Philly Craft Beer Festival Review
Saturday, March 1
12-4 PM EST
Cost: $40 (if purchased ahead of time)
Review by Evan
In the days leading up to the Philly Craft Beer Festival, I found myself heading to bed early and waking up early, sort of like a young child wishing for Christmas day to arrive. My friend John and I purchased our tickets in the first week of February because we knew if we did not make plans ahead of time we might find ourselves preoccupied when the first of March came. We are certainly lucky we did so because just like last year, the event sold out in record time for both 1,500-person sessions.
Our tickets were for the first session on a brisk, Saturday morning. Before we left town for Philadelphia, John and I stopped at the local diner for a pre-festival meal. Pancakes, eggs benedict, hash browns, sausage and scrapple were the basis for our meal and helped ensure we would not be drinking irresponsibly on an empty stomach. We washed it all down with fresh, Greek coffee and were prepared for a day of high-octane, rich and bold beer drinking.
The website for the festival (www.phillycraftbeerfest.com) said that doors were opening at 11:30 AM for the first session and since we knew it was sold out, we arrived a few minutes after 11 AM. After we parked we walked to the line that had already started forming in front of the Navy Yard. In the five or ten minutes before we reached the event, bus after bus had been shuttling patrons from downtown and the line stretched all the day down the entire block and had begun doubling back. John and I were sure glad we decided to have a little pre-festival celebration before having to stand there for the next twenty minutes. Although the line looked long enough to ensure we would never get in before they closed the doors at four, it moved very quickly and we were surprised at how fast they shuffled patrons into the festival.
By ten after 12 we were finally in the door and we headed right for the Lancaster Brewing Co. setup to have a swig of their popular Milk Stout. I had been telling John about this beer and how good it was since I first had a pint at last year’s Iron Hill Brewery Festival in Media, PA. We talked with the fine Amish folks for a while and began making our way down the first side of the horseshoe shaped festival. After a few tastes, we mutually decided it would be a much better idea to dash around to the breweries that we really wanted to visit and then hit up others later in the afternoon. The other main agreement we had was to basically stay away from the “big guys” like Samuel Adams and Yuengling (not that there is anything wrong with either of them).
For several hours we fraternized with brewers, volunteers and event security while all along drinking ourselves into oblivion. We tried to sample all of the beers that the festival had to offer but fell well short of our goal. Doing the math beforehand, we determined that this was not a realistic goal since it would be the equivalent of drinking 25 beers or so and someone had to eventually drive home. Looking back on it now, I am having a hard time thinking of a brewery table that we did not visit but I am sure there are a few.
For John and I, two experienced beer drinkers, we were very happy with the cornucopia of delicious choices. Being introduced to beers like Asahi, Japan’s number one beer and Blue Point, a bold ale made with blueberries, was as much fun as swigging old favorites like Dogfish’s 60 Minute and Stone’s Arrogant Bastard. Some standouts from my extremely foggy memory include Butternuts’ Pork Slap Pale Ale, River Horse’s HopHazard Pale Ale, Unibroue’s Maudite, Arcadia’s Big Dick’s Olde Ale, Thomas Hooker’s Blonde Ale, Troeg’s Nugget Nectar, Victory’s Hop Devil and Voodoo’s Wynona’s Big Brown Ale. All of these beers for one reason or another made it past the endless pours and samples that I consumed and are still clinging to my memory like a new-born chimp clings to its mother.
The music was nothing special but kept the mood light. Hosted by Philly’s Classic Rock station, 102.9 WMGK, there were lots of free giveaways and contests throughout the day. In addition, local band The Bullets played some favorite covers and interesting original materials. At the end of the first session, John and I were hitting on the MGK girls and wound up getting a bunch of leftover freebies like live DVD’s and rare CD pressings. They even tattooed us with stickers for good measure.
My favorite part of the festival was the obnoxious roars that echoed throughout the building, acting as huge toasts for the mere reason of great beer and lots of fun. About an hour or so into the festival, these roars began in full force and continued about every half hour until we left at four o’clock. Everybody immediately slammed on the brakes in their conversations, lifted their four-ounce tasting receptacle and began singing a sweet song of intoxicated madness. The crowd was generally very happy and although it was sometimes difficult the navigate, I found that any beer I wanted to taste was right within arms reach at any given time.
Before we left for the day, we checked our charity raffle tickets at the front door and were disappointed to learn that we held only duds. Or did we? For some peculiar drunken reason, I threw my tickets on the floor after giving them a thorough inspection. However, what I failed to realize is that I had totally forgotten to compare them to the winner board in front of me. Dumb mistake. I picked them back up off the floor and after a quick comparison, discovered that I had a winner after all. Anything on the table was mine for the taking and settled on a Black Dog Ale baseball cap that I have proudly flaunted ever since the festival.
John and I both are happy to announce that we did not take the subtle advice of Thomas Hooker Brewery and did not get caught with any hookers. However, their blonde ale was so tasty that much to my darling wife’s chagrin, I will be paying for some Hooker’s on my next visit to the town brew store.