COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
The year 2015 was another fine year for craft brew. It was most assuredly a year of growth for our local craft breweries. Victory Brewing Co. opened new brewpubs in Kennett Square and Parkesburg. Tired Hands Brewing Co. opened a larger brewing facility dubbed “The Fermentaria” next to its original brewpub in Ardmore. North Penn’s Prism Brewing announced that it will be expanding its operation and moving to Lansdale, and Ambler-based Forest and Main indicated that it would be opening a tasting room in the building immediately adjacent to their existing location.
It was also a year of celebration, with Sly Fox Brewing Co., Weyerbacher, Yards Brewing, and Dogfish Head all celebrating their 20th anniversaries. In addition, in 2015 Pennsylvania’s D.G. Yuengling & Son Brewery, the country’s oldest operating brewery, took the title of the country’s largest “craft brewer” based on 2014 beer production. It should be noted that Yuengling had some help in this accomplishment by way of the Brewer’s Association’s modification of the definition of “craft brewer,” under which Yuengling was not previously included; but a reason to celebrate nonetheless!
Following a national trend, several new breweries opened locally in 2015, including Stable 12 Brewing in Phoenixville, Two Stones Pub in Aston, and Tower Hill Brewery in Chalfont. With so many new beers coming into the market, we saw the opening of some fantastic craft beer bars in which to drink them — including Brick & Barrel in Maple Glen, The Pourhouse in Montgomery Township, and two in Horsham — Pizzeria Felici and MaGurks Horsham.
While the craft brew scene locally is positive, nationally there were some darker moves that could foreshadow a more aggressive push by macro brands. AB InBev, the largest brewer in the world, announced its intended merger with SABMiller, the second-largest brewer in the world, which, despite recent Congressional testimony otherwise, raises concerns that the resulting entity could have an even stronger hold on the beer distribution system, potentially all but pushing small craft brewers out of the retail market. AB InBev also continued its efforts to carve out some craft brew market share for itself in 2015 by purchasing Seattle-based craft brewer Elysian Brewing Co.
Other large brewers took a page from AB InBev’s playbook to cut into the craft beer market through acquisition. California-based Ballast Point Brewing Co., known for its Sculpin IPA, was sold to Constellation Brands, owners of Corona and Modelo, for a whopping $1 billion. Another well-regarded California brewery, Firestone Walker, joined Duvel Moortgat, a Belgian brewer that also owns Kansas City-based Boulevard Brewing and Cooperstown, NY-based Brewery Ommegang.
With all of the “big business” discussions circulating through the craft beer industry, sometimes we forget to focus on the truly important issue: Did you enjoy the beer? So with this in mind, here are some of my favorites from 2015:
Favorite New Local Beer: Victory Java Cask. This imperial stout was aged in bourbon barrels and when it was bottled, came in at 14.3 percent ABV. Java Cask tastes like liquid dark chocolate and bourbon and is a perfect beer to share on New Year’s Day with family and friends.
Favorite Montco Beer: Forest & Main’s “Senator Hitchhike.” Daniel Endicott and Gerard Olson released Senator Hitchhike early in 2015 and I was hooked. Whether it was the beer itself, described as a “British-style bitter brewed with Maris Otter and dry-hopped with East Kent Goldings,” the traditional 20-ounce dimpled mug in which it was served, or the candlelit warmth of their pub, the entire experience of drinking Senator Hitchhike at Forest & Main on a cold January evening was to me the quintessential pub experience.
Favorite Beer from my Beer Travels: Allagash Brewing Co.’s “Coolship Red.” Based in Portland, Maine, Allagash also celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015. The Coolship Red is fermented in a traditional Belgian “kuhlship” — basically a brownie pan in a shed. The beer is poured into the kuhlship and the windows of the shed are opened for 48 hours to let whatever local yeast is floating in the air spontaneously ferment the beer. The Coolship Red I tried in July had the aroma of a cherry pie with a tangy taste. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to the vibrant craft beer scene in Portland.
Favorite Beer Moment: During a trip to San Diego in April, I visited Stone Brewing Co.’s Stone World Bistro and Gardens in Escondido. The moment I will never forget: Relaxing in an Adirondack chair watching hummingbirds skim across a pond through the sunlight while sipping an Arrogant Bastard Ale (one of the beers that led me to craft beer).
So cheers to 2015, and cheers to beer! All the best to you during the holiday season and 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.