Sitting in the Artquest Center’s banquet room, looking out of the floor length windows and sipping on my Belgian IPA, I could see the phantom of what was once a thriving industrial powerhouse. The Bethlehem Steel plant once served as the economic lifeblood of this community. The weathered, yet majestic steel furnaces that still stood served as the backdrop for the sixth installment of Meeting of the Malts, hosted by The Brewers of Pennsylvania (BOP). This is the association’s popular annual event that gathers the most acclaimed breweries to discuss the state of the craft beer industry. Just as this old industrial town has evolved, so has the craft beer industry. With this gathering of all facets of the craft brew industry within Pennsylvania, you can feel how passionate everyone is about the future of this industry.
This year’s panel included Dick Yuengling of D.G. Yuengling & Son, Jim Koch of Samuel Adams, Eric Wallace of Left Hand Brewing Company and David Walker of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. The overall theme of the discussion was the growth of the industry, especially in Pennsylvania, and the respect amongst those within the craft brewery industry. A poignant part of the discussion is when Jim Koch was describing the industry itself: “It doesn’t operate like any other single industry…we genuinely like each other.”
“The camaraderie within the industry is unique and makes it a great area to work in.” said Josh Lampe, Chief Operating Officer at Weyerbacher Brewing Company. This camaraderie was apparent throughout the night, from the warm welcoming atmosphere of the event to the initiatives discussed regarding the progress of the industry in Pennsylvania. Such acts have been set into motion by this year’s recipients of the Legislative Awards, which were presented by the Brewers of Pennsylvania. 2017’s deserving recipients were Speaker Mike Turzai, Representative Mike Tobash and Senator Richard Alloway II. These Pennsylvania legislators were chosen to receive this award due to their respect of the BOP’s initiatives of promoting and protecting the craft beer industry in the commonwealth.
The beer for this year’s toast was Weyerbacher Brewing Company’s Guildy Pleasure; a Belgian IPA that was created in collaboration with the Lehigh Valley’s Brewers Guild. Dinner was a series of four courses, that were paired with a brew from each panel member’s brewery.
First Course: An oversized meatball, paired with Yuengling Lord Chesterfield
Pairing: The meatball, both juicy and tender, was filled with a provolone cheese and adorned with a crisp crostini. Lord Chesterfield gave off a malty and light to counteract the meaty texture of the meatball. This was a delicious start to the meal.
Second Course: Mahi Mahi Ceviche, paired with Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA
Pairing: The ceviche was both sweet and spicy and I believe a fruiter IPA would have worked perfectly with this ceviche. However, this was my first time having Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and I was quite impressed with this IPA and its citrusy notes of tangerine and grapefruit.
Third Course: Braised Short Rib with Sweet Potato Mash, paired with Left Hand Travelin’ Light
Pairing: The braised short rib was tender and juicy; the sweet potato mash was perfectly creamed and had a light, sweet flavor. Pairing this dish with a lighter brew, such as Left Hand Travelin’ Light, made sense since the light beer offset the heaviness of the dish. It also would have paired well with a darker brown ale.
Fourth Course: Tahitian Vanilla Panna Cotta, paired with Samuel Adams Rebel Juiced IPA
Pairing: The basil adorning the panna cotta, along with the sweet cracker and the citrus puree made this dish so refreshing and light! I believe this pairing, with the Rebel Juiced IPA, was the best pairing of the night. The citrusy hops and mango juice gave a nice bite against the creamy texture of the panna cotta.
Seating at the dinner and panel discussion was open, so I chose to sit at a table with three seats still available, room enough for myself and the two people who were accompanying me to this event. Our table was a hodge-podge of people from all areas of the industry: an employee from Weyerbacher Brewing Company, an events and marketing representative from Rounds Guys Brewing Company, another fellow beer writer, and a few beer lovers. With open arms, we were welcomed to the table and by the time the first course was being served, we were in discussion of how Weyerbacher’s Guildy Pleasure came to fruition.
One question I asked while covering this event is what did one gather from this year’s event. If someone was to ask me this question, my answer would be simple. I realized that what this industry represents, community, comradery and mutual respect for one another., I felt it throughout dinner and during the entire experience. It did not matter that I was just a craft beer writer, I was warmly welcomed into this community. It is no surprise Meeting of the Malts is quickly becoming one of the most talked about events in the industry.