PBW2015: The best time to be a beer drinker
While it is true there are countless beer festivals throughout the year in our region, today Philadelphia kicks off the most ambitious of them all.
Considered the largest festival of its kind, Philly Beer Week returns in its eighth consecutive edition from May 29 to June 7.
No other festival can brag of 10 consecutive days with thousands of events in and out of the city with the participation of over 40 local breweries, 235 participating institutions and the expectation of 150,000 drinkers over one week.
Beer drinking is a tradition that has brewed in the city for over 300 years. It is said that when William Penn arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682 there were already taverns that lined the Delaware River. By the time of the Civil War, it is believed that Philadelphia had a tavern for every 25 men.
PBW founders Tom Peters, Don Russell and Bruce Nichols created the event back in 2008, as a festival to support and promote the dynamism of the craft beer scene in Philadelphia.
"PBW was founded to not only let our local people know what a depth of information we have about beer, and the history of beer...and the availability of beer like nowhere else, but we also wanted to tell the whole country and the world what a great beer city we are,” Peters told AL DÍA in 2014. “We have a lot of great beers that no one else gets, our breweries are constantly investing in innovation. People know if they succeed in the Philadelphia market they can succeed somewhere else."
"Because I do a lot nationally with the Brewers Association and get to see other areas, what is really interesting about the Philadelphia beer scene is it is really pretty collegial and friendly. All the brewers like each other and enjoy each other’s beer," said Gene Mullen, president of Flying Fish Brewing Co., one of the first breweries that supported PBW.
He added that although there is market competition among them, it is due to the strong relationship between the brewers that this massive beer festival is possible.
"The other thing is that Philadelphia is a great city for neighborhood pubs and restaurants. There are a lot of different personalities when you go from one neighborhood to the others," Mullen said.
He founded Flying Fish Brewing Co. in 1995, and although it is located in South Jersey, he said it is considered a Philadelphia brewery. As one of the founding members of PBW, he was part of the board for five years.
"PBW was actually the first beer week in the country. Now every state and a lot of cities have their own week. What makes it distinctive is that there are thousands of events, there is something for everybody," he added.
"Say you go to a beer festival and you pay $40 or $50 for a ticket, and you may say, ‘there are too many people and I don’t like the selection.’ In PBW you pick an event and there are so many things to try," Muller said. "You get to meet a lot of the brewers, the owners and key people in the industry, and that is kind of fun too."
Even for those who do not necessarily consider themselves beer lovers, "with the amount of options offered during the week there is almost sure to be something for everyone," Muller said.
Another reason PBW is a unique festival is that participants can experience it literally a couple of blocks from home.
"We try to focus in making it neighborhood-based. It is pretty likely that (residents’) corner bar is doing a PBW event, so I think they are going to experience beer week even if they don’t make a specific plan for it," said Kristine Kennedy, director of PBW 2015 for the second consecutive year.
"When people ask me why is Philly so special I keep saying well 'when you go to your corner bar in Cleveland, what does the beer menu look like? Or if you are even in, let’s say, San Francisco, what does the beer menu look like?'" Kennedy said. "I think in Philly you can see a very distinct difference in what corner bar menus look like."
For Muller, the success of the local industry it is due to the risks brewers are willing to take in the name of innovation and quality.
"I think some of the reasons why the beer scene has developed so much is because we have the port here so a lot of imports come in," Muller said. "Bar owners and restaurant owners are willing to take a chance on new things whereas other areas may say ‘well no one is doing it why should i do it.’”
PBW2015 includes thousands of events around Philly and its suburbs. Kicking off on May 29 with the route for the annual Hammer of Glory (HOG) Relay, followed by the annual celebration of “Opening Tap,” from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the 23 Street Armory (22 South 23 Street). The general admission includes beers from 42 local breweries, plus the debut of Brotherly Suds, the local collaborative brew created by Flying Fish, Iron Hill, Nodding Head, Sly Fox, Earth Bread + Brewery, Troegs, Victory, Weyerbacher and Yards.
The best way to keep track of the many events is downloading the PBW application, available for iPhone and other smartphones, which an interactive map of the participating bars and venues in Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs.
An industry with a wide variety of brews without diversity in brewers
Like many other industries, the beer industry lacks diversity and minorities working among the barrels.
"That is something I’ve thought about. Now with our new brewery we are seeing a lot more diversity in our tastings. I think is an age thing. College students used to say ‘well I’ll drink the cheap stuff,’ but there is a whole bunch of them that are preferring to drink better beer. In the past people grew up drinking what their friends or the family drank or what is popular," Muller said.
He added that different communities have experienced the culture of craft beer at their own pace. "It is a cultural shift that takes time, in some cultures there is more affinity for buying brand name things, but I think is definitely changing,” he said.
Back in 2012 Mintel, a London-based research firm that provides data across various consumer channels, reported that Latinos in the U.S. consumed more imported beer than any other ethnicity: 34 percent compared to 28 percent of the total population. However this is a changing trend.
Latinos currently make up for 17 percent of the total population in the country, and by 2060 are estimated to reach 128.8 million, constituting approximately 31 percent.
Mintel also reported that Latinos spent more money on imported brands compared to non-Latinos: 25 percent of Latino spending is distributed in import brands, compared with only 13 percent of non-Latino consumers.
Only 20 years ago craft beers were only available directly at the breweries, tasting rooms, or select bars, and limited production gave it a sense of being exclusive. But now the craft beer market has grown beyond small niches, in Philadelphia and many other cities, becoming more accessible than ever
Who is the new beer consumer?
Last year during a “Power Hour” conference call, hosted by the Brewers Association, Latinos — especially Latino millennials — and their untapped potential in the market was at the center of the discussion.
"Addressing the gap with Hispanics in particular could be imperative as the face of America changes and changes quickly,” said Danny Brager, senior vice president of beverage alcohol practice at Nielsen.
According to Nielsen, drinkers between the age of 21 and 34 consume 35.5 percent of overall craft volume and are 38 percent more likely to buy craft over other legal drinking-age adults. While it is known that Millennials are a strong demographic for the brewing industry, there is a huge field of unexplored opportunities among Latino millennials.
So what's the problem then?
The reality is that the industry has not approached Latinos rather, Latinos have approached the industry.
In a blog post titled "Beer Marketing to Latinos? You Got It All Wrong Pendejos!” Puerto Rican beer columnist Irving, simplifies the conflict of craft beer and Latinos with the following statement:
"Why do I gravitate towards craft beer? ABOVE ALL, I love the taste of craft beer!,” wrote the columnist. "If you want to know what we like ASK US! WE ARE HERE!."
Latino culture is making its way into the craft beer industry through a growing number of Hispanics entering the beer production end of things, creating a new wave of flavors inspired by their heritage.
Inspired by Aztec mythology, “5 Rabbit Cerveceria” includes, just to mention a few, five beers under the category of "las chingonas."
There is “Huitzi,” a Belgian strong golden ale brewed with hibiscus flowers, ginger, Thai palm sugar and local Chicago honey, and inspired by the fresh fruit beverages in Mexico. “Vida y muerte,” is loosely based on an Oktoberfest/Märzen style, a rich, caramelly beer developed for Day of the Dead.
In 2012 Dominican Juan J. Camilo founded Dyckman Beer Company New York’s only Latino-owned brewery.
"I think one of the biggest motivators behind this project was just having something that I was very familiar growing up with and drinking," said Camilo to Latin Post.