Beer trends come and go. Once-popular but comically over-hopped IPAs, for example, are now giving way to mellow, spicy-sour farmhouse ales. But the allure of European beer is timeless — at least according to Jeff Walewski, owner of the beer-focused Sharp Edge group. Next week, the original Sharp Edge location, the Beer Emporium in East Liberty, hosts the mini-chain's 17th annual European Beer Festival.
Years ago, Walewski attended the Great American Beer Festival in Colorado and left inspired. The craft-beer movement was just beginning to catch fire, but he decided to create a festival more suited to his own tastes. "I was always interested in Belgian beers, so I figured, ‘Hey, let's do just European beers.' Everyone else was focusing on the American theme," he says.
Walewski doesn't have a beef with the American craft-beer movement. It's simply that he thinks that the best beer is, at its root, European.
"The European beers are the ones that got this started hundreds of years ago," he says. "A lot of craft breweries base their style on European beers. There are more American styles now, but that's still the trend, to be European."
The festival kicks off on Fri., June 28, with "The Ultimate Bier Dinner," a five-course Belgian-themed meal welcoming Lionel Van der Haegen, the sixth-generation owner and brewer of Brasserie de Silly Brewery.
There are three separate tasting sessions (two on June 29, one on June 30). For $60, revelers can enjoy three hours of uninterrupted sampling and taste over more than 120 beers — all of which are European.
The nearly 1,000 people who attended in previous years shouldn't look for any major shakeups this year. Walewski says that, much like the Weihenstephan Brewery (Germany, 1040 AD) and the Brouweri Roman (Belgium, 1545 AD), some things are better when they remain consistent. "It's been pretty successful, what we're doing. So why change it?"