For Brewers, Bar Owners and Imbibers, Preparation is Key for Philly Beer Week
Whether you’re behind the bar or bellying up to it, Philly Beer Week requires more preparation than your average beer festival; mostly because it isn’t your average beer festival. Once a year, Philadelphia celebrates its favorite fermented beverage with a 10-day blowout of thousands of events from hundreds of venues spread throughout the cities, suburbs, and even neighboring states. It’s no wonder Philadelphia is called America’s Best Beer Drinking City, but it is also no small task. “Beer Week is something we are constantly working on,” says Teresa Clough, event coordinator for The Farmers’ Cabinet and Boilermaker. “It takes a year-round effort.”
That effort isn’t confined only to the bars and restaurants hosting Beer Week events, either. Karen Noonan, communications manager of Victory Brewing, says the brewery mentally prepares for Beer Week all year long. Mike Lubieski, regional sales manager for Weyerbacher, agrees: “Some thought goes into the next beer week as soon as the current one ends.”
While ideas are tossed around and people wonder what they could change or make better all year, things start to really get serious in the three to six months before Beer Week. “I try to schedule [the events] about three months in advance,” says Mike Scotese—better known as Scoats, the iconic owner of The Grey Lodge and Hop Angel Brauhaus. But, there is a caveat to that: “You never know what brewery will decide to be in town at the last minute, so some events get plugged in just a week or two before.”
For all of these events, the consensus is almost unanimous on who to team up with: stick with your friends. “We concentrate on the bars and restaurants who have supported us and our beer 365 days out of the year, and not just during Philly Beer Week,” says Noonan. Scoats adds, “We work together all year, so it’s natural to work together during Philly Beer Week.” But it’s not all about working with your neighbors, either. “If we really love a brewer or brewery, we sometimes will fly them in for a very special event,” says Clough, who will be hosting Bob Sylvester from Saint Somewhere, Thomas Shoen from Mikkeller, Brian Strumke from Stillwater and Jeppe from Evil Twin, amongst others.
Unfortunately, all the planning doesn’t leave much time for experiencing Beer Week as an average attendee would. “I have something like 26 events this year,” says Lubieski. “It doesn’t leave much time.” There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as Flying Fish’s head brewer Casey Hughes points out: “Getting to other events is really tough. In the past, we have had a brewers’ pub crawl in Center City so a bunch of us can actually see each other once during Beer Week.”
Luckily for the hordes of attendees to Philly Beer Week, they have the option of the 10-day marathon only being as hectic as they make it—but planning ahead is still a must. Stephen Lyford, who has been attending since year one, says, “With the insane volume of events, I think you have to plan it out. To be in the right place at the right time for events you really want to attend, planning for me is a must.” Helene Golombek, also known as Philly Beer Girl, plays things a little more loosely: “If something comes up that I really need to be a part of, I’ll make sure it happens. But I may not decide until the day of the event.”
There will, no doubt, be plenty of must-see events. Even among local breweries, there will be rare specialties available for this week only. Flying Fish plans to bring back a beer from their Exit series as well as a few barrel-aged brews and some “special hopped-up firkins.” Weyerbacher will be releasing their new IPA, a 17th anniversary beer, and 10 special firkins as well. And while Victory doesn’t brew any beer specifically for Philly Beer Week, they do plan on highlighting one or two specialties from their portfolio.
With all of this going on, there are sure to be recurring favorites. “At the Grey Lodge, Lew and Scoats’s Upstate Pennsylvania Beer Trek is my favorite,” says Scoats—an event where he and beer blogger Lew Bryson travel around upstate PA to pick up beer that doesn’t usually make it to Philadelphia and then get together at Grey Lodge to talk about the trip, the beer, and the breweries. “This year we are shaking things up a little by doing New Jersey.” And while many pointed to Opening Tap as a yearly recurring must, many also mentioned the infamous Hammer of Glory relay that marks the official opening of Beer Week. “The last three years or so I’ve followed the Hammer of Glory around on the first Friday with varying degrees of success and obsession,” says Lyford.
It is easy to daydream now, with Philly Beer Week still a half a month away. The ten days of Beer Week may seem like a short period of time, but it’s not usually so after living through the hectic pace of packed events and non-stop drinking. By the end of the extended week, most attendees end up agreeing with Karen Noonan at Victory: “We are especially fond of the last event of Beer Week!”
Photos courtesy of Stephen Lyford.