Saturday, February 13, 2016

Is Philly the best beer town in America?

When Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp Across America lands at Penn Treaty Park this Saturday, we have a chance to show the country how much enthusiasm Philadelphia drinkers have for craft beer.

Is Philly the best beer town in America?

Bill Covaleski and the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp bus.
Bill Covaleski and the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp bus. via Bill Covaleski

Is Philly a better beer city than say, Chico, California?

Not that it’s officially a competition, but when Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp Across America lands at Penn Treaty Park this Saturday (Aug. 2), we have a chance to show the country how much enthusiasm Philadelphia drinkers have for craft beer.

More than 150 beers from 82 breweries around the region will be pouring at the daylong beer fest. Tickets are $65, here.

The festival is one of just seven stops on the national tour organized by Ken Grossman’s pioneering craft brewery. The first event took place earlier this month in Chico, Sierra Nevada’s hometown, and it was a sellout, attracting a diverse crowd of 5,000 enthusiasts.

“If I was the president of Anheuser-Busch InBev and I had been at that festival, I would be scared [bad word]-less,” said Victory Beer president and co-founder Bill Covaleski, who’s been traveling with a group of other top brewmasters on a luxury bus that follows the fest from town to town.

“It was a cross-section of young America, people from all walks of life. Hearing them talk, it sounded like you couldn’t get any of them to drink a Bud Light if you paid them $100."

Big, macrobrew conglomerates have reason to be worried. Overall, the $100 billion U.S. beer market saw a sales drop of nearly 2% in 2013, but not in the craft category, which grew 17.2%. There are now more than 3,040 breweries operating across the nation, and they’re stealing share from the big boys like Bud, Miller Lite and Coors.

Even as some of the more successful craft breweries get bigger, one thing that sets them apart is their eagerness to collaborate.

For the Beer Camp tour, Sierra Nevada organized a special 12-pack of a dozen collaboration brews, each one made with a different brewery, including an ale-lager hybrid called Alt Route from Victory.

“The 12-pack is a chance to demonstrate our solidarity,” explained Covaleski. “The press loves to write about fights and power struggles, but by and large it doesn’t happen in our industry. That camaraderie has really been the wind in our sails.”

Festival attendees this weekend will have a chance to taste all 12 one-time-only beers, which include an English-style bitter from New Glarus, which does not distribute outside of Wisconsin, and a pale ale from 3 Floyds, which usually only sells beer in five midwestern states. Other collaborators are Oskar Blues, Allagash, Ninkasi, Bell’s, Cigar City, Ballast Point, Firestone Walker and Russian River.

Along with the beer, what makes this event special is the planning that went into it, says Covaleski, lauding Sierra Nevada for great signage, good organization and the unique band booked for the tour. MarchFourth is a burlesque marching band with a theatrical edge - expect stilt-walkers and acrobats along with the tunes.

Ten food carts will be vending to provide a base for all the brew, including Cow and the Curd, Delicias, Mama’s Meat Balls, Oink and Moo and others.

After Philly, the tour heads to its last stop, in Mills River, N.C. That one’s also sold out. What do you say, Philadelphia? Are we more into great beer than they are?

Come out on Saturday and prove it.

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