Of the 79 beers from 41 breweries on the Inquirer's expert tasting table, 12 judges crowned three champs in two categories: the new beers of 2017 and lagers in various styles.
Later that evening, at a festival at the Reading Terminal Market, the public cast a popular vote for a third category: best "flagship" beer.
1. (tie) Franklin’s Abbey Dubbel, Belgian dubbel (6.5%), Saint Benjamin Brewing Co. This is a classically styled Belgian dubbel with roasty malts and fruity aromatics but with the added tingle of witbier spice (orange peel and coriander) added to cut sweetness on the finish. Judges: “Complex, malty, rummy, raisiny, dates and dried fruit”; “Such a well-made dubbel, a style you just don’t see done often”; “Beautiful.”
1. (tie) Antebellum, saison (6%), Forest & Main Brewing Co. This evocative and tart saison is made from 100 percent oats in its mash, which lends herbal, grassy notes, but also wild yeast foraged from cherry blossoms in the brewery's front yard, plus six months in oak barrels, where it takes on a complex, bretty sourness that is a beer geek special. Judges: “Funky, fruity, and pleasantly sour”; “Nice! Bright apricot, orange zest, and a lingering dry finish.”
3. Refreshing Double IPA (8%), Tired Hands Brewing Co. Another winner made with 100 percent oats for mash, this hazy, creamy double IPA is a full-frontal hop party, but rather than being bitter, it's balanced and bursting with Citra and Galaxy hop flavors that evoke ripe summer stone fruits and citrus. Refreshing, indeed. Judges: “A cloudy New England-style juice bomb … but balanced”; “Wow!”; “Dank.”
1. Pilsner Prosim, Czech-style pilsner (4.2%), Saint Benjamin Brewing Co. The brewery's new German-made brewing system has paid off with brewer Andrew Foss' classically crisp Euro-style pilsner, which uses a traditional decoction method to achieve a slightly darker color without any added sweetness. Judges' comments: “Bright hoppy-liciousnness”; “Clean and malt-forward”; “Light and crushable.”
2. The Weekender, hoppy pilsner (5.8%), Manayunk Brewing Co. Brewer Evan Fritz took cues from traditional styles, then used "crazy sexy" hop varieties such as Mosaic and Citra to give it a new-world zing. This batch was finished less than 24 hours before the panel drank it, so freshness was key. Judges: “American hop profile with some spicy flavors … grapey”; "exotic;" “Not lagerlike.”
3. It’s Raining Cats & Dogs! FALSE, Indian pale lager (6.5%), Evil Genius Beer Co. This beer's name, a quote from Dwight Schrute of The Office, summarizes the genre-bending concept — a lager made in the style of a "super-hazy, double dry-hopped India pale ale." Lager malts and yeast were used, but with "nouveau hops," such as orangey Mandarina Bavaria and tropical Hallertau Blanc, it had extra character. The balance was still enough for judges: “Hazy, rich and hoppy”; “Haze craze, grassy. Sweet.”
1. Vienna-style lager (5.3%) Double Nickel Brewing Co. Brewer Drew Perry's "better version of Yuengling," a third-place winner from the judges in 2016, returned as a smooth-drinking winner with the public at 2017's Taste of the Brewvitational at Reading Terminal Market. The hoppy Type A IPA from Conshohocken Brewing Co. and decadent Double Chocolate Milk Stout from Lancaster Brewing Co. tied for second.