Last month, the stars aligned for Karol and me, allowing us to finally attend the Meeting of the Malts in Bethlehem. Draft Magazine rated this event No. 12 on its beer experience bucket list. I’m too busy living to bother with bucket lists, but this annual gathering lived up to the hype; it was a dream come true for the more than 500 beer lovers in attendance.

Sponsored by the Brewers of Pennsylvania (BOP) at the Artsquest Center at SteelStacks, the Meeting of the Malts included a panel discussion by several industry luminaries, an exquisite beer-dinner and afterward, a brewpub festival with selections from more than 30 Pennsylvania breweries.

This year’s panelists included Tom Kehoe from Yards Brewing; Jim Koch of Sam Adams fame; Wendy Yuengling (I can’t recall what brewery she represented); Mike Stevens from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids; Bill Covaleski from Victory Brewing; and Joey Redner from Cigar City in Tampa. Industry consultant Bump Williams served as the emcee and panel moderator. While there, I rubbed elbows with several local brewers: Steve Leason from Selinsgrove Brewing; Ben Yagle and Gary Ernest from Rock God; Eric Kuijpers from Covered Bridge; and Jason Ufema from Shy Bear.

Opening remarks by BOP Executive Director Dan LaBert brought good tidings of great joy: the PA brewing industry has become a multi-billion dollar powerhouse and just nudged out California for the nation’s top spot in beer production. However, Pennsylvania’s per capita consumption of suds soundly trounced the Golden State. LaBert, to the delight of the crowd, gave credit where it was due—to Schuylkill County—for this achievement.

Some accolades were then in order. Few people realize that before brewing became a business, the task of beer making fell to the women. With that in mind, BOP President and co-owner of Weyerbacher Chris Lampe awarded the organization’s inaugural President’s Award to Carol Stoudt from Stoudts Brewing. Carol was a pioneer in the craft beer movement, starting in the positively pre-historic late 1980s, and has worked tirelessly to promote the industry. Lampe also gave a shout-out to several other women in Pennsylvania in brewing, including Selinsgrove Brewing’s Heather McNabb.

Politics are a live wire issue these days. I keep my social media sociable and, thus, apolitical. But I think folks on both sides of the aisle can unite as one in recognizing the state legislature for passing the Malt Beverage tax Credit, allowing breweries to leverage capital improvements as tax credits and, in turn, create hundreds of well-paying jobs. The six representatives and senators who were instrumental in this bill’s passage received the BOP’s Annual Legislative Awards.

The best part of the evening (aside from the brewpub tasting) was the candid (and uncensored) panel discussion—which included their stories, thoughts about the state of craft brewing and its future. That, however, must wait until next month’s column. In the meantime, here’s a smattering of the wonderful brews Karol and I sampled at the Seventh Annual Meeting of the Malts. Enjoy the selections and support Pennsylvania’s craft beer whenever possible. Cheers!

The evening began with a toast, featuring Yuengling’s new Golden Pilsner. Wendy Yuengling announced it’s the brewery’s first addition to its core lineup in 17 years. The brewery has done well staying true to its German heritage—with recent seasonal offerings, such as Bock and Hefeweizen, coming to mind immediately. Yuengling bills Golden as a “modern Pilsner”—a German-Czech hybrid. It pours clear and straw-colored. The head is thin and tan, dissipating quickly. Aromas of bready Pilsner malt and grassy Saaz hops entice the senses. Golden’s mouthfeel is light and smooth, making it quite drinkable. Floral flavors and notes of sweet cereal are balanced by a delicate Hallertau hop bite at the finish. Golden Pilsner hit a refreshing sweet spot for us after our travels to Bethlehem on a sultry summer day.

Speaking of German brews, Tom Clark of Berwick Brewing knows a few things about making them, too. Karol was impressed with the brewery’s Keystone Kölsch—one of our favorite styles. Keystone pours slightly hazy and pale straw in color. Like Yuengling’s Pilsner, the body is light and refreshing. Flavors of grainy Pilsner blend with background wisps of fruit: apple and pear. The finish is clean and crisp—almost lager-like. With so many choices to sample at the fest, it was a shame we could only have only one round.

Cigar City Brewing isn’t in Pennsylvania, but Joey Redner’s comments were so delightfully off-the-cuff that his tasty Maduro Brown deserved some love. This English style Brown Ale has a twist: oats for a silky mouthfeel. Upfront flavors of sweet caramel and toffee segue to notes of chocolate, with hints of espresso. Unlike assertive American brown ales, it finishes with a delicate balancing bitterness. Turn to Maduro Brown for both refreshment and sustenance as the weather turns cooler.

The NFL is back, and there’s no bigger “Iggles” fan than Yards Brewing’s Tom Kehoe. His Signature IPA brought back memories of old school IPAs, with a copper-colored pour, and aromas of caramel and pine. Its solid mouthfeel, fortified by an English barley backbone, delivers flavors of sweet malt, accompanied by tastes of tangerine and pine from Amarillo and Chinook hops. Signature finishes with a smooth, lingering bitterness—making it a crowd pleaser, regardless of sport.

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