Prost! To First Annual Bierfest
It is no secret—to Pennsylvanians, at least—that our state has a rich and long-lasting German-style brewing history. Whether it’s America’s first lager, brewed in Philadelphia, or German-style breweries Stoudt’s and Pennsylvania Brewing opening at the forefront of the craft beer movement in the late 80s, or Yuengling, the eldest—and now largest—American-owned brewery, PA has been sowing the seeds of German-style brewing throughout the country’s entire beer-drinking history.
The Bierfest, jointly put on by local author and sommelier Marnie Old, the German Society of Pennsylvania and the Philly Roller Girls, was a successful showcase of the state’s brewing history with a spectrum of breweries and styles well-represented. Standards like lagers and pilsners and more unusual styles like Berliner Weisse and (my personal favorite) rauchbier lined the walls of the German Society’s Barthelmes Auditorium. Samples of German food from Brauhaus Schmitz were also available; two kinds of paté, potato pancakes, pretzels with two kinds of mustard and sauerkraut balls filled plates around the room. The standout dish was Brauhaus Schmitz’s gulash, which was warm, meaty, comforting, and filling; the perfect food for a beer festival.
The highlight of the bierfest was the VIP session led by sommelier and beverage author Marnie Old, who gave an hour-long seminar, complete with 12 beer samples, on all aspects of German beer. From tasting notes to the history of the beer styles and breweries and the importance of each, Marnie gave an informative and impassioned talk on the beer of Germany and Pennsylvania. Even the crowd getting a little rowdy and chatty near the end could not stop her energy, and her seminar remained enlightening and entertaining until the very end.
I had a chance to catch up with Marnie after the her seminar, where she said she foresees German-style beers like lagers and pilsners being the next wave of popularity through the craft beer world. As an enthusiastic craft beer drinker, I didn’t necessarily agree at first, thinking of Philadelphia’s insistence of barrel-aged and sour beers. But, she did point out the need for a bridge from macro to craft, and these styles of beers were the logical choice to bring people over. I also think it works in reverse. In my personal experience, I know I needed the bigger, stronger, more flavorful beers to guide me, as I hadn’t yet developed a palate for beer. Once I did, I found myself picking up subtle nuances in beers such as Prima Pils or Karnival Kolsch. An interesting observation by Marnie, and one I can say seems more and more likely.
The last hour of the festival included a panel of local brewers and writers, talking about the Philly area beer scene with emphasis on their Germany brewing styles. The topics ranged from the quality of ingredients each brewer used to what everyone’s father drank when they were younger. The most telling chatter, though, was a comment on the beer culture in Pennsylvania. Bill Covaleski (Victory) and John Trogner (Troegs) both mentioned that their respective breweries wouldn’t be around with the leadership of Yuengling, while John Callahan (Yuengling) later said without the insistence on quality and locality that our great craft breweries—like Victory and Troegs—brought to Pennsylvania, Yuengling wouldn’t have been able to survive.
Working together and helping each other be successful is not only a facet of the local craft beer culture, but also illustrates well the mindset of the first German immigrants to enter Pennsylvania. It is this history of cooperation that makes events such as these a joy to attend—it is clear that not only are the attendees having a great time, but the participating brewers and breweries are as well.
Check for more pictures coming soon to our Facebook and Google+ pages!