1995 is a six-part Liquid Diet special report which harkens back 15 years to the dawning of Philadelphia’s craft beer culture.I asked an array of local beer luminaries to recount for us what they were doing in December 1995 and the story is told in their own words.
You will hear from the near-legendary Jim Anderson again for the first time, I believe, in over seven years. You will be reminded, as I was, of a long forgotten small sandwich shop/delicatessen chain which might have been the first true “good beer” retail outlet in the region. You will learn that a publican who was once a brewer created the first ever Philadelphia sour/wild yeast beer in a long-gone brewpub….and that some of it might still exist. You will read about the astonishing list of nearly 70 beers that Don Russell consumed in California in the summer of ’95 as part of his plan to make his editors allow him to become “Joe Sixpack.” You will discover how, when. why and where the the famous Monk’s Café Duck Salad was born. You will, I hope, learn things you never knew before and, if you’re old enough, perhaps remember something long forgotten. Both those things happened to me.
I have edited the reminiscences minimally, mostly to make them conform to the overall editorial approach. There are some overlaps, there will surely be those who have differing memories about the times and the facts. I invite corrections, additional information and discussion from readers. There is a larger purpose to all this and Getting It Right is as much my aim as providing what I hope is some fascinating commentary on our shared past.
#1 – the Promoter.
“I was looking ahead to the first of 10 Beer Philadelphia Split thy Skull barleywine festivals and to working with Tom Peters to assemble America’s largest collection of draft Belgian beers at any one time, at Copa Too! The Mad Belgian, Michel Notredame, was ready to resurface at Cuvee Notredame at 17th & Green, while Anne Cebula (Anderson) was about to turn Bridgid’s into a serious Belgian beer bar in his wake.”
#2 - the Publicans.
“I made the Brew House Tart, which was a Rodenbach-inspired beer. Remember when Rodenbach was great? It came out really well–I remember that Tom Peters put some on at Copa Two! I sent a sample to the guys from Boston Beer. They thought it wasn’t good brewing practice, and were kind of pissed at me for making it. They said they doubted I could ever replicate it, because of the ‘wild’ yeast.”
#3 – the Founders.
“We were still trying to figure how to get our bottling machine to bottle beer without losing 25% to waste. 70 to 80 hour work weeks were the norm at that point, and our entire production team consisted of myself and one other full-time employee. The only beers we were making were Easton Pale Ale and ESB. Boy, did we have a lot to learn.”
#4 – the Brewers.
“Fifteen years ago I was waiting tables at the original Dock St at 18th and Cherry. I spent lots of time forcing (head brewer) Eric Savage and (assistant brewer) Victor Novak to try my homebrew and begging them to let me come in and wash the windows or scrub mold off of tanks.”
#5 – the Ladies.
“The willingness to try something that hadn’t been attempted before (draft Belgians, anyone?) germinated in the late 90s, and the idea that anything was possible. Startling to think that the ensuing generations, those that have never known a world without craft beer, were barely entering their teens then, and really don’t have an appreciation of how this current bounty came about.”
#6 – the Enablers.
“Fifteen years ago, I was trying to convince my editors to let me write a column about beer. I’d been on the staff at the Daily News for almost 10 years as a general assignment reporter on the City Desk. They thought the column was a ploy to expense my habit (true) and that I’d be writing about nothing more than PBR and getting drunk (untrue).”