Since 1794, there have been well over 100 breweries in Allegheny County. Ed Vidunas is harnessing their stories online at PittsburghBrewers.com
ABV is our weekly series that highlights a different beer from a local Pittsburgh brewery every week. Check out our past picks here.
About two months ago, pre-quarantine, I found myself having a beer with Ed Vidunas – a vibrant, eclectic storyteller.
We met at Carson St Deli – in the Southside – and it was there I learned that Pittsburgh has its very own beer historian.
Of course, that historian was sitting right across from me.
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) July 29, 2017
Vidunas – a lifelong Pittsburgher – is the creator of Pittsburgh Brewers; a comprehensive guide to breweries that have set up shop in the greater Pittsburgh area.
His website is straightforward and informative. It is indexed by ‘Pittsburgh’ or ‘Allegheny County.’ Per Vidunas’ research, there have been “well over 100 breweries in Allegheny County since 1794.”
We reached out to Ed for a little quarantine Q&A to share stories and enlighten us from a historical perspective.
Q&A with Ed Vidunas
Aadam Soorma: Where were you born?
Ed Vidunas: Pittsburgh, PA. I was born January 16, 1953.
AS: And where’d you grow up?
EV: Lived in Pittsburgh all my life. Lived in only two homes, actually.
AS: When you were working a full-time (day) job, what did you do?
EV: I was a draftsman all my life. Detailing Oil drilling towers was my first job on Neville Island. Worked at City of Pittsburgh Public Works. Last 29 of the 40 years in the business I was a structural bridge designer. Worked on a number of Pittsburgh bridges. Two larger projects local to Pittsburgh were the reconstruction of the West End and Highland Park Bridges.
An enjoyable job was making the design drawings for the new Hulton Bridge over the Allegheny River (Oakmont). That’s a beauty of a bridge.
This is how I spent half of my life. pic.twitter.com/CHUHoOHg2J
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) March 15, 2019
AS: What neighborhood do you live in now?
EV: Never left the Southside. I drink in my dad’s old bar: Fat Head’s. It went by a different name in the 40’s thru the 60’s.
Back in his day women were not allowed in. Not even as bartenders.
Pittsburgh Brewers (dot) com
Here’s a quick explainer on Ed’s website: PittsburghBrewers.com
AS: How did you get started in your pursuit of all this Pittsburgh beer knowledge?
EV: I wrote the newsletter for TRASH – Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers – for 11 years. I was interested in beer and the newsletter connected me with brewing and the breweries. About 2012, I saw a story where Rick Sebak talked about the breweries in the Strip District. I started poking on the web and here I am.
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) January 4, 2014
AS: Why did you create Pittsburgh Brewers?
EV: After I started documenting the number of breweries I found in Allegheny County, I thought it would be nice to publish them. It turns out Pittsburgh was a major brewing town, but there is no history on it. There were well over 100 breweries in Allegheny County since 1794.
AS: How does your website work? What will visitors find?
EV: It’s easy. There is no cost or sign in. Just open and read. You’ll see all the major breweries – including Duquesne, Phoenix, etc. The Point Brewery was Pittsburgh’s first commercial brewery (built in 1794) and came into existence due to the Whiskey Rebellion.
AS: How often do you find yourself revising or adding in updates to the site?
EV: It is a work in progress and I work on it all the time. I am always finding something new.
Beer History in Pittsburgh
As a young, relatively newer Pittsburgh resident (I moved here in 2012), I love Ed’s historical anecdotes and thorough explanations behind many of these breweries – especially the ones no longer in operation.
This is the Hoehl Brewery on Stanton Ave. One of three in Millvale in the late 1800's. pic.twitter.com/rLLxs6YA52
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) January 22, 2019
AS: Have you ever found an exceptionally odd or bizarre finding in your brewery research?
EV: Not so much odd or bizarre, but interesting in the number of beer caves that I have discovered in Pittsburgh. The ones at Penn Brewery, on the upper floor of all things, and under the garage, are the most well-known. There is a series of caves along Josephine Street in the Southside.
I found one under Chartiers Avenue in the West End. Caves were dug along the hill parallel to Liberty Avenue at 17th Street in the Strip. Iron City Brewery had them under Liberty Avenue and the Lutz Brewery on Spring Garden Ave (fire station today) had them under the street. Several were along Rt. 28 between the 16th Street bridge and the 31st Street bridge. And so many more.
Did you know?: this used to be the Foundry Ale Works in the 1990's. 2816 Smallman Street. pic.twitter.com/4WLtnlCmW3
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) August 9, 2015
AS: Do you have a favorite Pittsburgh or Allegheny County brewery story?
EV: Sometime in the 90’s, I was drinking with friends at Penn Brewery. It was owned by Tom and Mary Beth Pastorius at the time. They were the founders. It was the Christmas holidays and one happy hour turned into evening hour. By this time, it was just me and a buddy – and we were hungry. We were at the bar and right next to us was the small bar-top Christmas Tree decorated with Gingerbread Men. They were good.
We scarfed down about half before the bartender told us they were coated in varnish. Never ate gingerbread since.
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) July 29, 2017
AS: A lot has changed over the years in beer. What is one change in the beer industry / taproom culture that you are happy about?
EV: The number of breweries giving it a go in Western Pennsylvania right now. They are bringing a vibrancy to the area. Also, women have always drank in bars but typically with their husbands or boyfriends. Now groups of women – or just one by herself – pop into a bar as they are no longer a domain for men. We are moving forward.
AS: What is a change you’re unhappy about?
EV: It is harder for me to find beers under 6% ABV. I do better with that at my age.
AS: Do you have a favorite style of beer? What’s your go-to beer if you’re looking to just relax during the evening?
EV: English Pale Ale or Penn Kaiser Pils.
Traveling from Pittsburgh to the UK
Ed has traveled between London and Pittsburgh 35 times.
AS: You’re a well-traveled man. Tell us a bit about where you’ve been.
EV: I started going to London in 1975 and as of this past March I have visited 35 times. I have been all around England and visited Edinburgh and Glasgow. Four visits to Ireland; wish I could make it back. Everyone should visit Ireland.
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) March 12, 2020
AS: What is your connection to the UK?
EV: I made pen-pals with a young lad my age in 1968 from Bromley, Kent. We were each involved in Short Wave Radio listening. We were DXers and not Hams. After Denis nearly burned his hand off, his sister Diana started writing. We have visited each other over the years. We still visit to this day.
Ed is having a Worthington White Shield on cask at the brewery tap, Burton, England. pic.twitter.com/2FMf6GInCa
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) January 24, 2017
AS: Are there any exceptionally “Pittsburgh” spots you enjoy when in London?
EV: I can’t say. I do pubs and they are different than the Burgh. London does have some Pittsburgh connections with the Schenley and Mellon families. I want to write about that someday.
A lot of Londoners are still trying to figure out what “yinz” means.
Pic from my bar stool pic.twitter.com/y88yP626oP
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) February 28, 2018
Words of Wisdom and Advice
AS: Do you have a piece of advice for beer drinkers and enthusiasts?
EV: Beer, as well as other alcoholic drinks, can be enjoyable and many people make it a part of their life. But it is dangerous and can lead you into darkness. I have seen too many friends become alcoholics from overindulging.
AS: You’ve met some incredible people over the years. Who inspires you?
EV: Other than my parents, it was my shop and academic teachers at South High. They set me straight and showed me the right path. They not only taught you the three R’s but how to carry yourself throughout life. We had six years of high school; 6th to 12th grade. We went in as kids and came out as adults.
A beer buffet pic.twitter.com/bjehwCKX37
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) March 7, 2017
AS: Do you admire what certain folks are doing – either in the beer scene or outside the beer scene?
EV: I was somewhat involved in the local community when I was younger. I see a lot of young people living on the Southside today who are active in making the Southside a better place. As I am getting older that helps my well-being here. I say thank you to them.
As for the beer scene; I never imagined that we would have so many breweries in Western PA; let alone the many new styles of beers. I have to hand it to the younger brewers. They completely remapped beer styles.
Follow Ed Vidunas online
AS: Where can folks follow you online?
EV: Twitter: @PGHPUBS // Instagram: Ed Vidunas // Facebook: Ed Vidunas
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) February 15, 2020
Finally, we ask all our guests this question…
AS: What is your favorite Pittsburgh bridge?
EV: The old South 22nd Street Bridge that sat adjacent to the current Birmingham Bridge. I used to walk to Oakland across that bridge a lot. It was Pittsburgh’s first toll-free bridge.
I remember when doctors amputated the leg of an ironworker when he was pinned on the top of the bridge. He was cutting the steel top chord of the truss span when the bridge shifted and pinned his leg. That was right after the new bridge was built in the 1970’s. Doctors were brought in and had to use ladder trucks to get to him. They could not put him under or they would not be able to get him down. They told the iron worker they had to amputate while he was wide awake.
He told the doctors to get the job done. What a day that was.
— Ed Vidunas (@PGHPUBS) February 20, 2016
**This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and space.