Penn Brewing to contract at Lion Brewery

31 December 2008

I know this may be old news to some, but this was officially released by Penn Brewing founder Tom Pastorius:

Penn Brewery set to close – contract out production until new location is found

The fate of the historic home of the Penn Brewery, Pittsburgh's first and largest craft beer maker, appears sealed this week as the owners prepare to leave the 19th-century structure with its custom brewhouse and restaurant for new quarters somewhere in Pittsburgh.

The last batch of Penn beer was being brewed there this week, while beer production starts at a contract brewery in Wilkes-Barre. Most of the brewery staff has been told it will be laid off by year's end. The restaurant is to close at the end of February when its lease expires.

But on Tuesday, founder Tom Pastorius, who is still a minority partner in the operation, vowed to find a new owner that would keep the brewery in place.

"I spent 22 years of my life in this building, and I'm sick at the thought of losing it," said Mr. Pastorius. "I'm actively looking for a buyer for either the building, the brewery or both."

Mr. Pastorius retired from full participation in brewery operations this year after selling majority interest to Birchmere Capital in 2003.

Penn's new president and CEO, Len Caric, said yesterday he sympathized with Mr. Pastorius but is moving ahead to find a new location for both the restaurant and brewery.

He was confirming a Nov. 23 Post-Gazette story in which he said a 360 percent rent increase by landlords E&O Partners forced the company to abandon the building. E&O Partners owns the restaurant and brewery space as well as the adjacent Brewery Innovation Center office complex.

As Penn hunts in the city for a new location for the restaurant and brewery, the company has contracted to brew its beer at the Lion Brewery in Wilkes-Barre.

Moving Penn Brewery won't be easy. Once the beer that already has been brewed is bottled, Mr. Caric said his company would remove the tanks and equipment, some of which will have to be dismantled to be removed -- to either be sold or stored until Penn builds another brewery.

Mr. Pastorius had steadily increased the amount of brewing and bottling equipment, including locally fabricated fermenters and storage tanks since installing a custom-made German brewery in 1990. He said it was a "multimillion dollar investment.

8 comments (click to read or post):

Josh 01 January, 2009 23:18  

Here's hoping that Lion does well with their beers in the interim. I've noticed a big difference in quality between Lancaster beers brewed at Lion and those brewed at their own facilities, for instance. I've heard of similar experiences with Southampton beers now brewed at Lion, although I'll reserve final judgment there till I try them myself. But the Lancaster difference is very stark and disappointing. Best of luck to Penn.

mybeerbuzz,  01 January, 2009 23:27  

I guess time will tell, although I've not had the same experience with Lancaster or Southampton.

Anonymous,  02 January, 2009 09:15  

I worked for Lancaster back in the day but I'll agree with mr beerbuzz. I taste no difference in just about every beer I've tried. If anything the Milk Stout tastes even better with Lion brewing it and they're all more consistent with Lion also. I enjoy Penn Pilsner and I'm sure Lion will make it just as good as it was at Penn. With the subtle differences in brewing equipment this is no easy task. Lion does this well and I'd bet it will be just as good.


Josh 02 January, 2009 13:14  

The Milk Stout is actually the beer where I noticed the difference. It was, as I said before, stark. I'm not a huge fan of Lancaster but the Milk Stout was quite good. About 2 months ago, though, I had some that was brewed at Lion and I couldn't believe the difference. It was grainy with none of the lactose sweetness I remember. It had an astringent, charcoal flavor and it was harsh, not creamy. Just not a very good brew and a shadow of the beer I'd had before. Others I've spoken with have corroborated my own experience. I also mentioned Southampton because more than one person has told me that the quality of the Double White has dropped since it's been brewed at Lion, although as I said I haven't had any recently so I can't confirm nor deny.

Feel free to disagree, that is your right. But I know what my own tastebuds tell me.

sam k,  02 January, 2009 18:41  

Remember also that Penn Pilsner was contract brewed first at Pittsburgh Brewing, then at Jones before being produced in-house by Penn. This product in particular should be OK, though I'm concerned about the future of the outstanding Penn Weizen.

mybeerbuzz,  02 January, 2009 23:09  

I think this will be an interesting transition to watch...although I'm confident the Lion contract beers will be good. As anon mentioned above, brewing the same beer over and over again even using the same equipment can be daunting given the variances in ingredients...let alone a change in equipment location and more importantly scale. Lion does well contract brewing beers, so I suspect they will come out great....but again time will tell.

Anonymous,  05 January, 2009 20:13  

does being contract brewed change the distribution at all? will Penn beers be available in more places now, like say places that usually stock steg/pocono/lionshead or does everything remain the same except the brewing of the beer?

mybeerbuzz,  05 January, 2009 20:29  

No this should not alter their original distribution in any way. I wuld think it would require considerabley more work to change/add disribution areas and my impression is that Penn has enough to work on right now. It probably could increase distribution in the future simply because Lion is capable of brewing a larger volume, but it's my understanding this is only a temporary arrangement until Penn secures a new site and gets back to brewing.

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