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Region taps into Phila. beer festival

from the Courier Post

For the first time, South Jersey bars will take part in Philly Beer Week, a region-wide craft beer festival.

On June 5, each of eight Haddon Township bars will spotlight a particular craft beer and host its brewer or distributor for an afternoon of tasting and talking. From noon to 6 p.m., two trolleys will run continuously between the establishments and the Westmont PATCO Hi-Speedline station to transport participants from location to location.

Two years after bars in Philadelphia’s western suburbs first hosted a series of beer week activities, it’s about time for South Jersey to begin to promote its craft beer offerings, says Andy Newell, co-owner of Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill and a principal organizer of the as-yet-unnamed bar crawl.

“We want to let people know that the craft beer scene is alive in South Jersey and we want to let people in Philly know they can get great beer here,” he says.

By most accounts, that wasn’t the case until recently. Kevin Meeker, the owner of Westmont’s Cork who helped spearhead the event, calls himself an early adopter of the craft beer movement who five years ago became one of the first in South Jersey to sell domestic microbrews and brag-worthy Belgian imports.

“Before Cork came around, it was a wasteland of Miller and Budweiser. We decided to serve beer that actually tastes like beer instead of the watered down American stuff,” he says. “Now the whole area has blossomed.”

Haddon Township is known locally among so-called beer geeks as an oasis for quality beers in a swath of the state that’s considered lacking in that area. Every one of the township’s drinking establishments is participating in the collaboration, and the municipality’s walkability, proximity to Philadelphia and accessibility to public transportation situate it in an ideal position to host the first beer week activity east of the Delaware River.

“Westmont is this interesting little pocket of places that serve craft beer. After that it gets pretty scattered,” Newell notes.

Meeker hopes the crawl will attract 1,000 people to the township. He says it shouldn’t be too difficult to lure Philadelphians across the bridge, considering the craft beer movement has jokingly been called a cult by more than one adherent, a cult that compels devotees to travel great distances to savor a rare release. He also expects the gathering will bring legitimacy to South Jersey’s mostly overlooked craft beer scene, carrying with it an awareness and respect he anticipates will convince more brewers and consumers to serve and patronize the area.

But more than just beer lovers can take advantage of the attention. Although the primary aim is to advertise Haddon Township’s growing beer vitality, coordinators are careful simultaneously to promote the region to nondrinkers, as well. To do so, they’re taking pains to highlight the food served at the participating restaurants and they’re planning a designated driver program that provides free food and alcohol-free drinks throughout the day of the crawl.

Like the teetotalers, those who will be imbibing won’t have to pay to gain entry to the individual locations but they’ll gain access to the trolley by purchasing a $10 T-shirt in advance at any of the township’s bars. The shirts will act as a “passport” along the bar trail, allowing participants to earn discounts on drinks by noting which bars they’ve visited.

At this point, of the partners, only one — Cork — is planning a second beer week event: an indoor/outdoor Blues and Brews festival featuring a pig roast, Southern food, live music and 20 beers on tap on June 13. But assuming all goes well, organizers expect participating bars will expand their future beer week activities and bars outside the township will join in next year.

The South Jersey festivities will be two of more than 500 events taking place at more than 100 bars during Philly Beer Week, which will run from June 4 to 13.


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