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Penn Brewing’s Pastorius retiring

by Tim Schooley
Friday, May 23, 2008
Pittsburgh Business Times 


Tom Pastorius, who helped launch the craft beer industry in Pennsylvania when he founded the Pennsylvania Brewing Co. on the North Side 20 years ago, is retiring.

Five years after he sold a majority interest in the brewery to Wexford-based Birchmere Capital, Pastorius plans in September to stop working at the facility where such award-winning beers as Penn Pilsner, Penn Dark and Penn Gold are made.

The company’s board of directors is seeking a candidate to take over Pastorious’ roles as president and CEO of Penn Brewing, he said.

Pastorius expects the new hire will join the company in early summer in a COO position and then trained to take over leadership of the company once he leaves.

Pastorius plans to instead work to promote Pennsylvania’s craft beer industry through the Pennsylvania Craft Brewers Guild.

“I won’t be running a brewery anymore but I intend to remain active in the industry and maybe I’ll enjoy life a little bit more,” he said.

He said he also intends to sell the remaining 20 percent interest he owns in Penn Brewing.

A descendent of German immigrants who wanted to have the same high-quality lagers available in Pittsburgh that he enjoyed while living in Germany, Pastorius started Pennsylvania’s first craft beer in Penn Pilsner.

In 1989, Pastorius opened Pennsylvania’s first tied house — in which a brewery operates in conjunction with a restaurant — since Prohibition, helping to pave the way for craft brewing industry in the state.

Today, there are dozens of micro-brewery and brew pubs in Pennsylvania.

“You couldn’t find a fresh imported beer, and no one in Pittsburgh had heard about the craft brewing movement that was just beginning on the West Coast,” Pastorius said. “I wanted to bring something special to my hometown, real German beer and a German beer hall like I had enjoyed during the 12 years I lived in Germany.”

The awards Penn Brewing’s beers have won are among the most prestigious in the industry, including eight gold medals at the Great American Beer Festival. In 2000, Penn Dark was voted the “Best Dark Beer in the World” at the World Beer Cup competition.

Penn Brewing operates out of the former Eberhardt & Ober Brewery, a historic restored brewery on the North Side. Pastorius gradually ramped up production to 20,000 to 30,000 barrels of beer each year despite the facility’s limitations.

“I’m proud of what my wife, Mary Beth, and I were able to accomplish,” he said. “We produced top quality products and created a unique destination. We educated a whole generation of beer drinkers and craft brewers by giving thousands of tours and talks. We provided Pittsburghers with a lot of good times.”

His contribution to the industry hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Lew Bryson, the author of “Pennsylvania Breweries,” a guidebook of the state’s many beers, isn’t sure what Pennsylvania’s craft beer scene will be like without Pastorius.

“It’s going to seem strange without him,” he said. “Tom’s been part of Pennsylvania craft brewing from the get-go.”

He said that it was a brazen act for Pastorius, along with contemporaries such as Stoudt Brewing Co. of Adamsburg, to start new breweries when they did.

“It was something you didn’t do,” he said. “Breweries didn’t open. They closed.”

Penn Brewing has maintained a strong niche even though it produces lagers, a bottom-fermenting beer that takes longer to make and is more expensive than ales, a more popular and common kind of craft beer, Bryson added.

Cris Hoel, a local lawyer who represented Penn Brewing in its initial application to open as a brewery and restaurant, said Pastorius was a pioneer in the industry.

Given the challenges faced by Iron City Brewing Co., the city’s struggling regional brewery in Lawrenceville, Hoel believes Pennsylvania Brewing Co. could soon surpass it.

“Very shortly, there’s a reasonable chance that what Tom built will be the largest brewer in Allegheny County,” Hoel said. “That’s a lot to be proud of.” | (412) 208-3826

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