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Crafting the perfect story: beer writing in Pittsburgh

Crafting the perfect story: beer writing in Pittsburgh


Kenny Gould founded the online craft beer magazine Hop Culture. Courtesy of Kenny Gould



Lexi Kennell
/ Senior Staff Writer

April 14, 2017

In the eyes of Hop Culture co-founder Kenny Gould, craft beer isn’t just an alcoholic beverage — it’s an essential part of Pittsburgh culture.

Gould got the idea for Hop Culture — an online craft beer magazine — in the spring of 2016 after realizing there weren’t many people writing about beer for the millennial generation, despite that age range’s interest in trendy brews. The magazine, which launched Jan. 17 of this year, engages readers with stories about breweries, techniques and the people behind the beer, rather than focusing solely on reviews.

“I wanted to learn about brewing and brewing culture and the drinking scene in this country, and there weren’t really resources that were directed toward my demographic, which is millennial,” Gould said.

Although the online magazine operates out of Pittsburgh, it navigates the broad scope of the craft beer scene in the United States. The site catalogues stories that explore products for beer drinkers — koozies and beer-flavored jelly beans for instance — as well as the culture surrounding beer.

Gould and Hop Culture co-founder J. Travis Smith met as undergraduates at Duke University. After graduating in 2013, Gould and Smith worked for Gear Patrol, an online men’s magazine that was just a start-up at the time, which gave them the opportunity to see how a digital magazine was built from the ground up.

After leaving Gear Patrol and spending some time freelancing in Manhattan, Gould, a Pittsburgh native, moved back to his hometown. When he did, he noticed he was still finding new breweries less than a mile from his house in Shadyside — places like Urban Tap, Wallace’s TapRoom and The Elbow Room.

Local breweries are sprouting up in neighborhoods across the country. The demand for local craft beer is rising, and the market is adjusting — according to Brewers Association, 75 percent of Americans of legal drinking age live within 10 miles of a brewery.

“More people are getting involved, that’s for sure. Because this is a big industry — this is no longer a little niche or specific fad or anything. This is tens of thousands of people that are employed in the craft beer industry and billions of dollars are spent, and every year, craft beer gets a little bit bigger of a market,” said Chris Togneri, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who has taken up writing about the industry.

According to Gould, the craft beer industry was growing so quickly that media coverage hadn’t caught up — his magazine is helping to fill that gap.

Togneri is doing the same. He co-writes a column — First Draft — with reporter Chris Fleisher that features profiles on the people behind new breweries such as Eleventh Hour Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville and War Streets Brewery on the North Side.

Togneri, who has been a home-brewer for about five years, said if he weren’t writing about craft beer, he’d be reading about it from writers such as Mike Pound from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Lew Bryson, a national beer writer.

“My focus is to bring people a little bit closer to the people making their beer. The national beer writers are gonna be focusing on trends and big picture pieces, but I think I do readers a better service by, you know, telling people about this new brewery or this established brewer,” Togneri said.

As Togneri shifted his writing to focus on the local scene, which he noticed expanding about three years ago, the demographic of readers interested in the topic shifted as well, a trend that Gould capitalizes on with Hop Culture.

According to Gould, millennials are drawn to craft beer because of its accessibility over other alcohols including wine or hard liquor. In Pittsburgh, there aren’t many neighborhood distilleries, but there is a smattering of neighborhood craft breweries — such as Grist House in Millvale and Hop Farm Brewing Co. in Lawrenceville.

“It’s sort of like the farm-to-table movement. They don’t want their beer made in St. Louis or somewhere far away — they want their beer made here, and so they buy that beer, and they want the person who made it to give it to them so that they know it’s been locally brewed,” Togneri said.

Ataste for local, flavorful beer is what ties older and younger beer drinkers together, Togneri said.

At Hop Culture, intern and fifth-year Pitt English writing major Sarah Filiault finds a happy medium between those generations. The articles she writes range from dry-hopping IPAs, to describing what dry-hopping even is even is — adding hops to the cask right before the beer is shipped off — to diagramming the top 10 best beer Instagram accounts.

She spends the rest of her 15 hours a week running the daily newsletter.

“I think a lot of the beer-writing scene is less focused on writing and more focused on beer. Most people do reviews and things like that, and that’s what I liked about Hop Culture — that they were more interested in telling a story,” Filiault said.

Part of Togneri’s goal in writing about beer is to encourage people to go local instead of spending their money on cheap, national beers. In part, this includes millennials and occasional craft-beer-drinkers. But Togneri doesn’t limit himself to that demographic, he also shoots to convert the palettes of light, flavorless beer drinkers — including Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Togneri once interviewed Peduto for the Tribune-Review, and the two met up at a bar. When Peduto sat down, he ordered a Miller Lite, prompting Togneri to write a column dedicated to “fixing” Peduto’s taste in beer. Togneri later took Peduto to Independent Brewing Co. in Squirrel Hill and had him try beers from local brewers, accomplishing in-person what he tries to convey in his column. Although Togneri didn’t “fix” the mayor, Peduto diversified his drinking selection with East End’s Homewood Reserve, a stout aged in bourbon, and a Co-Star Brewery doppelbock.

“[I] basically just told him, ‘Put the Miller Lite down,’” Togneri said. “Pittsburgh makes good beer, so you should be drinking Pittsburgh beer.”

 

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