2009 Philly Craft Beer Festival Coverage
After what seemed to be an eternity of waiting since last year’s Philly Best Festival, this past Saturday my dreams of shuffling around from beer table to beer table inside the Philadelphia Naval Yard Terminal finally came true. This year, as with last year, my good friend John was up for the challenge. Challenge, you ask? Yes, the almost overwhelming challenge of tasting all of the delicious craft beers that were available at the Philly Beer Fest III, remembering what we drank, what they tasted like, and then writing about our experiences here on The Full Pint.
After the first hour or so, as you already know if you have ever been to a beer festival, flavors can run together, vision can get blurry and speech barely understandable. But here goes my best attempt to capture the day in all her glory anyway.
First of all, I was just getting well after having a very serious attack from the flu the previous week. However, I was not going to let my year of waiting go unfulfilled so I “manned” up and did the best I could to enjoy myself.
John and I met up quite early in the morning the day of the event and had a wonderful SEC on an Everything (sausage, egg and cheese on a fresh hand-made everything bagel). It is one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches in all the land. After our breakfast, we decided to head out and try to get to the Naval Yard at least an hour earlier than we had the previous year so we could skip a large portion of the long lines waiting to gain entrance.
As we sat in my truck with the doors open, there were very few other cars in the parking lot since it was so early. Therefore, we decided to watch the commercial airline planes flying overhead in what seemed to be awfully close descent into Philadelphia International Airport, which is just down the road. I’m sure that most people have seen a plane landing before that close up but we didn’t have anything else to do but wait and were glad that we at least had something to look at as we jammed to some classic Guns N’ Roses tracks.
When we finally decided to leave our plane-watching positions and head over to the event, there were still not many people that had arrived and we ended up getting a spot in line with no more than 40-50 other dedicated beer-goers. Of course we knew we had to stand there waiting patiently for the next hour and a half but we were okay with that because we knew that we would get our full 4 hours of drinking time.
As the minutes ticked off the clock, we found ourselves getting more excited about our soon-to-be ability to drink and taste all of the many craft brews that were begging to be had inside. Some folks were chatting with friends and others were distributing literature on their beer-devoted website, and all the while the line kept growing and growing. It actually felt good, besides the shin splints from standing in line so long, to know that we would be some of the first patrons to get inside when 12:30 struck. Eventually, the line had doubled made it across the street, doubled back the full length and begun to make its way around the corner to the next block.
A few minutes before 12:30, the event folks started letting us into the building only to be blocked off from the breweries by a yellow “Do Not Cross” tape. Apparently, someone thought it would be smart to let people into the very small waiting area so they could shorten the now 2+ city block long line that was outside. Not the smartest move in the world. Furthermore, many of the breweries that were outside the tape were not told that they could not begin pouring yet. That just added to the mayhem. While we waited, they handed out our tasting glasses and a blue schwag bag of magazines, stickers and other beer-related items, many of which people decided they did not want and were left all over the lobby.
Moving on, it was now the time we had been waiting for. Beer time!
As soon as everyone was officially allowed to pour, we found ourselves in front of Penn Brewery, drinking their Penn Gold and Penn Pilsner, two lighter style beers and an easy way to start the day (we did sneak a sample in all the confusion of a deliciously rich toasted lager from our friends at Blue Point Brewing in Long Island, NY). I do not remember the exact order, but the tables next to Penn consisted of a neat importer of fine beers called SBS Imports, Duck-Rabbit and Voodoo Brewery. At Voodoo, I tried their White Magik, which hands-down won the gold medal in my personal “Best Beer of the Day” contest. When I first read about it on their sign, I was concerned about all the odd spices that were listed but it really works. Do yourself a favor and get some if you haven’t tried this beer.
Changing directions, we headed across the terminal and found some Victory beers on tap, although Victory was not officially represented at the festival. Either way, an organization called BeerTown.org was pouring some nifty beers that included Victory, among others. Also on this side of the terminal we sampled the Long Trail Coffee Stout, that had complex chocolate and roasty notes. As far as stouts go, this was at the top of the list in my book. We also hit up Lancaster Brewing, who was situated at the next table over and we eagerly drank their acclaimed Shoo-Fly Porter. Lancaster was also pouring their Amish Four Grain, a well-balanced pale ale that I have never had the pleasure of drinking before. It was very satisfying.
Next we decided to head out to the tent area at the end of the terminal, where there were a few beer tasting tables set up as well as an outdoor area for smoking and port-o-potties. On our quest for the outdoors, we ran into a good friend Jeff, author of the Beer Stained Letter blog and a fellow avid home brewer. He told us about the very limited Ramstein Eis Bock that he had just sampled. We caught up for a few minutes before scurrying outside and making a B-Line towards the Ramstein table. Luckily, their single 1/6 keg of this treasure had not yet run out and we both had our tasting glass filled nearly to the top. What a beer. This highly desirable 11.5% brew delivered a very malty nose with a smooth and creamy finish. Again, what a great beer.
As we contemplated what to drink next, we ran into Guy and his buddy Dave from “Still Crazy After All These Beers,” the hit beer show. Guy told us that Gary, the host of the show, had just left a few minutes earlier so he could avoid the masses. They had just wrapped up their filming for the day, a smart move to do it all before the beer was flowing the speeches were getting slurred. Guy also told us about a really big barley wine he just tried from Rock Art Brewery, called the Vermonster. Being big fans of the style and with a name like that, we decided we had to try it and we were not disappointed. The sharp aromas from the American hops and the butt-load of malts that are used gave this beer a unique flavor and to add icing on the cake, none other than Rock Art Owner Matt himself was the man behind the pouring. Loud tie-dyed shirt and all. I really like Matt’s laid back style and I think I have found a new Eastern favorite in Rock Art.
Directly next to Rock Art was the hilariously-named Thomas Hooker Brewing Company. Now I am not sure if Thomas Hooker is a real man, but I do know that the name makes for some great marketing opportunities. One of which is my favorite “Get caught with a Hooker.” How can you help but laugh? As I patiently waited in line for my next beer, I noticed that one of the tap handles had a picture of a beach and a water melon on it. I dismissed it and figured it was just eye candy but much to my surprise, the beer was a water melon ale. And it was delicious. I do have several fruit-based beers that I hold in the highest regard, and now I have one more. It sounds crazy but this beer reminded me of Bubbalicious chewing gum but in a grown-up, good way. I really hope I can find some of this in my local beer store because the 2-3 oz. sample at the festival only peaked my curiosity. The beer even has a pink/red hue to it, symbolic of the inside of a water melon. The only thing missing is a few black seeds floating around but I guess that could be a potential choking hazard.
After hitting up the rest rooms, we shoved our way back through the crowds circa John Candy (Evan) alongside Bill Murray (John) in the comedy film Stripes. Stopping to watch folks throw darts at the Cricket Hill table, I had a chance to say hello to Rick Reed, the owner of Cricket Hill and grab a handful of pretzels. I had actually brought a bag of pretzels and some string to make the festival favorite snack, the pretzel necklace. However, John thought too many people would look at him funny and we ended up leaving them in the truck. Cricket Hill was pouring their Hopnotic IPA (I think) but I truthfully cannot remember because by this time I had a serious buzz going. I do remember that there was quite a crowd by their table, all seemingly having a blast.
As we worked our way up the left side of the terminal, hitting up tables that we had skipped over on the first pass, we eventually came across an interesting table whose signage read Hopunion.com. Being the avid home brewer that I am, I noticed a few large piles of whole leaf hops on the table as well as some marketing schwag like magnets, posters, ball point pens and more. The combination all but forced me to engage the nice gentleman in conversation. Good move on my part because this guy really knew his hops. We talked about IBUs and lupulin, topics that only the hop-heads of the world may know about. I am not sure if I impressed him with my knowledge on the subject, but I sure did impress myself with how much I have learned about the little green flowers over the past few years. Finally, one of the highlights of my day was grabbing a hand full of each species of the hop leaves, rub them vigorously together and take in a big whiff. Sure it makes your hands very sticky but I can’t think of anything I would rather want my hands to smell like.
Across the floor, we stepped up to taste Atonium’s Premier Grand Cru, which claims to be the only beer in the world that is brewed with six different grains. It was spicy and fruity and very tasty. I happen to love Belgian style beers and was impressed by the fact that Atonium only offers this one beer. I mean, come on, they must have perfected it right? I think so. At the next table, I recognized a familiar face from a recent episode of “Still Crazy” and struck up a conversation with John Murray, founder of the Pennsylvania Beer Club. This unique club allows members to have access to beers that they otherwise might not be able to find. I told John that I wished I lived in PA, but he said they could make an exception since I am in NJ and I look forward to connecting with him to learn more about the club.
Paper City’s Riley’s Stout was another stand out from the event. I am usually more of a porter fan than a stout fan, but rest assured that I still have a lot of love for a thick, creamy stout. Well, Paper City has really produced a fantastic one. While I was drinking it, all I could think about was sitting in one of Ireland’s famous pubs next to a cheerful Leprechaun. Fortunately, after my last sip I was able to change pace dramatically and had Boulder Beer’s crew fill me up with their Hazed & Infused, a totally hoppy, lighter-bodied ale that is dry-hopped with Crystal and Centennial hops. I’ve had this beer on my radar since Boulder began distributing it in bottles and was happy to see it on the tap handle. Lakefront Brewery rounded out this wave with their IPA and White Beer, both of which were hoppy and absolutely delightful.
After a while, John and I made our way back to the main entrance area of the festival where we were treated to Roy Pitz’ Truly Honest Ale, their flagship beer that started it all for them. I was very proud to see a couple of younger and energetic, yet still successful craft brewers in the mix. While we stood there enjoying our beer, we watched several patrons shooting hoops for charity. Although there were a couple of folks who knew a thing or two about shooting foul shots, most people were just chucking the ball and praying to hit the rim all the while still knowing that their five bucks was going to a good cause. As we stood watching, we enjoyed the fresh air from a large opened door in the corner, where I overhead the event director scorning one of the volunteers for letting patrons outside in this area. It was kind of funny because this young man was looking at him like he had two heads, obviously not caring about what he was saying. Gotta love volunteers!
Down at this end of the festival, I was a little surprised to see Manayunk Brewpub pouring. I think I tried the Manayunk Lager but I can’t remember. I guess it was not much to write home about after all. Nearby was one of my favorite Jersey breweries, River Horse, and we were treated to samples of their River Horse Lager, although I was hoping to get another taste of Hopalotamus since I had fallen in love with it a few weeks ago at High Street Grill. I am certainly looking forward to seeing this in bottles at my local beer store soon. Next, we squirmed through the crowd until we reached the Hoppin’ Frog table, a small brewery that made their way East from Ohio. John and I have tried several of their beers in the past few months and have been immensely impressed. They offered their Mean Manalishi Double IPA, which was like a full-blown hop explosion in liquid form. We also tasted Hoppy’s Stony Face Red Ale, a dark and silky tribute to all the ganja lovers out there. It had a sharp aftertaste that I’m still not sure I liked, but how can you not like the happy face logo with bloodshot eyes and dreadlocks?
It was around this time, that John and I started to discuss our exit route. The year prior we found that by leaving a little while before the end of the festival meant we could avoid the traffic jams of the hundreds of drunken beer lovers. John and I had previously discussed heading over to Tony Luke’s for cheese steaks and roast pork sandwiches after the festival, just as we had done the year before. So as we prepared ourselves to rejoin the outside world again, we decided to grab a taste of Reaper Ale’s award-winning Pale Ale. I recently enjoyed a bomber of this beer and wanted to compare my experience with the same beer but on draft. I actually found that it was strikingly similar, which to me means good quality control.
With proverbial tear in eye, that brings us to the end of this year’s Philly Beer Fest III event coverage. Although I was disappointed that some of my local fav’s were nowhere to be found (i.e. Flying Fish and Dogfish Head), there were still plenty of spectacular breweries representing the “Best Beer City in the World.” Next year, John and I agreed that we will be paying the extra few bucks so we can have VIP access to the event and begin enjoying beers a half hour earlier than the masses. Think about it. At the end of the day, shorter lines equates to more drinking time.
Stay tuned for my coverage of the Atlantic City’s Celebration of the Suds Beer Festival later this month.