Review of Lost Abbey/Port Brewing Rollout at Caliente’s Pizza – November 18, 2014

First off, let me say that I didn’t attend this event to cover it for the media – I went, more um, just for me. I decided to do a write-up on it anyway as it could still be valuable to folks.

The event was set to start at 6pm and I arrived at about 5:30pm to a standing-room-only crowd. As you came in the door, there was really no way to know how the event would go down, so there was some initial confusion as folks were arriving. Turns out, talking to a bartender was a key first step. Behind the bar they had these lists:

Side 1

Side 1

Side 2

Side 2

These were the bibles of the evening. The ones that indicate “Bottle Pour” were the important ones to jump on first, as there was a more limited quantity. These were sold via a ticketing system. I was disappointed that the one I really, really wanted (Red Poppy) was sold out of tickets by the time I was there (5:30), so a lot of folks were wondering when ticket sales had actually started. Of course at craft beer events this is a common issue. I had also overheard a rumor that one of the Caliente’s staff had brought the Red Poppy from their own personal collection, so if that’s true, you have to respect that (note to that staff member: if you’re reading this, call me)!

I also didn’t find this out until today (yeah, the next day), but all the drafts (not bottle tickets) I was ordering off this sheet turned out to be half price! Honestly I would have gotten more if I had realized this at the time. I was excited to get the very last glass of Good Gourd from Cigar City (not related to the event but still awesome). I also got to try the Avant Gourde and the Santa’s Little Helper Bourbon Barrel Aged, among others. These two are a bit harder to find so those were nice hits.

The place stayed standing-room-only crowded until about 7:30pm, so the event was very well attended. The flyer told us Tomme Arthur, the founder of Lost Abbey and Port, was to be at the event… but we couldn’t find him. We asked some staff, poked around a little, and were finally introduced to him by another random bar goer. As most brewing-types are, he was very laid back and easy to talk to. He gave us some insight on LA/Port choosing to come into the Pittsburgh market – mainly it’s that they were already in Philadelphia so they had jumped through many of the legal hurdles to distribute here in PA. Coming to Pittsburgh was a natural progression and our market was right-sized for them, meaning that they could fill our need here without over-stressing their brewery. They knew that bar owners and bottle shops were bootlegging their product over from Phili anyway (danggit! Wasn’t that our secret?!) so they figured this way it could be legitimately distributed.

LA/Port have a unique set-up for a brewery. It’s actually the same place. Literally. One big brewery, one tap room, one set of equipment, one building near San Diego. It’s a different concept than what other breweries are doing that enables them to appeal to a wider audience. For example, if  you’re into IPAs, stouts, and more American-style beers, Port will be your wheelhouse. If you’re into funky Belgians and sours, Lost Abbey will be for you. It was one of the few breweries I’ve visited where everyone in my party had something they could love, as opposed to the sour lovers sipping through yet another IPA (or vice versa). The dual brewery is wise if you also consider the exponential difference in real estate prices in Southern California versus here in Pennsylvania. Two set-ups in California cost way more than two set-ups in PA.

That being said, LA/Port is looking to expand and open separate operations for each of their two brands. Brewers know that having souring bacteria hanging out in any one little spot of their equipment will sour your nice hoppy IPA real quick, so there’s a good bit of risk in brewing all types of beer on one set of equipment.

Tomme brought a bunch of his LA/Port staff along with him as well. It was great to have them all be so accessible, right there in Lawrenceville, in the basement of bar. The staff at Caliente’s did a GREAT job with the crowd. Service was fast and their folks were hustling to make it happen. The drinks came up quick and the food did as well. Overall this was a great event that was well-handled.