BASEBALL MAY be unable to crown its All-Star champion, but America’s other favorite pastime – beer-drinking – won’t be making the same competitive mistake this month.
In the region’s goofiest annual beer festival, Nodding Head Brewery tomorrow hosts its 3rd annual Royal Stumble. This hairy-chested, mano-a-mano showdown, featuring brewers in full wrasslin’ gear, reflects the true spirit of Philly’s craft beer scene: it’s fun, it’s in your face, and it tastes great.
This year, in a nod to those bizarre Mexican ring dust-ups on Spanish-language TV, the event has been renamed “Tropiezo Real.”
“Mexican wrestlers are the greatest,” said Nodding Head bartender/promoter Brendan Hartranft. “You’ve got guys wearing masks, doing flips off the ropes on chintzy sets. It’s the worst-acted thing you can imagine.
“I love the low-fidelity of the whole thing. That’s what we’re aiming at with this year’s Stumble.”
Instead of pile-drivers, the brewers assault each other with their best half-keg of beer. The only rule: It must be under 7 percent alcohol.
Then the gloves are off. The taco bar opens, the salsa band starts jamming and, in a mad afternoon of mass beer consumption, attendees – patrons and brewers – suck down their favorites like the place is en fuego.
The first cask kicked is declared winner.
Normally, ale festivals are more reserved affairs, with beer freaks casually sipping and savoring 2-ounce tasters. Sure, you might catch a buzz, but it’s not a competition.
Hartranft, though, has long detected an under-current of bragging rights at those understated festivals.
“You know that brewers, in the back of their mind, are always thinking, ‘Mine kicked first.’ ” Hartranft said. “You know that when brewers go home with half a keg still full of beer, they feel like dopes.
“Tropiezo Real is all about getting rid of your beer, and getting rid of it first.”
Hartranft thinks his own bar has the edge this year because it’ll be serving its highly quaffable Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse, a tart summertime wheat beer.
“That’s an easy beer for us to drink,” Hartranft said. “Plus, we have 10 livers specifically designed for this kind of fix.”
But that’s just trash talk, of course.
The prohibitive favorite has to be Chris Leonard of Gen. Lafayette Inn & Brewery. He’s won the past two years.
“They just push it,” said Hartranft. “Instead of people coming to them, they brought pitchers and worked the room.”
Isn’t that cheating?
“Nah, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to win.”
The long shot is Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant, where brewer Larry Horwitz arrived from Indiana just three weeks ago.
“I don’t think he’s ever seen anything like this,” Hartranft said. “So I told him we’ll break him in real slow. He turns to me and says, ‘What’s that supposed to mean? You guys going to get me drunk and piss all over me?’ ”
The newcomer sounds like he’s already in the spirit. “That’s why I’m excited to be here,” said Horwitz, who’s coming armed with either Russian Imperial Stout or Munich Helles. “There’s such a great culture of beer in this town. Everyone I ‘ve met is excited about beer….”
Other breweries in this smackdown are Yards, Victory, Iron Hill, Heavyweight, Dogfish Head, Sly Fox, Independence and Weyerbacher. It all takes place tomorrow, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Nodding Head, 1516 Sansom St. Tix are $20 in advance, $25 at the door, which includes food, music and lots of beer. Info: 215-569-9525.
Tropiezo Real isn’t the only beer-drinking contest this July (which, by the way, is American Beer Month). Realbeer.com’s American Beer Month Challenge Cup pits scores of bars and brewpubs nationwide in a contest to sell the most American-made craft beer.
Vote on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Nodding Head, Monk’s Cafe (16th & Spruce streets) or Grey Lodge Pub (6235 Frankford Ave, Mayfair).
Start looking for Victory Brewing’s stronger flavors, like Golden Monkey, in corked 750 ml. bottles. They’re coming off the Downingtown brewery’s new bottling line starting this week. The larger bottles, which will run in the low $30s for a case of 12, are fit for cellaring…Heavyweight Brewing of Ocean County, N.J., has a new flavor. It’s Biere d’Art, a farmhouse-style beer in the style of a French biere de garde, or “beer to keep…”
Also new on local shelves: France’s Kronenbourg 1664, Belgium’s Grimbergen and Argentina’s Quilmes Crystal.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner.