Ambience, Beer, Family, Neighborhoods, North Side, Service, Traditional

Caruso Beer Distributor.

Sam Caruso started out as a teacher. Grew up on the North Side in Mexican War Streets, where his Sicilian father opened a beer store in 1933, right after the end of Prohibition. Maybe the first one in Pittsburgh after repeal. He’d worked in the store since 1944, when he was 4 years old. But he was something else with an accordion.

That's him on the left.

So he went to Duquesne. Bachelor’s, then master’s. All in music. Taught first in Sharpsburg then up in Clarion County.

“I had one class that was girls’ chorus,” he said. “Finally I figured out that if I didn’t want the girls to talk all the time I had to get my accompaniest to go straight from one song into another without a break. I had those girls singing more than 40 minutes in a row, but no chattering.”

He didn’t make much money teaching — $6,000 a year at first — and he still worked for his dad in the summers delivering beer for a couple hundred bucks a week under the table. Time came in 1968 to open a new place a couple blocks from the one on Resaca where it had been since 1940.

“My dad asked me if I’d like to come in and work selling beer full-time,” Caruso, 71, said. “So there I was and here I am.”

The younger Sam Caruso, 1986.

The place has been around. Inside, it looks almost untouched, let along unchanged, since 1968. Back then, he used to sell almost 10 times as much Iron City as anything else, with Fort Pitt in the top five. Sometimes people offer him more money for his old beer signs than they spend on actual beer.

Seems like a lot of those old, family-owned beer distributors around Pittsburgh don’t change much. They still bank on Busch, Yuengling, High Life, Bud Light, Duquesne — often in cans — to keep their old regulars coming in but have no interest in the newer stuff.

This is where Sam’s a bit different. He carries those, but also gets in cases from Rogue, Great Lakes, Smuttynose, Troegs and others. In his office he keeps bottles from distributors’ samples he’s gotten to remind him what he’s had and liked. If a customer wants something he doesn’t carry, he’ll order it and call them when it comes in. He keeps a handwritten list of certain customers’ names, phone numbers and beer preferences by the cash register.

“Things change,” he said. “Tastes change. Some of those newer microbrews are really good beers. I’ll sell whatever people want, but beer’s come a long way.”

So has his family’s place. He’s not sure whether one of his children will take it over.

“They say they want to, but there’s no action on it,” he said. “I’m not going to be here forever.”

Even if it seems the business has been around that long. He collects old photos of his family and the beer distributorship — 19,000 in all, all of which he scanned in to keep digital copies.

Their first storefront:

A delivery truck:

He moved out of the neighborhood long ago, but he’d like to see the business remain.

“I hope it can,” he said. “I’ve always felt we had a real connection to this place.”



Silliness, to be sure. And in all likelihood my last post today. But a friend of mine just reminded me I did this, so I thought I’d share.

This is my food-related playlist.

Everything on here mentions something food-related in the title or the lyrics. Doesn’t have to actually be about food. Just close enough that I could fake it.

Please feel free to offer your own suggestions. Or just laugh at me. That works too.


“Ball And Biscuit,” The White Stripes

“Gin And Juice,” The Gourds

“Black Milk,” Massive Attack

“The Lemon Song,” Led Zeppelin

“Love On The Rocks With No Ice,” The Darkness

“It Was a Good Day,” Ice Cube

“Be Our Guest [Beauty And The Beast],” Angela Lansbury

“Beans and Corn Bread,” Louis Jordan & His Tympany 5

“Everybody Eats When They Come To My House,” Cab Calloway

“Bella Notte [Lady And The Tramp],” George Givot & Bill Thompson

“Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” Jerry Lee Lewis

“Mayonaise,” Smashing Pumpkins

“Chocolate City,” Parliament

“Cantaloupe Island,” Herbie Hancock

“Safe As Milk,” Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band

“Poundcake,” Van Halen

“Spoonful,” Willie Dixon

“Pour Some Sugar On Me,” Def Leppard

“Doggy Dogg World,” Snoop Dogg

“Slice of Your Pie,” Mötley Crue

“Farmer’s Son,” Augie March

“Tequila Sundae,” Urge Overkill

“Come to the Party,” The Smurfs

“Close To The Bone,” Louis Prima

“Clementine,” The Decemberists

“Cookie Bones,” John Paul Keith And The 145’s

“Sugar,” Lenny Kravitz

“Orange Crush,” R.E.M.

“Tomato In The Rain,” Kaiser Chiefs

“Self Portrait Of The Bean,” Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins

“Icing Sugar,” The Cure

“I Wish I Was Queer So I Could Get Chicks,” The Bloodhound Gang

“Big Cheese,” Nirvana

“Malted Milk,” Eric Clapton

“Soul Kitchen,” The Doors

“Raspberry Beret,” Prince

“Pass The Peas,” Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s

“Gimme A Pigfoot,” Bessie Smith

“Apple Tree,” Wolfmother

“Cherry Pie,” Warrant

“Hot Sugar,” The Mooney Suzuki

“Mother Popcorn Part I,” James Brown

“Under The Sea [The Little Mermaid],” Samuel E. Wright

“Chewy,” Wiz Khalifa

“One Mint Julep,” Ray Charles

“I Want The Waiter With The Water,” Ella Fitzgerald

“That’s Amore,” Dean Martin

“Drinking My C.V. Wine,” Howlin’ Wolf

“Pork Roll Egg And Cheese,” Ween

“Milkshake,” Kelis

“Egg Man,” The Beastie Boys

“Green Onions,” Booker T. & The MG’s

“Come On In My Kitchen,” Robert Johnson

“Kitchen,” The Lemonheads

“Pure Cane Sugar,” John Paul Keith And The 145’s

“Fruit Machine,” The Ting Tings

“Peaches,” Presidents of the United States of America

“Meat Man,” Jerry Lee Lewis

“Drinking Beer,” Tiny Grimes

“Next Tequila,” The Champs vs. Dr.Dre

“Strange Brew,” Cream

“Whip It,” Devo

“Honey Molasses,” Jill Scott

“Dead Shrimp Blues,” Robert Johnson

“Sugar On My Tongue,” Talking Heads

“Run Rabbit Run,” Blue Giant

“Fattening Frogs for Snakes,” Sonny Boy Williamson

“Spreadin’ Honey,” Charles Wright

“Coca Cola,” Little Red

“Nutrition,” Dead Milkmen

“Hot Dog (Watch Me Eat),” Detroit Cobras

“Spoonful of Borscht,” A.T.S.

“Apple Blossom,” The White Stripes

“Black Yogurt,” Black Moth Super Rainbow

“Some Chocolates,” The Blow

“Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog,” Johnny Cash

“Spam Song,” Monty Python

“The Mustard,” Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling [Musical Episode Soundtrack]