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L'Chaim! Tribe Tipples During Philly Beer Week

March 19, 2009 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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Adam Ritter, owner of the Sidecar Bar & Grille in South Philly, mans the taps at a Philly Beer Week Shabbas dinner featuring He'Brew beer.

With a bowl of homemade matzah-ball soup before him, Jonathan Sanna sipped from a glass of kosher beer and announced that he was beginning to rethink his seder plans.

"Maybe we'll come here for Passover this year," quipped the Havertown resident, who, along with his son Matt and Matt's girlfriend, was enjoying an early (pre-sundown) and informal Shabbat dinner last Friday at South Philly's Sidecar Bar & Grille.

The dinnertime offerings also included sweet-and-sour meatballs and knishes, which were paired with He'Brew beer -- all of these part of the second annual Philly Beer Week, a 10-day celebration that ran from March 6 to March 15, and drew an estimated 30,000 revelers to nearly 700 events scheduled throughout the area. And it didn't lack for Jewish brewers or beer-lovers.

Sidecar Bar & Grille owner Adam Ritter's mother prepared all the food at home, while Ritter added ambience by playing a mix of "Jewish" music, including the Beastie Boys, Neil Diamond and the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars.

"We're trying to give a little taste of the idea" of a Shabbat dinner, noted Ritter, whose Bar Mitzvah materials and old Hebrew-school texts were scattered throughout the bar. Ritter added the fare as a special for the evening, to be ordered à la carte or with the restaurant's other less-Jewish offerings.

If there was an overriding theme to Beer Week, it was celebrating the art of craft beer -- micro-produced, small-batch specialty brews.

As such, the week was filled with events showcasing smaller breweries -- everything from Pottsville's established Yeungling Brewing Co. to the guy down the street who brews his own in the basement.

"I've been in the beer business for about 16 years, and I've brewed all over the country, and there really aren't a ton of Jews in the business," said Larry Horowitz, head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery in North Wales. Even so, he felt that it was in proportion to the number of Jews in any given population.

"Our culture hasn't often been identified with fermented beverage," he said. "I'm kind of disappointed in that because I love beer and think it's awesome. I think beer is better" than wine, "and I don't understand why we haven't stepped up as much."

There may be a number of different reasons, but one of them is that although the basic ingredients of beer -- malt, hops and yeast -- are kosher, most breweries don't go to the effort of getting a hechsher. However, the Orthodox Union -- the gold standard for kosher certification -- has declared as kosher pareve select offerings from well-known brewers, including Coors and Wilkes-Barre's Lion Brewery.

He'Brew co-founder Matt Polacheck proudly pointed to the label on his beer, showing that it's certified kosher and blessed by the rabbis at Kosher Supervision of America -- however, he noted, because of the yeast, beer is never kosher for Passover, despite what anyone may claim.

But if beer is already essentially kosher, why don't more brewers get a hechsher?

According to Horowitz, some beers contain additives or clarifying agents made out of unkosher animal products.

Besides, he said, the vast proportion of consumers "are willing to let it slide"; many people are going to buy beer regardless of its kosher status.

Perhaps, after thousands of years, beer is still trying to find its place in Jewish life.

During a He'Brew happy hour, attendee Mike Shenkman pointed out that Jews may have a better chance of seeing Elijah at their tables if they'd pour him a brimming glass of beer: "This is better than Manischewitz!" 

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