Jeff and Caitlyn Hanna are regulars at Harvard & Highland in East Liberty where the $2 Dale’s Pale Ale special makes for a fun and affordable evening out. But when Caitlin approached the bar one evening to re-up on her two-dollar beer, she was in for a surprise.
“The bartender said they were out of the Dale’s,” says Jeff, her husband, “But he asked, ‘have you had this CoStar beer yet? It’s really good!’”
As a matter of fact, she had. CoStar is brewed, fermented and kegged in the Hannas’ garage—just about 15 blocks away. That moment stands out in her husband’s mind as a sign that CoStar Brewing was going somewhere.
It’s a familiar trope in the craft beer world: a couple of lifelong friends purchase beer-making kits and start brewing in their free time. They learn the ins and outs of making beer and start to experiment.
They brew together for four years, and the friends who regularly drink those homemade brews constantly urge them to take their operation to the next level.
And then, as is the genesis of so many great ideas, one evening filled with booze and joy turns their ambition into something greater—a pact.
For Jeff Hanna and Dominic Cincotta, that evening occurred the night of Hanna’s wedding.
“At Jeff’s wedding, there was a little bit of whiskey involved, and at one point, we looked at each other and wondered what it would take to start a brewery,” Cincotta says. “What would it take to do this for real? By the end of the night, we’d agreed that we would really look into it, and that turned into a huge plan.”
That neither had even the faintest idea how to go about starting a brewery is an understatement. But Hanna and Cincotta are both classic self-starters; from fixing cars to undertaking complex home improvement projects, there’s little the two of them can’t accomplish through study, practice and sheer force of will.
They contacted the state and federal governments, researched health codes and worked closely with the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to transform Hanna’s detached two-car garage into a nano-brewery which met all legal health, safety and building requirements.
“We really wanted to do it ourselves,” Hanna says. “We didn’t have a ton of money or resources, but we wanted to figure it out.”
They invested in a half-barrel brewing system and one 40-gallon fermenter, then set about making beer, tinkering with recipes and adapting to their new equipment while going through the licensing process. In November of 2012, the state granted CoStar a license to begin commercial brewing.
Hanna and Cincotta never looked back. Though the two have full-time jobs which keep them occupied during the week, they meet in Hanna’s garage every Saturday around 6 a.m. to start brewing. A typical Saturday sees them run three batches of one recipe through the system, yielding about 40 gallons—just over one keg’s worth of beer.
Kegged into sixtels—thin barrels which hold just over five gallons each—and delivered to a handful of bars throughout the city, CoStar has become the unlikely darling of Pittsburgh’s thriving craft beer community.
“These are smart guys, they’re good brewers and they’re making as good a beer as anyone in Pittsburgh right now,” says Pete Kurzweg, owner of the Independent Brewing Company in Squirrel Hill, where the tap list consists exclusively of locally produced craft beers.
Because CoStar is only cranking out one keg a week, there’s been considerably more demand for their beers than they’ve been able to keep up with. The Independent regularly keeps a sixtel or two of CoStar’s latest product in its queue, and you’ll occasionally find CoStar’s beer at Kelly’s Bar & Lounge, Bocktown Beer and Grill, Mad Mex Shadyside, Shiloh Grill, Harvard & Highland, Harris Grill and William Penn Tavern—as eclectic a mix of bars as Pittsburgh’s capable of delivering.
But if there’s anyone who still needs convincing as to the quality of CoStar’s product, it’s Hanna. Like any good artist, he’s relentlessly self-critical.
“I still think people are just being nice,” Hanna deadpans, despite CoStar’s recent success. “Anything I make or do, I think it’s terrible. If I see it or taste it, all I can think about is how I could have done something different to make it better.”