The Beerman

Posted on Jul 28 , 2017 in Cheers

Tony “The Beerman” Knipling boosted our craft, one beer and one conversation at a time

If you have ever hoisted a better beer in Western Pennsylvania you have a few hidden heroes to thank, and today I will focus on just one of them: Tony “The Beerman” Knipling.

While our region’s beer manufacturing roots span over a century, in recent years one man stands out as the Forrest Gump of the craft beer industry in Pittsburgh and throughout our region. I cannot think of one moment in recent times that Tony Knipling was not a part of shaping and advocating for this thriving industry, and it was definitely not thriving when he came into it. In the mid nineties we saw the mini boom and closure of many microbrewery start ups, locally and nationally. Larger regional breweries were also struggling. There were some that would transform, survive and even thrive, and in no small way, was Tony going to let them fail in our eyes if he could help it.

Tony wasn’t a marketing guru, nor was he a polished, Type-A salesman. He didn’t send electronic communications very often, and until fairly recently he didn’t own a smart phone. He did travel with a yellow legal pad, some pamphlets, various posters, a pencil and a Sharpie. He did share a lot of samples and great stories about the folks behind the beverages on all levels. He could tell you in one moment about some guy named Dale brewing in the basement of a 2000 square foot pub in Lyons, Colorado, and about a breweriana collector named Jerry who had to buy an extra house to hold his collection in Deutschtown. He could invite you to a homebrew competition in some far off campground, or tell you about plans for a local brewfest, well before festivals happened every weekend. He would be instrumental in my personal journey into craft. He handed me my first better beer at Amel’s, and I still have a few that we purchased together to cellar far before Bocktown was ever conceived. He eventually introduced me to Dale from Lyons, Colorado, and countless scores of great people in the craft beer industry, from brewers to owners, to his friends and coworkers. He wasn’t selling beer in the most efficient way, but in that way that made you a disciple of the brewers themselves, and of the liquid itself. That happened one beer and one conversation at a time. He made us think about the beer that we were drinking and that was the difference.

It is hard to write these words, not because there is nothing to say, but because there is so very much to say. It is hard to write this, because it is damned near impossible to be succinct about it, as Tony never was succinct, well unless he had something bad to say. He kept those conversations short, and with a quick c’est la vie he would move on. He was a walking encyclopedia of the history about beer itself. He held no particular brewery or style above the others, and he made even the most ardent beer geek or beer purist take a chance on more extreme beers, and yes, even pumpkin beers. He had a way to get a person who doesn’t like beer at all, to find a palatable brew as well.  I think Tony would have written an amazing book about beer, about the business of beer, and about the community of beer. He spoke to the masses in recent years at Craft Beer School with many an honored guest, and he used a radio show, “In the Beer Garden,” as well to tell the story of better beer. I used to think to myself, “I hear Tony talk all the time for free, why would I pay to hear him talk?” Today, I would pay anything to hear him again. I still have questions, and I know he would have very honest, long-winded answers served up with some dry wit, and his smiling eyes peeking above his readers. I will miss him and think of him often. I do hope that he works on craft beer distribution in heaven, not just so there is a diverse selection for when a few of us do arrive, but so he will have the work to do that he loves for eternity.

 

Rest in peace, my friend. — Chris Dilla

Visitation will be Sunday. Remembrance by Bob Batz.