Brew Gentlemen brewing beer and hope in Braddock

Brew Gentlemen brewing beer and hope in Braddock

By Emma Kilcup / Staff Writer

There’s a renewal brewing in Braddock, Pa.

Though it’s not open to the public yet, The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. began making batches of its signature beers at the end of March. In the last couple months, its taproom has transformed from piles of unsorted wood planks to a weathered wood bar with wire chandeliers. While it’s not complete, the vision is clear: The company will bring something new to the Braddock and Pittsburgh craft beer scenes.

“What we’re doing is not here yet,” Asa Foster, co-founder of The Brew Gentlemen, said. “We want something a little more upscale, where people can come hang out.”

For Foster and other co-founder Matthew Katase, the idea of starting a brewery grew from a Thanksgiving visit to Foster’s family in Boston during their junior year of college. Foster was studying design at Carnegie Mellon University; Katase was studying math. Neither wanted to commit to their fields for the rest of their lives — they wanted to start a brewery. Foster and Katase had been independently homebrewing and working together on entrepreneurial projects, so the foundation was there. On that trip in 2010, they decided they were going to make it happen.

“One thing we had to do very early on was act like a company,” Foster said.

As juniors in college with only an intangible idea, they had to prepare to present to investors and convince others that their idea was as brilliant as they thought. Their first step: making sure there was demand for their product. 

“There will always be a demand. Beer is an affordable luxury,” Foster said. “Breweries in the U.S. have a 2 percent close rate at the moment, which means your building has to be burnt down to stop brewing.”

Now, each founder offers his degree-specific expertise: Katase is the CEO, managing the money side of things, while Foster does the design and marketing.  The brewery plans on fully opening by the end of April.Their website and Facebook have frequent updates on their progress.

To facilitate the brewing process, The Brew Gentlemen hired a head brewer, Brandon Capps, in February. Capps graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in electrical engineering in December and moved to Pittsburgh to dive into the project. Capps said he found the Brew Gentlemen after posting on a job search site that he was looking for a ground-level startup searching for a head brewer. 

“It was one of those things: From moment one, it was an obvious fit,” Capps said.

His interest in beer began early on, as well, propelled by his position as a systems design engineer for Anheuser-Busch, along with his work at a small brew pub called 5 Seasons in Atlanta and as a home brewer, himself. Capps’ liking of beer matched that of Foster and Katase. He even describes a certain method of properly tasting beer: Inhaling equal parts with mouth and nose and aerating the beer with the tongue.  

“Beer is very wrapped up in being very casual, the drink of the people — that tends to bring it more towards the silly side, not taking itself seriously,” Foster said. 

The Brew Gentlemen want their beers to stray away from this silly reputation and the tendency toward beer names with puns. They envision their beer in champagne-style bottles, their taproom with a lounge vibe, customers enjoying beer from proper glasses with cheese pairings. According to Capps, beer is the better accompaniment for cheese than wine because of the diversity of flavors. They plan to offer four flagship beers, which will include a chai-spiced wheat beer called White Sky and a red ale called Business Casual (a beer light enough to sip at work).

“We define it as experience-based, redefining the Pittsburgh experience with craft beer is our biggest mission,” Katase said. “A lot of people don’t know what beer in a glass does. We want to offer a staff that can tell them more about an IPA than ‘it’s kind of bitter.’”

The elegance they are striving for is juxtaposed with the backdrop of Braddock’s blue-collar, steel-town reputation. The reputation, though, is changing as new residents move in and begin to start higher-end businesses. Foster and Katase are living with like-minded people in a renovated convent, their housing funded by Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who supports these initiatives. Outward-facing businesses such as The Brew Gentlemen can bring more traffic of people who can redefine their idea of the area.

“There was a kid at Lowe’s the other day who asked me why we’re starting a business in Braddock, and I asked him the last time he was in Braddock — he said five years ago,” Foster said. “He probably would have not had a good time down here five years ago.”

Foster discovered Braddock while in a class at CMU that was focused on the area. He explored, interviewed people and fell in love. 

“It’s got a weird energy to it. It’s weird, the fact that the town is only a half-square mile. It’s not a very complicated place, until you get into it,” Foster said. “This town is a place time forgot — it’s historical, it’s cool.”

Foster explains that the unmodernized element has been both a blessing and a curse. Ultimately, they are happy with the location. And people are excited, always poking their heads in to see how the progress is coming along and asking about the beer. They want their brewery to bring in people from all over the city, but also from Braddock, offering a high-end experience that people can afford.

“The general sentiment that Braddock is a place that needs a friend is definitely catching on,” Foster said, adding that “the reason Pittsburgh is a steel town is because of Braddock. This is where Andrew Carnegie built the first steel mill.”

Now, it is the place where Kevin Sousa Salt of the Earth’s owner has decided to move and the place where the self-proclaimed “food geeks” running Brew Gentlemen hope to bring another kind of culinary experience. In December, Bon Appétit magazine named Pittsburgh the next big food town. Now, Braddock is joining in the movement.

“The food scene here is exploding, and we are totally on board to ride that,” Foster said. “We saw the very first rumblings of that when we were deciding to start things here. It was going in this direction, but over the next few years we realized it was going in this direction and not going back.”