Deke’s Top Ten Breweries So Far

Contrary to the output of 2022, I love blogging. I think it’s a spiritual connection with random readers who are, in their own little special way, always angry and ready to combat even the most arbitrary of takes.

Oh, you think green is the best color? Well first off, which SHADE of green? Also, it’s colour. And don’t forget that giving a color the title of best color means that you can never, ever, ever, even in a fire, change your answer.

Blogging is hilariously rewarding, but not as rewarding as sitting down over the holidays and trying to revisit every single brewery I have ever been to. As it currently sits I have been to 57 breweries across five states, a big enough sample size for me to have a plethora of thoughts and a regretful wallet. If you think I have a problem, I’d challenge you to shoot me a text this time next year and see how much we’ve improved by 2024.

My goal is to revisit each of these breweries and give them an updated score while adding as many breweries as I can to the list, something I hope to accomplish with Elsass here at the end of January.

Today isn’t about the entire list of 57 though, it’s about that crucial top ten. I highly doubt anyone despises the current top ten but there are a few things I want to start out with.

A lot of the breweries I currently have rated are from a long, long time ago. Some of the “bottom” breweries are being ranked from a previous experience in a past life which some could argue makes the rating more genuine.

I also have quality connections with a ton of amazing people I’ve met over the years at some of the spots. Pittsburgh staples like Aadam Soorma, Tom Ness and that bastard Nick Foust are a few of the amazingly talented individuals that absolutely have raised some brewery scores in one category. Also for all my Pittsburgh friends, I just haven’t been to Dancing Gnome’s new spot yet. It feels unfair to judge that tremendous brewery off of their last location when the new location is so…*Chef’s Kiss*. Sorry Boyd.

Those connections have not, however, impacted the beer, brewery space or food scoring of each brewery. Only monitary donations to my beer fund could have that type of power over me.

Scoring

I ranked every brewery on the same four key points on a scale of 0-5.

Beer – No doi. Beer was an interesting one because there are a few places with one incredible beer while others have a broad scale of “above average” offerings. For me personally, it came down to two key factors. Did I like their beer and would I recommend it to a friend? Let’s name that friend Greg.

Space – Breweries in today’s world are almost solely judged based on the experience and the venue breathes life into that. Some places I was unable to get into thanks to covid closures, but I want to keep this list far away from my “All-Time Beer List” for that key purpose. A beer can be enjoyed anywhere, a brewery is a curated experience.

Food Scene – Not every brewery has a full-blown kitchen so this category pulls in a few factors. Questions such as “Can I bring outside food in?”, “What kind of food trucks do they have” and “Do they have menus from local businesses?” were my main point of thought in this category. There are some breweries with AMAZING food and should be rewarded as such, but you have to level the playing field for the small shops that can’t offer a full time chef.

People – I can’t stress enough how important this category is. I can love a beer and love your aesthetics and eat all the pizza but if the bartender or guests aren’t right, it ruins everything. To me this category rewards the breweries that throw their hearts on the table for their passion and work hard to be a quality and inclusive environment for all to experience.

I think you could easily argue there are other aspects that go into the “best” breweries such as branding, can identity and what not but I wanted to try and highlight the experience at the brewery itself. That means I leaned away from can design since normally you’re drinking draft at the location.

Can design absolutely has a home on my all-time beer list though so shoutout our friend Tom Ness at Voodoo.

Here are Deke’s Top Ten Breweries So Far!

10. Black Abbey Brewing Company – Nashville, Tennessee

Total Score – 15.6 / 20

Beer – 4.1 / 5

Space – 3.1 / 5

Food Scene – 3.7 / 5

People – 4.7 / 5

If you’re ever in the Nashville area, add Black Abbey on your list for one reason and one reason alone…there’s no one else on the planet like the crew they have at that brewery. A small brewery founded by two pro homebrewers, Black Abbey represents the tenacity of “Just Do The Damn Thing”.

I do feel the need to say they are a client of mine at work. We’ve been blessed to develop content, some amazing campaigns and even name two (2!) beers.

Known for their Belguim Style Beers, Black Abbey proudly labels themselves as “European Influenced, American Crafted”, a saying that means “we make good shit.” Their beer itself is outstanding if you’re in the proper mood to drink the exact styles they have on tap. They avoid diving into trends and fads as they know what they like, something that honestly helped them in the beer category for me.

Food trucks come during the week, one of which provided me the best poutine i’ve had in America and aided me on my 30th birthday warpath. The brewery is far from the bright lights of broadway, tucked in a new area that’s said to be booming soon thanks to Nashville SC’s Geodis Park.

All in all, I can’t speak highly enough about Black Abbey. This was the first brewery I went to in Nashville and still every time feels as organic as the last.

Want a small taste of Black Abbey? Check out this campaign I was a part of for their amazing brand!

Larry, the Patron Saint of Hold My Beer!

Full Campaign – https://blackabbeybrewing.com/patron-saints/

9. Penn Brewery – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 15.9 / 20

Beer – 3.7 / 5

Space – 4.3 / 5

Food Scene – 4.7 / 5

People – 3.2 / 5

Penn Brewery is arguably the most well-known brewery in the top ten for anyone who knows of the Pittsburgh area. Known passionately as “Pittsburgh’s Oldest Brewery”, Penn offers some insanely solid beers throughout the year capped off by their truly amazing Oktoberfest. The Nut Roll Ale and Pumpkin Roll Ale are excellent examples on the stranglehold this brewery had on Pittsburgh for a very long time.

Their food is tremendous and stays that way each and every time you visit. You can even taste their food (which still holds up as good as the North Shore location, might I add) at the airport now which is a wonderful place to spend your layover. Their main brewery is a wonderful example of history and space and houses one of Pittsburgh’s best seasonal event for Oktoberfest.

I don’t normally recommend Penn to people visiting Pittsburgh just because the scene has absolutely exploded over recent years but if you have the time to head its way Penn will never disappoint.

Check out our Penn Brewery Review Here!

8. Altered Genius – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 15.9 / 20

Beer -3.8 / 5

Space – 3.9 / 5

Food Scene – 4.1 / 5

People – 4.1 / 5

Full transparency, I’ve only been to Altered Genuis one time but I loved it. It was currently under construction and was the first brewery to kick off TFTB’s Brewery Review Videos, but I genuinely loved the food and beer.

We started our relationship with Altered Genuis through a mutual friend who was able to jump on our podcast to promote the brewery. Located in Ambridge, AG was still in construction when we stopped by but their beer selection hit all the major high notes and their food was an amazing comfort to a chilly-ass Pittsburgh weekend.

The bar itself was big and although you can see in the review they were fixing up the outside deck, you could easily feel as if this brewery was going to be a staple in Ambridge for years to come. They also aren’t afraid to try something new as explained by their two Sweet Potato beers.

Altered Genius was our first ever brewery review!

7. East End Brew – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 16.1 / 20

Beer – 3.9 / 5

Space – 4.1 / 5

Food Scene – 4.2 / 5

People – 3.9 / 5

First thing that should always come to mind when someone mentions East End Brewing Company is Big Hop, my first love when it came to the IPA category. East End is a staple in Pittsburgh and has the location and food menu to back it up.

They also have recently brewed their “Neighborhood Series”, an homage to Pittsburgh’s unique areas through beers. Pittsburgh loves Pittsburgh and a series like this was not only a genius marketing idea, but the beer was hard to find and to die for.

In the food category they previously had a former chef working their kitchen that I had the pleasure of spending time with during my time at Six Penn Kitchen. Currently, it looks like East End went a simpler route and instituted sicilian style pizza, a genius choice for the area.

Sadly Greg and I were never able to review East End but I promise you, it won’t disappoint.

6. Hitchhiker Brewery – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 16.1 / 20

Beer – 4.1 / 5

Space – 4.8 / 5

Food Scene – 3.2 / 5

People – 4.0 / 5

When I first did my round of Brewery Rankings I didn’t really look at the final scores. I wrote down every brewery I could remember (and still some pop up each day I forgot we went to) and just added it up at the end. If you would have asked me at the start where Hitchhiker was, I would have said easily top ten with no questions needed.

Hitchhiker is one of my favorite venue’s on the planet. It’s an old warehouse in the Sharpsburg area of Pittsburgh that breathes life into itself with a beautiful outside patio and large beer hall looking seating on the inside.

They always have quality movies and quality music, but what brings me back each time is their consistant performance on the beer selection. There are a few breweries on the list that try too much. They have too many pecan short cake sours, try way to hard to find what makes their guava beer “theirs” and it just gets murky. Hitchhiker has this absolutely amazing ability to take every flavor and make it work.

They don’t have food there, but the food trucks they employ are second to none. I recently took a trip to meet my girlfriends partents for the first time and armed with enough Hitchhiker to sedate a small Rhino, I think we received an A+…mostly thanks to the beer.

Check out our Hitchhiker Brewery Review here!

5. Voodoo Brewing – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 16.2 / 20

Beer – 4.7 / 5

Space – 3.8 / 5

Food Scene – 3.1 / 5

People – 4.6 / 5

There’s times in life when you just fall in love with something and for me, that’s Voodoo Brewing. If God himself came to me one day and said “Deke, I need you to tell me what a West Coast Style IPA taste’s like!” i would smile and hand the big man himself a Good Vibes from Voodoo.

Voodoo has been expanding like wildfire since I left Pittsburgh, recently opening up a beautiful location in New Ken as well as a nice bar in the North Shore of Pittsburgh. My one and true love however will always be their Homestead location despite their Meadville location being the flagship.

Food was a tough category for me to fill out here as their Homestead location didn’t always have the best options for me personally with this absolutely insane Hibatchi food truck actually bringing them higher in the rankings. That was until I ventured to their north shore location and had the pizza, which wasn’t anything to compare to another name on this list but was an absolutely solid brewery pizza that just hit the perfect spot.

We had the pleasure on the podcast to interview Tom Ness, the absolute genuis behind Voodoo’s art design. Tom was tremendous and I seriously can’t speak more highly of him and how he answered our (probably dumb) questions with relative ease. It was really the first time we had interviewed someone who was respoinsible for the branding and it was easily a top five interview ever for me.

I also just googled it and it’s only two and a half hours from Nashville to their Knoxville location…

Check out our interview with Tom Ness!

4. Grist House – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 16.4 / 20

Beer – 4.4 / 5

Space – 4.5 / 5

Food Scene – 3.2 / 5

People – 4.3 / 5

The scariest thing about Grist House being at 4 is technically their space isn’t fully done yet. I believe the last 5 times I have come back home I’ve stopped in at Grist House thanks to Justin Boyd deciding he will barely venture elsewhere, a serious testament to the beer and people at Grist.

Grist has a beautiful outdoors area that has been improved over the years. I remember my first time at the brewery there was just a giant pit in the ground. They put a few picnic tables down in the pit and I swear it felt somewhat medieval. Now, they are building an outside patio location that’s second to none in the area.

It’s all food trucks at Grist which is a plus considering the trucks they bring through are just tremendous.

Their beer is amazing, traditionally spanning more into the “hazy” side of IPA’s with the occassional weird beer you just have to try. They collabed recently with Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Gang and continue to be a true Pittsburgh destination.

Check out the brewery review here!

3. Smith & Lentz Brewing – Nashville, Tennessee

Total Score – 16.5 / 20

Beer – 4.2 / 5

Space – 3.4 / 5

Food Scene – 4.8 / 5

People – 4.1 / 5

Since moving to Nashville I really wondered which brewery would knock the living shit off my socks and I just have to be honest, I’m not surprised it was Smith & Lentz. There are some seriously amazing beers down here paired with the most unique breweries I’ve been to, but none come close to Smith & Lentz for a few reasons.

First, they specialize in Pilsners and Lagers, an absolute win for me in today’s wild beer world. With 8 pislners and 3 lagers currently on rotation, they are somewhat an anomaly in today’s beer culture. I’m also an absolute SUCKER for mosaic hops, making their Mosaic IPA a true favorite of mind. Pilsner’s average 3 times as long to make as an IPA making it an honest anomaly that Smith & Lentz can provide so many that are so amazingly different.

When the tornado ripped through Nashville their location as destroyed, leading to a beautiful outside venue that we see today. The people are warm and welcoming with an East Nashville vibe in the air.

All of that would be enough to get them in the top ten alone, but the reason they are ranked my favorite brewery in Tennessee is because they have the best pizza I have ever had.

Seriously.

Excuse me while I show you some examples.

When I say the best pizza i have ever had, I mean the best pizza I have ever had. That’s including Aiello’s, Fiori’s, 5 Points, ETC. Their beer is electric, the people are tremendous, the space is perfectly East Nash but man…the best Pizza I have ever had.

2. Trace Brewery – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Total Score – 17 / 20

Beer – 4.6 / 5

Space – 4.1 / 5

Food Scene – 3.3 / 5

People – 5 / 5

When you think about the influx of breweries in Pittsburgh, none come to mind quicker than Trace Brewing in Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood. I first became familiar with Trace from Aadam Soorma, Pittsburgh’s go-to beer guy.

Trace embraces its neighborhood with collaborations and events that embody the ever-changing landscape of Pittsburgh. The brewery holds true to its origins, showcasing lights that represent the former steel manufacturers who owned the space. They also commission artists to create an ever changing mural on their alley side window which casts a different light into the brewery for every visit that pairs magically with their collection of barrels and their cozy fire place. They are also one of the only breweries I know of that has a specific area for their Coolship tank, providing beers I hadn’t even heard of before. They also offer coffee during morning and lunch hours, a wonderful excuse for you to spend your whole day there.

For food, Trace offers a quality selection of some pretty amazing food trucks. A lot of the Pittsburgh breweries I love have similar food trucks on rotation so it then comes down to local cuisine and table style which Trace accomplishes with near perfection.

This is the only brewery with a 5 for people for a few reasons, the first being that I have been extremely impressed by their hiring process and have found some lifelong friends from this building. They installed a Vocational Program that aims to break down the barriers in the brewing industry for people of color, women and members of the LGBTQ+ communities, something that other breweries have started to install.

Then, there’s the beer. No matter your preference, Trace has something for you. They tend to always have a foeder beer on tap and their IPA’s are truly inspiring. They have dabbled into the fruit vareity for a couple beers as well (their A Change Is Gonna Plum beer is exquisite) while staying true to their roots. If you’re in Pittsburgh, this is an absolute must stop.

1. Cinderlands – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

If you scrolled to the bottom to see which brewery it was, you owe me a beer.

Total Score – 17.6 / 20

Beer – 4.8 / 5

Space – 4.3 / 5

Food Scene – 4.3 / 5

People – 4.2 / 5

It had to be Cinderlands. A place built on the heels of a successful hole in the wall spot in Lawrenceville has become an absolute powerhouse in Pittsburgh, producing quality beer after quality beer with no stopping in sight. Nick Foust, an amazing all around human being and friend of the company, is an absolute delight to speak with at all times but mention beer and he kicks into an unhuman gear of enthusiasm.

Cinderlands warehouse in Pittsburgh’s Strip District hits the main points of every brewery you love. Ping pong tables, a full bocce court and a plethora of games litter the first floor with a quaint bar that feels homey. Climb the stairs and you’ll be welcomed by a wide open warehouse experience that has indoor and outdoor seating. Flowers and plants are curated around the tables making you feel as if drinking beer is a positive thing, exactly what your body needed that day.

Cinderlands also bodes the best full menu from a brewery I have seen to date. They currently have a crunchwrap that puts Taco Bell to shame and a jumbo pretzel that is, in fact, JUMBO. With no true waitstaff, you order from a pure QR code and can check out whenever you please. Just order your beer and food and their staff brings it to the table, a positive spin in my opinion on the QR code comeback we saw after the pandemic.

Cinderlands beer selection is, in my opinion, unmatched in Pittsburgh in both consistancy and quality. The light beers live in a category called “Dad Beers”, a true homage to the fact that not all beers need to be heavy as hell. Do yourself a favor and try the “Lil’ Cinder, just be sure to call it a “Lil Cindy” so they know you’re hip to their lingo.

Check out our brewery review here!

I look forward to continuing the vast vault of use(less or ful, you decide) knowledge I have about breweries. Finding a new brewery in a part of town that just feels like home is my pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If you liked this, stay tuned! I hope one day my best brewery and best beer guides can be a rationalization for an alien race as to why we drank so many different types of liquids.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s