AFTER nearly 33 years and more than a million kegs of beer, Joel Derricks is still driving that rumbling, green-and-white Broyhan beer truck. Only instead of “Edward I. Friedland Co.” printed on the door, now it says “Kunda Beverage.”
In recent weeks, word on the street – mainly among Center City bartenders on the afternoon shift – was that we might’ve been seeing the last of the ever-smiling Derricks. His employer, Friedland, the North Philadelphia specialty beer wholesaler, had sold its distribution rights to Kunda of King of Prussia, a transfer that was mostly finalized this week.
Derricks, 54, swore to everyone he’d never go to the ‘burbs.
“Maybe I’ll get a job bartending,” he mused. “Or maybe I’ll just relax a bit.”
Or maybe, as the missus no doubt suggested, he’d give King of Prussia a shot.
And so, this week Philadelphia’s best-known beer delivery guy was on the job, double-parking on narrow Old City streets, hauling kegs into ancient basements and knocking back a lunchtime mug or two.
“I don’t know if I can ever leave,” Derricks said. “It’s not just a job for me. It’s family. I get introduced to everyone down here – they treat me like one of the family.”
Delivering beer for Friedland is pretty much the only work he’s ever known. He was born and raised right around the corner from the distributor near 8th and Venango streets. His mom worked part time in the office. He went to Olney High, then to Vietnam, came back and, as soon as he turned 21, went to work hauling kegs.
Back then, in ’73, Derricks delivered to both sides of town, including a place up at 5th and Erie called Uncle Nick’s, where they had to deliver full-size barrels of Ortlieb’s into the basement. “It took two of us to roll it down the ramp,” he said, laughing. “Once it got going, you couldn’t stop it.”
Today the kegs are smaller, but the bars are more plentiful; now, he handles only those on the east side of Broad.
Every day, 10, 12, 15 stops. Twenty on Thursdays and Fridays.
Each one gets between 10 and 15 kegs.
One hundred sixty-five pounds each.
Five days a week.
You do the math, it comes out somewhere around 1.2 million kegs rolled across the sidewalk and down the steps. Both ways, too, remember; all those empties gotta come back out.
“It’s tough work,” he says needlessly. “I go to bed early every night. My back hurts every night. I have to take Advil. Some days I feel very burned out. I think that’s why I drink.”
Ah, yes, he has been known to enjoy a cold one. Budweiser’s his favorite, “though I do like a Yards every once in a while.” Often there’s one waiting for him after a delivery.
That’s because bar workers love the guy. You ask around town, almost everyone’s got a story about Joel, usually something about his eye for female bartenders.
Aimee Prozan of Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant is such a fan. She pleaded with Derricks to let her ride shotgun in his truck during one of his last runs for Friedland earlier this month. “If Joel’s going to quit,” she said, “I wanted to be able to say I got to ride with him at least once.”
Casey Parker, bartender at the Khyber and a devoted Eagles fan, admitted he would miss Derricks if he gave up the job, even though the keg man frequently busted his stones about the Birds. “Old City wouldn’t be the same without Joel,” said Parker.
Tom Kehoe at Yards Brewing said Derricks is such an important part of his operation, the brewery hosted a fund-raiser for the deliveryman when his wife and grandson were mauled in a pit bull attack a couple of years ago. “He needed the money, we thought it was the right thing to do for a friend,” Kehoe said.
His boss, Ed Friedland, said, “During certain years where we didn’t have a salesperson on the street, Joel was our impromptu salesperson… I’m almost jealous of how many people he knows – busboys, waiters, bartenders, managers, everyone.”
The Teamster shrugged off the praise and said, “I think people like me because I always have a smile. And I do my job right. I never get drunk and yell at my customers. I don’t steal. I put the beer where it belongs.
“That’s basically it.” *