At Creekside Beer, we want to recognize and champion the entrepreneurial spirit, the creativity, the innovation, the drive, and the community focus that makes Pittsburgh-based craft breweries such a gift to Western PA. One such brewery that exemplifies all of these attributes is Inner Groove Brewing, based in Verona, PA.
Creekside Beer recently visited with the owners there, and had a wonderful time hearing their story, and sampling some of their finest.
The Inner Groove History
Inner Groove Brewing is the creation of four friends – Jennifer and Kevin Walzer, and Kelly and Tim Melle - who shared a passion for home brewing and who had been brewing for more than twenty years. As Jennifer tells it, opening a brewery was just a fun conversation that would come up frequently while sharing beers. After one of these many conversations, Jen and Kelly met and quickly put together a business plan for how to make that happen. The guys were shocked that they got it together that quickly, but one thing led to another, and soon the wheels were in motion for the formation of Inner Groove Brewing.
They began by taking some of their home-brew recipes and doing tasting events around town to get feedback, then made the necessary adjustments. They then scaled their home brew recipes to much larger production levels, tweaking the recipes as needed. Jennifer admits that upsizing the production was easier to do with some beers than with others, but they were nonetheless successful at it.
Inner Groove opened its doors two years later in June of 2019, taking its name from the run-off groove that ends a vinyl record, and which some recording artists used to place hidden message for their fans. For a more detailed explanation of this, check out the description on the brewery’s website.
The Brewery and Pub
The brewery currently makes all of their products using a seven-barrel system, although they designed the space with growth in mind, and will be adding a fifteen-barrel fermenter in the near future to increase capacity.
They produce the majority of their products for draft, and only can ten to twenty cases each week. This is partially due to the high demand for draft products and the popularity of their brewpub, but also partly because they have to hand roll, label, and seal all of their cans now, since they do not have a canning line just yet. And as onerous as that sounds, Jennifer told us that they have been open longer during the COVID pandemic than they were before it, and have been dealing with the stresses of operating during the lockdowns, the reduced capacity orders, the social distancing, and the myriad of regulations that had to be followed. Even with that consideration though, they are all delighted at how far they’ve come already, and they are where they want to be – and able to do “the fun stuff” now.
And “fun stuff” there is at Inner Groove. We had a great time during several visits to their 4,000 square foot facility. Jennifer gave us a tour of the brewery, where her husband Kevin showed us how everything flowed through the brewery itself, and how and where they had planned for growth when they first built out. We saw their outdoor patio in the rear of the building that they are looking to renovate at some point in the near future; the cozy café tables in the front that were conveniently positioned by the food trucks that are a regular fixture; and the abundance of seating inside that allows for plenty of social distancing right now, and plenty of pop-culture thematics that add to the atmosphere. True to their name, they were playing some vintage vinyl from their in-house collection on the turntable during our visit, and Jennifer commented that pre-COVID, customers could even bring their own vinyl in for a spin (with a limit of one side of the album only). She has heard a little of everything from their customers’ records – from polkas to rap to punk to bluegrass, and more. Hopefully, “Bring Your Own Vinyl Night” will return to Inner Groove soon.
Inner Groove Brewing is one the leaders in local involvement and community focus within the Pittsburgh craft brewery scene. For example:
Customers can visit Inner Groove for the month of May to help raise money for Verona’s 150th anniversary celebration. For every glass of My Verona Golden Ale purchased, Inner Groove will donate $1 to the community to help raise funds for the event.
Inner Groove Brewing is helping coordinate Verona’s first “Botany & Booze” event that will be held May 22 and May 23 as a fundraiser for one of Verona’s community groups, The Verona Garden Club. It will be a pop up brewery weekend for neighboring breweries with live music, food trucks, plant sales, and craft vendors.
Jennifer Walzer is on the board of the Pittsburgh Brewers Guild, and is responsible for their social media presence.
They are participating in the revamped Three Rivers Beer Week on October 6-10, 2021, hosted by the Guild as a week-long, individual brewer-focused festival, with a combination of in-person and virtual events, and something for everyone.
They will also be participating in this year’s Barrel and Flow Fest in Southside Works on September 10-12.
Finally, and certainly not least, Jennifer Walzer and Kelly Melle are intimately involved in the local Pink Boots Society, whose mission it is to assist, inspire, and encourage women beer professionals through education and collaborative activities. In their latest collaboration for Tiffany Twisted, they hosted a “women’s brew day”, where they, along with Inner Groove’s female bartenders and performed all of the activities from recipe creation through picking the hops through doing all of the brew day heavy lifting, and the canning itself. As Jennifer puts it, this product had a woman’s touch from start to finish, and resulted in a stellar product that quickly sold out in the tap room. Hopefully, the “women’s brew day” will return to normal next year with additional local Pink Boots Society members.
Operating during the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Inner Groove to stretch their creative muscles, and really, really think outside the box.
They had hosted a highly successful “Pale-ale-a-palooza” event on Black Friday in 2019, with a complete IPA takeover at their brewpub, including some great regional breweries like Evergrain and Levante, but had to rethink this and had to make it a ticketed event in 2020 in order to comply with the COVID restrictions and limitations in place at that time.
They recently wrapped up their first-ever "Groovie Brews” fruit-your-own-sour event in their tap room, featuring their kettle sour, and a menu of fruits that customers could mix and match to create their own signature sour.
They are currently planning an anniversary party for June 5. This might include a street dance party, DJs, and a whole lot more. Keep your eyes open for this one – it should be spectacular!
They currently have twelve styles on tap in the pub, selected so that they have something for everyone – IPAs, Sours, Ales, Lagers, Stouts, and more. Kelly, who manages the taproom, considers their staff to be one of their strongest assets - who are particularly adept at making customers feel welcome and at ease. They can speak in depth about beer and the various styles without intimidating customers, or making them feel uncomfortable. She said she routinely gets compliments from customers on how friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable the staff is, and it’s not at all uncommon for a customer who has never been to a brewery before (to any brewery) to start out with a straightforward ale like My Verona (a “Dad beer” as Jennifer puts it), and gradually transition to something out of their comfort zone, like IPAs and sours – and grow to like them!
In fact, this experimentation by customers partially led to their “Happy Together” series, which is a combination of two beers that can be enjoyed individually or mixed together to create a third beer. This started happening organically in their tap room, with customers asking to mix different products in the same glass. Some examples of this series are Happy Twogether PB&J Porter (a peanut butter porter and a grape jelly porter), and Happy Twogether Samoa (a chocolate coconut brown ale and a caramel cookie brown ale).
We sampled the Samoa, which was deep, rich, and incredibly decadent, and the Caramel Cookie, which had just enough caramel to hit the spot without being overly sweet, but was equally delicious. Both opened up nicely given a little time, although we didn’t have enough self-control to let them sit for long and open up. We also sampled their Five Foot Bunch Hefeweizen, a great summer beer with some well-done flavors of clove and banana, at 5.6 ABV (currently 4.05/5.0 on Untapped), their Capture Color NE IPA made with Citra and Mosaic hops, at 7.5% ABV (4.07/5.0 on Untappd), their Bouncin’ Around Lemon Meringue Sour, a wonderfully well-fruited kettle sour with loads of lemon and Madagascar vanilla,at 5.3% ABV and currently 4.13/5.0 on Untappd, and their Tin Roof Irish Ale at 5.4% ABV (3.9/5.0 on Untappd).
Personally, I loved the Capture Color – it was one of the smoothest, juiciest, most flavorful, and honestly best-looking IPAs I’ve ever seen – and it was absolutely stunning in appearance.
And the taste? Off the charts!
At Creekside Beer, we crave high-quality in our beer, and Inner Groove does not disappoint. With serving sizes of 5 ounces, 12 ounces, and 16 ounces in the taproom, you’re able to taste a little of everything while making a visit without overdoing it.
We encourage everyone to check out what’s currently on tap in the brewpub. And make sure to coordinate your visit with their food truck calendar so that you can treat yourself to some outstanding food from Pittsburgh’s best food trucks, along with some exceptional drafts.
Excellent brews, great food, a welcoming staff, and solid vinyl on the turntable – it doesn’t get much better than that!