Philadelphia Winter Beer Fest 2011

by David A on February 27, 2011

Philadelphia’s Winter Beer Festival was originally scheduled for January 22nd, but was rescheduled to February 12th due to the seemingly relentless snowstorms that have blanketed the East Coast in snow.

I originally heard about this beer festival during a Philly beer tour of sorts with friends while celebrating my birthday. There was quite a bit of advertising for this event ranging from banners to beer coasters which left me a bit skeptical. I was unable to make the initial January 22nd date, so my deliberation of whether or not attending would be worthwhile went out the window.

Flash forward a few weeks. While strolling the interwebs, I came across a tweet from Philly Beer Scene (@PhillyBeerScene) indicating that the Winter Beer Fest was moved to February 12th. I checked out the website and noticed a pretty extensive and serious list of attending breweries, plus tickets were still on sale and were only $40 (minus the 2$ processing fee) up until the Friday before the event.

I was able to convince a few friends to join me for the festival,  and after enjoying a delicious Dim Sum lunch in nearby China Town, we walked over to the Electric Factory where this year’s festival was to take place.

After a few minute wait before getting inside, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the cheap plastic tasting glasses being handed out at the door and was even more disheartened when we saw the crowds inside. If you have been inside the Electric Factory before, you already know that it’s not the largest venue around. My previous concerns were confirmed while trying to find a line to begin sampling beers, any beers! Every line ran into each other, which became more of a large horde of people moving in every direction. You literally felt like you were in a school of fish and had no control over which way you would be able to move next. Also, it was so crowded that you didn’t have much, if any, room to stand and chat with friends and appreciate the beers.

This went on for quite a while until they opened the top seating area and moved a few brewery booths up there. This helped alleviate some of the crowd and provided people a place where they could sit and relax out of the way of those wishing to continue sampling.

My friends and I grabbed some prime seating along the upper balcony right across from the Allagash and 21st Amendment booths (awesome!) and would make rounds downstairs as desired. On top of the crowds and mass confusion, the majority of the breweries did not have actual employees representing them present.

The servers were hired workers and the majority didn’t know anything about the brewery or the beers they were serving. However, I was able to talk with a few representatives from Weyerbacher, Sixpoint, and Stone.

Due to the crowds, I was unable to make my way to every brewer’s booth. However, if I had my heart set on visiting every brewery, it could have been accomplished.

I think this beer festival has great potential and could really turn into a worthwhile event. If they are going to hold the event at the Electric Factory in the future, they could set up ropes of some sort and institute a directional flow around all the brewers. This would definitely help move traffic along and make it much easier to sample beers. They definitely need to have more vendors upstairs and have that area open from the beginning. Also, I know many Brewery Representatives have a hard time making a rescheduled event, but I would hope that the majority of people serving the beer in the future are from the respective breweries. And if not, at the very least, the servers would have some passion for beer and knowledge of the brewery and beers being served. Sure, each booth had short print outs from the brewers describing the beers on tap but I wanted to know more about some of the breweries themselves. Also, some of the servers looked downright miserable and showed no interest or excitement in what pouring delicious craft beers let alone striking up a conversation or answering any questions about the brewery or beers!

Looking at the list again there were really a lot of great breweries and beers here that I didn’t get to try. Some of my highlights: 21st Amendments Back in Black IPA and Fireside Chat, Allagash Curiex, Sam Adams Chocolate Bock, Wyerbacher Verboten, Sierra Nevada 30th Grand Cru.

Overall, this was an enjoyable few hours once the crowds thinned a bit but its definitely not a beer festival to write home about. For the $40 tickets ($50 at the door) you could probably do better hitting some of the renowned Philly bars.

[rating=3]

Pros:

Lots of great breweries participating

Location: Close to RT-95 and Old City

$40 won’t break the bank

Cons:

Overly crowded

Poor layout

Unenthusiastic servers not knowledgeable about the beer

Limited brewery representatives present

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