What do you get when you put together more than 60 breweries from near and far, thousands of thirsty Philadelphians, miles’ worth of pretzel necklaces, delicious street truck fare, and the best weather Mother Nature had to offer? Oh, and did I mention it was both fun and educational, plus raised money for a local charity?
Once again, Philly’s Annual Great Beer Expo delivered a delightful afternoon for beer lovers at the Parade Grounds of the Philadelphia Navy Yard. On the last weekend of May, the weather was “pitcher” perfect and the expanse of green lawn was ringed with vendors of beer, food, kilts, and other beer-related items. A large circus-style tent was set up at the south end, with representatives from more breweries – everyone from well-known brands such as Guinness and Asahi to smaller craft operations like Kensington-based St. Benjamin and Lancaster Brewing Co.
VIP ticket holders were allowed to enter at 12:30 pm, and thus received the added benefit of an extra hour in a less-crowded setting with the vendors at a cost of $75 per person. At 1:30 pm, the gates were opened to the general public ($46 per ticket). Nothing is quite like being inside the large tent, and hearing the roaring stampede of beer lovers when they are let into the venue … unless it would be watching that stampeding crowd running toward you as you stand in said tent!
Each attendee received a tasting cup, to be filled with 2-ounce samples at the tables of choice. (While the event is designed for imbibers, designated drivers are welcomed and may enter for a reduced fee of $10; all entrants must be 21 or older.) There is free, on-site parking, plus convenient shuttle buses that ran back and forth from SEPTA’s AT&T subway station. Throughout the afternoon, spontaneous cheers would break out, and everyone raised their tasting cups aloft and joined in the tribute.
While we sampled plenty of traditional brews such as ales, porters, and lagers, this year seemed to mark a new respect for lighter, fruitier beers and shandys. A few years ago, such brews might have been called out as frivolous, but this year’s crowd was seeking out and enjoying Rivertowne Brewing’s Hola Kahiki pineapple beer, Two Roads’ very berry Road Jam, even Haymaker’s honey-infused mead, among others. Don’t get me wrong – there is still a huge following for the IPAs, stouts, and Belgian whites of the world, but it was refreshing to see the creativity on tap this year. If flavorful beers weren’t enough, Victory Brewing Company’s beer-inspired premium ice creams added a sweet touch, and vendors offered various treats for sale, including D-Nuts, organic breads from Eureka! Baking Company, Hank Sauce’s spicy condiments, and The Bacon Jam’s jars of spreadable bacons.
Proceeds of the event benefited the Philadelphia Committee to Benefit the Children, a local charity that provides assistance to children with cancer, leukemia and serious blood disorders.
As the event wound down at 5:30pm and the sun began to drop a little lower on the horizon, satisfied attendees ambled across the lawn toward the exit, happily checking their phones and making sure to mark next year’s event on their calendar apps.
Nancy Burlan, with additional reporting by Harris Fogel and Ken Kramar, posted June 20, 2015
Photos Copyright ©Harris Fogel 2015
For more information on the Annual Great Beer Expo visit: www.greatbeerexpo.com/philly