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North Hills Monthly

TRASH: The Seriously Fun Side of Brewing Your Own Beer

Apr 30, 2015 02:43PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
1992 - Charlie Papazian & Rob Enrico

If you brew your own beer and you live in Pittsburgh, you might already have heard of the Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers—aka TRASH. Created in 1987, TRASH is one of the country’s first clubs devoted to the art of brewing beer and sharing it with like-minded individuals.  

According to longtime member Ed Vidunas, 62, of Pittsburgh, the first stirrings of the group began after homebrewing became legal in 1977. “Jeannette baker Rob Enrico started brewing beer at his bakery,” recalled Vidunas, “and he was interviewed about it on KDKA’s Evening Magazine. Then some guys approached him about starting a club where they could share recipes and methods and critique each other’s brews. Back then, they held informal meetings on someone’s porch in Turtle Creek.”

1990 - North Park

A photo album of the past three decades chronicles the group’s achievements, which include award-winning beers and visits from rock stars in the world of beer, including journalist Michael Jackson of England and Charlie Papazian, known as the Father of Craft Brewing. “We host a national homebrew competition every year,” said Vidunas, noting that group members often go on to turn the hobby into a career. 

Andy Kwiatkowski, 29, of Wexford, for instance, is now the head brewer at Hitchhiker Brewing Company in Mount Lebanon. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without this group,” he said, adding that he started brewing his own beer just five years ago and is a former vice president of TRASH. “They taught me how to train my palette and make my own beer better. Then I started treating beer brewing like a job… now it is my job.”

The group meets once a month in different locations, and East End Brewing Company on Julius St. in Larimer is a favorite. Owned by member Scott Smith, the boutique brewery is one of many in a city that practically wrote the book on craft brewing. “Buy local beer,” Smith advised. “There are so many breweries popping up in Pittsburgh right now, it’s a great time to try different beers.”

However, if you really want to learn about different beers, you should attend a TRASH meeting. “Beer drinking is secondary,” said Smith, standing in front of a table where no less than 30 varieties of homebrew in bottles, kegs and growlers are displayed and ready to be sampled. “We share ideas; for me it’s research.” 

“I originally learned to brew beer from YouTube videos,” said member Mark Minuto, 52, of Munhall. “These people blow my mind with their depth of knowledge. It’s humbling.”

They may use unfamiliar terms and get really technical about recipes and methods, but Vidunas said that it’s not that important to know how to brew beer; you just have to like it and be interested in the art of brewing. “I know the word ‘serious’ is in our name, but we’re not serious at all! This group is nothing but fun and camaraderie, and it’s a great place to learn about and appreciate good beer,” he said, adding that members are all ages, men and women (and the occasional toddler), and come from all walks of life. “We vote, we solicit ideas, and we encourage diverse people to come to our meetings, because the more, the merrier.”

The club currently has 65 dues-paying members. “We are open and inviting to everyone. Don’t feel intimidated,” said TRASH President Jack Smith, noting that the group is incorporated and has liability insurance. Annual individual memberships cost $15, and household memberships cost $20.

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