Lehigh Valley Beer Week
The Lehigh Valley has thirsted for locally produced beer since the 18th century when the Moravians built breweries in Bethlehem and near Nazareth. According to the handwritten papers of Moravian historian Robert Rau (1844-1906) in the Moravian Archives, one of the Lehigh Valley’s first breweries was built in Bethlehem along the banks of the Lehigh River behind the Brethren’s House shortly after the Revolutionary War.
Established to dilute a growing use of distilled spirits, “an evil which had grown to an alarming extent after the Revolution,” the stone brewery was finished in 1782 and the “first frothy product of the vat,” reportedly a light-colored beer, was successfully tapped on January 17, 1783.
A historic foamy foundation coupled with a surge in craft breweries and a rising interest in home brewing have culminated with this year’s fifth annual Lehigh Valley Beer Week, a celebration of the area’s unquenchable desire for quality beer.
“Awash in lagers, ales, pilsners, IPAs, lambics, porters, and stouts, Lehigh Valley Beer Week is a showcase for that acute awareness in all things sudsy…”
From that tradition, the taps will open and glasses will be joyfully hoisted at more than 50 restaurants, bars, distributors, and breweries from Spinnerstown to Easton and many places in between to feature more than 150 beer and multicourse food pairings, brewing classes, musical performances, tap takeovers, beer dinners, bar crawls, and rare beer releases.
“It’s been crazy and it’s just blown up—we have five times more breweries in Lehigh Valley than we had since we started this event five years ago,” says Jesse Albertson, acting president of Lehigh Valley Beer Week and one of the event’s founders.
“Our local culture is just more aware of good beer, and with more high-end restaurants in the Lehigh Valley and a desire to drink better beer, we now have all the driving factors to bring awareness to what we have in the Lehigh Valley,” says Albertson, general manager Bar Louie in the Promenade Shops in Upper Saucon Township and former general manager of Fegley’s Brew Works.
Awash in lagers, ales, pilsners, IPAs, lambics, porters, and stouts, Lehigh Valley Beer Week is a showcase for that acute awareness in all things sudsy and brings everyone together “to make it a real thing,” he adds.
It took persistence, phone calls, and coordination to mobilize brewery representatives to connect with distributors to organize the first beer week. But Albertson says Shangy’s of Emmaus, which distributes local craft brews, and establishments like Porters’ Pub & Restaurant in Easton and the Spinnerstown Hotel that promote and serve it, laid the foundation for the inaugural event.
“You never know if there’s interest until you put it out there,” says Albertson, noting that the Lehigh Valley had just a handful of craft breweries when Lehigh Valley Beer Week started. “We have at least eight today, and that’s a lot,” he says.
Since last year’s event, three more local breweries have opened: Lost Tavern Brewing in Hellertown, Bonn Place Brewing Co. in Bethlehem and Yergey Brewing in Emmaus, which was inspired after owner Jim Yergey won Lehigh Valley Beer Week’s Be Our Brewer for A Day Competition in 2014. Craft brewers from outside the Lehigh Valley will also have products for sampling at various locations.
Besides raising the Lehigh Valley’s profile as a beer destination, Lehigh Valley Beer Week also provides a boon to sales.
Scott Adams, outgoing Lehigh Valley Beer Week president and assistant brewer at Funk Brewing Co. in Emmaus, estimates a 30 to 40 percent increase in beer sales during the event and describes the number of gallons of beer consumed since the event started in 2013 as “dizzying.”
“Every year, the popularity of Lehigh Valley Beer Week seems to increase,” Adams says. “Young professionals with no kids and good jobs are moving and staying here and enjoying the variety of craft beer appearing throughout the unique communities in Lehigh Valley. It’s really brought the region together and unified it through this annual celebration.”
February was designated for the beer week to give people an excuse to emerge from their homes in the dark cold of winter and warmly socialize with friends to toast what has become fertile ground for craft brewing.
“What’s cool is that people can sample many varieties of beer and food across our three cities and in the smaller communities in between,” Adams says. “What’s remarkable and exciting to see is the number of local and craft brews that are on tap at restaurants and bars across our area.”
“The great thing about beer is that drinking it is truly a social activity,” he says. “It’s always easy to have a beer with a friend.”
For a listing of Lehigh Valley Beer Week events, visit lehighvalleybeerweek.com.