Meet the Brewer

Sly Fox Brewery’s award-winning Brian O’Reilly

Sly Fox's Brian O’ReillyMLT: When did the craft beer craze really take off in Philly?
I’m not sure. It could be traced back to Monk’s, but many of the breweries had not hit their stride yet. I do think we are headed toward the golden years. Philly Beer Week both challenges us to be better—we need to defend the title of the best beer-drinking city in America—and shows off what we enjoy every day. I’m proud to be a part of such an exciting and diverse beer-drinking culture.

MLT: What’s the appeal to consumers?
Craft beer offers people something local with a story. It’s rewarding to enjoy a tasty beer, but even better to drink a beer and know you’re supporting a local, small company.

MLT: What’s your target market?
I don’t know that we think much about a target audience. Anyone who enjoys flavor and is open to trying something new is our target. It seems like more and more young people are drinking craft beer. They don’t seem to wait until they graduate from college anymore.

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MLT: Who devised the initial recipe for Sly Fox beer?
When I got involved with Sly Fox, I reformulated and redesigned the beers. The Amber IPA became the pale ale and was later named Phoenix Pale Ale. Many of the other beers were just intended for our pubs. The Giannopoulos’ gave me a lot of freedom to brew almost anything. Here is our story.

MLT: How has the economy affected the “crafting” of microbrews?
We’ve had to deal with tremendous raw material increases the last few years. Hops have soared over 400 percent. I’ve been encouraged by people’s support of craft beer throughout these price increases. Even with prices increasing, beer is still a great value. World-class beer is not out of people’s reach.

MLT: Do you have a specific niche?
We don’t really have a niche. I do try to make all the beers distinctive, and we try to offer many beers to choose from.

MLT: How has the emergence of so many good microbrews affected the quality of regional brews?
Brewers do drink their competitors’ beer, and I think we all seem to set the bar higher for each other. The quality of craft beer in eastern Pennsylvania has never been higher.

MLT: Whom do you view as the pioneers—the “bar raisers,” if you will—of the region’s exceptional beer making?
Stoudt’s was one of the first, and I think they set a standard that included brewing great lager beers. Victory renewed this standard with their lagers. Monk’s Café was and still is influential with making so many of the Belgian beers available—our local brewers have benefited greatly from that experience. Standard Tap championed local craft beer with its decision to pour only local draught beer, and I think their success has encouraged other people to give local beer a try.

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MLT: What makes Sly Fox brews so unique?
We’re the only Pennsylvania craft brewer that cans. We package beer in kegs, 22-ounce bottles, 750-milliliter cork-finished bottles, and 12-ounce cans, but not in the more usual 12-ounce glass. It’s hard to talk about the brews. I guess we’d have to talk about them all individually. I think proof is in the glass.

MLT: You seem pretty excited about the brewery’s canning capabilities …
Cans are cool, convenient and a great package for beer.

MLT: What are your production numbers?
Last year, we produced nearly 6,000 bbls (barrels of beer), or 12,000 kegs. We also grew about 42 percent in volume in 2008.

MLT: For those who’ve never tried a Sly Fox brew, what flight would you suggest?
I would try Pikeland Pils, Saison Vos, O’Reilly’s Stout, Dunkel Lager and Phoenix Pale Ale.

MLT: You ousted Victory’s Prima Pils at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. What do such successes mean to you?
The [gold] medals for Pikeland Pils (2007) and last year for the Rauch Bier are definitely an honor, but our sales growth has been the best sign of our success. I think it was great to have both Prima (silver, 2007) and Pikeland win in the same year. There isn’t a place in the whole country with as many great craft-brewed pilsners as we have here in eastern Pennsylvania. A great beer can win a medal in Denver, but to have the judges pick two on the same day that were made so close to each other is even more special. The best award [is] always being in a customer’s fridge. We want to be the beer they love and trust. I guess that’s the real breakthrough.

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