The WBU is where Spring Hill comes together

The owner of Spring Hill Brewing gives us a tour of the historic (and haunted) Workingmen’s Beneficial Union building

by David Bernabo
August 15, 2020

COVID-19 Update (8/15/2020): Spring Hill Brewing is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Food must be purchased to drink on site. There is space for picnics on the lawn. Check the Spring Hill Brewing website for updates.

Tucked into the trickling springs and winding streets of Spring Hill is the former Workingmen’s Beneficial Union, a German Cultural and Union organization.

The WBU: A Community Hub

Built in 1880, the building was a hub of community activity, sporting a bowling alley and, later, a ballroom. Neighbors got married here. They bought mortgages and insurance. For over 100 years, generations of families grew up together. Then, on New Year’s Eve 1999, one last party was thrown, and the place was shuttered.

In 2015, Bill and Natasha Brittain acquired the property and began the long process of bringing the site back to its former glory (and beyond!) They cleared away the cigarette butts and worked through massive water damage. They replaced the foundation and fixed the roof. Creepy rooms covered in dust and old photographs were renovated.

A Present-Day Revitalization of the WBU

In 2018, the WBU was once again open for business. The site is now home to Spring Hill Brewing and several other businesses doing what brewmaster Greg Kamerdze calls, “their small Pittsburgh thing.”

The brewery, known for its in-house production of unique farmhouse ales, is the most forward-facing entity in the complex. On nights when the world is not on coronavirus lockdown, the brewery’s taproom is cheerful and comfortable. Patrons knock back a few of Kamerdze’s complex and original beers, possibly commenting on toffee and chocolate notes or pink citrus and honey tastes or, maybe, green tea.

“The small scale allows me a lot of room for creativity in brewing a beer,” says Kamerdze. “Today, I’m brewing two different kinds of beer. For one, I baked a special malt loaf cookie bread to supplement into the mash. I also have a reduction of cranberries and ginger.”

What Else is Happening at the WBU?

If you find yourself drinking a mead, note that the honey comes from the local BeeBoy Honey, one of the site’s partners. BeeBoy Honey stashes bees all over town, like at the WBU, and makes their honey available to consumers at coffee shops Espresso A Mano in Lawrenceville and 4121 Main in Bloomfield, in addition to Spring Hill Brewing.

And for the ethical drinker who is counting the waste product produced with each glass they gulp, please note that the organic spent grain from the brewing process goes directly to Shadyside Worms to be turned into rich, healthy soil and compost. Owner Travis Leivo’s operation is based at the Shadyside Nursery (also owned by Bill Brittain) with a processing site in Verona. Leivo manages the subscription-based Curbside Compost Exchange Program, which allows you to trade your food scraps and disposable waste for worm castings, i.e. natural fertilizer for use in your garden.

While the beers aren’t terribly strong–between 5 and 6% ABV–the Asado Wagon food truck, run by Gaucho, is on hand to dish out Argentinian BBQ and smoked meats.

True to its origins, the new WBU is a community space, complete with multiple event spaces that are available for rent. You can’t buy insurance or refinance your mortgage, but weddings, birthday parties and baby showers are all fair game.

 

The WBU Event Venue
Getting there
1958 Varley St, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, USA

 

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David Bernabo is a writer, filmmaker, musician, dancer, and visual artist, performing with the bands Host Skull, Watererer, and How Things Are Made; devising dances with his variable dance company, MODULES; and often collaborating with Maree ReMalia | merrygogo. He curates and produces work for the Ongoing Box imprint and co-curates the Lightlab Performance Series with slowdanger.

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