2005 | REGIONAL | EAST COAST
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
"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
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.”
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whether doing so is a good idea remains open to debate.