LEHIGH VALLEY Beer Week starts Sunday, and among the assortment of festivals, tastings and tap takeovers that will draw beer lovers to Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton is a seven-course dinner with Garrett Oliver, the author, engaging lecturer and debonair brewer at Brooklyn Brewery.
Oliver’s one-night appearance on Tuesday, though, won’t be taking place at a swank restaurant or prominent craft beer bar.
This $70-a-plate affair is at a supermarket.
No, it’s not your mother’s Acme, where a beer dinner might be a smuggled can of Bud Light and an open box of Pop Tarts on Aisle 9. It’s not even one of those generic snack bars that were created by a quirk of state liquor law to justify takeout beer in Pennsylvania grocery stores.
This dinner is at The Pub by Wegmans, in Allentown, which has emerged as one of the region’s go-to craft-beer destinations. It’s one of about a half-dozen area Wegmans locations, including Malvern and Collegeville, that have upgraded their pubs in the past year or so.
I’ll admit that on my first visit to the Allentown spot a couple of months ago, I had my doubts. Surrounded by coupon-shuffling suburban shoppers rolling produce-filled carts toward the check-out lines, The Pub is not exactly your corner taproom.
But beyond the decorative iron gating and below a pressed-tin ceiling, I found a comfortable, 92-seat, full-service, beer-focused restaurant. Its open kitchen serves up wide-ranging, freshly prepared dishes; its eight taps pour local brews, including house beers from Sly Fox. I didn’t even mind wandering over to the adjacent takeout section to pull a corked Belgian ale from shelves stocked with more than 1,000 varieties.
According to store manager Mike Kier, The Pub at Wegmans attracts more than just shoppers who want to grab a bite before picking up milk and bread.
“We get a lot of people who come here specifically for The Pub who are not necessarily Wegmans shoppers,” Kier said. “It’s families and couples and folks just looking for a nice night out. It’s a warm, friendly environment for casual dining.”
Landing Oliver for a Beer Week event is a pretty big deal for Kier and Wegmans, but it’s not the first time the supermarket has hosted a beer-making luminary. Last year, The Pub was the site of a mini-summit of brewers from Victory, Troegs, Weyerbacher, Saucony Creek and Fegley’s Brew Works.
“We sold out 100 tickets, and that was when we realized we should be doing more beer events,” Kier said. “Now we’ve got Garrett Oliver, who’s an absolute rock star in the business. We were just thrilled that he agreed to come.”
Hmm . . . wonder what he prefers: Paper or plastic?
Lehigh Valley Beer Week is a great chance to explore the burgeoning beer community just an hour up the Northeast Extension from Philly. Here are six other recommended events where you’ll get a taste of the region’s best:
1. Ribbon Cutting and Tapping – Fegley’s Brew Works (Allentown). The official beer is LVBW3 Imperial IPA, based on a winning recipe from local homebrewer Jim Yergey and brewed with Fegley brewmaster Beau Baden. Sunday, 1 p.m. No tix necessary.
2. Funk Brewing Tap Takeover – The Trapp Door (Emmaus). The gastropub known for its cask ales will focus on beers from Funk, brewed five minutes down the road. Look for LV Slammer, an English mild brewed specially for Beer Week. Monday, all day. Pay as you go.
3. HiJinx Beer Pairing Dinner – Youell’s Oyster House (Allentown). Get a taste of five brews from local up-and-comer HiJinx, paired with duck pate, osso buco, marlin and more. Tuesday, 6 p.m. Tix $43, 610-439-1202.
4. The Ill Swill – Strange Brew Tavern (Allentown). It’s an “all-star” musical ensemble, with brewery reps (and their beer) from Smuttynose, Sly Fox, Evil Genius and Weyerbacher. Feb. 20, 10 p.m. Free.
5. Beermuda Triangle (Easton). Three local beer spots – Black & Blue, Porter’s Pub and Two Rivers Brewing – host a parade through the streets of downtown Easton, with floats from area breweries, live music and plenty of suds. Feb. 21, 3 p.m. Free.
6. Smokin’ in the Biergarten – Fegley’s Brew Works (Bethlehem). Brewer Josh Bushey’s Smoked Rauchbock paired with smoked meats in a heated tent. Feb. 22, 2 p.m. Pay as you go.