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June 9, 2011

With Love Beer Garden Featured Brewer Q&A: Brian O’Reilly Of Sly Fox Brewing Company

Sly Fox head brewer Brian O'Reilly will be at the With Love Beer Garden tonight. (Photo by J. Smith for GPTMC)

[This is the fourth installment in our With Love Beer Garden Q&A series, which we’ve published each day this week in honor of the Philly Beer Week With Love Beer Garden at the Four Seasons Philadelphia Hotel’s courtyard. Tonight’s featured brewer is Brian O’Reilly of Sly Fox Brewing Company. Read on to hear him weigh in on his favorite bars and restaurants in Philadelphia, his take on why the Philadelphia craft beer scene has grown so tremendously and more.]

The Sly Fox story began in 1994 when Pete Giannopoulos left his job in corporate sales to pursue brewing, with the help of his ambitious family members who — to date — remain committed to the enterprise. Head brewer Brian O’Reilly arrived in March 2002, helping expand the family business to a full-scale brewery, two pubs, a loyal local customer base and both beer and food which attract visitors from all along the Eastern seaboard.

We recently talked with Brian to get the scoop on Sly Fox’s Philadelphia-themed beers, his take on why the Philadelphia craft beer scene has grown so tremendously and more.

Uwishunu: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. We can’t wait for the Sly Fox night at the With Love Beer Garden tonight! In addition to the Beer Garden, what other Beer Week events are you most excited about?

Brian: After playing some Kan Jam at the beer garden, I’m going to head over to Southwark for an incredible dinner featuring pork from Country Time Farms prepared by Sheri and Nick [Southwark co-owners] and paired with Sly Fox Beer. I’m really looking forward to learning something about pig farming. Paul and Ember Crivellaro from Country Time will be there and Southwark has never disappointed. The dessert course is chocolate and pork liver mousse with crispy pig skin. The acidity in our Black Raspberry Reserve is sure to cut right through the rich luscious mousse.

Friday at Good Dog I’m looking forward to beating Southampton Brewing for the second year in a row at our annual “Firkin Off”. It is a frantic race to see who can pour and sell a 10.8 gallon cask of beer first. Last year we drained and drank a cask in less than eight minutes. I know the boys at Southampton don’t want to lose again. They won’t make it easy.

Uwishunu: Outside of your pouring skills, Sly Fox has grown tremendously since its inception in 1994 — the awarding of a Gold Medal to Sly Fox Pikeland Pilsner at Denver’s 2007 Great American Beer Festival was the very first time a GABF medal of any sort had been given to a craft beer. Why do you think the Philadelphia beer scene has thrived so impressively in the past decade and a half?

Brian: First we know of a craft beer in a can winning a medal! I’m really proud of that one. Craft beer is thriving right now and Philadelphia is filled with great taverns. I think the standard for great beer, great food and a cool relaxed atmosphere is incredibly high in Philly. People from other cities are blown away by the incredible options that we have. I guess that’s the spirit that invoked Philly Beer Week. A bunch of publicans brewers, and wholesalers challenging each other to do more great groundbreaking things. If you live in greater Philadelphia, you really are blessed with great beer and food!

Uwishunu: We agree! Speaking of which, do you source ingredients locally for any Sly Fox beers?

Brian: We use local invert [sugar] and corn syrup from Good Foods in Lancaster. We also have been working on a few special projects, but right now we are not able to find a source for local malt or hops. We obviously use local water. It is great for brewing. We have been watching New York- and Pennsylvania-grown hops and the quality is growing, but it is still not where we need it to be.

Below, Brian talks about Sly Fox’s Philadelphia-themed beers, his favorite bars in the city and more.

Uwishunu: Aside from some local ingredients, we know the name “Sly Fox” reflects the company’s home in Chester County and the area’s fox-hunting tradition. You also named your Philly-Beer-Week-exclusive brew “Broederlijke Liefde” after Philadelphia’s “Brotherly Love” moniker. Are there any other nods to Philadelphia in your beer portfolio?

Brian: Pikeland Pils is named after our local township. We also brew a cask only beer called “Chester County Bitter.” Another beer we brew, Rt. 113 IPA, is named after the highway right outside our first brewpub.

Uwishunu: We’ll make sure to try each of those! We love how Sly Fox makes brewing top-notch quality products a top priority. What are some of your favorite of those Sly Fox beers to enjoy outdoors in the summertime?

Brian: It’s difficult to pick. If I am enjoying a beer in the a.m., it would be Royal Weisse. I usually end up drinking Pikeland Pils or Phoenix Pale Ale sometime during a session. If I take a beer or two in my back pack for an overnight hike, it would be 113 IPA, a nice bold and spicy beer when I only have room for a few.

Uwishunu: Cool to know you’re a hiker! Besides some of those gorgeous regional landscapes, Philadelphia has plenty of awesome bars and restaurants. What are some of your favorite places in the city to go to grab a beer and a bite? Do you have any favorite beer and food pairings?

Brian: There are too many to mention, but I usually send people to Standard Tap and Monks. They both have great food and their beer focus is completely different. Standard Tap’s focus is on local draught and Monks focus is on Belgian and International boutique beers. If you appreciate both of those places, you will have a good feel for the overall feel of Philly beer and you will be right at home at the P.O.P.E. or South Philly Taproom in South Philly or at TJ’s Everyday and Teresa’s Next Door on the Main Line.

I love cheese and Tria does a great job picking beer and cheese pairings for me when I just want to sit back, relax and let someone else do the thinking.

Uwishunu: Any final words of wisdom for our readers attempting to navigate Philly Beer Week?

Brian: Don’t try to focus on just one event. Come in to the city and explore. Pick a neighborhood and go from one place to another. If a particular dinner interests you, scope out a place or event to stop by before and after. And always remember, you can sleep when your dead!

With Love Beer Garden
Where: The Courtyard at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia, 1 Logan Square
Note: You can enter straight from the corner of 18th and Cherry Streets; you don’t need to go through the hotel
When: Today-June 10, 4-8 p.m.
Cost: Pay as you go
More info: www.visitphilly.com

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