Pittsburgh Brewing – Iron City Amber

Pittsburgh Brewing – Iron City Amber by: Andrew Schroeder

Those who talk about beer identify one basic distinction between American and European brews. Major American macrobrews like Budweiser and Coors are popular with beer fans for their drinkability; these brewers pride themselves in creating beer that has a pleasant taste but also has drinkability. One need only remember the early-2000s marketing campaign for Miller Lite in which beer fans debate (often violently) over the beer’s superior characteristic: that it tastes great or that it’s less filling than other beers.

On the other hand, European beers – and European-style American craft beers – fill you up faster but provide a stronger and more distinct flavor than their macrobrew counterparts. This difference between American-style and European-style beers can be pretty obvious: look at a glass of Bud Light next to a glass of Guinness, you can guess which is more “drinkable.”
Most of Pittsburgh Brewing Company’s Iron City label matches the American style, and does it well. The label’s flagship beers, Iron City and IC Light, are city staples, found in bars and distributors throughout Pittsburgh and beyond. It’s as Pittsburgh as the Steelers and steep hills.

But Pittsburgh’s pub goers may have noticed more developments in the Iron City brand over the past few years – one of which being Iron City Amber, the subject of this week’s feature. Released in November 2011 to commemorate the brewery’s 150th anniversary, Iron City Amber adds a distinctly European flavor to the time-tested formula of Iron City beer without weakening the latter.

This amber lager, make no mistake, is still American-style. The drinkability is still there, as any fan of Iron City’s beer would be right to expect. However, this particular brew has more flavor and a more robust taste than its lighter counterparts. The taste is slightly but pleasurably bitterer than the average American macrobrew, and it has an appealing deep copper color to it.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Pittsburgh Brewing Company president and CEO Ed Lozano, who was quick to defer credit for the brew to the brewmaster, Mike Carota. Carota is, according to Lozano, one of the finest brewmasters in the country, and his resume supports that argument: he’s managed recipes and formulas for 40 years, at breweries across the country, and even has experience brewing teas, sodas, and juice. Safe to say, the man knows his brews, and the taste of Iron City Amber corroborates us.

Iron City Amber is made with higher quality ingredients than you average American lager. Starting with carmelized malted barley, the brew features a unique blend of cascade hops – a staple in American breweries – and hops from Germany and the Czech Republic. The integration of these European hops gives the beer its stronger flavor, distinguishing it from beers that use solely American hops. It’s a new flavor with a familiar feel, that same old drinkability. Any fans of Iron City’s product line who don’t try Iron City Amber would be missing out.

Iron City Amber is just one of a list of new developments that have come to the Iron City brand in recent years. IC Light Mango (and its comic-style billboards) made its appearance in Pittsburgh in 2011 as well, and has been a huge hit. The brewery is launching IC Light Berry in May as well, giving drinkers a light, fruity beer to enjoy with the warm weather. And Lozano clued me in that the Pittsburgh Brewing Company was also making preparations on two more beers that may possibly see shelves and bars this year: a seasonal pumpkin beer, tentatively to be released in the fall, and a possible pale ale or IPA.

The Iron City brand is expanding its taste frontiers, adding more and more to its repertoire. Iron City Amber is a strong representative of that strategy: taking the same drinkable American style that got Iron City into bars and hearts across Pennsylvania, and adding to it the deeper levels of flavor found in European brews, a style becoming more and more popular in the states. Iron City Amber is a crossroads between American and European styles, right here in our very own Pittsburgh.