By Audrey Prisk
Since day one of The Church Brew Work’s transformation from St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church to restaurant and brewery, owner Sean Casey committed to reusing and repurposing nearly everything in the building.
Sixteen years into business, the restaurant feeds local farmer’s livestock with fresh vegetables, recycles spent grain and reuses water during the brew process for energy efficiency. Not only does the restaurant buy this local livestock, but they offer customers environmentally protected fish and seafood cooked up with locally grown herbs and spices.
Because of these sustainable efforts, The Church Brew Works (CBW) located at 3525 Liberty Avenue serves as a visual reminder of the history of Pittsburgh while serving up environmentally conscious dishes and award-winning beer.
“For the building itself, we have used everything that we possibly could,” said Patti Goyke, referring to the restoration of the building in 1996. Goyke is the Marketing Manager and Events Coordinator for The Church Brew Works.
According to the restaurant’s history found at www.churchbrew.com, the original church built in the early 1900’s was placed under an act of suppression and closed on August 6th, 1993 after surviving several near-disasters. The building remained empty until construction for the restaurant began three years later.
“These are the original floors restored,” Goyke said. “Original lighting, original ceiling — all of the seating you see, those are the original pews. They were just cut down and fit to size.”
The bar that snakes along the length of the building is lit from underneath and by sunlight streaming in through towering stained glass windows. Beneath these windows tucked like bookends at opposite sides of six beer holding tanks are two openings in the wall about as big as walk-in closets.
“These are the confessionals,” explained Goyke. “They’re just reused, repurposed for storage and such.”
The most noticeable aspect of the church-turned-brewery greets guests the moment they walk through one of the double doors — the altar of the church has been replaced with massive gleaming tanks used to brew beer.
“We do brew on the altar but then there are tanks underneath that we use, too. Production happens down there as well,” Goyke explained.
There are four stationary beers always on tap: Celestial Gold, Pipe Organ Pale Ale, Pious Monk Dunkel and Blast Furnace Stout. Several other craft beers and slightly seasonal beers are offered throughout the year. Brewers at the CBW have found several ways to make the brew process more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
“When we’re cooling off the wort we have hot wort going through pipes one way and cold water going the other,” explained brew master Matt Moninger. “We reclaim that cold water and use it the next day to brew again, so we have a tank that always has 180 to 190 degree water in it.”
Moninger further explained that this water is partially heated by the process of cooling the hot wort, which saves energy and hundreds of gallons of water. Wort, pronounced wert, is liquid leftover from the mashing process after the grain has been removed.
The steaming grain is deposited into 250 pound barrels and left for pick up by farmer William Guy Cowden of Cowden Locust Acres.
“We recycle it to the cattle,” Cowden explained. “It’s high protein feed for the young stock — they need the protein to grow.”
Cowden stops by the side exit of Church Brew Works once a week to load the barrels by hand into his pickup truck.
“If you taste this, all the sugar is gone,” Moninger said, lifting a handful of spent grain from the barrel to his mouth. “On second thought, that may have fallen on the floor.”
Moninger explained that what Cowden was lifting into his truck was three batches worth of beer, about 3,000 pounds of grain when bagged.
“It’s got the starch cooked out of it – that goes into the beer for the beer bellies,” Cowden laughed.
Feeding livestock the vegetables of their labor is a consistent theme behind the scenes at CBW and one of the reasons their menu items are considered delectable. Executive Sous Chef Joe Kiefer shared the process of how a pig was fed, purchased and put on the menu.
“We just got a whole pig in from a local farmer,” Kiefer said. “We’ve been running it all week. It’s as fresh as it can possibly be.”
Kiefer explained that when the chef’s would prepare a dish that left them with edible vegetable pieces like pepper cores and onion pieces, it was fed to the pig.
“The pig was really lean, there wasn’t much fat on it,” Kiefer explained. “Some people want pork to be really fatty, but words can’t express how delicious this pig is.”
Kiefer attributed this idea of buying a local, healthy pig and supplying its meals to an attitude known as “farm the table,” a movement popular in current food magazines. After the pig was brought in and broken down, Kiefer’s natural inclination for cooking took over.
“I’m going to use it all,” said Kiefer, his eyes wide with excitement. “We’re doing a stock with the bones for the weekend, we’re doing a braised pork belly with a cranberry demi-glaze, roasted vegetables and lentils. When it’s all said and done, I’ll cook that down for the next 16 hours and it will be delicious.”
The Church Brew Works also has a policy in place for their menu called Sustainable Seafood.
According to Kiefer, Sustainable Seafood was implemented by the restaurant’s owner, Sean Casey, and ensures that all fish and seafood come from protected areas that don’t allow overfishing and leave fish in their ecosystems instead of farm raising them.
“Sometimes, depending on how you get your seafood, they’re fed hormones,” said Kiefer. ”Where we get it it’s completely natural.”
Kiefer further explained that the fish, crab and shrimp that they cook with is never frozen, dyed or fed improper food as is sometimes customary for other restaurants. The young chef also expressed hope for one day growing most of the restaurant’s vegetable and spices in a garden attached to the building. A side door leads to an outdoor patio outlined with wooden planter boxes and hops growing down an inner wall.
“Herbs will be the best things to grow because they grow fast enough where I can go out there two to three times a week and pick,” Kiefer said.
Right now, the restaurant gets their spices from a local supplier, as well as vegetables from local farmers and bread from Breadworks in North Side. The hops growing in the patio are picked every year and used in the brew process.
“It takes an outrageous amount of hops to brew a 15 barrel batch of beer,” Moninger explained. ”What we use our hops outside for is our Firkins because we just get a few pounds which is not enough to do a full batch.” Moninger added that they get their fresh hops from a farm in the Finger Lakes.
“All the guys that work in the back and in the kitchen, they all have really great imaginations when it comes to their craft,” said Goyke. “Being able to reuse and use local, it’s important to Sean (owner) and it’s important to all of us.”