Fat Head’s Brewery by: Chris Wise
When Glenn Benigni opened Fat Head’s Saloon in Pittsburgh’s South Side in 1992, he never could have expected what the future would hold. Serving up great food and award-winning sandwiches in 2 locations, with plans to open in Portland, OR, in 2014. While gaining national attention for their beer, Fat Head’s initially became famous for it’s food – from massive munchies to colossal sandwiches, including Headwiches billed as “roughly the size of your head.” These meals on a bun have fun names like The Chick ‘n Little, Beauty and the Beasty, and Bay of Pigs include an abundance of fresh ingredients served on fresh, locally sourced rolls. The South Side Slopes, a nod to Fat Head’s Pittsburgh hometown, features a mountainous helping of kielbasa, pierogies, cheese and grilled onions and was voted No.5 sandwich in the nation by Maxim Magazine.
Benigni, himself a craft beer enthusiast, teamed up with Master Brewer Matt Cole in 2009. Together they headed down the highway, building their first Brewpub in Cleveland, OH. Cole had a strong reputation within the industry, working with Baltimore Brewing, Great Lakes and Rocky River Brewing. Despite the pair’s encyclopedic knowledge of craft beer and extensive background within the brewing industry, few could have expected the immediate success that Fat Head’s first beers were met with. In fact, a full-scale production brewery was opened in 2011 to keep up with the overwhelming demand.
Fat Head’s Head Hunter India Pale Ale is their flagship ale, repeatedly winning some of the most highly sought after accolades in the industry. Head Hunter is an aggressively dry-hopped, West Coast-Style IPA with a huge hop display of pine, grapefruit, citrus and pineapple. Fat Head’s describes it as “a punch-you-in-the-mouth brew for those who truly love their hops!” Beer drinkers around the country agreed; three months after its release, Head Hunter won the gold medal at the West Coast IPA Festival and was voted into one of the “Top 25 of the World” by Draft Magazine.
And the awards never stopped coming. Head Hunter IPA has been repeatedly awarded at the highly acclaimed Great American Beer Festival (GABF), The World Beer Cup, The West Coast IPA Fest and was a 2x Grand Champion at the National IPA Challenge. The 2013 GABF was Fat Head’s most prosperous yet, bringing home silver medals for Black Knight Schwarzbier and Wet-Hopped Trail Head Pale Ale; plus, in the 2nd largest category with 149 entries, Hop JuJu Imperial IPA won gold. And the list goes on with eight total GABF medals and two World Beer Cup awards in just four years of operation.
Fat Head’s latest venture, the opening of The Tap House within the Cleveland Production Brewery, opened this past October, for tastings and a behind-the-scenes peek of the crew in action. Its easy to see that these guys love what they do and have fun doing it. So much so that plans are in the works to open a brewpub in downtown Portland, OR, in mid-2014 to increase their presence on the West Coast. This is necessary considering the growth Fat Head’s has experienced since firing up their first brewery four years ago. In the first five and a half months of this year Fat Head’s has produced over 3,000 barrels, and expects that number to fall between 10,000 and 12,000 barrels by the end of the year.
You might think that with such immediate and overwhelming success, Fat Head’s would lose sight of what got them to this point: a great product, presented with a bit of style and flair but always living up to your high expectations. However, Fat Head’s has continued to work hard, maintain their high standard when coming up with new sandwich or beer recipes, and still have a sense of humor about themselves. One look at their menu proves this point. One can find a Hop Juju Imperial IPA across the page from a Pimp Sleigh Belgian-Style Christmas Ale, a Bean Me Up Imperial Coffee Stout below a Kohlminator German-Styled Smoked Bock, all of which go well with either an “Expert Pastrami” sandwich or the “Artery Clogger” (two fried eggs topped with ham, bacon, cheese, lettuce and tomato) The Fat Head logo is changed for each bottle to match the names: Head Hunter has a tribal warrior head, the Kohlminator is a half-human half-cyborg Fat Head, and the Pimp My Sleigh features an appropriately blinged-out Santa Fat Head. Fat Head’s offers a wide selection of beers, so here is just a few to get you started into their collection:
Head Hunter IPA
The flagship ale, Fat Head’s Head Hunter India Pale Ale is an intensely dry-hopped ale with a huge hop display of pine, grapefruit, citrus and pineapple. Head Hunter pulls together these flavors to create a unique IPA that has won numerous awards, including: Gold medals at the 2011 Denver International Beer Festival, the West Coast IPA Festival in 2009 and 2012, the National IPA Challenge in 2010 and 2012, and silver medals for American-style IPA at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival and the 2012 World Beer Cup. Offered year round and coming in at 7.5%ABV, Head Hunter is the recipe which established Fat Head’s as an up-and-coming brewery.
Sunshine Daydream Session IPA
Named after the Grateful Dead song “Sugar Magnolia,” Sunshine Daydream is a very drinkable Session IPA with big hop aromas, flavors of citrus, peach, and tropical fruit with a nice light malt backbone. According to Fat Head’s it is “ as refreshing as wading in a cold stream in the morning sunshine or a walk among the tall trees,” and we couldn’t agree more. At a mild 5% ABV compared to the Head Hunter, Sunshine Daydream is a more relaxed IPA offered year round.
Bumble Berry Honey Blueberry Ale
Fat Head’s isn’t messing around with this brew. They start with fresh harvested spring honey, which they “stole” from “some very angry bees” (they claim to have the welts to prove it) and infuse it with fresh blueberries. The result is a light, tasty, refreshing ale with a blueberry aroma, crackery malt flavors, a hint of sweetness and a refreshing blueberry finish. Boasting a 5.3%ABV, Bumble Berry was voted “Most Refreshing Beer in America” by Brewing News in 2010. Bumble Berry is the only non-IPA Fat Head’s offers year round, and another great way to “Get yo’ buzz on!”
Spooky Tooth Imperial Pumpkin Ale
The ingredient list for this brew reads like the ingredient list for the perfect Autumn treat: Roasted pumpkin, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. Spooky Tooth offers a rich amber color, an aroma of sweet pumpkin pie and a “chewy mouthfeel you can sink your teeth into.” With a whopping 9% ABV, this ale is like a highly-intoxicating pumpkin pie in liquid form…Fat Head’s simply stopped short of putting whipped cream on top!
Holly Jolly Christmas Ale
The explanation behind this Christmas Ale sounds like the start to a good holiday tale: “Once upon a frozen evening way up north, a sweet local honey named Holly inspired our Jolly Fat Man (as only Holly can) to create this festive spiced holiday ale. We think you will enjoy his holiday creation with it’s aromas and flavors of Christmas day. Sweet malt, ginger, honey and cinnamon spice.” Sounds like Christmas to me. At 7.5%ABV, the Holly Jolly is the perfect libation to get you through a hectic holiday season.
Pimp My Sleigh Belgian-Style Christmas Ale
For the times when the Holly Jolly isn’t providing the relief you seek, reach for a Pimp My Sleigh to ease your Christmas season stresses. Coming in at a surprising 10.5%ABV, the Pimp My Ride is a strong Belgian Style Christmas Ale. Pimp My Sleigh boasts intricate aromas, sweet dark malts, dark fruit raisins, figs and spicy phenols. A Christmas Ale offering a rich complexity to its drinker, Pimp My Sleigh is another great holiday beer option along with the Holly Jolly.