Thursday, June 24, 2010

Philly Beer Week 2010: Contemplations, Conversations, Ruminations, and an occasional Diatribe: Part 4

(This is the fourth in a series of ten installments documenting both my time during Philly Beer Week 2010 and insights provided to me by customers, importers/distributors/representatives, brewers, brewery owners, publicans, et cetera. All of whom wanted their comments to be aired, but very few who wanted their name associated with them. Some of you may not appreciate the anonymity, but that's the way it needs to be if we're going to talk about these things around here. You'll need to trust in me that I've gathered up all of these notes and opinions during PBW '10 and am sharing them with you in order to continue the conversation about what will make a better Philly Beer Week 2011.)

Click back to see the third in the series. Click forward to see the fifth in the series.

While this conversation is not a direct reflection upon Philly Beer Week, the topic certainly impacts the Philly Beer Landscape and how future Philly Beer Weeks might look if there is more locally-made beer and more of a true Philly Beer spin on The Week.

"There's too much imported beer (from elsewhere in the country and the rest of the world) saturating the market in Southeastern PA...overshadowing and sometimes shutting out a lot of good local beer."

Reading that statement reminds me of a gift horse's mouth. On one hand, I get the guy's point. A Yards event or a Dock Street event or a River Horse event...etc...can tend to be overshadowed (in some eyes) by, say, a Cantillon dinner, or a Chimay tasting, a Russian River unveiling, or a big Bell's boffo event. And, while they are all credible events, to some they take away from what they feel should be a primary focal point of Philly Beer Week...Philly Beer.

I get that point and appreciate it. Though, on the other hand, I haven't decided exactly where I come down in the argument; y'know...back to the gift horse again. What makes Philly and its environs great for beer is not only the beer that is brewed here, but the beer that we have access to here, as well as the knowledgeable folks that distribute it and the establishments that serve it.

So, if pushed, I'd probably come down more on the side of letting all play in Philly Beer Week and not trying to reign it in too tightly. However, I do agree to an extent that we do need a bit more of a focus on Philly Beer and that's where the argument for more Philly Beer comes in to the conversation.

The city has seven establishments that make some very good beer. Plus almost 100 more within a 100 mile radius of the City. Much of it is very good beer that covers the diversity of the beer spectrum. Some of it is featured front and center during Philly Beer Week events such as: City Tavern's nightly beer dinner featuring Yards Ales of the Revolution; a collaboration between Yards and Percy Street BBQ; Dock Street's music festival, cocktail competition, and seminars both this year and last; Triumph's hosted events featuring their own beers as well as those from around the country on guest taps; last year's Yards beer dinner at The Four Seasons;, I'm seeing a trend here. That is, there are a few handful of events prominently featuring some of the city beer (and then you get into some of the regionally-made beer from Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Flying Fish, Tröegs, etc.) and between all of these, are still accounting for less than 10% of the total PBW events.

In addition, Philadelphia Brewing's beers, Nodding Head's, and Manayunk's pop on sampling and meet the brewer event schedules elsewhere but not with a strong focus on their beers and businesses. Earth, Bread, + Brewery has yet to officially participate in PBW...just a statement, not passing judgement.

That being said, we need even more good local beer and more emphasis on it. Sitting at Dock Street, I commented to Carolyn Smagalski that this was such a perfect afternoon (save for just a touch of humidity and passing thunderstorms, right?!) What I meant was that at 50th and Baltimore of all places there is a community-minded establishment supporting local artists and causes and making their own art: award-winning beer and excellent food.

There is really only one other establishment like this in the City Proper: Earth, Bread, + Brewery. Don't get me wrong, the other five brewing establishments all have strong merits of their own both in what they produce as well as how they operate their businesses in their respective communities. But, why not a neighborhood brewpub in Lawncrest? in Overbrook, in Powelton Village, or Spring Garden? or East Falls, or Bustleton, or Queen Village, or Mayfair, or Elmwood, or Point Breeze....etc. Is my point clear?

There are so many neighborhoods with (I'm making a wild leap here) a lot of people who drink beer. Okay, listen, I'm not naive--I realize that some of these neighborhoods may not be the most economically viable locations for a brewpub. But, I'm also not talking about 30 bbl systems, or even 7 bbl for that matter, cranking out world-class beer. Let's start by putting good locally-made beer in everyone's mug within a city mile of their house. Keep it local, keep it real, make it great.

Then, let's have a Philly Beer Week that truly focuses as much on the local beer that's produced as the local pubs that serve it next to some of the best beers from the rest of the world.

Intriguing conversation, don't you think?

Your thoughts, if you will?

Coming tomorrow...we'll get a bit lighter again and discuss the Hammer of Glory.


Bob said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments on the Philly beer scene.

Being a bit of a lurker for a few years now, it strikes me that there is something amiss with the local breweries. I'm not sure what it is, but something isn't working as well as it should be.

Why can outside breweries come in and draw the crowds for the beer week?

Certainly for me and for a lot of folks I talk to it comes down to a reasonable discussion of value. How good is the local beer and how much does it cost?

Simply put, I feel I very rarely get value from the local breweries. Either the beer isn't as good as another craft beer substitute from elsewhere in the country or it costs more than it could for a locally made product.

I don't know maybe this is petty, but I mainly drink IPAs, American- made Belgians, and interesting sour or wood beers. Frankly, the local breweries don't make these styles as well as some the bigger national craft breweries.

I'd like to drink Victory or Troegs or PBC, but if its between them and Bell's or Russian River or Ommegang for about the same price I'm going with the better beer and the better value.

I passionately support craft beer and I still want to passionately support Philadelphia craft beer, I just can't get the same enjoyment out of their beers, yet.

Chris Clair said...

There is trend towards the "extreme" beers and one off, rare, "gotta have it" batches that I don't think a lot of the local brewers have embraced (this trend is a WHOLE other topic). Sure they might do a few but our local guys seem to focus on solid traditional styles or other unique but approachable beers that can be enjoyed without blowing out your palate and are not intended to be hoarded by a lucky few.

So what does this mean for Philly Beer Week? Do our locals need to run out and brew up a bunch of extreme stuff to release? Maybe. I'd rather see a continued focus on showing their integration with the community. For example, where is the event like the Sly Fox goat race, you know, a FAMILY friendly event with responsible consumption?

Just my $0.02.

Bryan Kolesar said...

Hm, good idea Chris. Could Beer Week stand to be centered around some real, honest-to-goodness, well-planned, all-inclusive beer events like the Goat Races? Seems like it.

That's one of the reasons, once again selfishly, that I enjoyed my Dock Street event so much. There was a running event, live music, good food, and beer. Conducive to folks of all walks of life and various interests.

Something to consider for sure.

And you guys both have good points about the "adventurous" brewers. While most of our guys may not necessarily have--is panache the word?--the extreme geek cred, I'm not sure if that's really necessary.

I mean, after all, Victory more than carries their own from coast to coast and up to Alaska.

When I go to California and Texas, people have heard of and ask about Troegs and Flying Fish (partly due to the Exit Series, of course) and Yards and Nodding Head (showed up at Toronado last year) and, believe it or not, Bethlehem Brew Works (partly because Rodger Davis used to brew with Beau Baden and brings his beer occasionally to CA) and comment about how lucky I am to live so close to great breweries.

Iron Hill's credibility is huge, largely in part to being introduced to the world at GABF and the countless awards that they've won.

NYC is in love with beers from Pennsylvania...Troegs, Sly Fox, Weyerbacher, etc.

So, I hear what you guys are saying in this regard..and "get it." I guess I need some more time to think about what this means for future PBWs, if anything.

thanks for contributing to the conversation.


kmudrick said...

South Philly needs a brewpub, particularly one a few blocks from my house. :)

Jean Broillet IV said...

I believe that our region's excitement for the "next big thing" in the beer world is healthy, albeit misguided. I feel that both producer and consumer are kind of missing the point, actually. We have reached a point with our regional beer-geekery which dictates that "if it's easily attainable, it ain't worth it". I'm all for variety, don't get me wrong, but the unfortunate side of this current paradigm is the overwhelming amount of importing (both national and international) that occurs. In my eyes, a casualty of our obsession with the "latest and greatest" is lack of interest in beers being created in our own back yard.
Now, maybe this should tell us something as a region; we don't have enough homegrown variety in our own market to support the rabid consumer base. Philadelphia is a HUGE city, and at one magical pre-prohibition point in its life housed more than 100 breweries within its limits! That number now stands at 7. Perhaps if we had a bit more firepower as a local industry, we could generate more excitement about PHILLY beer, not just beer shipped to Philly...
Viva Local!