Updated 4:35 p.m.
Cinderlands Beer Co., Pittsburgh’s newest craft brewery, opened last month to little fanfare.
But its owners have decidedly big plans — including what could become the city’s largest brewpub. Yeah, that big. They’re converting the old Spaghetti Warehouse building in the Strip District into a brewpub.
“We were just trying to get open, and we wanted people to kind of discover us on their own, through social media and word of mouth,” Cinderlands co-owner Jamie Warden, 34, of Shadyside, said about the Butler Street spot. “That was the plan going in and we stuck to it. Luckily, it’s worked. It seems like people have caught wind of us and they’re coming in, and we’re pretty happy about it.”
Indeed, I only learned of Cinderlands recently at a different brewpub, where a guy at the bar asked if I’d yet to visit Lawrenceville’s newest brewery.
“You mean 11th Hour?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “Cinderlands. It’s new. Close to 11th Hour.”
I hadn’t heard of it.
So I set off to take a look.
‘The culture, the instant camaraderie’
It all started in North Carolina.
In 2012, Jamie and his wife-to-be, Joanna, went to Asheville for a cousin’s wedding. They decided to stop at a local brewpub.
“We planned on being there for 45 minutes, but we sat there for like three hours,” Jamie recalls. “We just really enjoyed the culture, the instant camaraderie you develop. We went to a couple more brewpubs while we there … then left and didn’t think more of it.”
The couple was living in Los Angeles at the time. (Jamie, a Penn State alumnus who studied film was in web development for entertainment professionals; he met Joanna, a Bay Area native, while they both lived and worked in LA). One day, a friend invited them to a craft brewery in Anaheim — and the fond memories of Ashville came rushing back.
“I started putting a business plan together, talking to people in the industry, including Paul,” Jamie says. “Joanna and I were planning on moving back to Pittsburgh anyways …”
‘A lot like Chicago’
Paul Schneider, 31, was born and raised in Chicago. His father knew Jamie’s, so when Jamie wanted to pick a brewer’s brain, he called Paul, a former high school teacher who got deep into homebrewing.
“My home had no dining room, just a brewery with a kegerator and fermentation chamber set up,” Paul says of his pre-professional brewing days. “It was kind of out of control.”
As a history teacher, he knew he wanted a career in brewing, but he had no connections in the industry. So he started a Chicago beer blog.
One interview, with the founders of Solemn Oath Brewing in a Chicago suburb, led to a part-time, summer brewing job. Come fall, Paul knew his days as a teacher were over. He accepted a full-time brewing position in 2012, won a bunch of awards, and stayed until 2017.
Then Jamie called.
“He told me he was planning to move to the Pacific Northwest, and I said, OK, good luck,” Jamie says. “Then our guy dropped out, so I called him again and said … ‘Why don’t you come out to Pittsburgh?’”
Paul jumped on a plane. He’d been here once before, for a Blackhawks-Pens game, but had never explored the city, let alone entertained the idea of opening a brewery. On that trip, though, he liked what he saw — in the city, and in Jamie’s vision.
“Pittsburgh reminds me a lot of Chicago, a great midwestern city with industrial roots,” Paul says. “Really hot food and beverage scene … a lot going on with young people doing exciting stuff here, pushing the level of creativity and execution.”
He signed on, got married in Yosemite National Park, then moved to Pittsburgh’s West View neighborhood in October.
“We’re suburban people,” he says. “I need trees.”
Beer — and “kick-ass food”
Cinderlands’ business plan never called for a brewery only.
Rather, Jamie wanted to create an “experience” incorporating beer and food, with each component inspiring the other.
“If you’re trying to start a small tap room supported by production, that’s a very competitive market, one that’s tough to break into and tough to sustain,” Jamie says. “To us, it was always going to be first about the experience we were going to present, and being able to control our beer and food menu — they not only run parallel, but half of the things on the menu have ingredients from the brewing process. It’s given us the flexibility and creativity to make a whole unique experience for this city.
“It says Beer Co. on the front, and yeah, we are a beer company, but we also make some kick-ass food that goes really well with the beer. I think that differentiates us.”
In Paul, he had his brewer. Now he needed a chef.
Enter Joe Kiefer.
“I was out picking chanterelles over the summer and I got too many,” says Joe, 30, of Bloomfield. “So I was just walking up and down the street, hitting up restaurants and seeing if they wanted to buy some, and a friend of mine said, ‘hey, are you looking for a new job?’”
At the time, Joe was head sous chef at Meat & Potatoes Downtown. But he was considering a change — in fact, he was planning a move to Ashville — so he interviewed. As part of the interview, he cooked a meal at Jamie and Joanna’s house: heirloom tomato salad with olive oil and sea salt, red snapper with rice cooked in the fish stock, and smoked mushrooms.
“Everything on the plate was done with an expert touch, the flavor spot on, all of the components spot on,” Jamie says. “Not having a professional kitchen, he showed a level of creativity in an environment that was not terribly hospitable.”
Joe got the job. And with Jamie’s brother Steve as a partner, and his cousin Matt Cook as the general manager, Cinderlands had its core group.
Two menus, one goal
The beer menu covers the bases: There’s a kolsh, a witbier, a Berliner weisse and three IPAs (including a coffee double IPA which is … fantastic).
The “Blazing Crude” coffee milk stout, based on a national award-winning recipe Paul created at Solemn Oath, is truly outstanding, with chocolate and espresso flavors mixing seamlessly with subtle citrusy notes. The coffee added is cold-brewed, and the addition of milk sugar gives it a smooth, pillowy mouthfeel.
The food menu includes “Pittsburgh staples done well,” Joe says, including halusky and pierogies. But the menu will change often, based on several factors:
- What’s on tap: When Paul comes up with a new beer, Joe will create a new food item to pair with it, and the two will roll out together.
- What’s in season: All food is locally sourced, so what western Pa. farmers produce will heavily influence Joe’s selections.
- What Joe feels like making: If he gets tired of making a dish, he’ll try something new. Because Joe — who doesn’t like titles and prefers to be called “guy who cooks the food” — likes to create.
“That’s one of the greatest thing about my job: they give me a ton of freedom,” he says. “They’re like, ‘As long as it takes good and it works with the beer, yeah, why not?’”
A big(ger) future
The current brewpub, at 3705 Butler Street, is only the beginning: Cinderlands is planning on turning the old Spaghetti Warehouse (at the intersection of Smallman and 26th Streets in the Strip District) into a much larger brewpub.
“I’d say it could be the largest brewpub in the city once it’s done,” Jamie says.
But much works remains, so he’s reluctant to give a timeline. Hopefully November, he says, but with a project this big, who knows?
While Jamie and his crew eye the future, the name of the brewery is an homage to the past.
“Cinderlands is a nod to Pittsburgh, a nod to the history of steel here and how when the blast furnaces were going back in the heyday of the steel industry they would literally blast ash and cinders out all over the city. … We thought it was kind of weird at first, but it’s grown on all of us.”