Walk into the cozy corporate office of Duquesne Bottling Co., and you’re likely to meet a friendly, vivacious blonde with a framed photo of her Pomeranian on her desk.
She’s Maria Dudash, the numbers person of the Duquesne operation, as her husband, Mark, gives credit where it’s due. He’s the idea guy: It was his concept to resurrect the once-popular Pittsburgh beer.
“When I brought it up, of course, my kids laughed at me,” he says as he sits behind his desk in the Summerfield Commons office park in Upper St. Clair.
The younger Dudashes weren’t alone.
“When I started bringing it up to people I respect, they said, 'Stick to law,'” Mark admits.
Perhaps Maria had similar thoughts when her attorney husband started talking about bringing back Duquesne. But around the same time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“This happens and just turns your whole life upside-down,” Mark recalls. “So at that point she said, ‘What have we got to lose? Let’s do it.’ Because you don’t know if you’re going to be around.
“So because of that, something positive came out.”
Fortunately, the cancer was detected in its early stages and Maria had it treated effectively. Today, she’s healthy, and she and Mark are busy keeping up with the demand for Duquesne Pilsener.
The revived beer has met with an enthusiastic response since production began in 2010 at the former Latrobe Brewing plant, once home to Rolling Rock. And the Dudashes, Mt. Lebanon residents, are hoping for more of the same as they unveil a light version of Duquesne, the 96-calorie LT.
“I love the name, which Maria came up with,” Mark says. “Duquesne Light, to me that’s going to come across as something real industrial,” especially to people who are familiar with that name because of electric bills.
Mark took care of telling his brewmaster what he wanted: “I need taste. I need to have this as the only light beer with this taste at those specs.”
He likes to tout Duquesne’s distinctive flavor, which is the result of using premium barley, hops and other ingredients in the brewing process. He also is fond of telling how his beer generally costs less than more ubiquitous brands.
“This never was about the money,” Mark says. “It’s about, we’re going to do this the right away and slowly build it, and count on loyalties of Pittsburghers who recognize a great beer. And by the way, I’m giving it away.”
Sure, he still practices law “to pay the bills.” But the Dudashes are looking at the beer business for the long haul.
In the short term, they’re looking at reintroducing another fondly remembered Pittsburgh beer: Fort Pitt. They plan to begin brewing it as a specialty lager in August as they work toward resolving an issue involving the brand’s trademark.
Mark, who not surprisingly has a deep interest in historical perspective, is striving for authenticity with regard to the ingredients.
“The first brewery was in Fort Pitt, and I’ll guarantee you they didn’t have vines of hops back then; they got them from England,” he says. “And I can guarantee you I know the hops they had. I’m going with the original. I’m going with the first beer in Pittsburgh, and it’s going to be under the Fort Pitt name.”
Whatever else Duquesne Bottling Co. has in store, Mark and Maria Dudash will be taking care of business together.
“With the beer, it’s her and I,” Mark says. “We’re having the best time of our lives.”