I’ve been following Lew Bryson’s blog Seen Through a Glass for a year or two now. A week or two a post popped-up about a launch party for the 4th Edition of Pennsylvania Breweries. My wife gave me the 3rd Edition when we were in college as a Christmas present and I have been waiting for an updated edition. It was a ticketed event that costs $35. For the money I received a signed copy of the new book, two beers, some delicious food, and a chance to hear some of my idols talk about the beer industry. I think it was a hell of a deal.
Before the talk with the brewers ever began, Lew actually came over and talked with my friend Mike and myself. I’ve never met him before but I think we could be drinking buddies. Lew seems like a genuine guy with a big hearty laugh. I just enjoyed talking beer with him and being around him. He did the same thing with everyone who came out, about 40-50 people in total. Very cool.
The brewers that were represented came from the southeastern to central PA region. Victory Brewing Company was obviously there, as was Troegs Brewing Company, Stoudt’s Brewing Company, Sly Fox Brewing Company, and a Philadelphia brewpub, Nodding Head Brewery. Lew served as the MC for the event and asked some interesting questions. Below you can see the brewers in order from left to right:
(Lew Bryson, Ron Barchet of Victory, the Trogners, Stoudt’s representative (I forget his name), Brian O’Reilly of Sly Fox, and Curt Decker of Nodding Head)
To start off the Q&A Lew asked about Pennsylvania’s impact on the brewing community, most notably in the lager market. Pennsylvania is really a home for full bodied lagers. Out west ales then to dominate the scene, but Pennsylvania brewers have mastered the craft of the lager and have made it something to be proud of. They made some damn good ales as well, but lagers are PA’s calling card.
Another topic of discussion was Yuengling and how it has helped and also hurt craft brewers in PA. Some of the things I took away were that it helped because Pennsylvanians acquire a taste for something other than light lagers. They have also harmed craft brewers because they have limited the markets that they can expand into. When a brewer is trying to sell to a new retailer and they say they already have a craft beer, Yuengling, on tap, it immediately limits the scope of what they can do.
Lew brought up an interesting note about lower ABV beers and if they have a place in the market. They discussed the fact the the highest rated beers are not sessionable and that the prices are much higher than what the materials actually cost. Curt Deck of Nodding Head, the only brewpub represented, said that in a brewpub setting they want you to drink 2-3 beers at a sitting and that with super high ABV beers that is just not possible. I think they all recognized the need for some lower ABV beers in the marketplace.
Ron of Victory even shared some experiences with beer bars who do not have lower ABV beers and how they try to work with them to get an offering of lower alcohol beers in their bar. The thinking is that you might offer a wide selection of styles, but not of alcohol percentages. Honestly it is something that I never thought of but think is important.
We then moved into local verses national brands and how the market is wanting things from local producers. During the discussion it was also brought up that Pennsylvania brewers have influences from both west coast and European beers. The malts and hops available to east coast brewers is much different than west coast brewers.
One of the final things we talked about was how Yuengling and Sam Adams, the two largest America owned beer makers, have their major breweries in PA. Sam Adams has a brewery outside of Allentown and Yuengling has two breweries in Pottsville. It was an a great discussion on the new and old guard and how PA is the only state to really have a healthy mix of both.
I want to thank the brewers who came out along with Lew for writing this wonderful book and hold such a great even.