We sat down for a Q&A with John Lasher – head brewer at Cellar Works and the man behind Fruit Whip, a wildly successful smoothie sour beer.
Header Image: John Lasher, co-owner and head brewer at Cellar Works in Sarver. Photo: Kristen Yeo
ABV is our weekly series that highlights a different beer from a local Pittsburgh brewery every week. Check out our past picks here.
Earlier this year, I was texting back and forth with Day Bracey – co-founder of Fresh Fest Beer Festival and one half of the Drinking Partners podcast. I was curious: what does Day drink when he’s looking to unwind? And, more specifically, what’s in his glass right now?
Day hit me back without hesitation: “Not only is Fruit Whip (from Cellar Works) my favorite beer I’ve had during quarantine, it’s the best beer I’ve had all year. I’m mad at myself for only getting ONE 4-pack. I need more of this next time they release it!”
And since Day has good taste, that was all I needed to hear.
Here’s a Q&A with John Lasher, co-owner and head brewer at Cellar Works in Sarver. Entire batches of Fruit Whip – Lasher’s series of wildly popular smoothie sour beers – have regularly sold out on the same day of its release; sometimes in under 60 seconds.
We chatted about the success of Fruit Whip and how it came to be. We also previewed Cellar Works’ upcoming expansion – just two minutes down the road from their current location.
ABV, VOLUME LXXVI
Aadam Soorma: Tell us a little about yourself. Where did you go to school and where are you living now?
John Lasher: Well, I went to undergrad at the University at Buffalo and then went onto grad school at Penn State University. I’m an architect by trade. And after several years in Lower Burrell, I’m currently living in Armstrong County with my wife and our 2-year-old daughter.
AS: Tell us about your homebrewing days.
JL: Yeah, I was working my way up as a designer at Westinghouse. It turns out, the higher up you go in a corporate setting, the less actual design work you do. I wanted to tinker and experiment. So, I began homebrewing as a hobby and got kind of obsessed.
JL: A lot of homebrewers will make one batch (of beer) per month. I was brewing 3-5 times per week. I could only drink about 5 percent of my own product. A bunch of beer was dumped down the drain while I continued to hone and perfect my skills.
The way my brain works, technical aspects and creative aspects flow equally through me – I take that approach to my beers too.
AS: So, you’re a homebrewer turned professional brewer. Besides brewing – surely you discovered a love for drinking craft beer too?
JL: Exactly. I felt like I had a better than rudimentary understanding of beer. My international friends got me drinking some European styles. I remember feeling very exploratory; domestically at that time, we were drinking Dogfish 60-Minute IPA and Harpoon IPA. It got me thinking about the infinite possibilities of beer.
Fruit Whip, the smoothie sour beer you need to try this summer
AS: Let’s talk Smoothie Sours. For folks unfamiliar, what is the Fruit Whip?
JL: Fruit Whip is a series of fruit-infused, high-gravity Berliner weisse beers brewed with vanilla and lactose. We change each version (or variant) of Fruit Whip by cycling through different fruit flavors: pineapple, dark berry, peach apricot, etc.
This series is in its infancy and we want to improve – particularly on brewing more and packaging more. We’ve never had beers sell out that quickly (the most recent iterations of Fruit Whip have completely sold out via online sales in about 60 seconds).
AS: So, how did Fruit Whip come about? Was this a meticulously planned recipe or something you tinkered with til it was just right?
JL: Believe it or not, it all came about from a trip to Disney World. My wife and I were on vacation and I’d heard about this “pineapple Dole whip” that folks said you just gotta try. It’s basically a non-dairy, pineapple dessert.
So, I try it and then I’m staring at it thinking: ‘Oh my god, this needs to be a beer.’
I remember jotting down very early notes like – ‘Beer has to be lightly sour, but sweet. Has to be fruity. Has to be punchy.’
AS: Which Fruit Whip variant did you debut the series with?
JL: Our first variant was Pineapple Fruit Whip – it tasted JUST like that pineapple dole whip.
I remember, it was a Friday and we didn’t have any formal release or party or anything. We put up a social media post and very quickly that post got over 200 comments. The whole batch sold out in four hours.
AS: What can we expect from future variant(s) of Fruit Whip?
JL: Fruit Whip has a very modular recipe. We plan to do Dark Berry Fruit Whip – which contains raspberry, blackberry, black currant and boysenberry. We recently did Peach Apricot Fruit Whip. And we will bring back Pineapple Fruit Whip.
AS: What’s been some of the most memorable feedback to Fruit Whip? Have you seen folks try it for the first time?
JL: Oh, we hear ALL kinds of reactions. Some folks taste it and say stuff like ‘Oh, that’s a girly beer’ or ‘Oh, that’s too fruity.’
But other times, we’ll hand someone a sample and their eyes just light up. They’ll say: ‘OH MY GOD – that’s amazing!’ or ‘I didn’t know beer could be like this!’ We love those special moments.
Upcoming Expansion: Cellar Works plans to scale up with a new location
AS: OK, let’s talk expansion. What can you share about the upcoming new location for Cellar Works?
JL: We recently bought a property two minutes up the road from our current spot. Technically, it’s a Sarver address but it sits in Winfield Township. Our end goal is to straight up move there, but both locations will be open simultaneously while we phase out of this location.
Our new location is 12,000 square feet – it’s actually two buildings on four acres with a full restaurant. It’s the former Cooper Station; it’s enormous and the second building has a wedding event center in it. We signed the paperwork in December 2019 and we’re working on the build out now.
Our goal is to bring Pittsburgh city flair without being unapproachable to the locals and regulars we get here in Sarver.
AS: Oh, so you guys will have a full kitchen and offer food too?
JL: Yep, and our head chef has an excellent resume. He worked at Salt of the Earth, the Duquesne Club and at one point he was a line chef at Sierra Nevada. He sources ingredients locally and has a huge focus on reducing waste. The goal of our scratch kitchen is to be creative, affordable cuisine.
AS: And – I’m guessing, you’ll be able to brew more beer?
JL: For sure. New canning line, a barrel room and – as I mentioned earlier – a much larger 10 or 15 BBL brewing system. The new spot will have room for private events and space for games like bocce, cornhole, etc.
AS: When you’re not working, where do you go to chill out?
JL: I really love breakfast food. You’ll probably find me at David’s Diner in the Springdale / Cheswick area. They have the best corned beef hash I’ve ever had in my life. I also really like Ispirare Coffee in Kittanning. It’s a super approachable good place for coffee.
For beer, I love hitting up ShuBrew – man, their brunch is great too. If we head into the city proper, there’s so many good spots – we like to visit Strange Roots (Millvale) and see what Dennis is doing; Roundabout (Lawrenceville) is an absolute gem; Grist House (Millvale) is one of our favorites too.
Know Before You Go: Cellar Works
- Location: 110 S Pike Rd // Sarver, PA 16055
- Hours: Wed + Thu (5pm to 10pm) // Friday (4pm to 10pm) // Saturday (2pm to 10pm)
- Parking: Parking lot (free)
Follow Cellar Works on social media for updates
- Place web orders for Cellar Works beer here