By Bill Covaleski
From June 3 through June 12 Philly played host and witness to an incredible 500 beer events, 94 of which involved Victory Brewing Company. From a brewer’s perspective, you can’t help but anticipate this phenomenon known as Philly Beer Week with both elation and dread. Elation is the easy one to explain, because having a 10 day beer love-fest come to town is so very rewarding as you get to catch up with old friends in the industry while watching new converts come to love craft beer. The dread comes from knowing you’ll have ten days of commitments, robbing you of sleep and precious family contact with such a dramatic cumulative effect, that you can’t help but end up exhausted. Thank God for JB Coffee…
Best Philly Beer Week Revelation:
William Reed and the good folks of Johnny Brenda’s have started roasting their own coffee and man is it delicious. The morning after our Grilling With Victory event there at Johnny Brenda’s, a bag of fresh JB Coffee beans meant rich, roasty revival to us here at Victory the next morning. This was no passing passion of instant gratification based on momentary need. Hailing from a Costa Rican co-op that has been producing since 1959, theses beans are thoroughly roasted for a full, deep flavor that allows hints of berry to shine through. Do yourself a favor and try some.
Brotherly Suds BS2, baby! Call me a Homer but this blend of local talent (Nodding Head, Stoudts, Troegs, Victory and Yards) gives me amplified hope for the future with its unique spin on lager brewing. With a malt bill formulated by myself and John Trogner (Troegs) and an assertive hopping created by Gordon Grubb (Nodding Head) and Tom Kehoe (Yards), this glorious alchemy was orchestrated by Brett Kinzer (Stoudts) who applied the Schmidt’s yeast and carefully controlled fermentation. The results are a golden lager that seduces your nose with floral American hops that never let up long past the sip. So happy to work with these Brothers!
And it wasn’t the beer… Our The Chef, The Brewer & The Farmer dinner at Fork Restaurant demonstrated so much creativity, skill and passion on the part of Chef Terence Feury and Green Meadow-man Ian Brendle that nothing else could top it. From Chef’s wide ranging menu that flowed seamlessly from red lentil soup to Capon Boudin Blanc, to Ian’s real-life stories of 28 years of sustaining crazy botanicals like Kaffir lime trees and cardamom plants in his Lancaster County greenhouses with waste fryer oil for heating fuel, the delicious results were enthusiastically enjoyed by 92 guests.
What began as an odd notion this past February evolved into a delectable evening as Chef Terence took creative license and infused four Victory beers with Green Meadow goods to bring the already delicious beers in closer harmony with the dishes he envisioned. The results were glorious. Victory Lager received fresh cardamom leaves to connect with a Red Lentil Shrimp soup that also featured lemongrass and ginger. Victory Festbier took on new dimensions next to the Capon Boudin Blanc with pepperonata and Peruvian yellow chili pepper aioli with its addition of fresh, sweet marjoram. Seared Pocono Trout was enlivened with curried remoulade and pickled serrano peppers and floral Headwaters Pale Ale infused with Kaffir lime leaves. Finally, the densely delicious, locally produced Fat Cat Cheese was lifted by the effervescent Golden Monkey that received a dash of harmonious Vietnamese coriander.
None of these delicious combinations came off as heavy-handed or contrived, due in part to the initial test session that Chef, Ian and myself conducted here in the Victory kitchen in March. But ultimately, the success was due to the intense vision Chef has for flavor combinations and the absolute willingness of Chef, Brewer and Farmer to collaborate openly and sincerely. Just ask anyone fortunate enough to have attended.
Best Philly Beer Week Vision Of The Future:
Philly Beer Week keeps evolving due to the creativity that exists among Philly’s passionate beer professionals, who embrace the opportunity to entertain a supportive local audience. But let’s pause and ponder that audience for a second. How does it keep on growing? The answer is youth. Nowhere was the vitality of craft beer and bright hope for its future more boldly displayed during Philly Beer Week than City Tap House on Thursday night, when 35 Victory drafts were pouring for a packed house. The average age of the crowd was probably 26, and those beer fans drained two kegs of Summer Love and one of Golden Monkey before the old guys like me headed home. Awesome performance, all.
Funniest Philly Beer Week Chuckle:
As previously stated, creativity keeps Philly Beer Week ‘young’ and exciting, year after year. Never short on humor, our pal Scoats of Hop Angel Brauhaus and Grey Lodge Public House fame pulled off a “The Sound Of Lagers” karaoke event, replete with members of the featured brewery, Stoudts, family pasted into The Sound Of Music movie poster as the “Von Stoudt Family Singers.” Check it out. I was able to share a few beers with Ed and Carol Stoudt, who were dutifully carrying their bags with lederhosen for Ed and dirndl for Carol at Percy Street BBQ last Tuesday and they were very much looking forward to the event. You gotta laugh, or might just cry, in this business.
The venerable Four Seasons Hotel has been enthusiastically participating in Philly Beer Week for some 4 years now, executing some of the highest quality beer dinners of each year. This year they made the bold move to ‘take it outside,’ bringing Chef Rafael Gonzalez to the grill to create mouth-watering treats like Lancaster Honey-Glazed Organic Chicken Wings and the soon-to-be-famous Philly Beef Slider which featured a slice of Taylor Pork Roll and grilled onions atop a cheeseburger slider, all within the shady sanctuary of the spacious outdoor courtyard. But wait, there’s more. More, as in delicious beer thanks to the planning and coordination of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation, who lent their ‘With Love’ moniker to the beer garden and lined up great local breweries, starting things off with us at Victory. Officially, our June 6 event at the With Love Beer Garden was the debut of Summer Love Ale for 2011. As this brand sets out to prove, there are many reasons to love Philly in the summertime, and Four Seasons’ beer garden proved that point with style and energy.
Best Aesthetic Improvement For Philly Beer Week:
I noted that a Victory neon had replaced the PBC one at The Khyber Pass Pub, a long, long-standing supporter and promoter of craft beers. I’m not sure if it was the colors, but it just seemed to play better with the others there.