Breakfast. The brewery doesn’t open early enough for breakfast fare, but the airport kitchen will begin serving food at 5 a.m.
Chef Joe Shandor, the airport kitchen manager who designed the breakfast menu, said he was inspired by “bauernfrühstück” — German for “farmer’s breakfast.” It features personal breakfast skillets, a gyro (beef and lamb with egg, feta and veggies) and burrito (chorizo and cheddar-jack with veggies in a tortilla and drizzled with cilantro lime cream sauce), all for $10 each.
(Meanwhile, a bottle of water at the kiosk next door will run upwards of $4.)
“I have eaten around (at other airport restaurants), and I think our food is right up there as an option for the best food in the airport,” Mangrum said.
Gene Mangrum, Laura Foster, Jim Dillon and Joe Shandor getting ready for opening day.Chris Togneri / The Incline
‘It’s a billboard’
From a marketing standpoint, this is a big win for Penn Brewery. Locals who know the brand will seek out the taproom when they travel, Mangrum said, and for many visitors to Pittsburgh, Penn Brewery will be the first craft brewery they come across.
“It is a promotional thing. It’s a billboard, for lack of a better analogy,” Mangrum said. “People will see us and say, ‘Oh, maybe we should check it out when we’re in town.’”
It’s also a sound investment, he said.
“We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t think we could make money on it, because there is a substantial investment, financial and time-wise, and it does take resources away from the mothership, so to speak,” Mangrum said. “But we feel confident it’s going to be winner, for the brand and financially. Part of that equation is the fact that it’s really difficult to grow your beer sales right now with all the competition in the craft beer industry and new breweries popping up every week. Good or bad, the new kid usually gets a look before people return to somewhere they’ve been in the past. That’s not a bad thing, I don’t begrudge that, but in order to really sell more beer, you kind of have to do it yourself. So, from a beer standpoint, it’s going to help.”
When I visited last week, the furniture had not yet arrived, so what I found was an expanse of red-tiled flooring, similar to that of the brewery. The seating — 11 spots at the bar, plus tables and booths with seating for 44 — is already in place.
The airport taproom, formerly occupied by a TGI Fridays, will be open 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Meanwhile, Downtown …
Penn Brewery also recently announced plans to open a brewpub Downtown, but that’s still a way off.
Penn had hoped to open by the end of 2017, but the landlord of the site, 1st Avenue Lofts at 420 First Avenue, “is finishing up other stuff in the building so the space is not ready for us to get in,” said Penn CEO Sandy Cindrich.
Once they get in, work should last four to six weeks, Cindrich said. They hope to open sometime in the spring.
The Downtown location will have 30 seats inside, including 10 at the bar, with 10 or so spots outside in warmer months. The food menu will cater to the lunchtime crowd and feature sandwiches and flatbreads, Cindrich said.