COLUMN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
As 2016 draws to a close, it is time to reflect on the last 365 days — and frankly, it was a great year for craft beer fans and brewers in Pennsylvania. According to the Brewers Association, there are currently 305 breweries in Pennsylvania, which includes all sizes of production breweries as well as brewpubs, but also includes breweries that are still in the planning stage. Compared to year end 2015 — with178 breweries in Pennsylvania — that appears to have been an increase of 127 breweries in 2016! Check www.brewersassociation.org for more. Final numbers will be announced after 1Q 2017, but if these numbers stand, 2016 was a great year for beer expansion.
Substantial changes were made to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control laws this year that benefit consumers, including allowing licensed grocery stores to sell up to four bottles of wine at once, allowing the Liquor Control Board to open more stores on Sunday with longer hours, and permitting small wineries, breweries, and distillers to sell each other’s products. In addition, beer distributors — who could only sell cases or kegs until 2015 when 12 pack sales were also allowed — will be permitted to sell six-packs, growlers and single bottles.
Jim Carter, owner and head beer guru of Ambler Beverage Exchange in Ambler is excited to begin growler fills in January. “Having growler fills will enable our customers to have a true draft beer taste without having to commit to buying a keg — and they can enjoy it at home” explained Carter. He plans to have “11 draft lines and a good mix of styles appropriate for the season. We will work to get the best beer available to us by some of the relationships we’ve made in the industry. We will have some selections from our good friends at Forest and Main Brewing and will continually try to source beer that isn’t always available in a bottle or can.”
Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania brewing industry is happy with other actions by the Pennsylvania legislature. According to Dan LaBert, Executive Director of the Brewers of Pennsylvania — Pennsylvania’s brewer’s industry organization — “In July, 2016, Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, signed a $1.3 billion revenue package. Part of that package included a Malt Beverage Tax Credit not to exceed $5 million annually. The tax credit, matching equipment and facilities investments made by applicant breweries, has been one of the BOP’s top legislative goals since 2013. The BOP fully supports this tax credit measure, and considers it a major victory for all craft breweries in the Commonwealth, particularly smaller breweries as the benefits of the measure is capped at $200,000 per year, per brewery.”
Long recognized for its vibrant beer scene, Philadelphia had the chance to show it off to the craft beer industry when it was host to the Brewers Association’s annual Craft Brewer’s Conference in May. The city was swarmed with brewers from around the country who shared their experiences — and many, many beers — with each other. Not only was it a great event for the CBC attendees, it was just as fantastic for those who weren’t registered because reputable craft brew bars in the city had numerous events with hard to find brews and new releases.
In 2016 our local breweries continued to raise the beer reputation of Pennsylvania and the greater Philadelphia region. Once again, Pennsylvania breweries represented themselves well at the annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. The following Pennsylvania breweries won medals for their beers at GABF in October: 2SP Brewing Co. (“Antonym” – Bronze; “The Russian” – Gold); Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, Phoenixville (“Bridge Street Bock” – Bronze); Yards Brewing Co. (“Love Stout” – Silver); Two Rivers Brewing Co. (“Six Finger Sam Saison” – Gold); and Neshaminy Creek Brewing Co. (“Croydon is Burning” – Bronze; “Churchville Lager” – Bronze). In addition, Tired Hands Brewing in Ardmore, Forest & Main Brewing in Ambler, and Victory Brewing in Parkesburg were rated among the “Top Brewers in the World in 2015” by Ratebeer.com. Check http://bit.ly/2ilgogc
2016 was truly a busy year for our breweries. Forest & Main and Victory made more of their fans happy by offering “crowlers” — canned beer for take out; and Stable 12 in Phoenixville had it’s first can release in December. In November, Prism Brewing moved from its original location to its new home in Lansdale. In February, Victory Brewing joined Southern Tier Brewing in a holding company called “Artisinal Brewing Ventures.” This corporate change does not seem to have changed the creativity of Victory — in just the past 2 months, Victory has produced 3 new flavors for its fans, releasing Victory “Red,” a Flemish-style sour red ale; “Java Cask Rye,” a rye barrel aged version of their popular release from last year; and soon on shelves will be “Jubilee,” a Biére Brut, fermented with sparkling wine yeast to marry lively effervescence with the rich, fruit-forward flavors of Belgian-style ales.
Cheers to 2016 and cheers to beer. We wish you and yours a happy brew year and a healthy 2017!
Columnist Matt Brasch is a beer enthusiast and a lifelong Montgomery County resident. For more, go to http://thebrewholder.com and follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at “The Brewholder.”