Aiming to launch early next year in the North Hills is Necromancer Brewing Co. – an effort that brings together Top Hat, a Millvale-based marketing firm, and head brewer Lauren Hughes, formerly of Penn Brewery.
Necessitated by the pandemic, Necromancer plans to launch with cans available for carryout or delivery and open a taproom later.
To learn more about Necromancer, we spoke with Lauren about her upcoming role (as of publication, she will be the Pittsburgh area’s only female head brewer), the inspiration behind Necromancer – or, as they call it, resurrecting traditional beer styles – and what it’s been like to navigate the challenges of COVID-19 while opening a new brewery.
Q&A with Lauren Hughes, Head Brewer at Necromancer
Aadam Soorma: Tell us how the idea for Necromancer came to be?
Lauren Hughes: The partners (Ben and Aaron) own Top Hat — a design and marketing agency with offices in Pittsburgh and St. Pete, Florida. They do a lot of work within the beer scene and Ben always wanted to one day go on to open a brewery. He didn’t want to do so though until there was a clear vision and differentiator.
While studying for his Certified Cicerone® exam, he fell down this rabbit hole of researching extinct beers and wondered what it would be like to build a concept around them.
From there, the brand and vision was set. The story, name and identity came quickly, but he was still looking to find the right head brewer until Andrew from Dancing Gnome introduced us. We hit it off and that’s when things really started getting serious and what brought us to right now.
AS: Is there a story behind the name Necromancer?
LH: What’s unique about American craft is that it’s built on innovation and resurrection. People know about the innovation part, but often don’t know the resurrection side of the story.
Like IPAs, for example. Most people know that IPAs were hopped up to survive the journey from Britain to India. But what they don’t know is that IPAs were basically extinct due to taxation laws in Britain until American craft brewers resurrected the style in the 70s and 80s.
A lot of other styles follow that same pattern. American craft brewers brought Porters, Russian Imperial Stouts and Goses (to name a few) back from the dead.
Beer drinkers have come to expect trendy experiments and things they’re familiar with. So we’re doing those. But, we really intend to make our name resurrecting recipes that you don’t typically see or that no one has tasted in hundreds of years.
So what better name than Necromancer? A folkloric character that resurrects dead things.
AS: We are six-plus months into a pandemic and we’ve seen many local breweries making adjustments – including closing their taprooms and pivoting their restaurants for takeout. What has it been like to open a new brewery in a pandemic?
LH: It had to be fundamentally different than the typical brewery story, which is opening a taproom first and packaging product eventually. We’re flipping that model around and starting with cans first and a taproom eventually. Hopefully sooner than later.
We will have cans available for pickup at the production facility as well as beer delivery within a 25-mile radius. In our opinion, it’s the best option and really made sense to keep everyone safe and healthy and allow folks to still enjoy the beer.
In terms of just opening a brewery in general — there’s a lot of challenges and details to consider. We’re thankful that everyone has been super helpful and supportive within the brewing community in Pittsburgh. It’s great to have colleagues who are supportive and collaborative even when times are uncertain.
AS: Last year, you were a guest on our podcast and we talked about women in the brewing industry and the Pittsburgh Chapter of Pink Boots. Is it correct to say you are the first female head brewer in Pittsburgh?
LH: I believe the first female head brewer in Pittsburgh was Meg Seasteadt, who is currently the Production Manager at North Country Brewing Co. I had the pleasure of working with her during my time at Rock Bottom. I believe I am the second-ever female head brewer in Pittsburgh and the only female head brewer at the moment. Caiti Sullivan at Dancing Gnome is another female brewer in Pittsburgh.
AS: Any updates from the Pittsburgh Pink Boots Chapter? We know many of the regular events have been canceled, are there any collaboration beers we should look out for this fall?
LH: We haven’t planned any collaborations as of yet, but we are tossing around some ideas. We are getting geared up for the National Honey Board 2020 Virtual Honey Beer Summit taking place on Oct. 27 and 29. The event will cover the story of honey from the bee to your brewery, and how honey can be used on the hot side, cold side and in bottle conditioning and barrel-aging. They will also review recent research brewery projects about honey’s use in sour beers and barrel-aged beers.
[ICYMI Check out our video on the Pittsburgh Pink Boots Chapter Collaboration Brew day last year]
AS: What can you share about the recipes and some of the beers you plan to brew?
LH: We are planning on having three flagship beers available year-round — a New England IPA, a Belgian Wit and a Grisette.
To compliment those, I’ve outlined an ambitious beer calendar that includes Schwartzbier, a Kentucky Common, classic Gose, Porter and a Helles — just to name a few. I’m really stoked to get the chance to brew some familiar and trendy beers and some beers that people might not have heard of or tried.
AS: What’s your timeline look like? When will we be able to try a beer from Necromancer?
LH: We are hoping to start producing by the end of 2020 – early 2021, but you know how things can go.
AS: Can you tell us anything about the location for Necromancer?
LH: The location will be in the North Hills — we are hoping to release an exact location soon!
AS: While we are waiting for Necromancer beers, what beers do you recommend? What beers are you drinking right now?
LH: I’ve had so many great beers over the past few months. Pittsburgh has such a great brewing scene and folks are churning out some great beers. Cinderlands’ Danville Train is a great Festbier, as is Penn Brewery’s Oktoberfest (I might be a little biased on that one since I was one of the brewers who brewed it).
I’m really happy with how that came out this year. I’m digging Dancing Gnome’s Cabin Color, Painter Pigment and their Kolsch was spot on. Mindful Brewing’s Helles Lager makes me jealous — it’s so good.
You can follow Necromancer Brewing Co. for updates including their timeframe for launch and what beers they plan to debut with early next year.