Iron City Brewing Moving Operations to Latrobe

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The iconic Iron City beer, made at Pittsburgh's last commercial brewery, is leaving Lawrenceville for Latrobe in a move the owners say must happen in order for the beer maker to survive.

"We would not be viable in this plant much longer. It's a business decision we had to make," Iron City Brewing Co. President Timothy Hickman said Thursday.

Under a five-year deal reached Wednesday night, City Brewing Co. will begin brewing Iron City products -- Iron City, IC Light and Augustiner -- at its Latrobe brewery in July. Iron City will brew the last batch of beer in Lawrenceville beginning the week of June 22.

"We are looking to protect the integrity of our Pittsburgh brands by moving into a high-production facility," Hickman said.

Iron City Brewing, previously Pittsburgh Brewing Co., is the city's last commercial brewer. The Pittsburgh area was home to about 25 breweries in the late 1800s until consolidation, Prohibition and industry trends put brewers out of business. Iron City's corporate headquarters will remain in Lawrenceville.

"We're just moving 40 miles down the road," Hickman said.

He said George Park, chief executive of LaCrosse, Wis.-based City Brewing, approached him in March to discuss a partnership. Iron City then announced it would move production of canned beer to a Rochester, N.Y., brewery because of problems with the canning line in Lawrenceville. Park could not be reached for comment.

Brewing volumes are too low and costs too high at Lawrenceville to be profitable, Hickman said. The company must produce and sell about 250,000 barrels of beer a year, far more than the current 170,000 barrels.

Converting the 148-year-old Pittsburgh brewery into a modern facility would cost $12 million to $15 million, including about $2 million for a canning line, he said. The brewery needs electrical wiring and an air handling system, among other major improvements.

"On our volume, it would not make sense to build a new, modern brewery on this property," Hickman said.

What Iron City loses by breaking its historic connection with Pittsburgh, it will gain in production capabilities in Latrobe, which was home to Rolling Rock beer until 2006. That's when InBev USA sold the Rolling Rock brand to St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Co., which is brewing the beer in New Jersey.

The Latrobe brewery can produce 25,000 cases of 12-ounce bottles in an eight-hour shift, compared to just 10,000 cases in Lawrenceville, Hickman said. …