Tim Adams, this year's special guest out-of-town brewer, is the cofounder of Oxbow in Maine, a saison specialist housed in a renovated barn in Newcastle, Maine, that Bon Appétit magazine named one of America's 10 Great Farmhouse Breweries. Focused on Belgian-style ales with an American (read: hoppy) touch, Adams, who spent his highschool years in Japan (where he was a bartender by age 15) and started brewing in a dorm room at Colorado College, is the ideal panelist to comment on the creativity and craftsmanship of Philly's growing saison movement.
Brendan Hartranft is co-owner (with wife Leigh Maida) of Memphis Taproom, Resurrection Ale House, Strangelove's, and Local 44, four gastropubs that have helped pioneer the good life in emerging Philadelphia neighborhoods (Kensington, Grays Ferry) with some of the most serious beer lists in town. Brendan claims to have started drinking beer at age two (Genessee Cream Ale), and went on to perfect his palate in later tenures at Gravity Brewing Co., the Foodery, Khyber Pass, Blue Ox Brauhaus, Dock Street, and Nodding Head.
Jennie Hatton was first smitten by great Belgian and craft brews 20 years ago while working for Tom Peters at Copa Too. This inspired a long tenure at Profile Public Relations, where she became one of the city's most present beer evangelists, encouraging restaurant clients to "put some local on your lists," and overseeing PR for numerous local breweries (Iron Hill, Flying Fish, Yards) and Philly Beer Week, of which she is now a board member. She is now North American brand manager for Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer.
Jared Littman is the cofounder (with wife Kristy Littman) of PhillyTapFinder.com, an essential online blog and app for local brewhounds to track. almost in real time, what more than 100 Philly bars are pouring at any moment. A federal attorney by day and entrepreneurial beer fan by night who loves both extreme beers and restrained pilsners, Littman has his thumb on the draft lines that pulse through the thirsty heart of Philly's beer world.
Jeff Cioletti is the editor-in-chief of Beverage World Magazine, a leading industry publication that covers the business of drink. Jeff is a dedicated beer nerd who has traveled extensively covering the subject. He is also the writer/producer/director of a feature film, Beerituality, a comedy set in the world of craft beer that is available for on-demand streaming and download at amazon.com.
Michael Ryan Lawrence is the current reigning "2013 Philly Beer Geek," a rigorous region-wide beer trivia (and blind tasting) competition that qualifies him as a leading expert on local brews. The son of a tavern owner and a filmmaker by trade, he is director of the film Beeradelphia - The City of Brewery Love, and has been an occasional guest brewer ("Will I Am" for Free Will, "Hoparazzi" for Iron Hill) and frequent beer judge.
Rick Nichols, the Inquirer's esteemed food columnist emeritus and one of the original Brewvi judges, returns to the panel after a year off to reclaim his seat as everyone's favorite weird beer curmudgeon. An unabashed traditionalist, mere mention of a saison with jalapeños is enough to evoke a "PRIMALLLLL SCREAMMMM!!!" Rick's blind-tasting notes, nonetheless, are always unfailingly fair and open-minded to beers that show craftsmanship and balance.
Craig LaBan, the Inquirer's restaurant critic and "Drink" columnist, has marveled at the growth and impact of craft beer on Philly's dining scene over the last decade. This year's featured category, saison, is a nod to the bottle of Brasserie Dupont's organic Forêt that sparked his love of Belgian beer many years ago. He traveled to Dupont in Belgium with group from Philly Beer Week to document their collaboration beer in 2012.