Everyone Loves Philly Beer Week, Except The Brewers…

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Despite offering more than 1,000 events, word out of Philadelphia was quiet during its recent beer week. And then came the grumblings, first through some errant Twitter and Facebook posts, culminating in a critical editorial by the local City Paper. It appears that all is not well in the much celebrated beer town. The take away is that local brewers are beginning to feel as if they’re getting a bit of the con by supporting the local beer week. From City Paper:

Some bar owners have independently recognized the strain PBW puts on local breweries and have taken steps to rectify it. Clark Newman of Lucky 13 programmed Yards and Philadelphia Brewing Co. nights and kept a draft line open for each throughout the week. But not all bar managers feel quite so much sympathy. Mike McKee, who handles purchasing for the Pub on Passyunk East, says PBW provides an opportunity to see what customers like. “Local brewers get to spend 355 days a year on most bars’ taps,” he says. “This way, for 10 days, other breweries get a chance.”

These are points brewers and other local industry insiders readily concede. However, that doesn’t change the fact that PBW, for all of its benefits, puts a short-term hit on many balance sheets. “Brewers across the region work so hard all year long to put on the circus,” says Victory president Bill Covaleski. “But when the circus leaves town, somebody’s scooping up some pretty big heaps of elephant shit.”

Ouch, that has to hurt the organizers.

Here in Boston, we’re in the final days of our first beer week and it is perhaps difficult to judge the quality and merits of the event. Things, from my vantage point, have been pretty quiet here. There are certainly some events happening around town, but nowhere near the crush of 1000+ events that PBW imposes. And, for the most part, brewers appear to have not yet taken to another Northeastern American beer week. Following directly on the heels of SAVOR in DC and Philly Beer Week, it’s easy to understand their reluctance. They do, after all, have breweries to attend to. That of course will likely change with the annual American Craft Beer Festival, which opens tonight in Boston.

It is perhaps time to rethink beer weeks. They have spread all over the nation and it’s almost as hard to judge their effectiveness as it is their purpose. Are they a celebration of local beer and brewers or are they just mini traveling beer circuses, in which participant brewers from around the country travel to each market they are in and cruise from bar to bar, package store to package store. Does a place like Philly really need this sort of front lines effort? Perhaps it’s better suited to a place like Tampa. And with so many events, many ill or not attended from accounts I’ve heard, size is another issue that should be considered. For my money, having hundreds of repetitive liquor store tastings seems like a waste of everyone’s time. More well-considered (and reasonably priced) brewer events, often targeted at the non-beer geek constituency, might make more sense.

And getting back to local makes sense as well and it is perhaps a trend we are beginning to see. I’ve recently heard that the communities north of Boston will be hosting a North Shore Beer Week, one that celebrates and focuses on local brewers, stores, and bars. This may be a better model going forward.

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4 thoughts on “Everyone Loves Philly Beer Week, Except The Brewers…

  1. Lots of good points, as always. I feel lucky here in Portland, where bars like 3 Dollar Deweys and the Great Lost Bear heavily support local brewers with events – and area restaurants push local brews year around with beer dinners.

    I am happy to see a shift at the ACBF towards more New England brewers (at least as far as I can tell). As much fun as it is to try stuff from Surly, Shorts and Deschutes, it looks like there are more things on tap this year that I could actually buy in Boston after the fest.

  2. “…mini traveling beer circuses, in which participant brewers from around the country travel to each market they are in and cruise from bar to bar, package store to package store…”

    Very interesting observation. Have the local beer weeks been co-opted by the national macro-micros through the assertion of the possibility of brewers as rock stars. Does this indicate that national craft beer is actually an enemy of local craft beer?

  3. We recently had the first Minnesota Craft Beer week in the Twin Cities. While there were some regional and national brand events, most of them were highlighting the beers and brewers from our state. The prime example was the beer bar Stub & Herbs turning over all of their 32 taps to Flat Earth Brewing Co. It was a great sight to see rows of tap handles all from one brewery, and a local one at that.

  4. Have to say that I disagree with the tone of this post. I actually drove from NC to Philly for beer week and thought it was great. Our reason for going was the lambic summit, but all of the other events were amazing as well. I understand that we were the exception as most people are local. The most exciting part was so many hard to find beers being so readily available as well as the many famous beer personalities around town. If the local breweries are too small or aren’t interested in getting involved in beer weeks in other cities, they should at least come up with ideas and special brews for the week to get themselves exposed. I can’t imagine that some of the great beer spots in Philly wouldn’t want to pour something special from a local brewery. Yes, those breweries will have to do more than usual, but the reward could be great for them. Just my thoughts.

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