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Atlantic Ale Trail : Philadelphia Craft Brewers Conference
By Jack Curtin

Carol Stoudt remembers sitting in San Diego at the close of last year’s very successful Craft Brewers Conference and waiting for the reins to be turned over to the Philadelphia 2005 committee by the California team while she gazed out the window at beautiful weather and blooming flowers. “I was thinking, just let the weather be good for us,” she recalls. “I knew that Philadelphia, with its great breweries and diversity of interesting bars and restaurants, would be a perfect setting. But this is a city you have to walk around and experience, so we really needed nice weather.”

Brewers Association Recognition Award was given to Carol Stoudt, Stoudt’s Brewing Company. Photo by Tom Dalldorf

The weather more than cooperated when craft brewing professionals arrived here in record numbers — more than 1,300 strong — for the April gathering, the first conference held under the aegis of the newly formed Brewers Association. That new attendance mark and the obvious delight of first-time visitors with the city’s thriving beer scene and other attractions effectively demolished the arguments once heard in some quarters that a successful conference could not be held on the East Coast. From the spectacular opening party at Yards Brewing Company’s historic brewery in Kensington on Wednesday night to the grand closing banquet Saturday evening, this year’s conference set a high standard for 2006 and the folks in Seattle.

Stoudt, founder of Pennsylvania’s first microbrewery in 1987, was a busy lady throughout. She was part of the local committee that helped put the conference together; she and husband Ed hosted a Tuesday night brewers’ party at their Stoudt’s Brewery in Adamstown; Stoudt’s was where the unique 7 Threads Symposium Ale (a blend of brews from all eight breweries represented on the local committee) was bottled and packaged, and she was awarded the Brewers Association Recognition Award at the conference’s opening ceremonies for her contributions to the industry.

“That was quite an honor,” Stoudt said. “I thought it was going to be a brewery award, not an individual one, so I was really surprised and grateful. The entire conference was wonderful, but what I loved the most was the way the local brewers worked together to plan all the events and develop the Symposium Ale. I think that spirit of cooperation showed a lot of good karma for promoting craft beers in this region. I was very excited to be a part of it.”

The week’s real excitement, however, came Friday night when Stoudt, described as “craft brewing’s sexiest grandmother” in her award introduction, had to rush out of a five-brewery party (Stoudt’s, Victory, Flying Fish, Sly Fox and Troegs) at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the city’s oldest continually operating pub, when she received word that her daughter was having her baby ahead of schedule.

"Craft brewing professionals arrived in record numbers, and visitors were obviously delighted with Philadelphia’s thriving beer scene."

By the way, as I mentioned in passing awhile back, Stoudt’s brought bottling and packaging of all its 12-ounce products in-house for the first time ever midway through last year, downsizing their bottle-conditioned India Pale Ale, Abbey Triple and Fat Dog Stout into 12-ouncers at the same time.

The result? Not only are all the base beers crisper, cleaner and more true-to-style, but the IPA (now officially a double), triple and stout — each of which has been ramped up notably — are better than ever. Indeed, the triple and stout have become part of the regular rotation at Chez Curtin, and I’m told that the IPA is the current go-to brew locally for several fanciers of the style.

Relishing A Job Well Done
You know what they say: A camel is a horse designed by a committee. The Philadelphia CBC Committee, however, can justifiably refute that old canard. Aside from an inability to count (eight beers make seven threads — what’s up with that?), they proved to be a smooth and effective machine.

Members were Carol and Ed Stout, Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, Flying Fish’s Gene Muller, Independence Brew Pub’s Tim Roberts, Iron Hill’s Mark Edelson, Nodding Head’s Curt Decker (replacing brewer Brandon Greenwood following his resignation to go to The Lion), Victory’s Bill Covaleski and Yards’ Tom Kehoe.

“I thought everything worked out very well,” said Covaleski afterwards, “and I heard that from a lot of out-of-towners. Of course, the guys from Colorado took credit for the weather, saying they brought it with them.” Muller noted that “it was a lot of work, but it was worth it to see people get excited about our beers and pubs and what Philly has to offer.” He also confirmed reports from other sources that the BA has expressed interest in returning (“They’re talking 2010 or 2012”) and that a World Cup might be included.

Nodding Head’s enthusiastic brewer, Gordon Grubb, who sat in on some committee meetings, probably did the best job of summing up the Philadelphia experience enjoyed by conference attendees. “You hear a lot about this city,” he said, “but when you come here and start visiting places and talking to people, then you really get it. This is just a nice place to be.”

Cask Ale Is “Real” Ale — Or Maybe Not
Among the beer-industry luminaries who discovered, or rediscovered, the beery pleasures of my hometown in April was our esteemed Celebrator editor, with whom I spent many a pleasant hour as a result. A goodly portion of that time, we were enjoying and praising local ale pulled off a beer engine. Indeed, I can recall a delighted Dalldorf raising his pints of Nodding Head 3C Extreme Double IPA, Independence Oatmeal Stout and Yards Extra Special Ale (OK, that one was my pint) in my direction and proclaiming each time, “This is the best beer I’ve had so far.”

Real ales served on a hand-pump are an integral part of Philadelphia’s craft-beer culture. As I noted in a story last issue, it was Yards ESA on a hand-pump at Dawson Street Pub in Manayunk that was the seminal moment in our modern brewing history.

Today, according to the online Real Ale Database for the U.S. (cask-ale.co.uk/us/statemenu.html), which is maintained by Alex Hall, New York sales rep for Baltimore-based importer Legends Ltd., Pennsylvania has more than 50 “cask ale outlets,” the most in the nation. By my count, which is slightly different from that at the Web site (I’ve sent Hall my updates), there are 16 hand-pumps currently operating in the city of Philadelphia. Plus, we have the permanent gravity “down draft” system at Brigid’s Pub and the regular Friday firkin atop the bar at The Grey Lodge Pub (ramped up to a dozen or more of them at the whenever-the-calendar-allows Friday the Firkinteenths).

Add to that 16 (probably more) beer engines at various pubs and brewpubs within roughly an hour’s drive from center city, and you have more hand-pumps within a 100-mile radius than you’ll find in any other state in the union except California. And there’s more on the way. Brewer Brian O’Reilly says he plans to install three hand-pumps and feature cask ales at Sly Fox’s Phoenixville pub by year-end.

A lot of cask ale is flowing in these parts, yes indeed. But is it “real ale” according to England’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) stringent standards?

Good question. Dalldorf’s editorial enthusiasm for the ales we were consuming and my freelance enthusiasm for another paying gig resulted in our tentatively agreeing to take a hard look at the topic. That resolution was firmed up by a recent imbroglio at the Beer Advocate Web site about the faux beer engines — a unit that looks like the real thing but actually just opens a faucet when pulled, rather than drawing beer up naturally — on which Fuller’s ales have been pouring in U.S. watering holes. There were angry accusations that many customers were being deceived by this practice. It got so intense that Fuller’s head brewer, John Keeling, joined the discussion and promised that the brewery would look into putting a clear “keg beer” designation on the front of the pump clip to eliminate any confusion. Meanwhile, others chimed in that those publicans who pour filtered, pasteurized beer through beer engines are guilty of the same offense.

We’ll be talking about that controversy and American hand-pump culture in general in the next issue.

Jack Curtin can be contacted at jackcurtin@comcast.net. Whether doing so is a good idea remains open to debate.


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