A Perfect Pairing
CMU alumni Asa Foster and Matt Katase are growing their popular craft brewery and putting down roots in a historic Pittsburgh community
By Amanda S.F. Hartle
As Carnegie Mellon undergrads, Brew Gentlemen founders Asa Foster (A 2012) and Matt Katase (S 2012) tested their first craft beer recipes in Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s Buggy garage and drafted their initial business plan for a production brewery as part of an entrepreneurship course project.
What a difference eight years makes.
With a newly opened facility that increases their brewery’s production tenfold, a breezy outdoor event space, a popular yoga and beer series, the first-ever cans of their signature brews and a commitment to investing in a Pittsburgh-area community they love, Asa and Matt are proving that beer — along with businesses and friendships — can age well.
“When we got to CMU, we read ‘The Last Lecture’ with its message that brick walls are there to be broken through,” Matt says. “That’s how we’ve gone through the first few years of our business. You just have to keep going and learning. There’s always a creative solution to things.”
Living in Morewood E-Tower as first-year students, Asa and Matt started a friendship that saw them pledge the same fraternity, partner up for class projects and, eventually, led them to a life-altering conversation.
Milling, Mashing and Fermenting
Living in Morewood E-Tower as first-year students, Asa and Matt started a friendship that saw them pledge the same fraternity, partner up for class projects and, eventually, led them to a life-altering conversation their junior year during a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Boston.
Both had started to think about what would come after graduation and neither was particularly enthused about a traditional math or art career.
“I pitched Asa the idea of starting a brewery. I’ve always loved the beverage industry because it’s so community- and people-focused,” Matt recalls. “The next day, we toured The Boston Beer Company and decided to do it. Beer just seemed like the perfect medium to combine our skill sets and be part of an industry that excited us.”
Once they returned to campus, they switched their majors to a self-defined track focusing on entrepreneurship coursework during which they learned how to build and grow a successful business.
Along the way, faculty members including Mellon College of Science Professor Eric Grotzinger, entrepreneurship program advisor Babs Carryer (HNZ 1995) and STUDIO Director Golan Levin lent support, guidance and, sometimes, harsh truths.
“They held us accountable,” Matt says. “Anytime we tried to get something by them, they saw right through us. They knew that we knew nothing about how the beer industry worked, so they encouraged us to get out there, get on a distribution truck and figure it out.”
“When we got to CMU, we read ‘The Last Lecture’ with its message that brick walls are there to be broken through. That’s how we’ve gone through the first few years of our business. You just have to keep going and learning. There’s always a creative solution to things.”
Matt Katase (S 2012), Brew Gentleman co-founder
Being a Good Neighbor
As transplants to Pittsburgh from Massachusetts and Hawaii, the pair had never heard of Braddock and its storied history before Asa’s art class did a project in the former steel community that had fallen on hard times.
“We came to Braddock in the spring, early on a Sunday morning,” Matt says. “We knew there was something special here, and the more we learned about the community, the more we knew we wanted to be a part of it.”
Braddock played a pivotal role in the French and Indian War and the Whiskey Rebellion and was at the heart of Pittsburgh's steel industry. Asa and Matt wanted to help write Braddock’s next chapter, so they invested in the community’s post-industrial revitalization and resurgence alongside then mayor and now Pennsylvania Lt. Governor John Fetterman.
They converted an old electrical supply store into a taproom and opened their doors in 2014. Serving only drafts and growlers, they perfected their craft and honed in on their signature soft, balanced beers that forgo craft brewing industry fads.
Along the way, they focused on being good neighbors — supporting the town’s library with fundraisers, partnering with local companies for their signature fresh-cut flowers, advice and renovations, and serving as a bridge between new Braddock businesses and the borough’s government — while planning their brewery’s future.
Over the past two years, they strategized about e-commerce, brewing space and capacity, and a new taproom experience — and how they’d accomplish it all by investing in Braddock.
In March, they completed renovations on a new brewing facility in a former warehouse adjacent to their taproom, ready to make their flagship beer General Braddock’s IPA as ubiquitous in Pittsburgh as Iron City and Penn Pilsner.
A week later, COVID-19 shut down Pennsylvania.
Pivoting Amid a Pandemic
With the taproom’s doors closed, but plenty of beer on hand to sell, Asa and Matt acted fast.
They borrowed a crowler machine — to replace their glass growlers and seal and sell their beer in cans for the first time — only to find out they needed a different size can. Asa printed 3D parts to customize the machine, the first of many pandemic hurdles that popped up.
“It has been week after week of creative problem solving, having all those systems that we built be completely destroyed and rebuilding all of them basically overnight,” Matt says.
Wanting to continue their taproom experience with their customers when they couldn’t see them face-to-face, they took the extra step of calling to confirm every customer order submitted via a web form. At the same time, they worked with a fellow Tartan to create an online store to launch the brewery’s new 12-ounce can four-packs — an integral part to their goal of bringing more beer, to more people, in a more convenient way.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned from the past few months is that it doesn’t matter what the challenge is, you just have to focus on people and put them first,” Matt says.
For Asa and Matt, the most important people for Brew Gentlemen’s success now and in the future are each other.
“We each got lucky picking the right business partner,” Matt says. “We both just do whatever it takes, and there’s always more interesting problems to solve and challenges to tackle.”
“For us, it’s been fun to continue to still utilize the range of interdisciplinary and entrepreneurship skills that we gained early on at CMU and seeing how those skills continue to grow as we move forward.”