If this post had a subtitle it would be, “Wrong Turns, Great Beers, and Mussels”. You’ll see why.
Walking into the 23st Armory served very quick notice that this was not a venue like last year’s. Gone were the multi-floor, stylish trappings and educational exhibits at the Independence Visitor Center, replaced by a totally open three story building with an unassuming brick interior.
The floor had obviously just been spray down or power washed, standing water still pooled in spots around the floor. Yes, a little different. But perfect. Big and open works well for a brew fest, allowing one to quickly scan the surroundings as they empty their glass making it ready for the next beer. And let’s be honest, other than a burning boat or a Siberian forest in 1908 , is there really a bad place for a beer fest? I didn’t think so.
And this is no ordinary beer fest, this is the Opening Tap Festival for Philly Beer Week. Through the generosity of others (who I will thank later), and some craft beer God smiling (I’m not worthy), Tracey and I once again made it on the media list for the awesome event. Ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Ed, it’s just another beer fest.” True. Guilty. Almost.
Opening Tap has one thing going for it that sets it slightly (OK, not so slightly) above the rest – It’s Opening Tap. I know. Cryptic. Opening Tap is the “green flag”, if you will of Philly Beer Week, the first and possibly largest city wide, 10 day event dedicated to all things beer (that’s right, a mere 7 days can’t contain Philly Beer Week) which means that for this particular event, brewers come out and breweries bring some of their best beers, including a few “rare extras” now and then.
I want to highlight that – BREWERS come out. I know it seems like such a little thing, but as someone who attends a lot of festivals where beers are poured by volunteers, it’s nice to chat with the guy who actually brewed the beer for a few minutes while he fills your cup.
We left home in what we thought was plenty of time, and after making the requisite number of wrong turns once we entered Philly (stupid G-Maps), we found ourselves at the Armory only 15 minutes late for the VIP session. That’s practically punctual for us when it comes to Philly.
While a blocked off part of a hallway served as last year’s VIP tasting room, this year the whole venue was open to the craft beer lovers who bought the upgraded ticket. The new open venue certainly made the VIP tasting seem less crowded, and we took the opportunity of having a few minutes of relaxed tasting and conversation with DE craft beer locals Rob Pfeiffer (Head Brewer) of Twin Lakes; and Tom Knorr (Owner) and Megan Moore (Rep NJ, DE, PA), of Delaware prodigal son Evolution Brewing.
Soon the flood gates opened, and the hordes stormed the armory. A good horde though. As always, I can’t give you and in depth analysis on all the beers I tasted. It’s just a task too immense for my simple palette. However, a short list of beers Tracey and I found ourselves in front reads like this:
Citra Belgian IPA (Barren Hill Tavern),Dreamin’ Double IPA (Manayunk Brewery), NJ350 (Flying Fish) Lowercase IPA (Free Will Brewing), 30 West Helles Lager, Southern Cross Hog (Lancaster Brewing), Kiss Off IPA, Fear Of A Brett Planet (Round Guys), Hop Five IPA (Susquehanna Brewing), LaGrave (Troegs), Lot No. 6 (Evolution), Grog (Nodding Head), Brotherly Suds 5 (Victory,Flying Fish, Yards, Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Nodding Head and Earth Bread + Brewery), Liberty Bell Ringer DIPA (Victory), Purple Monkey Dishwasher, I Love Lamp (Evil Genius), Philly Triple (Dock Street, Brouwerij Dilewyns), Puddler’s Row, Double IPA (Conshohocken Brewing), Smoked Amber (Saint Benjamin). Molasses Porter, Maple Mistress (Saucony Creek). Beers in bold are ones that impressed us the most.
One of the activities that adds a little pomp and circumstance to Opening Tap is, well the Opening Tap (again? sorry) – in this case referring to the tapping of the keg of Brotherly Suds, the annual collaboration beer brewed especially for Philly Beer Week. This year brewers Victory,Flying Fish, Yards, Sly Fox, Iron Hill, Nodding Head and Earth Bread + Brewery worked together to bring about Brotherly Suds #5, a golden bock (which did not disappoint in its malty goodness) with a touch of German hop.
The instrument of tapage (tappage? Whatever..) for this occasion is the HOG, or Hammer Of Glory as it is called on official occasions, which besides Mjolnir and MC, is probably the most well known Hammer (note: always capitalize that) in the Philadelphia area. And why not, leading up to the Opening Tap the HOG makes an annual media covered trip through and around Philadelphia, with fanfare and fervor only to be rivaled by the Olympic Flame.
And who get’s the honor of wielding the Hammer? Why none other than the current Mayor of Philadelphia, the honorable Michael Nutter. Michael? Hmmm, apparently although advertised Michael couldn’t make it so he sent a suitable replacement. One that Tracey immediately picked out of the crowd and drew attention to me by pointing and shouting, “Hey look! There’s that guy on TV that you don’t like!”
OK, it’s not that I don’t LIKE former Mayor and PA Governor Ed Rendell. I honestly don’t know him well enough to like or dislike him. I just wish he’d shut up when Ray Didinger is talking on Eagles Post Game Live.
After the tapping, it was time to announce the winners of The Inquire’s Brewvintational, an annual beer competition that tries to find the best of this sea of amazing beers. First up in the new beer category was Nihilist Russian Imperial Stout, from Sly Fox. We happen to be lucky enough to be standing right in front of the Sly Fox booth when this was announced, and lucky enough to get to taste this awesome beer. Troeg’s came in second with their LaGrave a very nice Triple Golden Ale, and third was Round Guys with their very drinkable Fear of a Brett Planet,
The other category was Saisons which was lead by Tired Hand Brewing with their HandFarm Four-Grain Saison aged in Chardonnay barrels. Saison Wood from Iron Hill Brewery (Maple Shade) came in second with Solaire, a Grisette/Saison from Forest & Main Brewing. Sadly, Tired Hand and Forest & Main were not in attendance that night.
A little personal blog business from me, this was my first event with my new camera. I’m going to be honest, I didn’t spend a lot of time over thinking anything here, I mostly set the camera on full auto and let it do the thinking for me, so most of these pictures are still just “snap shots” for all intensive purposes, but for the most part I’m already enjoying the upgrade in picture quality I got.
Sadly, the time to go had come. We always like to leave beer fests a little early, you know, beat the rush traffic with people who have been drinking as long as we have. Tonight we had a little extra incentive though because the parking garage next to the festival closed exactly at 10pm and the attendant informed us that since the garage wasn’t open during the weekend, if we didn’t get Tracey’s car out by 9:59, we’d be without it for the weekend. I’m not sure if that was 100% true, but there are certain things you don’t want to roll the dice on, and I’m pretty sure your girlfriend’s car is one of them. Just sayin’.
Remember how I said, “Wrong Turns, Great Beers and Mussels?” Well, after leaving Philly (accompanied by the requisite amount of wrong turns trying to get back on I-95) we decided to get something to eat. Suddenly Tracey was in a mood for mussels so that meant a trip to Jessup’s Tavern in Historic New Castle. Unfortunately by the time we arrived the kitchen had been closed for a while, but Justin was nice enough to set us up with a couple of decent beers to help alleviate our disappointment. Why is this important?
Well, the next day we woke up to find out that “Delaware Craft Beer and Wine Lovers” co-founder Patrick Huff was putting together a trip to Philly for the Varga Bar block party, and Tracey and I decided to tag along. The day was awesome, but Tracey still had that hankering for mussels from the night before and made mention that we were only a small walk from Monk’s Belgian Cafe. What followed was an awesome dinner with a beer list that we were very excited to be ordering off of.
But that, of course, is another post.
I’d like to thank everyone who always makes this event possible. First of all to all the brewers, representatives and volunteers that make this event the amazing time that it is. To G-Lo and gang from It’s Just The Booze Dancing, whose generosity got us on the list last year. To Jennie Hatton for adding us to the list last year and getting us in touch with Michael Greger, who added us to the list this year.