Last year I did a profile for each of most of the local breweries in the Philadelphia region. I've updated them, but instead of once again spilling them out across the page here, I'll simply point you over to where you can find and download the profile. Triumph Brewery is located in Princeton, NJ, New Hope, PA, and Philadelphia, PA. They make a wide-ranging number of styles, but concentrate a lot of focus on perfecting the perfect pilsner and other beers of the lager variety. Click here for a 2009 updated Profile of Triumph Brewery. An addition to the profiles this year will be an interview with a key "player" at each establishment. At Triumph, Patrick Jones is the head brewer at Philadelphia's Old City location. He indulged me for a few questions.
The Brew Lounge: Some major events in the last year include celebrating the 1st anniversary in the Old City location and the death of Jay Misson. I know this is a long first question, but here goes: What surprises have there been/what have you learned about brewing in Old City. And, how has the loss of Jay continued to be felt, but on the other hand in what ways do you feel that you/the company have moved on? (okay, sorry, that's more like 2 1/2 questions)
Patrick Jones: Well, it's interesting to look back and reflect on both fronts. First, I already knew that Philly, in general, was more beer-sophisticated than the burbs, but I was surprised by the product mix I saw week after week at Triumph (that's not a slam on the burbs, remember Triumph is in New Hope as well and wouldn't be there if we couldn't sell good beer). Honey Wheat is our lightest and driest beer and constitutes about 25% of sales of beer. Its the best-selling beer as a single brand. But, that also means that 75% is of the "other" brands. IPA, Stout, Pilsner, Tripel, Smoked, etc. So the majority of our guests that drink beer are drinking "the good stuff". The ratio was the most shocking. For the record, IPA is #2 for the bulk of the calendar year. Sometime seasonals take its place, like Hefeweizen, Oktoberfest, and Pumpkin Ale.
Second, beyond the personal loss I felt with his passing (I met Jay in the spring of 2000 and we became friends by early 2002), he was student of the craft and ideally wanted everyone around him to become one as well. His day in and day out passion to oversee the production of the best beer possible will be sorely missed. Jay being a cheerleader of sorts has forced us as brewers to find inner strength and motivation to continue the good fight, and now rely not on him, but on each other for advise, support, and experience.
TBL: Do you find that your customer base appreciates and even demands the lager styles that you have become well known for?
PJ: I do to some degree. On the good side, I have noticed that the sales of our lagers have grown from about 20% to 35% of beer sales. Also, when other brewers from the area come in they almost always get a lager and more often than not, a Pils (since I carry at least one all the time). I hope its because they are really good and not because they think the other beers I make are sub-par. I guess you'll have to ask them. On the down side, I know that lagers in general do not have the same cache as Imperial "whatevers", Belgian styles, and barrel-aged beers. So in a way I'm going against the grain. I'm going to make an "Imperialized" Pilsner in a few weeks. Not sure what the name of the beer is yet, but hopefully it will satisfy the hop heads out there.
TBL: Do you have a personal favorite either the regular lineup or specialty brews that you do?
PJ: German Pilsner or Kellerbier and Hefeweizen. All German, I know, but admittedly I don't sip, I drink. I really enjoy the simplicity of a good, crisp, very dry Pils. It makes me want more and more and more. Hefeweizen can pack plenty of flavor and is very refreshing in the summer. Its also is great with fresh goat cheese.
TBL: When you're not putting back one of your own beers, do you have favorite(s) from others in the industry? Or how about liquid vices other than beer?
PJ: The two beers that I usually have in my fridge are Sierra Neveda Pale and Victory Prima Pils. My wife has the same taste as me, to some degree, and both beers are readily available.
TBL: You skipped GABF this year didn't you? Can we expect to see you back on the podium next year?
PJ: I was there. I go every year. Its usually a guys long weekend with friends from Nashville and Miami. So for the podium, I guess I'm always there in spirit, but hopefully in person next year. Keep your fingers crossed.
TBL: Okay, now I'm embarrassed. Of course I recall seeing you and talking about your beers that you entered. Let's see if I can move along here.
TBL: You've been writing about Cheese & Beer pairings in Ale Street News for a little while. Is this the most fascinating beer/food combination to you? Or is there a more "deserted island" pairing that you can think of?
PJ: It may not be the "most" fascinating, but it ranks right up there my book. Think about it. Simplistically speaking, beer comes from grain which is a grass. Cheese comes from milk but originated as grass. There just a cow (or goat, or sheep, etc.) in the middle, as Garrett Oliver would say. As for "desert island" scenario, my #2 would be the one listed above, but my #1 would be a North German Pils married with Montgomery's Cheddar. The Pils hopefully be my own (biased I know) and Montgomery's is rich and buttery but with just enough acidic tang to stand up to the dry finish of the Pils. Awesome!
TBL: Where do you see beer and food pairings in the general public's eye over the coming years?
PJ: The more restaurant owners see the monetary potential of carrying/selling craft beers and subsequently the more chefs learn that beer can be used in cooking and pairing with food the better informed the general public will be because of the immense exposure. Owners/chefs can be another driving force in the "battle" of food and beverage pairings.
I watch Top Chef on Bravo with my wife and in the episodes that the chefs create menus and pairing them with wine, beer is never an option (unless I missed that episode). Until enough people get on board (owners and chefs), the public will not follow because of the lack of access to the beers and education about them, and also how well beer can pair with food. In some cases, it can pair even better. Try spicy Mexican with red wine. Yuck! Ok, I'm off my soap box now.
And, on that note, let's move along and get to scheduling some visits to Triumph during Philly Beer Week. Next up in this year's Profiles will be Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing in Downingtown, PA.