WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
The Pennsylvania craft beer industry recently came together at the annual “Meeting of the Malts” to celebrate the continued success of craft brewing in the Commonwealth. And there is much to celebrate — last week, the Brewers Association announced the top 50 craft breweries of 2014 and three Pennsylvania breweries made the list. Pennsylvania’s beloved Yuengling topped the list at number one, Downingtown’s Victory Brewing came in at number 29, and Hershey-based Troegs Brewing was at number 44.
Pennsylvania’s brewers guild, “The Brewers of Pennsylvania,” organized the “Meeting of the Malts,” held at Fegley’s Allentown Brew Works on April 2. The meeting was opened by former Philadelphia Flyer and two-time Stanley Cup winner Bill Clement. Clement raised a toast with a collaboration beer made for the event by Victory Brewing Company’s Bill Covaleski and Allentown Brew Works Brewmaster Beau Baden. Dan LaBert, the executive director of the Brewers of Pennsylvania, provided a rousing welcome extolling the success of craft brewing in Pennsylvania. Providing further evidence of that fact, Rep. Mike Tobash presented a citation from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to D.G. Yuengling & Son and was met with loud applause when he remarked, “Pennsylvania is the Napa Valley of beer.”
The highlight of the evening was a panel discussion during a five-course beer pairing dinner. For two hours, attendees were given the rare opportunity to hear from, as LaBert stated, “some of the greatest minds in beer.” On the panel were Dick Yuengling, (fifth generation president and owner of D.G. Yuengling & Son), Jim Koch (founder of Samuel Adams), and Bill Covaleski (co-founder of Victory Brewing Company and current president of the Brewers of Pennsylvania). The panel was moderated by Steve Hindy, chairman and co-founder of The Brooklyn Brewery.
One of the most passionate discussions that took place concerned craft beer’s market share in the U.S. The craft brewing industry has set a goal to attain 20 percent of the U.S. beer market by 2020 — “20 by 2020!” is the rallying cry. The craft beer industry captured 11 perfect in 2014, so it is well on its way. When asked whether he thought 20 percent by 2020 is possible, Koch said that he named his brewery for an “upstart revolutionary who fought against a giant empire.” He believes 20 percent by 2020 is attainable but it won’t be easy — much like our Founding Fathers, “we will need to take the power away” from the large beer conglomerates like InBev and MillerCoors. Jim’s statement was strongly supported from the audience; South County Brewing Company Head Brewer J.R. Heaps shouted in response, “We can do it!”
However, Dick Yuengling warned that large brewers are using tactics such as advertising non-craft beer as craft beer, or even buying out craft breweries, to cut into the craft market. The buyouts of craft breweries have been occurring with more frequency — in 2014 Anheuser-Busch purchased Blue Point Brewing of Patchogue, N.Y. and 10 Barrel Brewing based in Bend, Oregon. In January 2015 they announced the purchase of Elysian Brewing Company of Seattle, Washington. When asked his opinion on these buyouts, Covaleski recommended, “As a consumer, just pay attention to the quality of the beer. If it changes and you don’t like it, move over to one of the crafts in this room.”
When the panel was asked what the future of craft brewing looks like, Covaleski suggested that “the next turn of the wheel is American Craft Lagers.” He explained that U.S. craft brewers have put their stamp on many traditional styles — most visibly the “West Coast IPA.” He believes that once U.S. craft brewers create a distinctive “American Craft Lager” style it could help carve out more of the market share.
The “Meeting of the Malts IV” was a true a celebration of Pennsylvania craft brewing. While the next meeting location has not been announced, anyone who is interested in Pennsylvania craft brews and would like the opportunity to interact directly with Pennsylvania brewers should consider attending in 2016.
Columnist Matt Brasch is a Souderton Area High School graduate and a beer enthusiast. For more, check his blog at http://thebrewholder.com.