South Fayette resident opens brewery in Oakdale
Beer is beer to many people, but certainly not to Chris Brunetti.
He’ll pour a glass of lager, his own recipe, and pulls no punches about how it stacks up to the biggest of beverage brands.
“It’s all malt, hops, water and yeast. There are no preservatives, and there’s no rice or corn,” he said. “If those macro brews used all malt and no chemicals, this is what their beer would taste like.”
Aficionados can taste for themselves as of Nov. 12 with the opening of Brunetti’s Helicon Brewing on Union Avenue in Oakdale, where Best Feeds’ Joy Dog Food factory once operated. His Munich Helles golden European lager is the featured beverage to start.
“One of the reasons we’re showcasing this beer as one of our first brews,” Brunetti said, “is because we expect a lot of people to stop in and say, ‘Hey, I drink Bud/Miller/Coors. What do you have that’s comparable?’”
The more adventurous of visitors also can try three types of ales: American pale, India pale and blonde.
Brunetti, a South Fayette Township resident, started brewing at home in 2000 and soon found he had the barley-and-hops equivalent of a green thumb.
“I got pretty serious about it, became a beer judge and started entering competitions,” he recalled, with many of his brews tasty enough to take top honors.
From there, Brunetti put together a serious beer-making setup in the basement of his former home in Peters Township. He honed his skills by completing the Siebel Institute of Technology’s master brewer program, which included practical study in what essentially is the land of lager: Munich, Germany.
Once he decided to open a brewery and found a suitable spot, he decided on a name with local relevance. According to the history of Oakdale, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania deeded 400 acres in the late 18th century, including the future site of the borough, to a judge named Hugh Henry Brackenridge.
“The name on the warranty deed was Mt. Helicon,” Brunetti said, noting that also is the name of a mountain that appears in Greek mythology.
“We wanted something that had a local appeal, but not totally ‘Pittsburgh,’” he said. “So you have something with a great local tie, but is good for regional distribution.”
Brunetti emphasizes Helicon’s role as a production brewery rather than a brewpub, but visitors are more than welcome to stop by for a taste, pint or full growler.
In the meantime, his “brew crew” – head brewer Andy Weigel, Luke Roginksi and Meghan Stone – and general manager Tera Molinaro Bevilacqua are working toward adding Helicon to the growing list of quality beers produced in the Pittsburgh area.
And for years, Brunetti has been getting to know area bartenders, beer buyers and general managers who might want to carry his products in their establishments.
“A lot of people say they want to have the beer,” he said. “We’ll see what happens now that I have beer to give them.”
Stone, who also lives in South Fayette, said she is new to the industry and looking forward to learning all about brewing good beer.
“I think it’s going to be a fun ride.”