Beer Week triumphs in poor economy

Philly Beer Week satisfied both locals and out-of-towners last week in the second annual beer fest.

When you can’t afford to fly to Amsterdam, the second annual Philly Beer Week will quench your thirst for brews hailing from different countries around the globe. The streets of Philadelphia and the rails of SEPTA were filled with folks aching to get their drink on.

Last week, more than 100 bars and restaurants throughout the Philadelphia region participated in an array of festivities involving America’s favorite after-work beverage: beer.

With 40 out-of-town, as well as several local brewers participating and approximately 700 events planned, Philly Beer Week offered something for everyone.

“The great thing about Philly Beer Week is that it’s got a great national reputation,” said Don Russell, organizer and co-founder of the event. It’s the biggest event of its kind and probably in the world.

“As a result, out-of-town brewers want to be part of the whole thing. And of course, we’ve got our own local brewers as well. The local brewers are a huge part of the whole organization.”

Boasted as the largest beer event in the country, Beer Week featured festivities including beer breakfasts, lunches and dinners, meetings with brewers, tasting sessions, educational seminars on different brews and more.

The week’s festivities even included a bike tour called Le Philly Tour de Brew, in which interested beer drinkers biked to bars throughout the city. For those less physically inclined to bike while intoxicated, there was a bus tour of South Philly’s bars.

Brewers included Matt Allyn of Voodoo, Fergal Murray of Guinness and Terrence Sullivan of Sierra Nevada.

The weeklong event formally kicked off at the Comcast Center with the Opening Tap Ceremony March 6. Using the official “Philly Beer Week Keg Mallet,” Mayor Michael Nutter tapped the first keg to begin the night. Beer tasting and a festive awards ceremony followed.

Russell, along with Tom Peters, one of the owners of Monk’s Café, and Bruce Nichols, owner of Museum Catering, came up with the idea of Philly Beer Week after Philadelphia’s Book and the Cook event collapsed. Book and the Cook paired restaurants with famous cookbook authors for meals, Russell said.
“Philly Beer Week [is] essentially the same idea as the Book and the Cook, only what we are doing is matching up bars with breweries and brewers in the area,” he said.

From the launch of Philly Beer Week, the founders have found great success. For their first year hosting the event in 2008, they planned to organize 50 events but managed to host 250. This year, Russell’s goal was to double the events of last year, and now, it has topped off at 700 events, he said.

By the number of events alone, Philly Beer Week now rivals the Great American Beer Festival held in Denver. Although the number of brewers participating is less, Philly Beer Week hovers at the same number of participants with approximately 40,000 attendees, Russell said.

McCrossen’s Tavern, located at 529 N. 20th St., hosted a Fruli beer tasting. The tavern is the first bar in the city to have Fruli on tap, as it has only been available in the United States for a year.

With it being created from all-natural strawberry fruit juice, orange peel, coriander and Belgian wheat beer, Fruli beer appeals to the sweeter senses of the tongue.

Dick Humphries, brand-owner of Fruli, sought to find an alternative to the cocktails and wines that young adults in the U.K. were drinking, he said.

“I can say that everybody [who’s] tried it has liked [Fruli beer]. They’re surprised by the way it tastes,” he said. “They’re surprised that it’s a beer, but you can taste the beer. It offers something very different – there’s nothing else like it.”

If you still want to try it, general manager Kristin Frarra is considering keeping Fruli on tap for good, considering the positive responses she’s gotten.

This is McCrossen’s Tavern’s first year participating in Philly Beer Week. In addition to the Fruli tasting, it also held an event with Yuengling representatives, Anheuser-Busch craft brews and Longtrail brewers.

“Yuengling was probably our biggest night because everyone knows the name,” Frarra said. “They had really good giveaways. If you bought a pint of their beer, then they’d give you the glass.”

Yuengling representatives also gave away sweatshirts and allowed for spectators to participate in raffles.
Next year, Frarra said she hopes the tavern will be able to conduct a beer dinner for Philly Beer Week.

The event, hosted by the Cherry Street Tavern at 129 N. 22nd St., featured live Irish music by Erik and the Quarrymen, a band consisting of five Irish men brought together by their love for beer (Guinness, for the majority of them) and their musical talents.

Erik and the Quarrymen play traditional Irish music, including jigs and drinking songs “with drinking in between.”

“Basically in [Irish] tradition, instead of listening to the jukebox or watching TV, people would play their instruments, and everyone would sing along,” lead singer Erik Greene said.

Gathered around a table marked with a reserved sign, their beers easily accessible, patrons conversed with friends while they listened to the band strum away.

For most at the tavern, this isn’t their first time at the bar, but for customers Anna Kowalik and Steve Kummerling, it was their first time hearing Erik and the Quarrymen.

“It’s very fitting,” Kowalik said. “It’s a good time of year with St. Patrick’s Day.”

Kowalik finds many benefits to having a Philly Beer Week.

“It brings the focus on the very, very lively Philadelphia brewing community,” she said.

It also brings attention to the small tavern’s 14 brews on tap, said bartender Gina Falco.

Cherry Street Tavern has also hosted an event with the Philadelphia Brewing Co. and Lager, she said.

Offering all its craft beers on special was Cavanaugh’s Rittenhouse, located at 1823 Sansom St.

Cavanaugh’s also hosted a meet-the-brewer event with Lion Brewery and Erie Brewing Company, as well as a Yuengling Bock tasting.

General Manager Bobby Gulinelllo just made the deadline to participate in Philly Beer Week, as Cavanaugh’s has only been open for six months.

He said he would like to see the event be more selective next year.

“Some of the places [that participated] aren’t even beer bars, like Morimoto. I think there should be stipulations on what an event is,” Gulinello said.

Regardless of the criteria for next year’s event, he already has ideas on what to host next year. Gulinello would like to have a beer dinner, as well as obtain firkins to host something similar to a “Firkins Friday.”
“Firkins are wooden quarter kegs of beer that have a spigot on the top of the bar,” he said.

Despite the economic hardships that have fallen on the city and its residents, Philly Beer Week has successfully put Philadelphia on the map as a beer-drinking city. It gave many an incentive to cut loose for one day (or 10) and enjoy great-tasting beer.

From a World Series win to one of the largest beer events in the world, Philly Beer Week celebrates a pastime that will never get old.

“It promotes beer as part of Philadelphia’s cultural fabric,” Russell said. “We are a great beer city. I think we are the best beer-drinking city in America.”

Amanda Fries can be reached at

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