Late last month, about 160 scruffy dudes piled into the ballroom at the North Side's Priory Hotel. The Avett Brothers weren't playing a surprise show, nor was Apple unveiling some new wearable tech. They gathered instead to celebrate that other great love of scruffy dudes: beer.
The third Meeting of the Malts brought together brewers, enthusiasts and folks from every corner of the industry to talk about, and drink, Pennsylvania craft beer. The panel discussion/dinner, sponsored by the PFE Corporation, Vecenie Distributing and North Country Brewing, was a fundraiser for the Brewers of PA, a trade association with about 60 members that works to promote and protect the state's brewing industry.
Throughout the evening, Tröegs' Chris Trogner, Victory's Bill Covaleski and East End's Scott Smith fielded a range of beer- and business-related questions. Though the panelists grew increasingly difficult to hear as the night wore on (beer, as it turns out, tends to make people loud and distractible), the overall tone was one of excitement — for what Pennsylvania's 219 licensed craft brewers have accomplished as well as for what lies ahead.
"We are only now approaching the number of breweries we had prior to Prohibition," said Smith. Though Pennsylvania's craft-beer market is growing increasingly crowded, the panel seemed unconcerned, discussing the limitless flavors that can be achieved with small tweaks to beer's four basic ingredients. They also speculated about the trends we might see in craft beer this year, including lower-alcohol brews, more locally sourced ingredients, and the return of the almighty lager.
Toward the end of the evening, Covaleski touched on the collaborative spirit of the state's brewing industry. "You can never underestimate, and you can never overlook, the value of unity," he said. With that, the crowd that had seemed wholly unfocused moments before erupted into thunderous applause. And I left that room, a room packed with the state's sharpest brewing minds, knowing that we beer-lovers are in very capable hands.