Words on the beer scene from two who know

Posted: June 07, 2013

This is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat of June 4, 2013:

Craig LaBan: Welcome to our annual Beer Week/Brew-vitational Edition of the Philly Food Chat. Check out Brewvi coverage at www.inquirer.com/food to find out which of the 49 beers won Best New Beer, and also Best Pilsner, a focused category added this year.

Two guests today: Steve Wildy (a.k.a. @Sommillionaire), beverage director for the Vetri family restaurants, instrumental in bringing Italian brews to the city at Alla Spina, and a Brew-vitational judge. Also here: Bill Covaleski, master brewer from Victory in Downingtown, winner of second place in the Brew-vi's Pilsner Division with his single-hop Braumeister Pils, made with Tettnang hops.

Tell us what you're drinking - we have a tradition of host-drinking in beer chats, so I assume you've brought something nice.

Steve: I'm nursing my mid-Beer Week wounds with a delicious gose from Tuscan brewer Amiata.

Bill: Drinking Prima Pils, baby!

CL: I've brought a Lambickx, courtesy of Don and Wendy from Vanberg & DeWulf, who blended it. Steve, Vetri's restaurants have been at the forefront of pairing great beers with fine dining. Take us back to the beginning .

Steve: Jeff Benjamin is the ultimate pairing maestro and has taught me the value of pairing from your gut. Jeff would look at a dish and say 'Man, I want a beer with that.' So halfway through a wine pairing a beer would show up and flip your expectations. Guests embraced it and now we do a full-fledged beer pairing nightly.

CL: Bill, you've witnessed great growth in Philly's beer scene. What was it like in 1996?

Bill: When we opened there were under 1,100 breweries in the U.S. and now there are nearly 2,500. We are surrounded by creativity now.

CL: What are the trends in craft beer right now that you love and hate?

Bill: I've had enough of the Battle of IBUs. Bitter alone is not a goal for me. Fortunately, new trends such as session [lower alcohol] beers really have me excited.

CL: Steve, how have the Italians distinguished themselves so quickly?

Steve: The standard theory is that they don't have a brewing tradition so they're not abiding by rules, but I think it goes deeper. They're serious scholars of brewing cultures - they're dancing with those traditions and tilting them on their sides.

CL: Why is pilsner so popular in Pennsylvania?

Bill: PA has a strong Germanic heritage, which might suggest we are stubborn. Or loyal. We have family breweries like Straub and Yuengling, so I think consumers have a taste for Germanic brews. Pils, despite the high hop content, is a beer of grace and nuance. Many people not excited by grassy, herbal hops worship at the cup of pine, citrus, mango-esque hops they find in IPAs, the largest craft style by far. Pils may stay in the shadows for a long time.

Reader: Steve, what four Italian craft beers would you select for an Italian beer noob?

Steve: Tough call, but here are a few gems: Baladin Nora (saison brewed with myrrh, among other things), Del Borgo Reale Extra (IPA with almost no hop bitterness on the finish), Bruton Bianca (wheat beer brewed with spelt), and Del Decato Verdi (imperial stout brewed with chili peppers).

CL: Thanks for joining the chat, Steve and Bill.

This is the last chat until June 25th - until then I'll be on assignment on some distant shores. Meanwhile, stay safe and, of course, happy Beer Week!


Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan will resume his Tuesday online chats on June 25 at 2 p.m. at www.inquirer.com/labanchats