COLUMN WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
The Brewers of Pennsylvania (“BOP”)(http://www.brewersofpa.org), the industry association for craft brewers in Pennsylvania, held its fifth annual “Meeting of the Malts” at the ArtsQuest Center at Steel Stacks in Bethlehem on March 24. With the remnants of Pennsylvania’s once-booming steel industry in the background, Pennsylvania’s brewers celebrated the rise of their $1.2 billion industry by holding a beer tasting, a beer pairing dinner with a panel discussion — featuring Dick Yuengling of D.G. Yuengling & Sons, Jim Koch of Samuel Adams / Boston Beer Company, and Ken Grossman, founder of Sierra Nevada — and ended with an after party at the Sands Hotel.
The Philadelphia region was represented at the beer tasting by Yards Brewing and Iron Hill, but one of best reasons to attend the Meeting of the Malts is to sample hard to find brews from the rest of the state. Several breweries of note were on hand, including Berwick Brewing Co., Pittston-based Susquehanna Brewing Co., and newly opened Mifflinburg-based Rusty Rail Brewing Co. Braddock-based The Brew Gentlemen Beer Co. came in all the way from the western side of state to serve its new release, “Albatross,” a fantastic Double IPA brewed in the “North East IPA style.” If you needed a reason to justify a brew tour from east to west through Pennsylvania, the beers being created by these brewers would be a strong one.
After the beer tasting, a four course beer pairing dinner began with a toast from Allentown-based Hijinx Brewing Co.’s CEO and brewmaster, Curt Keck, who praised the work of Pennsylvania brewers and attributed the craft beer industry’s success to “…the amazing craft beer community and the willingness of brewers and enthusiasts to share their knowledge and passion.” Keck’s “Kung Fu Gnome,” a Belgian-style golden ale brewed with jasmine flowers, was hoisted in the air by all in attendance and was accompanied by rousing cheers.
As the first course was served, beverage industry expert Bump Williams began questioning the three panelists, who, as Koch observed, “are the world’s three largest craft brewers..” and were all on stage together for the first time ever. Yuengling, Koch and Grossman talked about their brewing experiences and what issues they thought would be challenges in the years ahead. All three agreed that there is still room for more breweries in Pennsylvania despite the constant growth. Koch noted, “Beer as a whole is declining but craft beer is increasing because we are raising quality levels and introducing new flavors.”
Many of the brewers who attended the Meeting of the Malts listened carefully to what the panelists had to say. Jeff Fegley, co-owner of Fegley’s Brew Works in Allentown and Bethlehem, explained that the panel discussion is always his favorite part of the event, especially what the panelists’ “…take is on the industry and where it is going. As a small brewer it is interesting to compare what their predictions are compared to mine….from a much smaller and different perspective. Plus it is comical to see how they all loosen up after a few samples!”
Rich Schrader, General Manager of Rusty Rail Brewing, was a first-time attendee and thought “the meeting was very useful..it was great to be with so many like-minded breweries and we had the opportunity to share ideas, whether successes, failures, future challenges., etc. We were seated with Tom Kehoe, founder of Yards Brewing, and he took the time to listen to us and give us advice based on his years of experience. I would say this was my favorite part of the event, as it gave us the opportunity to share our ideas with someone, and with a brewery, that has a profile more similar to how we see ourselves… It also gets us excited about where the future of craft beer is headed!”
With approximately 500 attendees, The Meeting of the Malts is a testament to the strength of the craft beer industry in Pennsylvania, and the BOP. Fegley is a strong supporter of the organization because “BOP allows small Pennsylvania brewers to have a say in local, state, and federal politics. It helps us have a stronger voice. It’s an ugly political scene out there but BOP will work to make sure Pennsylvania breweries — which really equates to America’s breweries — will thrive, employ thousands and continue to give back to their communities.”
If you missed the Meeting of the Malts this year, make you sure put it on your calendar for next year so you can show your support for Pennsylvania brewers as well. But you don’t have to wait for next year — there’s no better way to show your support this spring than to jump into your car and visit breweries like Fegley’s Brewworks, Rusty Rail, Berwick Brewing, or The Brew Gentlemen. Get out there and support Pennsylvania brewers. Cheers!