Bavaria, Milwaukee, Brussels, Pottsville – among the world’s great beer capitals that these eyes have seen, none can match the suds that flow on the bucolic meadows of South Philadelphia.
It is here, on eight autumn Sundays each year, that the villagers turn out for a grand beer festival. They are gathered to send their sainted warriors, the Eagles, into battle.
Germany has its Oktoberfest. Philly has the Vet Stadium tailgate parties.
Hours – and I do mean hours – before the Eagles even strap on their armor, adoring clansmen assemble outside the fortified walls of their crumbling coliseum. In an area barely larger than the Hirschgarten in Munich, perhaps 50,000 gather for the ritual tailgate party.
One of my favorite groups is the one that arrives from Croydon in a green camper with the tasteful fake leopard interior wall carpeting, a velvet Elvis and a portable satellite TV dish. The front of the heap proclaims succinctly, “Dallas sucks. “
Whether in SUVs or trailers or pickups, the masses arrive shortly after dawn, laden with steel kegs and pallets of 30-packs. It’s just a guess, but I’d say there’s more beer shipped into the parking lots on a single Sunday than the annual production of Dock Street Brasserie, the city’s largest brewpub.
To the uninitiated, the scene is chaos. But there is a delicate protocol in which each driver stakes out a small piece of turf and zealously protects his boundaries. Strangers are greeted only after echoing a gruff chant:
“Yo, you from Jersey? I’m from Jersey! “
And then the party begins.
Tradition holds that the first cask is tapped shortly after a pre-game blessing at the local parish. True believers, however, boast of “pounding the brewskis” since the night before.
Judging from the green war paint slathered on their faces, I have little reason to doubt them.
The hours preceding the Big Game become an exercise in maximum consumption, a direct result of the steep prices charged inside the stadium. At $5.50 for a 20-ounce cup of Veterans Stadium draft, it costs the equivalent of a full case of beer to achieve a lousy buzz.
Most revelers wisely soak up some of that alcohol with ample quantities of tailgate food. Hoagies, grilled burgers, hot dogs, steaks, ribs and shrimp are the most popular, but bigtime caterers lay out everything from boiled lobster to pig roasts. I swear I saw one group butcher a live calf and serve veal cordon bleu.
Sadly, with such creative cuisine, the beer choices show all the imagination of a drunken 14-year-old. Let’s see, we’ve got Bud, Bud Light, Coors, Coors Light, Coors Extra Gold. . .
I know, I know – this is a common refrain from Joe Sixpack. But if the Vet parking lot is truly going to rival the great festivals of the world, someone’s going to have to crack open something better than this industrial swill.
Alternatives? You’re looking for inexpensive, low alcohol and easy to drink over the long pre-game event. I lean toward the darker brews because, after all, football is a man’s game – not a wimpy sport for light-beer sippers.
Here’s a sixpack of tailgate brews
- Yuengling Black and Tan, 16-ounce cans. Cheap, easy to carry and a tasty eye-opener.
- Stegmaier Porter. Another cheap, full-bodied beer. Serve it with bratwurst. Better yet, cook your sausage in this beer.
- Dock Street mini keg. At 25 bucks for 5 liters, it’s fresh draft beer for the first round. Try the porter, then switch to something cheaper in bottles.
- Victory Whirlwind Witbier. At 5 percent, this ale is one of the Downingtown brewer’s lower-alcohol brews, with a fresh, crisp taste that won’t turn off lager lovers.
- Weyerbacher Autumn Fest. A taste of Oktoberfest on the Schuylkill.
- Saranac Adriondack Amber. At $18 a case, this is a very drinkable lager that matches well with tailgate barbecue.
Incidentally, alcohol consumption outside the Vet is completely illegal. Ha. Police and security guards patrol the parking lots with vigilance. Ha-ha.
The fact is, unless you’re completely stoopid, the cops look the other way.
(Definition of stoopid: Holding a can of Bud while puking on a cop’s shoes. Don’t laugh – I’ve seen it done. )
Seriously, though, if you drink from a plastic cup and you hide the cooler, you’re completely safe.
Oh, one other thing
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Dogfish Head Import Ale.