Flowers, Beer and Ben Franklin

When a Denver friend first proposed we fly to The City of Brotherly Love in February for a flower show, I thought she was crazy. Then the date got bumped back a week. Psychologically, March in Philadelphia sounded way more inviting that February. The real kicker, though, was ready access to East Coast craft beers.

The 187th Philadelphia Flower Show was indeed spectacular, but the real high point of the trip came about through pure luck. I was flipping through a magazine called Philly Beer Scene when I noticed a small-print calendar listing for a “Brewer’s Plate” taking place the next evening.

Kimmel Center from aboveTwenty-four hours and $71 dollars later, I was among the general admission masses huddled and waiting to enter the huge locavore and craft beer event. Inside the Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra, VIP guests who had ponied up still more, had an hour’s head start. Like the elite castes, they looked down upon us from the second and third levels of the massive atrium.

Now in their eleventh year, the Brewer’s Plate organizers had logistics and organization down. Events staff members moved through our waiting crowd handing out program booklets, checking IDs and slipping on the wrist bands that guaranteed three hours of unlimited access to the food and craft beers at 88 booths.

An online check shortly before the event showed all 300 VIP tickets and the first 300 general admission tickets sold out. The final 300 GA tickets was almost gone, too. When we began to move en masse six minutes before our given time, the excitement was palpable. Overall, traffic flowed well and the wait at booths was never more than a few minutes. I only saw one booth that ran out of product before closing time.

Shannon and Julie

Julie and Shannon

With so many vendors, attendees had to choose carefully. For me, skipping the familiar big boys like Sam Adams and Angry Orchard was a no brainer. I was there for the beer, so after a couple of cider samples, I bypassed the rest of the cideries, the distilleries and the coffee booth. Pork sliders seemed to be a popular item and, after the first one, I skipped the others. I also walked passed all the sweets except for The Bent Spoon’s booth advertising stout and Simcoe pops. Thinking these were soda pops, I asked for a Simcoe (a popular hop variety used in craft beers). I have to say the pineapple-citrus-Simcoe popsicle was tasty and refreshing. I spoke with Julie and Shannon who were working on stout pops. Both gave glowing reviews. “Like eating really good chocolate.”

So, about the beer…outstanding!

Pete, Miles and Ben from Brooklyn Brewery

Pete, Miles and Ben from Brooklyn Brewery

I started with a nice, hoppy Rye Pale Ale from Vault Brewing Company. Next was an unusually dark and sweet Stroudt’s Beernickel Lager. The server said raisins were the reason for the sweetness. It wasn’t my kind of beer and, after a few sips, I moved on to Prism, which advertised its Misdemeanor IPA. This hazy jewel was right up my hophead alley. After food and conversation breaks, I hit the Victory booth where I sampled Farm Hand, a collaboration with Brewery Vivant. I’m not generally a fan of sour beers, but this light, hazy Saison could entice me to become one. When I asked the server at Sly Fox whether I should try the Nihilist or the 360 IPA, she inquired about my tastes. A quick conversation ensued while I sipped and complimented the IPA and the woman on her knowledge.

Bryan from The Other Farm Brewery

Bryan from The Other Farm Brewery

Knowing a bit of Brooklyn Brewery’s history—co-founded in 1984 by Steve Hindy, who brought brewmaster Garrett Oliver on board in 1994—I was eager to taste their brew. I got so engrossed in conversation with Pete, Miles and Ben, all behind the bar, that I didn’t pay attention to which beer I finally ended up drinking. The beer, like the brewery’s reputation, was great. At Allentown Brew Works, another knowledgeable female server dressed like a thirty-something professional rattled off stats on the Hop’solutely Triple IPA which she assured was super hoppy. One fantastic sip, and I totally agreed. At The Other Farm Brewing Company, I sampled a delicious Dutch Hammer and enjoyed watching Bryan McDonald serve up drinks with a flashy ease that only comes with experience.

Jim from Naked Brewing Company

Jim from Naked Brewing Company

The jalapeño beer at Naked Brewing Company got my attention next. Observing the head, I guessed that this wasn’t a highly carbonated beer. The server said the minimal head was intentional and that there was actually a good bit of carbonation, along with the jalapeño flavor though not the fire. One taste proved him correct on all counts. Several minutes into another conversation and another sample, I was charmed by the man’s enthusiasm for a product he clearly believed in. I complimented him on this and on his knowledge, then learned he was the co-owner of Naked Brewing.

Ben Franklin

Ben Franklin

With fifteen minutes until closing, I started toward the exit. Along the way, I had the opportunity for one last photo op. I just wish I’d asked Ben Franklin what beer he was drinking from that VIP glass.

Next week: Thoughts on the Brewer’s Plate and the Philly beer scene.

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