Saturday, June 18, 2011

Philly Beer Week 2011: One last wrap-up until 2012

How to go about wrapping a 10-day festival of beer and nearly 1,000 beer "events"?  (First off, don't forget that I have a whole "Index" that I'd been maintaining on a daily basis throughout PBW '11. There you'll find links to pictures and plenty of words from things I saw and did throughout.)

Let's start with the way PBW ended in 2010. Again, this year, the PBW crew wants you to fill out a survey, which I strongly encourage, and in return you'll be entered into a drawing for 2012 Opening Tap tickets. Here's a link to the survey.

I strongly encourage it because, as with many things in life, if you don't make your voice heard, it becomes more difficult to complain later when things don't go as you'd like or expect. Take the survey by Monday, June 20 to be eligible for the Opening Tap tickets.

Next, there's media of all sorts on the Web regarding Philly Beer Week 2011. Here's a nicely produced YouTube video (not entirely sure who's responsible) centered on Opening Tap. They also have a short one posted there as well from one of my favorite venues and events of the week.

The more I want to dive in deep and explore and analyze the guts out of Philly Beer Week, after three previous years of doing such a thing, five days post-Day 10, I honestly don't have the energy for it.

Plus, I realize that there is almost no "right answer" to the question "How was Philly Beer Week?" There are so many ways in which to partake, that the answer becomes extremely personal.

Philly Beer Week is ten June days of approximately 1,000 events that is concentrated primarily within city limits. There are a dozen different ways to look at it to try and determine how successful it is and how long of a run it will have over time. Maybe I'll explore it more as we get farther away from 2011 and closer to 2012.

For now, I'll do as Foobooz suggests and quickly point out highlights and regrets of mine from PBW '11.

- Making new friends without any warning. The 75-year-old couple from Jenkintown at Varga. They were looking to explore some new beers. What a pleasant hour of sharing a table next to them. Ed from Harrisburg at Iron Hill when he and I were almost the only two in Phoenixville drinking barrel-aged beers for brunch. A cab ride across town with Larry Sidor from Deschutes and his team of Jason and (was it?) Megan. Too bad I didn't get the "scoop" before it was announced the following day on his intentions to leave the brewery.

- The Four Seasons. Even though I could certainly read "you don't need to enter through the front door" a couple of different ways, they generally did seem to warm to the "idea" of beer. But, then again, when the Tourism Bureau is involved, that certainly helps to grease the skids. Even though they don't do draft beer, I would like to stop in a few months from now and see how the approach to beer is the same...or not.

- Kan Jam. Speaking of The Four Seasons, I'm not sure there was a more interactive event at the hotel, than Thursday night's Kan Jam with Sly Fox. William Reed and I teamed up to fall just a point short of moving on to the Finals. Fun times, for sure.

- Philly Beer Run. I was (selfishly) pleased that my event made a few to-do lists ("Top 25", Funkiest, Philadelphia Weekly). 75 RSVPs prove that there's a great interest amongst the running community in Philly Beer Week. In fact, by rough count over 150 people took part in the various runs and bike rides occurring during Philly Beer Week.

- Discovering new places. This also falls under regrets, since I only delivered once on my promise to discover a new place. In this case, it was Cooperage on 7th Street. They hosted Dogfish Head on the day we stopped by and numerous other events as well. They seem to get it. Plus, they're in the Curtis Center, home to the Dream Garden mosaic, a "hidden" must-see Philadelphia attraction.

- Hammer of Glory. What a spectacle. One that everyone should experience at least a leg or two of during Philly Beer Week.

- Hosting Sean Paxton. Well, not like I was the only one helping to show Paxton around, but we did spend some considerable time together. The guy's got a lot of energy as was displayed from the moment he touched down to when he left on Wednesday. And, as I've said numerous times before, truly one of the nicest guys in the industry. Oh, yeah, and his Finger Sandwiches to Nodding Head's Punk Rock went perfectly with Sam Calagione on a Monday afternoon. You've never heard of an 8-course, 3-hour lunch?

- Food, Glorious Food. There were food and beer events at nearly every turn of the street and the clock during Philly Beer Week. In addition to the Finger Sandwiches at Nodding Head, within the 24 hours that it occurred, I also dipped into an 8-course dinner with Iron Hill at Good Dog and a 4.5 course dinner with Deschutes at London Grill. Philly Chefs and brewers are loving this pairing thing :)

- Not visiting enough new places. Already made that point above. Places I'd hoped to get to for the first time included: Farmers Cabinet; Kennett; any place on Passyunk Ave (start with P.O.P.E.?); The Blockley; or The Dandelion to name just a few of the new places I've not yet visited.

- Not reading closely enough to know that the Vintage Beer Brunch at Memphis Taproom was by reservation only. Brendan said we might be able to remedy my absence from the Saturday brunch.

- Not asking enough questions about the importer/wholesaler/distributor angle on PBW. Given their active role in the "direction" of Philly Beer Week, their control of the locations of beers and beer people during PBW is certainly an intriguing one that I may look more in to.

- Not making the T.U.D. for the second year in a row. I'd been to the first two and had plenty of T.U.D.s at Fergie's and the event is certainly a lot of fun. A chance for all to let their hair down and "off the clock" without fear of people like me snapping photos and trying to "document" the event and what people did, said, (and sang!) makes for an extremely fun and relaxed atmosphere upstairs at Fergie's. Now that my annual run has been on the last day of PBW for two years, I have found myself exhausted physically and mentally and just looking to settle in with a couple of tasty T.U.D.s at home instead.

What does PBW 2012 look like?
Well, I won't pretend to know anything about the planning for 2012; they wouldn't trust me with that information. ;-)  I can suspect that it will look very much the same as 2011. As I'd mentioned in passing earlier in the week, from conversational anecdotes around town and in the 'burbs, suburban-brewed beer will certainly continue to be a part of PBW. I'm just not sure how many PBW events will continue to occur in the suburbs.

In the first year or two, spreading the PBW love and respect across the region made a lot of sense. As the last three years have flown by, scads of new, and mostly above average, venues for great beer have opened within the city limits. For the amount of beer, the number of beer people, and the number of venues in the City, it could be quite logical and conceivable that PBW draws a line and says that only venues with a city-based ZIP code may post events on the official website.

Last year's breakdown where brewers, reps, and owners were being double-, sometimes triple-booked, with little to no chance of fulfilling obligations many miles apart, seems to have been largely rectified this year. But, still, with somewhere between 80%-90% of all PBW events in 2011, over 900 total events to be almost-exact, taking place within City limits, it doesn't seem inconceivable that some lines might be drawn.

Will it still be in June? Ha, what a question! There's not much doubt for me that this was again the most talked-about topic of PBW '11 amongst those on both sides of the tap handles. There may be no ideal weather month in the Philadelphia region and while June may not be a lot of people's number 1 or 2 choice for a PBW celebration, it's not going to change.

Many of us prefer March. (I know, my apologies for again so loosely and vaguely using the term, 'us'.) Numerous proprietors and participants alike commented to me about the shame it is that PBW has moved to June. Here are a couple of paragraphs that I never fit into any of my mid-PBW updates.

"It's June and, while the first few days were more ideal than we could ask for in June, reality has set back in here in the middle of the week and will linger on through the end of PBW. It's hot (101), it's humid (80%), and there was even a tornado warning."

"Not only do I not want to be at outdoor events nor driving/walking/cabbing/schlepping from one event to another in this weather, most bars and restaurants do not have air conditioning systems equipped to deal with weather like this to make indoor conditions comfortable when attracting a large, capacity crowd to their events."

"And it's life, too. Life, as I've said for the last couple of years in the argument against June as the host month for PBW, is just simply more busy for just about everyone in June. I, and many other PBW-goers, have home responsibilities, vacations, graduations, end of school, kids sports programs as just a few of the reasons why we can't make it to as many events as we might otherwise if March was the host month.

"Maybe the question (or one of them) comes down to the demographic hoped to be attracted to Philly Beer Week. Is it young, single, and with a limited budget? Those with discretionary vacation time to spend on PBW? June might work just fine in that case."

As it relates to getting around town, two other stray thoughts are left here at the end. What ever happened to the PBW Shuttle Buses that were attempted back in '08 (maybe '09, too?)

And, the PBW special SEPTA pass? I wonder how this fell through the cracks this year.

Perhaps it's unfair to give the impression that I'm ending on a sour note. Nothing's farther from the truth. The ten days comprising PBW, and to be fair the other 355 days of the year as well around the region, is nothing short of a spectacular display of the incredibly rich and diverse region of great beer that we all enjoy.

When everyone works together, it can/should only become stronger. Because in a niche segment of a small, but growing industry, long-term goals and visions are what really count.

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