Here is an excerpt from Craig LaBan's online chat:
Craig LaBan: In honor of our Second Annual Brew-vitational, I've invited as special guests our first place winners: Brian O'Reilly, the master brewer from Sly Fox in Phoenixville; William Reed, cofounder/owner of Standard Tap, who recently collaborated on the winning "new" beer with O'Reilly called Standard Pils; and Mark Edelson, director of brewery operations at Iron Hill, the region's largest brewpub chain.
Brian, how much have Philly's German roots played into the kind of beers that Sly Fox produces? Many of your classics - Pikeland Pils, Royal Weisse - seem directly inspired by that tradition.
Brian O'Reilly: Philly's German roots have definitely made for a receptive and more knowledgeable customer base. I think that it is important to realize that Stoudt's set an early benchmark for local breweries' being able to produce a good lager. Victory seconded it, and we were able to continue.
C.L.: Mark, folks know Iron Hill as one of, if not the, biggest brewpub chains in the region. You've got eight pubs, with another ready to open in Chestnut Hill this year. How did this chain begin?
Mark Edelson: Like many in this industry, I personally started as a homebrew. One of my partners (Kevin Finn) and I homebrewed together for many years and got the bug. We really wanted to do a brewpub rather than a production brewery and paired up with Wilmington restaurateur Kevin Davies. I think from the beginning we always imagined we would grow. I am not sure I would have imagined we would be as successful as we are today.
C.L.: Brian and William, tell us about your new collaboration beer, Standard Pils. How did that come about? How is it different from Sly's other pils classic, Pikeland? Did you like brewing together? Does William still have his chops?
Brian O'Reilly: William does still have chops. One thing that is refreshing about formulating a beer with him is that he doesn't try to reinvent anything or throw in the kitchen sink. I guess that is reflected in the food and the decor of Standard Tap as well.
Standard Pils is a simple keller pils, served unfiltered as it would be if it were sampled right from the tank. It has slightly less alcohol than Pikeland and is hopped twice with a single hop Spalt Select.
William Reed: Brian and I brewed together a few times, each timed for Philly Beer Week. A Standard Ale (British-style bitter, in firkins) and a Standard Porter.
C.L.: William, you were a brewer before opening Standard Tap, right? Is it sort of like riding a bicycle?
William Reed: I was the brewer at Sam Adams Brewhouse for 5 years. The current location of Nodding Head Brewery. It all comes back to me . . . the steam, the wet feet.
C.L.: William, you were one of the first Philly publicans to focus on local beers. How have you seen Philly's beer and brewing scene evolve?
William Reed: Now bars are expected to carry a decent selection of local beer, and often great imports as well. Also Philly drinkers are appreciative of subtle flavors, not just big hop bombs.
Reader: Is Philly near its saturation point with craft beer?
William Reed: Nowhere near it.
Mark Edelson: Absolutely not!!! Has anyone been to Portland, Ore., lately? Remember, craft beer is still only 5% of all beer sold.
William Reed: Novelty isn't sustainable. Subtle, elegant, well-crafted beer is something people don't walk away from.
C.L.: I was just in Portland-they've got 38 breweries within the city limits. But the actual diversity of beer flavors isn't quite what we have. Everyone is making their own variations on the same styles.
Brian O'Reilly: I don't think that Philly is near a saturation point. Great beer and great food are becoming a standard, no pun intended, William. I do think that the energy dedicated to rare and never-tasted-before beers is destined to loose steam.
Reader: What about beer food? The selections in the area have exploded. My fave are pierogies! You guys have a favorite?
Reader: The Standard Tap's Duck Confit Salad should be on any "must try" list in Philadelphia. True?
Mark Edelson: Hands down is cheese. The pairing potential for beer and cheeses is unbelievable. High-quality cheese shops are popping up, I can spent two hours in a shop and then go home and pop some of my favorites from my cellar.
Reader: Any advice for homebrewers wanting to get into the "real" industry?
Brian O'Reilly: It's important to realize brewers are running a business. They often don't have time to train.
Mark Edelson: Get your foot in the door any way you can to get experience. Clean kegs, etc. Look to get some kind of formal education. We look for both to hire from the outside. We also love to hire from within. Three people who wanted a brewer job with us I told to get a server job with us. They did and now they are brewers.