Photos, story by Clare Shepherd
Nearly every brewery at the 8th annual Great Beer Expo brought their most popular IPA. Philadelphia is, as one brewer put it, a crowded marketplace for this style: a representative from Double Nickel, one of the two newest companies at the event, said that if a company calls a distributor saying they have an IPA, or a pale ale, they won’t even get a call back.
“It’s a crowded marketplace,” said one brewer. “When it comes to beer, if you can make it in Philadelphia, you can make it anywhere.”
Some companies adapt by creating a specialized product. Highway Manor Brewing, the newest brewer at the event, currently only produces sours, a product in relatively high demand and low supply in the Philadelphia area. “Philadelphia has a lot of sour thirsty people, and more people that are open minded on sour beer.” Their products were a bit on the sweet side for me, but if you can’t take sour without sweet (those who chose Sour Patch Kids over Pixie Sticks as children), this is the brewery for you.
Ever wondered why every brewery seems to invest in its own taproom? The brewer from Stable 12 explained that companies can sell this way without having to sign with a distribution company, and can get a much larger profit on drinks sold directly to customers. Margins are small on beer production, so companies typically look for all opportunities to reach consumers. “T-shirts and glassware are revenue,” said the brewer. “Over at my table I look like a damn Gap with 14 shirts. But we make money on this stuff and that helps us pay the bills.”
He added, “if you’re at a brewery, don’t steal the glass. Buy it.”
The Expo was, refreshingly, dominated by breweries trying new things. True, a large portion of brews on the list were IPAs and pale ales, but many of them included very bold ingredients. I saw several beers with mango, and even specifically mango habanero. I tried Free Will’s whimsically named Safeword, which was a little much for me but definitely a must for anyone with a taste (insert kink-related pun here) for spicy.
Wyndridge Farm, out of York, was also a great example of one of the breweries breaking into the cider market. Its product was definitely powerfully sweet, but less overwhelming than many commercially available ciders. This is definitely a great choice for anyone who doesn’t appreciate the bitter taste of beer, or who’s looking for a gluten-free drink. (Fun fact: did you know Yards’ signature beers are safe for the gluten-free to drink? They’ve been tested at less than 20 parts per million, like Omission.)
The Expo, which was heavily attended by consumers and well represented by many of the region’s small to mid-size breweries, seemed to indicate an exciting new variety of options on the horizon. Expect, at a minimum, to stop seeing IPAs offered by small or new breweries on beer lists.
But back to this Kolsch. We Philadelphians have largely forgotten Kolsch, judging by beer lists at local spots, so this was one of few available at the Expo. But it was my favorite beer of the day (which was a hot day, which always boosts the taste of a Kolsch), and it awakened something inside of me. I’m now having a Summer of Kolsch, and I recommend you do the same. Starting with this one.
According to Untappd, an app loved by me and hated by every brewer, apparently, you can find it at Fox & Hound in Center City, Union Tap in Roxborough, Greeks Next Door in Narberth, and Free Will’s brewery in Perkasie, near Doylestown.
On that note: All brewers gave a word of warning on Untappd. One mentioned their hefeweizen, which had recently won an international award specific to hefeweizens. A reviewer felt it was worth 2 stars. The brewer responded, “maybe you just don’t like hefeweizens.” As a fond user of Untappd, it’s helfpul to know the star ratings are not especially helpful. Maybe I’ll just use it to track down these beers.