PBW public relations guy Michael Greger drove the Hammer of Glory from Philly to GABF in Denver and back. He and the HOG stopped in at breweries and visited historic sites along the way. This is their story:
The next time you get the chance to hold Philly Beer Week’s famed Hammer of Glory, aka the HOG, think about how lucky you are. Seriously.
When William Reed and Mike “Scoats” Scotese first concocted the plan to create the Olympic Torch of beer, they really didn’t know what to expect. Nine years later, on the doorstep of Philly Beer Week’s 10th anniversary, the HOG is known around Philly as a symbol of pride among brewers and bar owners, a reflection of the collaborative spirit and hard work that goes into producing interesting beer.
In Philly, the HOG is a legend. But, how would that play out across the country?
Well, we decided to find out. Packing up a car with cases upon cases of local beer, along with the HOG, we set out on a 9-day brewery crawl across America that we deemed #PBWRoadHOG on social media, starting the trip back on September 28 at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Huntingdon Valley, PA. The first beer sipped, Bedotter, Iron Hill’s 2016 World Beer Cup winner. That was the first of many beers enjoyed on the adventure of a lifetime.
Everywhere we went, people cheered us. Well, eventually. Sure, there were some very confused stares at first, much like an awkward teenager trying to impress his prom date. After all, we were randomly walking into well-established breweries, sometimes unannounced, across the United States – and wielding a 10-pound sledgehammer turned keg mallet.
One of the first stops was Draai Laag in Pittsburgh, where owner and head scientist Dennis Hock met us excitedly with open arms, immediately pouring a sample of The Relic, which draws on a yeast strain extracted from a 17th century French Monastic cabinet. The Relic is a beautiful beer, mild and musty, perfect to sip after our five-hour drive across the state of Pennsylvania.
Dennis likes to use the motto, Wild By Design, and it suits him. His passion for beer and fermentation grew from his time overseas, in between military deployments, as he relied on tasting notes from the world’s best breweries. Dennis’ favorite expression is, “there’s critters in there” – a phrase he uses often when describing his wild ales. One of our highlights came when Dennis let the HOG meet The Relic’s namesake, the actual cabinet where inspiration struck. Yes, there are critters in there, too.
Critters are also very popular at Minnesota’s Surly Brewing, as evidenced by another standout beer we enjoyed called The Pentagram – a 100% Brettanomyces dark sour. Initially, the folks at Surly gave us a blank stare and told us to go have fun with your “weird beer hammer.” Then, people started getting into it. We took it behind the bar and Sam read the official toast, the same one that gets read at 30 different Philly bars on PBW’s first day, when the HOG makes its long trek to Opening Tap. This was the HOG Relay, on steroids.
Those that didn’t understand it right away embraced us after hearing our story. They felt a sense of camaraderie after hearing about how Mayor Nutter had used it to tap a firkin, a tradition that has carried over with Mayor Kenney now at The Fillmore. They swooned when they heard how Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione had once licked the HOG at Jose Pistola’s during a Late Night with Joe Gunn session. And they threw their W’s in the air when they learned how Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck had once slung the HOG over his shoulder at Dock Street Brewery. All true stories, all part of the legend.
Even better, some of the brewers that we encountered had their own stories, personal touches that only further added to the legend. They had been to PBW. They had held the HOG. As we were walking into Founder’s in Grand Rapids, Mich., a pretty girl wearing a Phillies sweatshirt stopped us and inquired: “Hey, are you guys from Philly? I know that hammer!”
Her name was Tara and we immediately handed the HOG to her. Seconds later, we were flocked by brewers working that day, including Tara’s partner Laura Houser. Laura, right after pouring us a fresh Kentucky Breakfast Stout that had just been tapped the day before, informed us that she had picked up a crumpled piece of paper at Opening Tap in 2015. Turns out, William Reed had thrown it into the crowd. The words crawled on it … yup, you guessed it.
“Noble carrier, we entrust you with the Hammer of Glory, the omnipotent symbol of our beloved Philadelphia Beer Week. May your journey be safe. Work ye up a thirst, for there will be a beer waiting for you at your destination. Godspeed!”
The guys at Perennial Artisan Ales didn’t have the toast memorized, but they were stoked and waiting for us. Sitting at the far end of the bar was Eric Hildebrandt, one of the organizers of St. Louis Craft Beer Week. Eric wanted to know all there was to know about PBW and the inner workings of the 10-day festival of beer in America’s Best Beer-Drinking City. He was a huge fan seeking to emulate PBW’s success in St. Louis.
We promised to stay in touch, right after doing Perennial’s own ceremonial toast, which consisted of chugging a goblet of Ollie Ollie Oxen Free, their delicious session IPA brewed with Centennial, Falconer’s Flight and Mosaic hops. It was festive and fun … but, if you go to the brewery, sip it. It’s too good to crush.
With all the hype surrounding the mighty 3 Floyd’s, we were a little nervous arriving there. Tucked away in a tiny Indiana town called Munster, about 30 minutes from Chicago, 3 Floyd’s is known mostly for two things: playing death metal music loudly in the taproom and serving up the hoppiest beers in the country. Their Zombie Dust is widely regarded as the best IPA ever made.
Armed with the HOG, we walked in and explained ourselves to the gentleman at the host stand. The place was packed, but he invited us to move to the side and wait. We were up there for quite some time, maybe close to 30 minutes, patiently biding our time. We were just hoping for a table to open up. Suddenly, without warning, he came back with news.
“The lager-man on duty says to come on back,” he said.
He escorted us through the brewpub, walking by the kitchen, into the far reaches of a stunning brewery. Brewers Matt and Ashley were enjoying “shift juice” as they cleaned up for the night, but went out of their way to give us a full-on VIP brewery tour, including a preview of their brand new bottling line.
Afterward, they took the HOG on the brew deck and let us record them reading the official toast, only they would put a special 3 Floyd’s spin on it at the end, with Ashley yelling,” Fuck yeah” and slamming down a can of Saint Benjamin’s Wit or Wit Out.
Everywhere we stopped, we were welcomed with open arms. In all, we were in the car for close to 60 hours, zig-zagging north and south and east and west, on our way out to Denver for the Great American Beer Festival. We stopped at 25 different breweries – all of them interesting in their own way -- including: Iron Hill, Draai Laag, Grist House, Arsenal, Fat Head’s, Great Lakes, The Brew Kettle, Market Garden, Atwater Brewery, Founder’s, The Mitten, Bell’s, 3 Floyds, Perennial Artisan Ales, 4 Hands, Urban Chestnut, Front Street, Toppling Goliath, Surly, Fargo Brewing Company, Laughing Sun, Knuckle Brewing, Great Divide, TRVE Brewing and Crooked Stave. We wanted to hit more, just ran out of time.
The tour finally ended on October 7 when we dumped the rental car and handed the HOG off to Katie at Great Divide. Katie moved to Denver about a year ago, from Philadelphia, after a stint working at Tired Hands in Ardmore, PA where she had worked with Jon Defibaugh. Katie was Jon’s biggest fan and loved talking to us about the amazing beers Jon was now doing as head brewer at Evil Genius.
Katie’s fellow brewers, Bryan and Zach, joined us for some fun out back by the tanks. We shot a video with them and loaded them up with beer from back home. Our friends at Cape May Brewing, Conshohocken Brewing, Iron Hill, Saint Benjamin, Free Will, Troegs, Weyerbacher and Sterling Pig had all donated beer for our journey. They were both excited and appreciative to get beer not distributed in Colorado.
From there, we were heading into the Colorado Convention Center for Day 2 of the Great American Beer Festival. Before we could exit, a bearded gentleman anxiously approached us, with eyes larger than saucers. He was filtering out from the public brewery tour just ending at Great Divide.
“That’s the HOG!,” he said. “I’ve been looking for it. We’ve been following your travels on social media.”
Impressed, we entrusted the HOG over into his care, fully confident in his abilities to handle our prized mascot. Turns out, the guy’s name was Joe Laluk. He’s a brewer over at Ludlam Island Brewery, a new brewery down in Sea Isle City, NJ. The HOG was home. Small world.