TSN: The Beer Blues

I thought this was a fairly big scoop for me b/c nobody, I mean nobody had written anything that cast beer week into any doubt. Don’t get me wrong, I love the event but there were some
concerns this year that didn’t otherwise get publicly aired. Published in Philadelphia City Paper last month.


Philly Beer Week is a tricky proposition for local breweries and bar owners.

by Tara Nurin

Published: Jun 16, 2010


Philly Beer Week (PBW), though hailed as a coup for the city’s craft-beer reputation, does not guarantee enhanced revenue for local bars and breweries. In fact, this year, many in the beer business came out of the 10-day event disappointed in sales, citing a variety of causes and effects for why PBW is a tricky proposition.

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Before this PBW, Gene Muller, co-owner of Flying Fish, hoped he wouldn’t see a repeat of previous years, when bars that typically requested up to three of his kegs a week took a month or more to resume the practice. Unfortunately, he saw several events featuring Flying Fish canceled, and several others drawing too small a crowd to matter.

It’s a lot of the same for proprietors. London Grill’s Terry McNally lost money on a handful of her functions; she spent hundreds of dollars on beer for an event featuring Belgium’s Boon Brewery that failed to attract a single participant. McNally and others we spoke with blame the crush of PBW events, which numbered nearly 1,000 this year.

Another commonly cited scapegoat for PBW troubles is the 2010 festival’s migration from March to June — it’s believed an already-hectic event season (e.g. The Roots Picnic, the Manayunk bike race). This, combined with an existing dearth of gone-for-summer college students and shore-going residents, compounds difficulties for breweries and bars. Some participants are calling for a meeting with board members to urge them to cap the number of events and shift the festival back to March.

Though he promises he’ll survey feedback, PBW executive director Don Russell doesn’t believe his board should scale back Beer Week, return it to its original date or devote the entire first weekend to local beers, as some, like Yards founder Tom Kehoe, have recommended.

“Philly Beer Week is not just about 10 days in June,” says Russell, who notes that individual bars and brewers are responsible for scheduling their events. “It’s about promoting Philadelphia as America’s best beer-drinking city. … Plus, we’ve had outstanding outdoor events. You don’t have a dunk tank on Fairmount Avenue in March.” He also points out that events like the Opening Tap kickoff were dedicated to local beers only.

Some bar owners have independently recognized the strain PBW puts on local breweries and have taken steps to rectify it. Clark Newman of Lucky 13 programmed Yards and Philadelphia Brewing Co. nights and kept a draft line open for each throughout the week. But not all bar managers feel quite so much sympathy. Mike McKee, who handles purchasing for the Pub on Passyunk East, says PBW provides an opportunity to see what customers like. “Local brewers get to spend 355 days a year on most bars’ taps,” he says. “This way, for 10 days, other breweries get a chance.”

These are points brewers and other local industry insiders readily concede. However, that doesn’t change the fact that PBW, for all of its benefits, puts a short-term hit on many balance sheets. “Brewers across the region work so hard all year long to put on the circus,” says Victory president Bill Covaleski. “But when the circus leaves town, somebody’s scooping up some pretty big heaps of elephant shit.”