By Lauren Dantella, Point Park News Service:
Pumpkin spice beers, the hoppiest IPAs and other creative concoctions are outdoing one another as the latest fad in the still-growing craft beer industry – but one local brewer isn’t buying it.
“I just want to use quality ingredients to bring fresh, local beer to my neighborhood,” said Steve Sloan of Roundabout Brewery.
After working for 17 breweries around the world and winning numerous awards for his creations, Sloan created Roundabout Brewery in Lawrenceville, calling it a modest brewery with a New Zealand theme.
Despite his travels, Sloan said he doesn’t have hopes for world fame; his ambitions are based on his craft and his community.
Beer blogger Bill Kostkas, 25, of Munhall, said he is eager to try the new brewery. He praised Sloan’s keen eye for quality based on his work at the Church Brew Works.
“I love supporting local breweries, and if they use local ingredients that’s just an added bonus,” Kostkas said.
Ella Robinson, 23, was visiting the city from Washington and stopped into the brewery based on a recommendation from a friend. She came out with a growler of the coffee-pumpkin “Jacked Up O Lantern Stout.”
“It was really simple inside, so I feel like that means the beer is going to be really good,” she said. “I feel like it’s a secret or something.”
Sloan, 42, of Etna, was first introduced to his craft while in college in Kalamazoo, Mich., where Kalamazoo Brewery, now Bell’s Brewery, was based. Like other college students, he drank what he could afford. It wasn’t until he spent a few summers in Germany coaching and playing American football that he discovered his love for the beverage.
“We spent a lot of time in beer gardens,” he said. “We would travel to cafes in Belgium and all that, so that’s where I really got the better beer bite.”
With degrees in chemistry and a taste for some of the world’s best beers, he traveled to far parts of the country to work in breweries such as Kona Brewing Company of Hawaii, Firestone Walker Brewery of California and Coors in Colorado.
After becoming engaged to his wife, Dyana, he moved to New Zealand where she originally grew up. The craft beer industry was just starting up there and there weren’t many jobs for the couple.
He then moved back to Pittsburgh to help his mother after his stepfather died.
Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville hired him as brewer, and the brewery quickly won four medals and the title of Large Brewpub of the Year at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. Sloan was named Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year.
He parted from the brewery two months later to start out on his own.
He found a location on Butler Street at 49th Street the day it went up for sale. Not only was it spacious and open enough for the brewery, but it also had enough space to open a growler shop in the front.
“We’ve always wanted to be in Lawrenceville, even when we moved here to Pittsburgh in 2006,” Sloan said. “We’ve looked at a few other places but we certainly looked at the most places here in Lawrenceville.”
Sloan and his wife are the sole investors and owners, so they opted for unconventional equipment – used and cleaned dairy production equipment specifically rigged for beer making.
The brewery is minimally decorated and one might not notice the subtle New Zealand theme at first. The front door is simply marked with the brewery’s logo: the traffic sign for a roundabout. Sloan said New Zealand has a lot of them.
The single room is open and sparsely decorated with a window stretching across the front, illuminating the black-painted tasting room where Sloan serves patrons samples and sells growlers of concoctions such as “Polish Hill Pils” and “Jacked Up O Lantern Stout.”
Sloan tried opening a brewery several times before but there was always something that got in the way. In St. Louis, he met his wife and moved to New Zealand. Then, in the late 2000s, the global financial crisis prevented him from moving forward.
With 17 years of experience and a coveted title under his belt, Sloan said this time he feels determined to make it happen.
“That was the only way we were going to stay in Pittsburgh, so we decided to do our own place,” he said. “I was pretty single-minded and focused to get it up and running one way or the other.”