Let’s face it, people don’t vacation to Pennsylvania for the wine. People usually only vacation to the Lehigh Valley for a few select events, the biggest of all being Musikfest. But every year people come from all over the country, and world, for one week to Philadelphia. For what, you ask? Beer.
Philly Beer Week started in 2008 and has since grown to behemoth proportions. Nearly every bar in Philly gets in on it in some way or another. Drinkers and brewers alike fly from all over the country to take part in the festivities and seek out the best events and beers. Many other cities have taken note and beer weeks have popped up everywhere from New York to Chicago to San Diego. Now the Lehigh Valley is getting their own. That’s all well and good, but how should they go about making this not suck? Make is a destination? Make it a goddamn throw-down the first year right out of the gate? We took a look at our favorite aspects of Philly Beer Week and wrote some thoughts on the subject below:
Rare Beers: The Lehigh Valley is not the beer mecca that Philly is by any stretch, and that’s just a fact. In Philly you have people lining up for two hours on a Saturday morning to get a 5oz pour of a beer in the freezing cold every February. That has not, and probably for the foreseeable future, will not happen in the Lehigh Valley. But it’s those rare beers, stuff that’s supposedly the nectar of the gods in taste and impossible to get, that make huge beer events the most special. No one, especially us, want to venture out for an entire week of LVBW (Lehigh Valley Beer Week) and drink the same old shit they do any other time they’re at the bar. The LV is not as big of a market as Philly so frequently the crazy and rare stuff gets sent down there, but a concerted effort by bar owners, distributors, beer reps, and other like-minded beer nerds should land the area at least a few shiny gems.
Lectures: Beer Weeks are not and should not be all about drinking. During Philly Beer Week there’s a serious amount of educating going on as well. There’s the Forum of the Gods, in which brewers from renowned breweries all over the country convene and discuss brews with participants. The lecture topics are endless…everything from beginners classes of how to taste beer to in-depth talks of bacteria cultures in spontaneous lambic fermentation to historical lessons.
Brewers: As mentioned, having the guy (or gal) there that made the beer you’re drinking is second to nothing. You get the people who never had anything like that before telling the brewer how face-wreckingly awesome his beer is and then you’ve got the nerds asking about IBUs in their barleywine. Questions answered for everyone, straight from the source. It also helps that most brewers are cool as hell to drink with.
Bar-packing shitshows: Sure it gets obnoxious and sweaty and ridiculous, but it’s all party of the exploding beer scene. During Philly Beer Week there’s always a dozen or so events that are guaranteed, based on the absurdly awesome tap lists, to be bombed out. People crammed in like made and kegs kicking in minutes. It doesn’t sound like a good time, but with a list of world-class beer it’s completely worth it. Take this tap list from the first night of Philly Beer Week last year when the Devil’s Den was hosting their annual Bella Vista Night. The place was jammed and probably over fire code. Never again will a bar have anything close to that good of a beer list, that is, until next Philly Beer Week. That’s what we need here.
Opening Tap and General Goofiness: For all of the “beer is serious business” nonsense we’re talking about in this article, the main point of the entirety of any beer week is to drink and have fun. Case in point? A giant Hammer of Glory takes a ridiculous route, starting at 6:30am on a Friday morning throughout Philadelphia on some insane contraption and visits over 20 bars and ends up at the Opening Tap where Philly’s Mayor Michael Nutter uses the hammer to tap the first of Philly Beer Week. That’s the kind of amazing shit that makes beer week so huge, so awesome, and so fun. And every event isn’t just about drinking rare and crazy beers. There’s dunk-a-beer-rep with proceeds going towards charity, a Beer Week Dating Game where participants play the classic game and are blindly paired up with others based on answers not looks, a “show us your cans” event with canned beer at a strip club, and a ton of other ridiculous events.
Tourism, Media, and Economics: Although we couldn’t find any exact statistics of the economic impact of beer weeks, you can’t deny it has some. We know people who have flown to San Diego explicitly for their beer week. These are people who are not industry insiders, brewers, or anything. Just lovers of the suds. Likewise, the aforementioned friends that flew in from California, Colorado, and drove from various other states to Philly just for beer week. The Philly tourism bureau includes beer week in annual report and heavily market the event throughout various outlets. Beer Week has a website. It has an app. It has draw. In the Valley of Festivals that we’ve become (look at the ridiculous amount of festivals that Bethlehem and increasingly Easton host every year), there is a big chance for this one to stand out among all of the garlic, BBQ, harvest, etc. events that clog up the calendar every year.
A Reason to Brew: We’ve got a couple breweries in town now. How about a homebrew contest, one with only beer featuring original recipes? A panel of judges made up of brewers from Two Rivers, Weyerbacher, Hijinx, and Brew Works would come together to taste them all. The winner would then get to brew his beer at their choice of brewery and have it released to the masses? We think that’d be pretty damn cool.
Local Beer Competition: Speaking of competitions, how about a local beer competition? As mentioned, we have a few breweries in the Lehigh Valley and even more on the outskirts. Define a radius of allowable applicants and assemble a panel of writers, certified beer judges, and brewers from outside the radius to blind judge the submitted beers from local breweries. Crown a Lehigh Valley Beer of the Year.
Other Damn Good Event Ideas: Philadelphia has the Philly Beer Geek competition which is a fucking hard and daunting process to win. Not saying we should copy that, but even just a beer trivia quiz competition would suffice. Beer dinners are a natural fit, and all the better if they feature the brewer at the dinner and some one-off beer or harder to get stuff. During beer week there’s also lots of general beer festivals all over the city. In the navy yard, at concert venues, and at a host of other places. The Lehigh Valley currently has a few festivals at Brew Works and the PBS Brew Festival in the summer. Philly does more than that in a week, let alone a year. Let’s pick up the game. Have tap takeovers of the same type of beer. Show people that even though all the beers are saisons or Berliner Weiss, the tastes can change vastly across the same style of beer. One of the coolest events like this was a tap takeover featuring Mikkeller IPAs that were all the exact same recipe but used a different type of hop for each batch and resulted in something like 20 different IPAs showcasing the nuances of each hop varietal.
Beer HQ: Again, with the cooperation of Greater Philly Tourism Marketing Corp, Philly Beer Week partnered with the Four Seasons to create the “With Love Beer Garden”, which fits in with the current “…With Love” marketing initiative. Each day it featured a different local brewery and each day it was attended by over 300 people. It also served as a central information, ticketing, merchandising, etc. point for tourists and locals alike.
All over the Lehigh Valley, with transportation: Let’s face it, LANTA and taxis in the Lehigh Valley kind of blow. It’s a bitch trying to get from city to city, or even across town without a car. Taking a LANTA bus from Brew Works in Allentown to say, Pearly Baker’s in Easton will take you nearly two hours. There’s no festival that really spans the entirety of the Lehigh Valley. Philly benefits from a (mostly) great system of buses, trains, and constant taxi service that we just simply don’t have in this area. For Lehigh Valley Beer Week to keep to its namesake it needs to be in Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and even in smaller places like Northampton, Hellertown, Fogelsville, etc. And as such, there needs to be a way to get from place to place, event to event. There needs to be some sort of something drawn up with LANTA or someone to get people safely and efficiently from town to town and event to event.
We’re not even going to say we’re cautiously optimistic about Lehigh Valley Beer Week. We envision beer dinners with the same beers you can go pick up at Wegmans with no brewers present. The same bullshit trivia nights that go on all year long. A disjointed event with no cohesion across the Lehigh Valley. Coors Light girls. Etc. Hopefully we’re wrong and the week is kickass and amazing, but we’re not getting hopes up and setting the bar low so as not to be disappointed (don’t worry, we’ll still bitch about it in a write-up after the fact, as that’s The El Vee’s forte). First years for anything are always tough and if the week continues to years in the future it will of course get better and better, but to be on the level that so many others have already achieved will take a lot of work from a lot of people throughout the area. Here’s hoping we’re wrong. Cheers, and bring on the suds!