The following is a guest post from craft beer lover Chelsie Markel. More about her below.
The first ever PA Brewer’s Summit, ‘Meeting of the Malts’, took place in Bethlehem, PA this past Thursday, March 27 thanks to the Brewers of PA Association. The sold out event was part beer tasting festival, part meet-and-greet with local professional brewers, and part panelist discussion with craft beer industry legends: Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), Jim Koch (Samuel Adams) and Dick Yuengling (Yuengling).
Tickets were extremely limited as to keep the group small and intimate. I was lucky enough to snag tickets for all 3 events: pre-party, panel discussion during beer dinner and post-party. It was an amazing 6 hours of everything craft beer.
The evening kicked off at Bethlehem Brew Works. It was a full 1 1/2 hours of beer, appetizers & socializing in the Steelgaarden Lounge. The mood was laid-back and comfy as everyone mingled in the low-lit, industrial-styled space with little nooks of leather couches and café tables. The crowd was a mix of home brewers, professional brewers and craft beer connoisseurs – all of which were buzzing around the room talking shop and expressing excitement about the main event to come, Dinner with the Panelists.
Lots of great beers to sample were everywhere you looked from Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams, Straub, Troegs, Old Forge, Fegley’s, Yuengling. I was pleased to see Sixty-One by Dogfish Head was available and I quickly scurried to get my sampling glass filled before it was gone. Definitely one of my go-to choices from the brewery with its distinct tartness achieved from the Syrah grape must that’s added during brewing.
Yuengling debuted their seasonal Summer Wheat which reminded me very much of Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse. It’s a serious contender if this is your preferred style of brew. And, then, there it was the Troegs sampling table filled with Cultivator Helles Bock, Nugget Nectar and LaGrave. Everyone who knows me, knows how much I <3 helles styled beers. I made a beeline towards the table.
If that wasn’t reason enough, Sam Calagione from Dogfish Head was there just chatting away with Chris Troegner while sampling the LaGrave. Could this event get any better?! Then it did. We got to take a quick photo with Sam. He asked us if we ever visited the brewery. “Yes, every year!” I say. “Good. Good,” he says with a warm smile. “Hey, nice shirt, man!” after he saw my husband, Derek, wearing a Dogfish Head t-shirt. Such a nice guy.
Jim Koch from Samuel Adams was off in the distance having a beverage with partygoers as if they’ve all been friends for years, except that Jim’s a craft beer icon. Yet there he was just like everyone else enjoying a beer. Pretty cool.
Dinner with the Panelists
After the pre-party, we headed down the street to the nearby Historic Hotel Bethlehem for the main event: beer pairing dinner and panel discussion with Sam, Jim & Dick (at this point, I was feeling like I was on a first name basis with these guys.)
Once there, we had a 5-course meal paired with beers from each of the panelist’s breweries. Beet salad with goat cheese, French onion soup, spicy shrimp skewer appetizer, braised beef soft shell tacos and gourmet porter ice cream. Every beer served came in glass that we got to take home, each with the breweries’ logos on them.
I have a little bit of a sweet tooth so I’d have to say the dessert course was my favorite. Porter ice cream made by Yuengling’s Ice Cream topped with toasted coconut flakes and candied pecans. The dish was paired with Dogfish Head Bitches Brew at a whopping 9% ABV. Nice! Not to mention that it’s a limited edition beer, released in 2010 to celebrate the 40th anniversary release of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew album.
But, more importantly, while we ate we got to witness a moderated panel discussion about the craft beer industry. First off were personal questions to get the panelists warmed up. “When did you have your first beer and what was it?” Dick replies, “Age 18. Yuengling Porter, of course.” Then Sam jumps in, “My first beers were Yuengling lager. And Red, White & Blue.” “How did you get started brewing?” Sam noted he bought the ingredients for his first homebrew at the Little Shop of Hops in Manhattan. This creation had fresh cherries in the brew. It turned out great, he recalled, “then I knew I wanted to brew for a living.” “What makes a successful brewery?” “You need a reason to be great. Give the consumer a reason to drink your beer,” says Jim. Which is very much true in any business. It’s not just having a great product but you have to stand out. Have a brand personality that connects with your customers. Give them a reason to prefer your brand over the other brand.
Jim followed this up by noting that you also have to stay ahead of the curve in the craft beer industry. Experiment. Be innovative. Keep giving your consumers something new. “Homebrewers are the great innovators of craft brewing,” Jim said in reference to pushing the limits of ingredient combinations. Jim urged professional brewers to keep thinking like homebrewers.
Just before the dinner came to an end, one-of-a-kind brewery memorabilia was raffled off. Items like gift baskets filled with bottled beer and t-shirts. Limited edition framed print signed by Dick Yuengling. A bottle of the highly sought after Samuel Adams Utopia signed by Jim Koch with a pair of matching beer glasses. I had my sights set on this beauty but unfortunately I didn’t win. This night was so amazing so far, I already felt like I had won everything. Now off we went to the post-party.
Back at the Bethlehem Brew Works Steelgaarden, we resumed more beer tastings from Weyerbacher, Yards, Appalachian, Dogfish Head, Samuel Adams, Yuengling, and Sly Fox. And of course there were more appetizers. I’m pretty sure I ate a whole pound of soft pretzel logs with melty beer cheese by the end of the night. I also think I found a new ‘beer love’ during this session.
Weyerbacher Brewing Company, you had me at ‘raspberry’ with the bold fruit flavor of your Riserva ale that’s aged in oak barrels. Reminds me so much of the bubbly, tart Lindeman’s Framboise Belgian beer. Which is a good thing. No. I think it’s a fabulous thing. Yum!
Samuel Adams also had a barrel-aged winner in my book: Tetravis. It’s a Belgian-styled ale with hints of fig and raisin that’s a respectable 10.2% ABV. I made sure I snagged a bottle of this to take home before I left. You should hunt this beer down and enjoy it as well.
Wrapping up the night at 11pm, I chatted with Artie Tafoya from Appalachian Brewing Company letting him know how great this event turned out to be. He’s on the board of directors for the Brewers of PA Association who put on the evenings festivities. A big ‘thank you’ to him, the association, the panelists, the hosts, the breweries and theentire team that put this night together. It was an evening I’ll never forget. Let’s do it again in 2015!
More Photos from the Event:
- My Facebook Photo Album
- Brewers of PA Facebook
- Fegley’s Brew Works Facebook
- Instagram: #MeetingoftheMalts