This past Saturday I took my annual pilgrimage to the Philly Craft Beer Festival. Since it first began a group of us from the church beer club have headed down to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to enjoy 4-5 hours of sampling craft beer from 50 plus breweries. This year, for the third year in a row, we travelled as part of the group tour from the Dawson Street Pub. For those not familiar with Dawson, they were the very first craft bar in Manayunk, one of the first to serve Yards (which at the time was also brewed in Manayunk) and still have a special place for that great local beer by serving it up on 3 (yes 3) hand pumps.
Anyway, Dave, the owner, put together one heck of a good trip. It starts at 10 am at the Dawson with a great breakfast of stuffed breads, oreganata and tomato pie from local culinary treasure, Marchiano’s Bakery. We washed it down with beer or two. I started with Gang Aft Agley from Sly Fox. The Scotch Ale went nicely with the bacon, egg and cheese bread that was my breakfast. Since we still had some time to kill I went big and had The Gentleman Imperial Stout from new local, Naked Brewing.
Eventually, it was time to walk to the school bus that would take us to and from the event. On the bus ride, we made our traditional pretzel necklaces. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, having pretzels dangling around your neck may look silly but in fact is a key to being able to fully enjoy a beer fest. 1) It allows you to keep you hands free for beer. 2) It provides a palate cleanser between beers 3) Provides a source of much needed carbs to let you keep going longer. The concept has grown so popular that a vendor was selling them for $5 a pop at the fest.
As the bus pulled in we piled out and right into the VIP line (thanks Dave!). There we were carded and issued wrist bands. After a minor wait, we were ushered in, given our glasses, and then watched the clock till it struck 12:30. The smaller crowds of VIP hour allowed pretty quick access to the great beers. Notables beers came from Stillwater, The Bruery, Stone, Full Sail, Lavery, Sprecher, Troegs, Victory and many others.
One change since the early iterations of the Fest is that many of the beers are being repped by the distributors that carry them as opposed to the actual brewers. While the beer tastes the same, it does make it harder to connect with the guys and gals who make the beer and to converse knowledgably about how it is made.
As is my custom, I had a clergy shirt on. As usual it was met with a lot of second looks and even someone who wanted me to show them some id to prove that I was really a priest (looking at the pictures I guess you can’t really blame him). But more importantly, it lead to some fun interactions and even some more meaningful conversations. Two of them took place whilst we took a break to smoke a cigar (I brought Cuban Ramone Allones robustos).
The first conversation was with a woman of Jewish background who wanted to talk about the commonalities and differences between our faiths. The other was with a Roman Catholic woman who wanted to know my thoughts about the coming Papal Conclave. As much as I enjoy the beer and sharing the event with my friends, such conversations are what keep me coming out. Because let’s face it, I can easily stay at home and drink great beers or I could venture out to a smaller beer event that would be more geek focused if all I wanted to do was learn more about beer. But only by going out as a priest, can I find these new connections and conversations. And in the end, that is why this priest keeps walking into bars.