Brewery is on tap for city next summer

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

Washington County has one brewery, and it just opened. By midsummer, there could be three.

Signs are up for Washington Brewing Co. at 28 E. Maiden St., in a space once occupied by a Studebaker car dealership. The brewery will be built next to Washington Winery/A&M Wine and Beer Supplies, near the intersection with South Main Street.

A summer opening is projected.

That would make it No. 3 in the county. Coal Tipple Brewery opened first, a little before Thanksgiving, off Route 22 in Hanover Township. Coal Tipple is part of Raccoon Creek Winery at Kramer’s Greenhouse, and owned by spouses Chris and Dawn Kramer.

Rusty Gold on West Pike Street, Canonsburg, should launch second. Owner E.J. Kleckner is planning a January debut.

Two sets of spouses share ownership of Washington Brewing, and it is a foursome with scads of business savvy in that part of the city ... a foursome that has already worked jointly.

Washington Winery co-owners John and Angela Burgess have joined forces with the restaurateurs across the street, John and Michele DeFede, co-owners of Upper Crust Italian Bistro. They have promoted each others’ businesses to customers and worked together on wine dinners. It’s not uncommon seeing someone buy a bottle at the winery and carry it over to Upper Crust, with a BYOB policy, for dinner.

Their brew pub will sell only the beers it makes, with “limited Winery wines and a full menu,” John DeFede said. About 50 parking spaces will be available, near the front and behind the building.

Developing a brewery within close proximity of the bistro and winery, John Burgess said, “is a natural progression.”

Both couples are keeping their current businesses and preparing to tackle a second one in a city that, nine months ago, not only did not have a brewery, but no legal whiskey distillery since Prohibition (1920-33). Then Red Pump Spirits and Liberty Pole Spirits by Mingo Creek Craft Distillers opened during the year. (They also were the county’s first distilleries in more than a century.)

Breweries and distilleries have been popping up throughout the region in recent years, and John DeFede and Angela Burgess are pleased Washington County has joined the trend.

“The emphasis is starting to be on quality and locality,” he said. “People want really good stuff from their hometown. If they live around here, getting a bottle ... from Liberty Pole or Red Pump is preferable to getting one (elsewhere).

“You want to get beer when it’s fresh. You get a lot more quality with what the small local brewers have.”

Angela Burgess said a local distillery or brew pub “is a destination for a lot of people.”

The building that will house Washington Brewing most recently was a car repair shop. Longtime locals remember it as a place where you could buy a Studebaker, a quality car. Longtime is the operative word, for the last Studebaker was made in 1966.

It is a rock-solid structure, to be sure, two stories tall with concrete floors and no internal structure walls. The major renovations, John Burgess said, will involve HVAC, electrical work and utility infrastructure.

This will be a 15-barrel brewhouse, operated by master brewer Pat Buckley, who has an impressive resume as well as a rousing endorsement from one of the bosses.

“Pat is a meticulous brewer,” John Burgess said. “I’ve brewed beer since the late ’90s, but Pat will take this to a higher level. I think Pat is capable of making some of the best brews in this part of the country.”

Burgess has wanted to open a brewery for a while and left a full-time job in the oil and gas industry in February “to head down this road.” John DeFede said the couples “talked about it for at least a year and a half” and worked on securing a location for the better part of the year, before completing the deal last month.

Washington Brewing is on tap, so to speak, but there is a lot of work ahead, a lot of equipment to install. It will take time before the first draft is drawn.

“If everything falls in line, June is not unrealistic,” DeFede said. “We would love to be open for the Whiskey Rebellion Festival (the second weekend in July), but a lot of things need to happen.”

One thing is certain, though. Washington will have a brewery.