Straub Amber Ale — 2.5 stars out of 5. Hundreds gathered last night on the well-lit, airport terminal-esque second floor of the Constitution Center for “Bathtub Beer Fest,” an event that grants attendees the liberty of unlimited sampling from over 20 breweries over the course of 3 hours. Like many attendees, I resolve — approximately 10 minutes after my arrival — to try every beer. Given multiple beers at each brewery’s table and some ABVs in the low double digits, this is a task that will require commitment and determination. Armed with a tiny plastic souvenir sampling mug, I embark. Straub 1872 Lager — 3.
Citron Pale Ale — 3.75. The Bathtub Beer Festival, which did indeed have a bathtub full of beer (from which attendees were not allowed to drink), celebrates the repeal of Prohibition. Prohibition was repealed in 1933, but Americans have treasured the right to drink ever since alcohol was banned — and especially during its ban: the titular bathtub pays homage to those forced to brew in private. Coffee Oatmeal Brown — 3.25. The attendees believe in at least two things: the right to drink, and ingredients. Ingredients matter. One brewer gave out bottle openers and chapsticks as free promotional items, carefully noting that the opener was made of “powdered metal” and that the chapstick “smells like beer.” It does. Wearing it will surely send your significant other, in a Proustian act of remembrance, to the stale, beer-soaked floors of house parties past. Sweet Leaf IPA — 3.75.
Belge Special — 3.25. The first woman I talk to is named Renata. Renata is a regular on the Philadelphia beer scene. She has attended numerous events like this one, and assumes, given that I’m here covering it, that I have too. She considers herself something of an expert, telling me that people who write about beer have solicited her opinions and writing. Sometimes, Renata says, frat boys come to these events just to get “a bang for their buck.” Hop Devil — 3.25. She says that despite the endlessness of the samples, she has never seen anything get out of hand. That’s not what she’s here for. I realize that if I’m to try everything, my pace is too slow. Prism IPA — 3.25. Hazelnut Coffee Porter — 4.25.
Dogfish Head 75–Minute IPA — 4. It becomes clear to me that the brewers are doing some sampling of their own. One tells me a story about some attendees who got out of hand (he keeps it vague) at an event at “King at Prussia.” Hunchback — 4.25. “I’ve seen people get white girl wasted,” another brewer tells me. “One girl fell, like a tree, right onto the table. She knocked over the keg.” Most people appreciate the beer for its craft; some don’t. It’s a Thursday, and people have work tomorrow, so they probably won’t get too drunk tonight. Blind Eye PA — 4.25.
Sam Adams Lager — 3.75. The Sam Adams table is staffed by two attractive women, whose company polos set them apart from some of the lower-profile local brewers, who dress up in Prohibition whites and dangle cigars from their mouths. The ladies tell me that as the night goes on, people will begin to ask for their branded memorabilia, like a big Sam Adams logo in shiny foil or the handle (also branded) that they pull to dispense beer. Some people, they tell me, have offered them money for these objects at previous events. Exit 4 — 4.
Flying Fish Extra Pale Ale — 3.75. Another brewer says that some attendees at events similar to this one represent “the creme de la creme of getting rocked.” Some people, she says, come to “rage.” Rude Elf’s Reserve — 4. At the next table, I ask what’s unique about an event like this. The two tending the table look at each other, and then a young man starts talking. He points out that this isn’t a bar, and that people — he wags his hand toward some unspecified passers-by — dress nicely because of the lights. He directs his hand upward. I nod. Hopsolutely — 4.
Eliot Ness — 3. The employees at the next table say they’re veterans of beer tastings. Some people, they tell me, but not all, even pregame events like this. They have seen people vomit and fall down the stairs. Leviathan — 4. I move on to the Neshaminy Creek table, where the brewer echoes the sentiment: “It’s gotten bad. I’ve seen people vomit.” In my haste, I forget to sample Neshaminy Creek’s beer.
Harpoon Rye IPA — 3.75. Around this time, my notes begin to get unreliable. I have conversations with brewers and attendees, only to realize that I forgot large portions of the conversation. Leaning against the glass railing overlooking the building’s entryway, I rack my brain. 700 Level — 4. I see a man in a fedora, and ask if I can ask him some questions. This is one of the best festivals he’s ever been to, he tells me. “Can I quote you on that?” I ask. “Quote me, motherfucker.” He adds, “I love you, dude,” and cups my head. Nodding Head BPA — 4.25.
Saranac Big Moose Ale — 3.75. With about 20 minutes left and 4 tables still to go, I realize that out of necessity I must dump some of my beer into a garbage can. Heifer Weizen — 4.25. I get a picture taken with an attendee. Stoudt’s Pils — 4. I write down a single word, “Portuguese,” and now, for the life of me, I can’t remember why. 10th & Blake Batch 19 — 3.5. 10th & Blake Baltic Porter — 4. I scribble another note, this one illegible. 10th & Blake Big Eddy Imperial — 4.5.
Henry Weinhard’s Woodland Park IPA — 3.75. There are two tables left. One appears to be closing, so I rush over. Scratch #80 — 4.75. I’m off to the final table, but I only now realize that they’re folding up the tablecloth. No more beer.
The festival is over. Security guards comb the promenade like sheepdogs, urging lingerers — of which I am now apparently one — to exit. The festival organizers are without the usual departure cues at the disposal of barkeeps: no lights to turn on, no music to stop playing. There’s a reason bars have dimmed lights.
I turn to a man, a fellow lingerer, as I drift toward the doors. I ask him about his interest in beer. He is an earnest fan, a devotee to the craft. He receives a text message and laughs. He shows it to me: “My birthday is monday i wiuld like to have birthday sex if ur available.” We laugh.
Before I leave, I must collect my jacket. “What’s your number?” the attendant asks. “640,” I say, and he punches the number into a keypad, which causes an ovular hanging contraption to rotate. I soon realize that my jacket is the only one on the contraption, and we wait as it makes its way around the bend.
Steeped in a patriotic haze — Land of the Free! Fuck Prohibition! I can drink whenever I want! It’s a free country! — I wander out of the Constitution Center and into a taxi.