Recently, my daily routine was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice on the phone. He was a Philadelphia journalist, gathering tidbits of information for the upcoming Philly Beer Week, that “happening” 10-day week of over 200 events, being held March 7 through March 16, 2008. The interviewer was much like a kid in a nostalgic Five-and-Dime Store, checking out the goodies, plucking a few morsels from the bins, and throwing the juiciest delicacies into his treasure sack. He danced around the words, asking me about the 1st Annual Philly Beer Geek Finals Competition being held on Thursday, March 13, 2008 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia. What was a Philly Beer Geek? What kind of knowledge would s/he possess? Beer knowledge pays dividends - the winner would receive over $1,000 in prizes.
Was Philadelphia, in fact, the “best beer-drinking city in America,” as the advertising campaign claimed? The Philly Beer Geek competition was a testament to Philly’s commitment to know beer – how it is crafted, the ingredients involved, the styles, flavors, and inherent characteristics, and the rich history behind beer as it developed on this side of the Pond. In the early 1900s, Philadelphia was home to over 90 breweries within the city limits. That number was jostled by the temperance movement, but when Philly recovered, it enthusiastically embraced historical reproductions of classic styles of European Beer – from German Pilsner to English Porter and Belgian Tripel – and it never looked back.
Philadelphia boasts an incredible diversity of local, national, and international beer. With its saavy gastronomes, the average palate has achieved a level of sophistication that is uncommon among most parts of the country. Philly foodies readily embrace the ubiquitous variety among restaurant fare that exists side-by-side, from Moroccan to Thai, Local Philly to Continental to South-of-the-Border. With this same open approach, they enter into an eclectic love affair with beer on all levels – the sour ales of Belgium, hoppy IPAs of the West Coast, extreme beers of the East Coast, and crisp pilseners of the Czech Republic. Ask Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe, Rosemarie Certo of Dock Street Brewery or William Reed of Standard Tap.
In March of 1999, Beer Hunter Michael Jackson wrote an article entitled, “Why I would rather be in Philadelphia.” As was his passion throughout 18 years, he spoke in this article of his fascination with Dr. Pat McGovern and Professor Sol Katz of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology…and the artifacts in the museum that revealed the foundations of man and man’s ever-present connection to beer throughout the ages. Even then, Jackson was on to something. He could feel it in his bones. Perhaps he felt the earth moving beneath his feet every time he came to Philadelphia. It was certainly where he fell in love in his twilight years. What better place to embrace as his second home?
Drawing over 1,000 people per event at Philly’s Penn Museum each year, Michael Jackson saw in Philadelphia “a true level of passion for malt and hops.” Did he understand that he, himself, had lit the fuse that would create the most resplendent display of beer the country has ever known?
Would he ever believe, in those early years in Yorkshire, those years of beer and rugby league, that he would ignite such passion in America, or more specifically, in Philadelphia, PA? Who knew?