- Associated Press - Saturday, July 23, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Scott Smith is turning 50 this year.

That might come as a surprise to anyone who’s met the owner and founder of East End Brewing Co. in Larimer, as he looks a good 10 years younger.

But perhaps the milestone age is befitting Smith, the de facto Godfather of the Pittsburgh craft-beer scene, the guy who was at the forefront of the city’s most recent beer revolution. Today, new breweries open on a nearly weekly basis. But when Smith entered the scene in late 2004, there wasn’t much going on.

“Penn (Brewery) was doing their thing, but they were really limited to German styles,” Smith recalls. “And Church (Brew Works) was primarily focused on being a restaurant - they have a big dining room to fill, so to say they were focused on being on a restaurant is not a trivial thing to focus on. … But the styles they were doing weren’t what I was seeing in Chicago or out West. I didn’t see anyone making hoppy ales or a really robust stout.”

Twelve years later, Smith runs one of the city’s most identifiable breweries. And last month, he opened a new tap room on 19th Street in the Strip District.

I met Smith in the new space - on a day it was closed, so we got to watch disappointed would-be patrons peer longingly through the glass front at the brick and wood interior - to talk about how East End came to be, the new tap room and the future.

An engineer by trade, Smith was working for Heinz Co. in 2004 after a long stint with Clorox Co., which brought him to cities such as Chicago (where he met his wife, Julie), San Francisco and Berkeley in California and Lynchburg, Virginia.

Back in his native Pittsburgh, Smith needed a change. His wife told him: Maybe you should try that brewery thing you’re always talking about.

So he went for it.

“The day we opened, there was no opening, no event,” he says. “I just started going door to door with a keg saying, ‘Do you want to put our beer on tap?’ Cold calling bars, filling a meter up with quarters and walking up Carson Street with a small keg to see who was willing.”

He opened his brewery in Homewood, where the rent was low, before the move to Larimer. He found a bar - Kelly’s Bar & Lounge in East Liberty - willing to give his signature beer, Big Hop IPA, a shot. One winter night in 2004, he brought a keg, plus samples of a his homebrewed, extract version of Black Strap Stout, to Kelly’s and told everyone he knew to stop by.

“And then there was this freak December snow storm,” Smith says. “We set up in a corner, and waited, thinking, ‘We’re going to drink this ourselves. Nobody is going to come.’ But, in fact, we packed the house. We actually had to go back to the brewery and get a second keg - and in some pretty serious snow. I still remember backing up the pickup and having to sweep the snow off the loading dock, then puttering back at five miles per hour to Kelly’s.”

Word spread about this locally brewed hoppy ale. And with his increased popularity, Smith began doing things he said he never would.

“It was, ‘I’m never going to have the public come in; that’s not what we’re designed for.’ That wall crumbed away,” he says. “Then it was, ‘We’re going to sell growlers, but we’re never going to be a place where you can drink a pint.’ Now we have a 3,000-square-foot tap room at the brewery designed exactly for that purpose.”

Plus, the new tap room.

“We had our soft opening, and we poured between 400 and 500 pints in two-and-a-half, three hours,” Smith says. “So the draft system works. We established that.”

He still maintains he will never open a restaurant.

Because the focus should be on beer.

“If you’re not making an actual investment in making your beer better every year,” he says, “you’re missing the boat, in my view.”

As for the future, Smith says everyone needs an exit plan at some point.

He’s just not there yet.

“A lot of people have been exiting the industry lately: Fritz Maytag (the former owner of Anchor Brewing Co. in San Francisco), Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada - not that I’m anywhere near the caliber of those guys or what they’ve brought to the industry,” he says. “But I’m in it for the long haul. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m not expecting a call from InBev anytime soon to cash out.

“I mean, what the hell would I do with the rest of my life? There’s that thing people say: ‘Hey if you hit the lottery what you do?’ Well, I’d probably quit my job and open a brewery.

“Oh wait. I’m doing that.”

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Online: https://bit.ly/2au9BtF

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com

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