Philadelphia Gives a Lesson in East Coast Beer History

Mj 618_348_philadelphia gives a lesson in east coast beer history

After five festivals with some 500 breweries pouring thousands of beers in a little over two weeks, you’d expect Ken Grossman and his merry band of brewers to be slowing down. Not exactly. While the average wakeup time on the bus has been 5 AM, the Grossmans, along with brewers from Allagash, Bell’s, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker, Victory, Russian River, and others are banking sleep debt and enjoying the rolling party. They’re not lacking for activity: The bus has made stops in between the festivals to take everyone skydiving in Longmont, California, donkey races in Chicago, trapezing in New York, and hot air ballooning in Portland, Maine. And then, following each festival, there are the more raucous nights on the bus (Fun Fact: This was previously the tour bus for the Insane Clown Posse). As the brewers traveled some 400 miles from Portland, Maine to Philadelphia, they embraced their own kind of rock star status and carried on into the night with some good-natured debauchery, despite the early wake-up call.

At noon, the bus pulls up to Penn Treaty Park, a few miles from the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and the first U.S. Mint, where a hundred Mid-Atlantic brewers are pouring for the sixth stop in Beer Camp. This city, once the capital of the United States, is now considered by many to be the East Coast capital of beer, as reflected by its bars, brewers, and culture.

To see Philadelphia as a long-time influential craft beer center, however, is a bit of revisionist history. Benjamin Franklin, a famous Philadelphian, never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us” (he was talking about wine, as Charles Bamforth noted in his book bearing that title); craft beer only just recently came to Philadelphia’s three sports stadiums; and even Chico, California (established more than a century after Philly became a bustling city) was a craft center a decade before your average Philadelphian could tell the difference between a lager and ale.

“In 1985, when I started homebrewing, Philadelphia was the number one marketing city for Coors Light in the United States,” recalls Victory co-founder Bill Covaleski. By his telling, a group of distributors (including Ed Friedland), brewers (such as himself and Tom Kehoe of Yards Brewing), bars like Monk’s Café and beer-receptive chefs like Marc Vetri turned Philly into the craft beer capital it is today. “There are some really stubborn motherfuckers that would not allow Philly to be a bad beer town,” he says. At this festival, a few thousand Philadelphians will drink to that. 


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