Arboretum Trail Brewing Co.'s Me in the Mirror Cream Ale. Photo by Kristy Locklin.

Ben Steffen and Dan Schultz can see the forest for the trees.

For years, the friends have wanted to make and sell beer, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to open a 100-seat taproom during a pandemic. So, they improvised.

Arboretum Trail Brewing Co. is a fully licensed, production-only brewery based out of Steffen’s home near the Pleasant Hills Arboretum, a 16-acre green space with a hiking trail through old-growth forest.

Photo courtesy of Arboretum Trail Brewing Co.

Inside the tiny garage, they’ve managed to fit a 3.5-barrel brewing system with custom-made fermenting tanks. But, how does a nano-brewery compete with businesses that are double and triple its size?

“We are probably the only guys producing beer out of a house garage with a license,” Steffen says. “We have 306 square feet and we can sell to any bar and distributor just like other breweries with 100 times the space.”

By next week, they’ll be selling four different beers by the keg and case: a honey brown ale, a pale ale, an IPA and a double IPA.

Steffen and Schultz will also offer tasting events. Upcoming stops include Creekside Beer in Sewickley on May 14 and Duffy’s Beer & Much More in Pleasant Hills on May 15. Eventually, the pair would like to open their own taproom or storefront.

It’s taken them about 18 months to transform their hobby into a business. Steffen, who remembers watching his uncle brew at home in the early-1990s, was never a fan of mass-produced beers.

While working as an assistant manager at Liberty Beer in Bloomfield — which will soon carry the Arboretum brand — he got to taste craft brews from around the country. It inspired him to start making his own using a 10-gallon kettle. That’s when Schultz hopped on board.

Arboretum will produce something to suit every palate, including lagers and pilsners, two styles that are having a resurgence due to their adaptability. They provide a solid base upon which creative brewers can make unique libations with endless possibilities.

Photo by Kristy Locklin.

They’d also like to form partnerships with local businesses (Sonny Rose Ranch in Jefferson Hills provided the wildflower honey for their brown ale) and with the arboretum, a living museum founded by A.W. Robertson in 1950 that continues to serve as their inspiration.

While getting a cup of coffee one morning, Ben looked out his window and saw the sunlight peeking through the trees. The visual inspired the name of Arboretum Trail’s first beer, a blonde ale called Tree Top Sunrise.

Naming the brewery after such a beautiful place was only natural.

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.