Everyone Loves Philly Beer Week, Except The Brewers…

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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And The Source Of The Pennsylvania Beer Stings Is…

…still not known. About two months ago, a few days after the initial raids conducted by Pennsylvania law enforcement officers on a small number of beer bars due to concerns over unregistered brands, I quickly put together a public records request designed to answer many of the questions raised by people both in and outside of the beer business regarding the whole affair. I frequently write FOIA and other information requests in my legal practice, so this didn’t require much additional effort. In its entirety, the request read as follows:

March 16, 2010

BY FACSIMILE

Open Records Law Officer
Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement
3655 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a request pursuant to the Pennsylvania Open Records Law. I am writing to request a copy of the complaint(s) or report(s) that lead to the investigation of the sale of unregistered beer brands that the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Code Enforcement undertook on March 4, 2010, at the Memphis Taproom, 2331 East Cumberland Street, Philadelphia, PA 19125, the Resurrection Ale House, 2425 Grays Ferry Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19146, and Local 44, 4333 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104. I would like to receive copies of the above requested records, do not request to inspect the records, and do not request certified copies of the records.

I have also enclosed a copy of the Open Records Law request Form. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

Sincerely,

Andrew Crouch

Enclosure

As the initial one week deadline for the government’s response drew near, I received a standard response saying that the department required an additional period of time in which to respond. The second deadline occurred while I was away on a recent trip to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Germany, so I didn’t have the opportunity to post the government’s response until now. So here for your review, as an example of how government works, is the response I received from the Pennsylvania State Police regarding my inquiry.

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