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Oct. 16, 2009 | Beer weeks are bursting all over


BALTIMORE - UNTIL the other night, the last time I saw former baseball great Boog Powell with a beer, it was 20 years ago, and he was on TV arguing over Miller Lite's timeless question: tastes great or less filling?

Then I ran into him aboard the USS Constellation, a 19th-century war sloop docked in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, where he had just launched the city's first Beer Week by cracking open a cask of Clipper City Loose Cannon, a spectacularly hoppy ale that bears little resemblance to that fizzy, yellow diet beer.

"Tastes great," The Boogster declared with a gulp.

American beer has come a long way in the last two decades, and not just the flavor. No longer trivialized as some generic consumer commodity, beer has evolved into a craft worthy of celebration.

There's no better sign of that progress than the sudden emergence of the Beer WeekBoog Powell with Baltimore Beer Week's Stars Bangled Banger. PHOTO BY TOM CIZAUSKAS phenomenon. Since Philadelphia hosted the nation's first in 2008, more than 20 other cities, from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., have jumped on the beer wagon. (Disclosure: I'm a volunteer organizer of Philly Beer Week.)

Typically, they involve nightly events at restaurants and taverns, anchored by large festivals on the weekend.

Detroit Beer Week (under way today through Oct. 24) features a few dozen events with a handful of area breweries. San Francisco Beer Week (Feb. 5-14, 2010) hosted about 150 events last year, including the jammed Toronado Barleywine Festival. Philly Beer Week (June 4-13, 2010) topped at more than 700 events at more than 100 venues in 10 days.

In its first year, Baltimore hosted more than 300 events, including tastings and beer specials at bars, and beer-pairing dinners.

While Beer Week is a handy excuse for a seven-day bar crawl, there's more to the phenomenon than pure consumption.

Beer Week is a tourist attraction.

Downtown districts fill up with beer-savvy visitors exploring the local tap scene, turning taverns and restaurants into as much of a tourist destination as zoos and museums.

Beer Week spreads the gospel.

"It gives you an opportunity to showcase beer in a lot of different ways, to reach people through something other than just the beer itself," said Jay Brooks, one of the organizers of San Francisco Beer Week.

Brooks pointed to a daylong bike ride that took participants past a half-dozen beer joints around town, "so it was bikes that were the attraction, not just the beer."

Beer Week honors the tavern.

Many towns take their beer joints for granted. Or worse, they regard them as vice dens. Beer Week helps raise the image of taverns as a place of sharing, bringing people together under one roof, encouraging them to bond with a glass or three of social lubrication.

Beer Week promotes civic pride.

Often the locals themselves don't realize their beer scene is special. In Baltimore, for example, many residents are still fixated on National Bohemian, an old-time lager that hasn't been brewed in town for years. Meanwhile, the city is building a national reputation as a beer destination.

Beer freaks across America rhapsodize about Clipper City's Heavy Seas series of high-proof specialties; the city's Brewers Art and DuClaw brewpubs are pushing the envelope on unusual styles; and beer bars like Mahaffey's Pub and Max's Taphouse are often the first stop for out-of-towners.

"We're hoping Beer Week raises the profile of beer within the general populace of the city," said Volker Stewart, a partner at Brewers Art.

They're off to a good start. On the night of the opening festival, I asked Boog Powell to name his favorite beer at the event. He looked around and said, "I like 'em all!"

There wasn't a Miller Lite in sight.

 

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