It was finally time.
A hush fell over the crowd, which had been rowdy all afternoon, as the last five goats standing approached the starting line. They stomped their hooves, sized one another up, and tossed their heads impatiently as their handlers struggled to line them up.
“Whenever you’re ready, goat handlers,” Brian O’Reilly, Sly Fox’s brewmaster, called from the finish line.
And then they were off. The crowd exploded in beer-fueled excitement as the stars of the 2018 Sly Fox Bock Fest and Goat Races sprinted the last 40 yards toward glory, followed closely by their owners.
This year, a 2-year-old pygmy goat named Princess Jenny crossed the finish line first, claiming the crown. Her online profile described her superpower as “turning leaves into chocolate rain.” Brad White, her owner, scooped the goat into his arms excitedly as O’Reilly draped a medal around her neck.
“This is our first year racing,” White, who traveled from Salem, N.J., said. “I didn’t even know she could run this fast. We practiced for about 10 minutes before the race and I figured it was a crap shoot, but she was amazing.”
Each year, thousands of people gather at the Sly Fox Bock Fest and Goat Races on the first Sunday in May to celebrate bock-style beers and goats. The event, which has ballooned to be possibly the largest offering of bock-style beers by one brewery at one time, marks Sly Fox’s release of Maibock, its most popular beer, named in honor of the victor. Throughout the day, attendees sip beer and enjoy bites from a German-inspired menu. Bands play German oompah music from the stage between races.
This combination of bock-style beers and goats makes more sense than one would think, as bock means “billy goat” in German. According to O’Reilly, he officiated the first goat race in 2000 in a parking lot.
“It all began in my twisted mind,” he said with a laugh. “Beer events are always more fun when there’s something to do. There was a farmer who would take the waste from our brewery, and he had six goats. I kind of twisted his arm a little bit to get him to bring them.”
O’Reilly said that only 22 people attended the first goat race, but that he decided to host the event again the next year. It was too hilarious not to, he said.
This year, 60 goats competed for the honor of having the Maibock named after them. O’Reilly said that this naming tradition has led some other breweries to bring their own goats in hopes of forcing Sly Fox to name a beer after a competitor. But the most hated goat on Sunday was not from a rival brewery; it was easily Tom Brady, a Lamancha goat known for his “crazy jump moves.” Every time his bearded face appeared on the Jumbotron, a sea of Eagles fans booed him.
O’Reilly said the funniest part of goat racing is the unexpected nature of it. After the start gun goes off, there is no guessing what the goats will do. Some sprinted cooperatively for most of the way, only to stop mere inches from the finish line, much to the exasperation of their owners and the amusement of the crowd. Others stood at the start line stubbornly, toying with the idea of running. One goat even tried to go backward during its heat.
But the biggest challenge of the races was for the handlers, not the goats. O’Reilly has only one rule for the event — the goat must cross the finish line before the handler. This was hard for many to remember in the heat of the moment.
“The most legendary goat we’ve seen compete is Peggy,” O’Reilly said. “She only had three legs and she won in 2011 and 2012, until she was beaten by Simon, another three-legged goat, in 2013.”
Michelle Mitchell brought her goats, Arthur and Marley Guinness, from Royersford to compete in the race. It was Arthur’s third year vying for the crown.
“Last year, Arthur didn’t do so well,” Mitchell said, petting him affectionately on the head. “One of the judges left his beer on the course, so when Arthur got there, he rolled his tongue into a straw and drank the whole thing. He decided there was no reason to finish after that.”
(Mitchell’s Arthur is not just a beer drinker; he’s also developed a taste for Jack Daniel’s.)
Arthur, who has his own Facebook page that acts as a “dating profile,” stared with stoic yellow eyes at the group of adoring fans who had gathered around him.
The event even brought a “city goat” out to Pottstown. Jack, a 10-month-old dairy goat, lives at a warehouse with his own yard in Kensington. His owner, Graham Groff, rented a bus with his roommates to transport Jack, along with 30 of his fans, to the races. The group sang karaoke the whole way to the brewfest.
“There are more people with goats than you’d think,” O’Reilly said. “Many of them train the whole year. It’s a really epic event for them.”