It might not always be at the top of mind for Western Pennsylvania beer drinkers, but make no mistake Butler is and should be on their radar as a destination. Think about it. There are only four neighborhoods regionally with multiple breweries within walking distance. Most would know Millvale and Lawrenceville off the top of their heads. Sharpsburg recently joined the club, but quietly Butler became the third member when Butler Brew Works opened its doors a block and half from Reclamation Brewing on Main St. Since then the scene has expanded with Recon Brewing and Missing Links Brewery outside of downtown, but within a couple of miles of the other two.
“There are four breweries within ten minutes of (downtown Butler), ?said Ben Smith who co-owns Reclamation with his father, John. ?We all have our different vibes, so we ?re going to have something different for every body.”
Travis Tuttle, head brewer and co-owner of Butler Brew Works, echoed Smith. “The fact that there are two of us within walking distance creates more of a destination so people from out of town are more likely to come here. People who live in Butler are more likely to come downtown because there is more to do. Even if it is two breweries, we have our own identities and make it a different experience for them.”
The brewing industry in this city of roughly 15,000 residents developed organically rather than as part of the Butler’s strategic vision. ?My business partners grew up (in Butler) and when the concept came up of opening a brewery, they were trying to get the hometown pride thing going. There is a downtown Main Street revival going on down here like there is in a lot of places. We wanted to be downtown and be part of it. ? noted Tuttle. ?We were welcomed with open arms as we announced our intentions, but they didn ?t know what breweries could do for a local economy.”
The city, clearly, gets the impact of breweries now as Reclamation ?s Smith was elected mayor in 2017. While one cannot attribute all of Butler’s downtown ?s revitalization to beer, Smith noted the business district has just two vacant store fronts, and the city has actively courted companies to move there. Smith doubled down on his investment in Butler by opening a speakeasy and cigar bar around the corner from Reclamation.
Neither brewery views the other as a rival but recognizes that the other can help drive the market. “When (Butler Brew Works) opened initially, we saw an increase in our business. It ?s continued to be the case in the last year or so, ? Smith said of his competition.
The breweries themselves are quite different. Reclamation has a neighborhood pub feel if the neighborhood pub happens to brew their own beer. Decorated in eclectic artwork, the bar area is dimly lit by dangling Edison bulb pendants. At the far end from the entry is the Reclamation RB logo made entirely from bottle caps. The brewing area is squeezed between the front of house and the kitchen and contains minimalist brewing equipment. Along with a selection of their own craft, they have a full bar offering notably inexpensive cocktails. Their beer leans towards the more drinkable end of the IBU scale and their offerings are more accessible than most breweries. Everyman ?s Red Ale is their signature brew with a Milk Stout and an easy drinking Saison complementing it on the menu. For those looking for more aggressively flavored takes, Reclamation did have some notably hoppier offerings with a double IPA and a Blood Orange IPA, as well as more experimental Sour Stout.
Butler Brew Works has a more industrial feel with its poured cement bar, metal art work and large glass windows showcasing four glimmering fermenters. They feature more ?adventurous ales ? and try to capture adventure in their beers down to the ingredients they use, the styles they brew, and how they name them. While they offer a year round easy drinking Creekside Kolsch to help combat the FAQ of ?What do you have that tastes like Miller Lite ** their seasonal selections run the gamut from the trendy Hazy IPAs to a complex 18 month, wine barrel aged Belgium style sour ale they used to celebrate their anniversary. They use a number of hops varieties to create different flavor notes within the same style. They ?ve begun working with a regional producers of malts like CNC Malting to add an extra local feather to their cap. Though Butler is in their name, their ownership group which includes Tuttle and his partners Nate Troyan and Nick Fazzoni, plans to expand into a regional brand.
Unlike many breweries closer to Pittsburgh, both Reclamation and Butler Brew Works have full kitchens with the former offering standard pub fare and the latter specializing in barbecue. Smith feels it differentiates the beer culture in Butler more than his customer’s tastes for the actual beer Reclamation brews. “We have to have a food menu because people tend to want to go to places who have (a kitchen), ? given that there are fewer eateries to hop to as you brewery hop.
While he has good relationships with a number of brewers and owners in the rest of the western Pennsylvania scene, Tuttle does feel cut off from the rest of the brewing culture sometimes. “We trade advice and ingredients but we do feel like we ?re out of the cool kids club once in a while. ? Tuttle noted, ?I think there is an assumption that this is a little backwoods up here and that we ?re not necessarily as forward thinking as the breweries in Pittsburgh. ? He certainly doesn ?t believe perception meets reality.
Smith feels a bit cut off in terms of distance from the customer base more so than he does other breweries. However, he knows people can and will travel. ?With there being so many breweries that do so many different things in Pittsburgh or even north, why do you need to leave those areas? But the way the average beer drinker is going out and pursuing craft beer they want to experience all those different (options). So (we ?re) cut off in the sense that ?It ?s Friday night. I got home at 6:30 instead of 5:30 tonight. We ?ll go local tonight. ? But I don ?t see that as a problem necessarily.”
Butler is only 33 miles north of Pittsburgh, but city dwellers aren ?t often thinking about Butler or any of the neighboring small cities. Even in nearby Cranberry Township, the frequently transient residents don ?t always get that their county seat has a great brewery scene or that it ?s experiencing an economic revitalization few other Western Pennsylvania cities have. If you like craft beer, Butler has a lot to choose from and it ?s certainly worth a drive up Route 8. Even if you don ?t drink beer, you may want to take the time to see just what Butler has to offer.
**Butler Brew Works’ Kolsch does not actually taste like Miller Lite. It tastes exactly as a Kolsch ought to taste. It would appeal to a number of beer drinking palates, however.