Church Brew Works
Pittsburgh, PA

Style: Old Ale
ABV: 10.0%

Much has changed in the brewhouse over the past year or so at Pittsburgh’s
legendary Church Brew Works. One of the world’s most beautiful brewpubs, to be
sure, it served beer that was sometimes less consistent and remarkable than
others, despite its stellar setting.

About a year ago, they welcomed a new head brewer in Steve Sloan, who – in full
disclosure – is a long-time friend of the BAF. An industry veteran, Sloan has
brewed throughout the world over the course of his career, including stops in
Germany, New Zealand, Hawaii, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Florida
and Pennsylvania…I’m forgetting some, I’m sure . He’s also a rarity in the
craft brewing world in that he possesses a Master’s Degree in Chemistry, so the
man can run a lab.

We’ve made a couple visits to Church over the summer, and can wholeheartedly testify that the beer has improved dramatically. In fact, they’ve been rewarded for their efforts with a stack of medals at this year’s 2012 Great American Beer Festival, including “Large Brewpub of the Year” and “Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year,” awarded to the aforementioned Mr. Sloan.

I was fortunate enough on my last visit to have a few snifters of Heini’s Hooch. This old ale has been barrel aged and its moniker is homage to an old Bavarian friend with whom Sloan and I were blessed enough to have consumed more than our share of half liters over the years. Although he passed away about two years ago, Heini was also known to enjoy his Asbach – a German brandy, so he wasn’t afraid of a little fire in his drink.

The draft pours a deep copper in color, with a thin lacing of foam that clings
to the glass throughout the pour. The nose is creamy and sweet, with notes of
caramel, molasses, toffee and brown sugar. As in a snifter of Asbach, there is
some heat from the alcohol, but the burn is mellow and trails off into a faint
hoppy bite.

While this is certainly not a session beer in any way, shape or form, this is
one of the more enjoyable high alcohol brews I’ve had recently and would most
likely only improve with age. I’ll hope they manage to bottle a few for
cellaring as I’d be interested to try it again in another year or so.