This weekend was a busy one for my liver, but a good one. I heard about the Philly Craft Beer Fest from a friend of mine and despite its being scheduled for the evening after our big party I decided to go. This required a little more planning than usual as both sessions of the festival were expected to sell out and the tickets in advance cost a whopping forty dollars. And truthfully the thought of drinking again when Saturday evening rolled around was exhausting, but I rallied in the final daylight hours and decided it would be worth it. I'd always wanted to see what a thing like this was like. A beer festival. Tasting lots of high quality beers. Brewers and beer enthusiasts together in one place reveling in the craftsmanship of beer masters. I'd imagined this lovely, cozy environment where all kinds of beer geeks got together to talk shop, exchange secrets, fine tune their palate.
What I found was sort of like that. And by sort of, I mean not really at all. For one, the floors were sticky with the residue of beer from the first session. The crowd was overwelmingly comprised of a post-fraternity vintage who drag their dates to events where they can just hang out with other dude bros on Saturday nights, poisoning the air with their clouds of cologne. There were some thirtysomethings and nice guys around too, and a particularly friendly party of lesbians (whom I already happened to know) and these other demographics mixed it up enough to make the crowd manageable. Because it was almost unmanageable. The Philadelphia Cruise Terminal at the Naval Yards which hosted this extravaganza was packed wall to wall. It was difficult to walk, let alone talk to the brewers about beer or get snobby with other beer snobs. The first two hours we were there we did more elbowing than festivating. We didn't really have a choice. I had forgotten that a fest usually involves generic jazzy music, crowds, and chaos, regardless of the fest's advertised focus. A craft beer fest and a lobster fest are virtually identical to the eye and the ear. I had also forgotten that some people will come out just to drink beer, be it Coors light or Dogfish Head. I think it was probably good that I was reminded of this sad reality.
But we took a crucial breather half way through, regrouped, found a corner where we could hang out and relax for a minute so that when we returned to the floor there was more room, more patience. The fest featured 50 breweries pouring more than 120 brews, everything from blueberry ales (Bar Harbor) to a Smutt-a-roni, made from wild rice (Smuttynose). We tasted so many beers, none of which were spit-out-able. Unfortunately the extreme conditions made it impossible to write things down and while I can remember the styles, many of the corresponding brewers escape me. We were continuously impressed. And though in quantity I doubt whether we drank our money's worth, it was worth the forty dollars to have all these beers at your fingertips. The breadth of the selection was worth every penny. We spent the last hour bouncing between the Ommegang table and the Unibroue table. That is pretty priceless.
By the end of the night, we found ourselves climbing back onto the free shuttle (schoolbus) back to the Pattison stop on the subway, together with all the frat boys and rabblerousers. It was a flashback to the return busride from the Booze Cruise everyone went on during my Senior Week of college. We realized that despite being such a weird, expensive, out of the way event, the Philly Craft Beer Fest was ridiculously fun. For some kids from West Philly who usually do stuff on the cheaps, it was a worthy treat of an excursion. Forgive me the generic photos, as I forgot my camera...
But a heads up if you're a beerlover and you missed this, Philly's inaugural beer week starts March 7, with over 80 tastings and events sprinkled throughout the city. And many of them are freeski.