Beer merger in the offing?

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As if it weren’t enough that Pennsylvania’s second-biggest city oozed into town and screwed up our hospitals and banks, now the interlopers from Pittsburgh are messing with our beer.

Pittsburgh Brewing Co., maker of Iron City beer, is in negotiations to take over Philadelphia’s tiny, publicly held Independence Brewing.

Both sides have described the merger talks as preliminary.

Nonetheless, the specter of a Steel City industrial lager brewer striding into town and glomming onto one of the Quaker City’s respected craft brewers should take the fizz out your suds.

Consider that, in recent years, the corporate Borgs from the west have:

Assimilated Philadelphia’s banking system, eliminating venerable names like Girard and PSFS while flummoxing us with outrageous MAC fees.

Infected a formerly healthy portion of our hospital industry, which then killed itself, threatening thousands with unemployment.

Still, Pittsburgh’s threat to our beer may be more severe.

The Philadelphia region has the most vital, imaginative beer scene in the east.

It is home to a score of craft brewers – micros and brewpubs – who are turning out world-class beers for a widening consumer market of connoisseurs.

Most of these brewers, including Stoudt’s, Yards, Red Bell and Independence, were founded largely as a reaction against the bland lagers that have dominated the American market since World War II.

Pittsburgh, by contrast, is Iron City.

Its beer is notable mostly for its snap-top cans emblazoned with photos of the Steelers. Taste is not a word one would associate with Pittsburgh Brewing, whose most infamous brew – Olde Frothingslosh – is known as “the Pale, Stale Ale with the Foam at the Bottom.”

What was Bob Connor, the president of Independence Brewing, thinking when he agreed to merge with the burghers?

“Well, I wasn’t even thinking about Pittsburgh,” Connor replied.

“What I was thinking was that any deal would have to be something that benefits both parties.”

For Independence, the deal means access to Pittsburgh’s distribution and buying power, Connor said. Micros’ costs are higher than those of regional brewers, who have the wherewithal to buy cheaper bulk materials.

For Pittsburgh, the merger is a chance to shed a shaky reputation.

The company is controlled by Joseph Piccirilli, a trash hauler who bought the company in 1995 after its former owner, Michael Carlow, was convicted in a $31 million check-kiting scheme.

Last year, Pittsburgh suffered through a spate of union problems when it attempted to fire 135 striking brewery workers. The action prompted many in Pittsburgh to boycott their beloved Iron City.


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