Pittsburgh was promised a beer museum. Where the heck is it?

There’s no timeframe, but there’s reason for optimism.

A rendering of Brew: The Museum of Beer.

A rendering of Brew: The Museum of Beer.

Courtesy of Brew: The Museum of Beer
Rossilynne Culgan

In 2016, Brew: The Museum of Beer announced its concept for a landmark beer-themed museum in Pittsburgh with hopes it would open as soon as winter 2017.

In 2019, the museum still hasn’t opened, but plans for the museum, which is envisioned as a monumental attraction, are still brewing. And there’s an opportunity to get a first taste of the museum’s vision in just a few weeks.

“It’s been a long process, and we’ve still got a ways to go,” Joe McAllister, founder of Brew: The Museum of Beer told The Incline.

Funding the $20-million project has proven to be a challenge, despite an Indiegogo campaign which raised $32,000. The museum, a for-profit venture, is looking for private investors.

When the Post-Gazette first reported on the museum in 2016, the paper said it was expected to “open in phases starting in the winter of 2017 or spring of 2018.” Though that’s passed, McAllister is optimistic for two reasons.

First, Brew will host a traveling exhibit called “Beer in World War II” at the West Overton Village. The pop-up exhibition, which will debut on Feb. 9, will be a part of the Westmoreland County museum’s presentation of Heinz History Center’s traveling exhibit, “We Can Do It.”

Second, a $59,700 grant from the state Liquor Control Board will fund a kiosk narrating “The Story of Beer in Pennsylvania.” The kiosk will be located somewhere Downtown, where visitors can find information about beer, press a button to hitch a ride to a local brewery, or push another button to sign up for a brewery tour. The kiosk is expected to be complete in about a year, he said.

“We’re hoping that these smaller projects will parlay into getting more investors on board and let us get to a place where we can decide on a site and break ground,” McAllister said.

The 50,000-square foot complex would contain 20,000-square feet of exhibits, along with a restaurant, a brew pub, event space, and a gift shop — “a hub for beer,” he said.

Brew: The Museum of Beer would tell the story of beer across the world and across the ages — “the whole 10,000-year story,” McAllister said. While there are museums dedicated to beer, there’s “nothing of this scope in the United States so far.” Permanent and traveling exhibits would explore the history of beer through today’s craft beer movement, and themes could explore beer’s relationship to baseball or religion, for example. All would be based on scholarly information told in an engaging manner, he said.

Ideally, McAllister wants a location within two miles of the Convention Center, so visitors could easily stop by the museum.

“My dream is to have a filling beer mug on top of our building similar to the ketchup bottle (on the History Center) or the Wholey’s fish,” he said, likening Brew to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, which attracts 400,000 visitors each year, 80 percent of whom are from out-of-town.

“Why couldn’t a beer museum in Pittsburgh be as successful as a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?” McAllister posited.

While Visit Pittsburgh isn’t helping to fund the museum, they like the idea.

“We are not financially involved in that project. However, we support the endeavor as an attraction, providing another activity to visitors to our region and locals alike,” said Melissa Wade, Visit Pittsburgh’s senior director of communications.

Locals have certainly shown interest in the topic. Brew’s Education Coordinator Paul Young is teaching two classes at Bierport this winter, one about Ancient and Historic Beers and the other about History of Hops. Both have already sold out.

A North Side resident and a “failed homebrewer,” McAllister is wholly devoted to the project. After a career in nonprofits, working at The Watson Institute in Sewickley and founding the Autism Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, McAllister took early retirement to focus on Brew full-time.

So far, he’s spent five years researching Brew. Creating the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame took 10 years, “I hope we can beat that mark,” he added.

Even with his optimism, the timeline is still murky, and he hopes it will clear up in the next few months as he leverages the new developments to investors.

“That’s the big question mark,” McAllister said. “The full museum is out there. We just need to make it real.”