At the foot of Southside’s iconic clock sits a huge, unremarkable building that used to house Duquesne Brewing’s packaging plant. The building is now home to a climbing gym and what will soon be one of the largest breweries in Pittsburgh, Velum Fermentation (pronounced “VELL-um”).
“Largest” is true in two senses: the building itself is massive. Velum’s Phase 2 taproom alone will clock in at 15,000 square feet. The building has three addresses and spans most of a block near UPMC Mercy Southside and Brew House Association. But Velum is also set to be among the city’s largest breweries by volume. With the ability to crank out 30+ barrels (930 gallons) of suds per day on a shiny system that’s powered by a 60-horsepower boiler, the family behind Velum is jumping straight into the deep end in Pittsburgh’s burgeoning craft beer scene.
“I joined the industry to start a brewery back a decade ago,” says Nate McLaughlin, CEO and head brewer. McLaughlin is no industry newcomer. Originally hailing from Franklin, PA, he’s been brewing for over a decade and spent time at Bend, Oregon’s venerable Deschutes Brewing before launching Pitt Street Brewing Company in Greenville, NC. “It was time to come home and start a brewery,” he says. “So I came up here and started looking for buildings.” Starting big, he says, will make for a more efficient workflow and allow Velum to begin distribution right away as well as diversify the newcomers’ revenue streams.
Velum’s COO, Jenna McLaughlin (Nate’s sister-in-law), also brings extensive experience in the service industry to Velum and has big ambitions for the outfit. “I came into the project two years ago,” Jenna says. She has food science experience and plans to eventually add an R&D space where Velum can experiment with fermented foods. She’s also been hands-on with construction, turning the steel shipping material from the brewery’s vats into the Phase I taprooms tables and booths. “We’re excited to meet more of the brewing community,” she says, noting Pittsburgh’s collaborative craft beer scene.
“Our name is Velum Fermentation because we’re not just going to be a brewery,” Nate says. “We’re gonna do kombucha, we’re gonna do seltzer, we’re gonna do non-alcoholic.” They plan to launch with a cross-section of the beer spectrum, including a porter, hazy IPA, fruited sour and session pale ale when the brewery begins pouring pints later this year.
That the space is so large brings many benefits. The McLaughlins plan to add arcade games and have already purchased several secondhand skee-ball sets for their eventual Phase II expansion. Much of Velum’s start-up funding went into maintaining the space during a yearlong COVID freeze, though Nate also successfully applied for an SBA loan. After waiting out COVID, they’re soliciting community investors through a Honeycomb Credit fundraiser. Locals have already steered around $60,000 Velum’s way.
“The benefit of that [for investors] is you get to be part of the brewery and part-owner of the brewery,” Nate says. He and Jenna plan on offering perks, including potential input on beer recipes, to early investors. Investors in Velum will “have the opportunity to help guide our journey with meaningful involvement and suggestions.”
The McLaughlins want their brewery to be community-centric. In addition to maintaining a strong relationship with their upstairs neighbors, ASCEND Climbing, they are planning a variety of Southside collaborations with Brew House Association and other local artists — Nate and Jenna both imagine art installations when their Phase II plans are realized — and have been communicating closely with SSCC since day one. They also have a small collection of Duquesne Brewing ephemera they’ll display in a shadowbox. One day, Nate says, they could even resurrect defunct Duquesne products (with permission, of course).
He notes Southside’s ongoing vibrancy and hopes Velum can become an area gathering spot. Climbers from ASCEND, he says, offer a great built-in customer base. They’re excited to connect more closely with their neighbors there and elsewhere in the Flats.
“I built this so I can meet cool people,” Nate says.