BY DAVID CONRAD // PHOTOILLUSTRATION BY CHUCK BEARD
FOR NO GOOD REASON anyone can explain, the Rock &
Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland.
An Ohio DJ in an awful ’70s film yells, “You can’t stop rock
and roll!” So what?
When you hear spoken the proper name of the Mistake
by the Lake, you might think of a lot of things: Irish mobsters
being blown up in parking lots, rivers on fire and, until recently,
complete athletic failure — but Rock and Roll?
NYC. LA. London. Minneapolis. Detroit. Hell, even Boston,
but not Cleveland.
To quote Chrissie Hynde, an Ohio native and one of rock’s
great lyricists: “My city had been pulled down. Reduced to parking
spaces. Ay, oh way to go, Ohio.”
But, when you think of beer … well, you can pretty much
think of any city in America. But for good reason, Pittsburgh
comes to mind, high on the list of quaffing capitals.
We drink a lot of beer. We always have. Many of our neigh-
borhoods brag they’re home to the most bars per capita in the
nation. Or were.
Anyhow — there are plans afoot for a international museum
of beer to be built and staffed right here in Pittsburgh. Brew: The
Museum of Beer ( BrewMuseum.com) aims to tell the 10,000-year-
old story in a destination complex envisioned as comparable in
size and scope to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 50,000 square
feet of beer glory and beer history. 200 beer employees. Beer
lovers from all across the nation coming to us, like chocolate
freaks to Hershey, for beer summits, beer research, beer school,
beer weddings and beer camp. The place will give new meaning
to trickle-down theory.
Beer, beer, beer. What’s not to like? Humans ceased their
nomadic wanderings to grow a steady supply of grain. To make
beer (and bread). The toiling masses who built the pyramids
were paid in an early version of company script. Which they
exchanged for beer. In the Middle Ages, if you wanted to avoid
the bubonic plague or cholera, you didn’t drink water, you drank
beer. And after being a pious little citizen on Sunday, after Mass
you’d get something nice from Father Theodoric: Beer. The
Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock because if they’d gone all the
way to Virginia, they’d have run out of beer.
A nation founded on beer.
In America, in the middle of the 19th century, there were
thousands and thousands of independent breweries. (“Drink
local” ain’t new.)
By the middle of the 20th century, there were Bud, Pabst and
Miller controlling half of the market.
This is why the museum should be in Pittsburgh.
As the Industrial Revolution achieved its dizzying heights of
power and wealth, what people ate and bought and drank and
even lived in became just another thing that came off the assem-
bly line. As went the country, so went beer. Mass marketing for
the masses. Price per unit. Mergers, buyouts, homogenization,
“take care of the costs and the profits will take care of them-
selves.” Sadly, this took care of the flavor as well.
As we became the American empire, 4,000 local tastes and
styles and malts and porters and ales became … Bud.
And nowhere in America did the footprint of Industry fall
more heavily than right here at home. Pittsburgh.
But wheels turn and local breweries have returned with a
vengeance, with 70 thriving or under development right now in
western Pennsylvania — 22 in Allegheny County. Independent
breweries now account for 12 percent of the national market,
and the Indie beer business is growing at 17 percent each year.
Wall Street forecasters think it could garner 50 percent of the
The scales of beer justice righted once more. The story told.
Right here at home.
So as the fall season sets upon you and beer hour gets earlier
and earlier, tell your congressman, tell Rich Fitzgerald and
tell the Mayor, over a beer, that you wouldn’t mind one more
museum coming to Pittsburgh. One that might be able to pay for
itself, pint after pint.
Talk of the Tahn
September 2016 pittsburghmagazine.com/conrad