Southwestern Pintsylvania: The Lipkes from Leaning Cask

Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke

Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke

This month, I sat down with Leaning Cask brewer Joshua Lipke and his co-owner and wife, Stefanie Lipke, in Springdale, PA. The brewery has been open for a little over a year, but Joshua has been brewing a lot longer than that. He, like many others, started with a homebrewing hobby and expanded. The turning point for the Lipkes to take the step from homebrewing to opening their own brewpub was a trip to England in the mid-2000s. While there, they tried cask ales, which are a bit different than what you normally get in the U.S. in terms of brewing and serving style.

The brewery has three authentic English hand pumps, one of which is portable. Leaning Cask is also one of the only places in the Pittsburgh area that has a beer engine, which assists in pumping the beer from casks stored in the basement. Joshua says that while they do keep their beer warmer than most, it isn’t quite to the 50°F to 55°F that it would be served at overseas. Their beer is stored in the basement but not quite at those true “cellar” temperatures you would see in England. The casks are closer to traditional temperatures at 45°F to 50°F because they are stored in the farthest corner of the cold storage.

When it comes to the beer itself, contrary to popular belief, it isn’t only English-style beers that are brewed and stored in casks. Stefanie says they put any type into casks, and they often use it as a way to try out a new beer or style of beer since the initial release is on a smaller scale. Cask beers aren’t the only types they have, either. The brewery has 12 taps, which allows a wide variation—a little bit of everything.. On most visits to Leaning Cask, you will see three to four different IPAs on tap, their own cider, a stout or porter, a wheat, English ale, and some type of Belgian. Depending on when you visit, various seasonal beers will come into play, too. Another tradition you might notice is all the brews are named with a dog theme. The Lipkes love dogs and appreciated how dog-friendly English pubs are. They wanted to bring a little of that home with them, so they not only have dog-themed beer names, but they are also very welcoming to dogs, as long as they are well-behaved. They go even a step further than allowing dogs inside the bar—they have an actual indoor bathroom for dogs only. While it is becoming more common for breweries to allow dogs, this may be the only indoor dog restroom!

Joshua, the sole brewer, brews as close to traditional English style as his equipment allows. He has a thirteen-barrel setup in the basement of the pub, as well as room to expand upstairs. He says this setup is relatively large for a new brewery; less than ten barrels are more common for somewhere that has only been open for a little over a year. I asked if he had any advice for homebrewers who may be considering expansion into commercial brewing, and Joshua said, “Be prepared for the business adventure. It’s a lot more than just making beer. That’s the simple way to put it. Do your research, know what you are getting into and, really, if you don’t have a business background, get some help or some education on it because the bottom line is you are running a business. Brewing is my downtime. That’s when I don’t have to think about the other things. Even if you are making stellar beer, you’ll be able to make good beer at the commercial stage, but it’s everything else that goes into a business.”

At this point, Leaning Cask is Joshua’s full-time job, but Stefanie still works as an elementary school counselor full time. It was refreshing to meet a woman in the industry because the craft beer and brewery field is dominated by men. Stefanie says she doesn’t feel she’s been pushed aside or ignored and feels like she gets the same amount of respect as Joshua when she introduces herself as an owner. She is a member of the Pink Boots Society, an organization for women in the beer industry and, despite the support she’s experienced, says, “I definitely think there could be more recognition, awareness, and more females involved.”

With so many breweries in Southwestern Pennsylvania, The Leaning Cask offers a British twist that helps it stand out in a booming industry and provides a style of beer that was under-represented in the area until now. They distribute to approximately 20 locations in the area but, since Springdale is not far outside the city limits, why not go to the source to try their beer?

Leaning Cask is located at 850 Pittsburgh St, Springdale, PA 15144. They are open Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. New casks are released every Thursday.

FMI: leaningcaskbrewing.com

Author’s Note: I am working on setting up interviews with other Southwest PA breweries. Is there a brewery you’d like me to cover? Reach out to me via email – PABridges.Reanna@comcast.net

Story by Reanna Roberts for Pennsylvania Bridges