Gather ‘round: Pitchers aren’t just for cheap beer anymore

Before I sipped from snifters, tulips and Teku glasses, there was the humble pitcher.

It served me well early in my beer-drinking days, holding everything from Guinness to Yuengling Lager. I remember vividly my first taste of Highland Gaelic Ale, served from a pitcher in an Asheville billiards bar about 12 years ago. It’s so vivid a memory because, quite frankly, I hated it.

I hadn’t developed a taste for better beer at the time. But I look back on that pitcher and so many others fondly because it was less about the beer and more about the people I shared it with. Whether in dive bars, bowling alleys or chain restaurants, there was the pitcher and around it were good friends. Beer took a backseat to conversation.

That changed when I started drinking craft beer. With so many new styles and thousands of breweries, the name of the game was variety and individualism. There was no use for a pitcher when my friends and I were often after something new or different.

Sycamore Brewing Pitcher

But now the pitcher, once used primarily to transport liters of light lager, is poised for some heavier lifting. Just don’t call it a comeback — Sycamore Brewing has had them ever since they opened more than two years ago. Emblazoned on a mural in the South End brewery’s beer garden are the words: “Take a pitcher, it’ll last longer.”

“We always wanted Sycamore Brewing to be a social place where beers are shared between friends and neighbors,” said Justin Brigham, who opened the brewery with his wife, Sarah, in November 2014. “The pitcher is the perfect format for sharing.”

When the brewery is busy, it can be easier and quicker for a group to order a single pitcher instead of several individual pints. The trade-off, of course, is that everyone has to drink the same beer. Easy drinking beers with a lower ABV, like the Sun Grown Lager and Southern Girl Blonde, are popular pitcher choices, according to Brigham.

Pitcher prices at Sycamore Brewing vary depending on the beer, but the brewery often announces half-price pitcher specials and has Thirteen Thursdays, where certain styles are available for $13 a pitcher.

Lenny Boy Pitcher

Lenny Boy Brewing left its home near Sycamore for a new brewery and taproom at 3000 S. Tryon St. last fall, and with this much larger space have come more visitors. The brewery has recently started offering pitchers on the weekends. It makes it easier for patrons to bring beers from the bar to the new patio, and relieves the bar staff as well. The brewery pours its flagship beers in pitchers for $18 each.

Pitchers are also popular on weekends at Blue Blaze Brewing — so much so that they are sometimes all in use. They’re also popular on Thursdays, when the brewery welcomes groups in to play trivia. Beers most commonly served in the pitcher format include Yellow Blazer Kölsch, Pink Blazer Hefeweizen, Blue Blaze Altbier and Amber Blaze Amber Ale. Pitchers run between $13 and $16, which basically gets you four pints for the price of three.

Legion Brewing Pitcher

At Legion Brewing, founder Phil Buchy says the length of the bar means it’s rare for lines to get more than two deep. As such pitchers aren’t as in demand, however the brewery does bring them out during big events like Carolina Panthers games and March Madness. While it’s not something they advertise, pitchers fit right in with the brewery’s “Friends + Beer” tagline.

“We’re as much about the people over here as we are the beer,” said Buchy. “It’s a community gathering ritual, a custom. I’m definitely pro-pitcher, if the beer is respected correctly.”

Photos: Sycamore Brewing, Lenny Boy Brewing, Legion Brewing