They came, they sipped — they sipped some more — and then they voted. And once the public had slaked its thirst for local craft beer at the inaugural Taste of the Brewvitational festival Thursday night at the Reading Terminal Market, it decided that the region's best "flagship" beer was ... a lager from South Jersey.
The Vienna Style Lager from Double Nickel Brewing Co. in Pennsauken — a beer I've described before as a thinking man's Yuengling — took home first place in the popular vote for flagship beers at the first public event for the Inquirer's Brewvitational competition for local brewers.
Over 250 people attended the evening celebration at the market, sipping flagship brews (those year-round signature brands) from 37 local breweries. That followed a full day of judging in private by a panel of experts who also blind-tasted through nearly 80 other brews, and named the year's best new beers and winners in this year's focused style category: lagers.
In that regard, the public was on point in choosing this malty but balanced lager from Double Nickel, which, showing consistency, happened to have taken home third prize from the judges in last year's Brewvitational competition.
"It's meant to be a great Tuesday-night beer with lower alcohol," says Double Nickel's head brewer and co-founder, Drew Perry. "It's a mass market-style beer – but better, with no shortcuts and the best malts and German hops out there you can buy. We're trying to appeal to the beer geeks, but also make a gateway beer to bring that mass-market drinker into the craft world."
Close behind in the public vote, two other breweries tied for second as runners-up: Conshocken Brewing Co.'s Type A IPA and the decadent Double Chocolate Milk Stout from Lancaster Brewing Co., a variation on the brewery's milk stout made with chocolate nibs, cocoa, and chocolate essence. (Chocolate in the beer? Sort of sounds like cheating to me, but --.)
"It's maybe not what I'd like to drink," concedes Lancaster brewer Bill Moore, "but it outsells our regular milk stout now, and all those 'millenians' obviously do" like it.
Here are the winners in two other categories, chosen earlier in the day by expert judges in the blind tasting.
Best new beer:
1. (tie) Franklin’s Abbey Dubbel, Belgian Dubbel, 6.5 percent alcohol, Saint Benjamin Brewing Co.
Judges' comments: “Complex, malty, rummy, raisiny, dates and dried fruit”; “Such a well-made dubbel, a style you just don’t see done often”; “Beautiful.”
Antebellum, Saison, 6 percent., Forest & Main Brewing Co.
Judges: “Funky, fruity, and pleasantly sour”; “Herbal”; “Nice! Bright apricot, orange zest, and a lingering dry finish.”
3. Refreshing Double IPA, 8 percent., Tired Hands Brewing Co.
Judges: “A cloudy New England-style juice bomb … but balanced”; “Wow! Like a milkshake”; “Dank.”
Best lager style:
1. Pilsner Prosim, Czech-style Pilsner, 4.2 percent alcohol, Saint Benjamin Brewing Co.
Judges' comments: “Bright hoppy-liciousnness”; “Clean and malt-forward”; “Light and crushable.”
2. The Weekender, Hoppy Pilsner, 5.8% percent., Manayunk Brewing Co.
Judges: “American hop profile with some spicy flavors … grapey”; “Not lager-like.”
3. It’s Raining Cats & Dogs! FALSE, Indian Pale Lager, 6.5 percent., Evil Genius.
Judges: “Hazy, rich and hoppy”; “Haze craze, grassy. Sweet.”