The Brewers of Pennsylvania “Meeting of the Malts V” returned in a big way to the Lehigh Valley last Thursday, with the top three craft brewers in the nation sharing a stage in front of some of the state’s best breweries. The event, which took place at Artsquest and the Sands Casino in Bethlehem, drew around 500 guests from media and brewery employees to state officials and those working to start up their own breweries.
The evening started with a beer festival of sorts, with breweries from across the state, from The Brew Gentlemen in Western PA to The Brew Works in Bethlehem, sharing their beers. After about an hour and a half of tasting, though, it was time to head upstairs to the main event. This year Dick Yuengling, owner of D. G. Yuengling & Son, Jim Koch of Boston Brewing Company, and Ken of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company were on the panel for the dinner and discussion. Emceed by booze industry analyst Bump Williams, the dinner started off with a toast by local brewery owner Curt Keck of Hijinx Brewing with their Kung Fu Gnome beer.
While chowing down on tuna roll and whiskey glazed pork belly, participants washed it all down with beers from the three panelist’s breweries and finished off with a dessert course paired with a local Weyerbacher brew. Before the dinner, at a press conference with Brewers of PA’s Dan LaBert, and during dinner, the three panelists on a variety of topics familiar to anyone in the industry: wholesaling, shipping concerns, hop demands, distribution logistical challenges, and changing beer regulations.
While many of these, like the hop shortage and wholesaling, aren’t new topics, even for Meeting of the Malts events, it was interesting to hear some rumination on the others. Bitching about AB InBev is par for the course, but shipping logistics were an interesting topic raised during the earlier press conference. With so many breweries, like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, Stone, Deschutes, and Green Flash opening us East Coast breweries, the panel was asked if they thought we’d see a reverse trend with East Coasters moving West. The answer was “probably not” as the cost to ship goods from the West to the East is significantly more expensive than the other way around, making it a less attractive option for East Coast breweries.
I always find Dick Yuengling’s insights to be interesting, because until recently he was considered too big to be a craft brewer but too small to be in the macro brewing conglomerates. Over the years the Brewers Association has been revising exactly what it means to be a ‘craft brewery,’ and at one point Boston Beer (makers of Sam Adams) got so big that they had to expand the definition yet again, and by doing that they had to include Yuengling as a craft brewer.
Given that, it’s interesting to year Yuengling’s side of things. He doesn’t seem to espouse the term ‘craft’ as much as the others, saying they’ve been doing craft before it was called that, making porters and the like since the 1800’s. It was only until recently that they started introducing any sort of trendy beers (an IPL and a summer wheat), yet he shares a common passion for the three tier wholesale system that Jim Koch so frequently hails with his “no three tier, no craft beer” mantra.
The evening was an enjoyable one, even more so than the Meeting of the Malts III at the Hotel Bethlehem two years ago. After the dinner ended, many attendees headed over to the Sands Casino for the ‘afterparty,’ which many, including the panelists, took part of. It was great having the Meeting of the Malts back in the Lehigh Valley for a third time and we hope it’s a trend that continues. Craft beer is booming in the area and having such visionaries as Yuengling, Koch, and Grossman all in the same room is a rare and great thing for the area.