Two guys were sitting at Monk’s Cafe, drinking a bottle of wine, when the idea hit. They shared some thoughts, made a few phone calls and within a month, Philly Beer Week was a reality.
At first, they wanted to call it Philadelphia Beer Week. They sobered up and soon came to their senses. “We can’t call it Philadelphia Beer Week. It has to be Philly Beer Week,” said Tom Peters who, along with Bruce Nichols, co-founded PBW in 2006. “We just wanted to show the rest of the world our deep beer culture.”
So began the love story between the City of Brotherly Love and beer. When Philly Beer Week 2012 taps Friday at Independence Visitor Center, it will feature 2,000 different brews. It used to be a boastful slogan, but now it’s fact. Yes, Ben Franklin, Philly is “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City.”
“Philadelphia is the model for what we consider the modern beer week,” said Jay Brooks, 53, a noted beer week expert and syndicated columnist.
Some have debated whether Philadelphia is the originator of the beer week phenomenon. Not Peters. “No doubt,” he said, when asked if PBW was the first. “Everyone knows Philly is the s–t.”
Still, there are some with legitimate claims. In 1992, Brooks launched a nine-day festival called Beerapalooza that morphed into San Francisco Beer Week. But it wasn’t until Brooks visited the first Philly Beer Week, back in 2007, that everything changed — forever.
“I came back to San Francisco and said that we should be doing this here,” Brooks said. “Philly was an inspiration. Any town that considers itself a beer town should have one.”
Philly’s influence doesn’t end there. Peters is constantly traveling and meeting with Belgian distributors. One common request: Can we come to Philly Beer Week? His best story involves a tasting with Armand Debelder, owner of the famous Drie Fonteinen brewery in Beersel, Belgium.
“He told me, ‘In Belgium, we understand that Belgium is the beer paradise of the world, but in my hometown people don’t know as much about my beer as they do here. Philadelphia is the true beer paradise.'”
More than tastings
It’s the pure spectacle that sets Philly Beer Week apart from the copycats. The “weeklong” celebration (actually 10 days) is filled with wildly entertaining events, not just boring beer dinners.
This year, Frankford Hall is doing a beer-themed version of Nickelodeon’s “Double Dare.”
Of course, the main celebrity is the “Hammer of Glory.” The HOG gets paraded around town with a reverence reserved for the Olympic Torch, and Beer Week can’t begin until Mayor Michael Nutter is handed the baton.
“People on the streets would see the hammer and know what it was,” Brooks said, reflecting on his first visit. “That was impressive.”