Southwestern Pintsylvania with Reanna Roberts

Editor’s Note: Reanna Roberts, a longtime paranormal columnist for Pennsylvania Bridges, will be shifting the focus of her regular articles from “boos” to brews. She’ll be sitting down with the proprietors of local southwestern Pennsylvania breweries to discuss how they got into the business, their individual brewing process, where they’ve been and where they plan to go.

For the first column, I had the opportunity to sit down with Darren Gailey, one of the co-owners, brewers, and CEO of Couch Brewery located in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Larimer. We met on a Friday evening, so there was a steady stream of customers coming in; some regulars, some new visitors, like myself. When you first walk in, you feel very welcome. The bartenders were polite, nice, and prompt at greeting you, and while the decor is a bit eclectic, it is one of the coziest, most inviting bars I’ve ever visited. Instead of typical tables and chairs, a bar and bar stools, the room is filled with couches of all sizes, shapes, and styles.

Reanna: When did your love of beer start? Who got you interested in beer and brewing?

Darren: My love of beer started well over the age of 21. [My two partners and I] were older than everyone else. Beer back then wasn’t what it is today. But, you know, I was a cocktail drinker for years and years and years. Probably about 10-15 years ago I tried my first beer that wasn’t a Budweiser or a Coors. I’ve had Yuengling but it didn’t open the door to me. The first beer that did it was Franziskaner. I had an idea in my mind of what beer should taste like, and it never fit the bill. When I had a Franziskaner, that was exactly what beer was supposed to taste like and that started my foray into beer.

Our head brewer, Cary (Shaffer) [has] loved beer since the first time he tried it. He’s had a love affair with beer. He’s our head brewer and co-owner. His neighbor Mike (Pearrow, co-owner and brewmaster) [is] another partner of ours. Cary is a Renaissance Man, he’s like an amateur chef; he’s always trying to make things on his own. He [Cary] had started brewing a long time ago. About 15 years ago, they started with one of those box kits. We [decided that] we were going to go all grain. Probably about seven years ago or so, they really started getting into it, and trying out all these new recipes. I went up there one weekend and they had a version of Raspberry Duvet Stout. I said, this is fantastic! [I suggested] we could start a business, and we did.

Reanna: Why would you name a brewery “Couch Brewery”?

Darren: We are all blue collar guys. Whenever you sit at your couch at the end of the night, the work day is done, everyone is safe at home, and it’s the best time to have a beer. Your couch is in your home which is your sanctuary and we wanted it to make it seem that

way here.

Reanna: With such an influx of IPAs, and the fact that most trends change and go in waves, do you have a fear of when the bubble bursts? Do you have other ideas for new beers?

Darren: We only have two IPAs on right now, Ottoman Empire IPA and Lunar Module IPA, but you’re right. You know, that’s the style of beer that people want, and it takes less time to produce. If you make a lager, it takes longer to produce. In my mind, there’s not a big difference. Between ale and lager, I do like the ales – it’s much closer to what the original beers were. We do very well with the Belgians we make here, though. There’s so many players making the juicy IPAs, I don’t know if we want to throw our hat into the ring with that. You have to have something like that, but this beer that i am drinking here, Blonde Shag, it’s just a good, honest American blonde ale. I love it and our customers love it as well. We can look at what were selling a lot of, though. Yeah, we are selling a lot of IPAs, but right behind our IPAs [are] Blonde Shag American Ale and Atomic Clock Amber Ale, and that’s a fantastic beer that people love. Reanna: What makes your brewery special and unique?

Darren: We call [our brewery] our living room. We try to make it as much of a living room as possible; we have our couches and we rotate them in and out. We have bingo night on Wednesdays, but other than that night, I like the vibe, it’s nice and chill. We are so under the radar as far as all of the hip and cool places… but we don’t try to be hip and cool, we are just three hard working guys who built this entire thing ourselves.

We had no investors, we completely educated ourselves, we made all of those mistakes, we are completely self financed, and everything you see in this building we built with our hands. We have tons of parking.

Anybody can come here, you don’t have to be in “the scene” to come here. We’ve got something for everyone here; you don’t have to know everything about beer. We want you to come in, have fun and bring your friends, meet new friends and just relax and enjoy.

We don’t pigeonhole ourselves on one kind of beer. We make a variety of beer and we do it really, really well. We like to have fun with beer. We took our stout and infused it with coconut and chocolate and made a really really wonderful beer. When we do experimentals, we only do one keg and see how it goes. There’s always something new coming, and we are one of the few [breweries] that have nitro lines.

Reanna: Do you feel like you are constantly under pressure to make what everyone wants and not able to really experiment?

Darren: Beer is a product of the earth and I want it to taste as much like Mother Earth as possible

. This is just my opinion, and it doesn’t matter, but the more hops you add in, you start to cover up the earth tones that make it so nice. Hops are integral to beer, you can’t have beer without hops and we always strive for balance. Nothing we have is going to smack you in the mouth. We have a basil ale and it’s a very wonderful, beautiful mix. On the opposite end, we infused our amber ale with habanero (Atomic Meltdown). It’s super bright, you get the wonderful very, very fruity habanero smell, and the taste is bright and fruity and a lot of heat. But then, it immediately dissipates once you drink it, it doesn’t linger and we loved it. When we released it, there were people that sat at our bar for like six hours sipping it. Those are the interesting, cool things that we like to do.

Reanna: Darren and I also discussed the charitable activities the brewery is involved with. If you’re a charity and need a facility to hold an event, Couch Brewery can help.

Couch Brewery is located at 1351 Washington Blvd, Pittsburgh PA 15206. Their hours are Wednesdays: 4-10 p.m. (Happy Hour 5-7 p.m.), Thursdays: 4-10 p.m. (Happy Hour 5-7 p.m.), Fridays: 4 p.m.-Midnight (Happy Hour 5-7 p.m.), Saturdays: 12 Noon-Midnight, and Sundays: 12 Noon-5 p.m.