With less than a month to go until the 4th annual Philly Beer Week (PBW), excitement is mounting everywhere.  And “America’s Best Beer Drinking City” very well should be getting excited: Philadelphia’s beer week is the first and biggest in the nation. This year’s celebration promises over 200 participating venues, with a slew of new locations and events spreading from the city into the suburbs and even into New Jersey.

One of the new locations is the Four Seasons Hotel  Philadelphia at One Logan Square in Center City, which is being dubbed the 2011 PBW headquarters.  The hotel’s outdoor courtyard will offer the “With Love Beer Garden” every weekday during beer week from 4pm to 8pm and will feature a different brewer hanging out with a collection of their beer every day.

The beer garden will kick off on Monday, June 6 with Bill Covaleski of Victory Brewing Company, who will be followed by Chris Wilson of Weyerbacher, Ben Potts of Dock Street, and Brian O’Reilly of Sly Fox, with the final day of the beer garden featuring both Tom Kehoe of Yards and Carol Stoudt of Stoudt’s. The venue will always have stocks of the PBW guide books and other information, and if you check in on Foursquare you’ll get a Summer Love koozie.

Another excellent group of events to keep an eye out for is a series of dinners called The Chef, The Brewer and The Farmer, in which a chef will work with a local brewer and a local farmer to create a meal and beer pairing made from all local ingredients. “This series of ultimate foodie beer dinners challenges [the chefs] to focus their thoughts on ‘local,’ for the benefit of all Philly foodies,” said Bill Covaleski, who came up with the idea and helped organize the events.  Some of the pairings include Mark Vetri at Osteria with Carol and Jodi Stoudt, Jose Garces at JG Domestic with Casey Hughes of Flying Fish, and Terency Feury at Fork with Bill Covaleski, among others.

Along with the regularly anticipated PBW events will be a handful of things to do on the more unusual side.  Kite & Key will offer “Beer-lebrity Boxing” on Saturday, June 4, where you can see brewers and other beer-lebrities in the area get into the ring with oversized boxing gloves and no holds barred.  Matches will include Steve and Doug Mashington of Yards vs. Paul Rutherford of Iron Hill and Andrew Rutherford of Yards in a “Brothers of Brewing” match refereed by Casey Hughes, as well as a “Ladies of Craft Beer” match-up featuring Wendy Domurat of Dogfish Head and Suze Woods of Sly Fox, refereed by Megan Maguire of Ommegang.  The main event will pit Tom Kehoe against the Kite & Key’s owner, Jim Kirk.  Beers from all participants will be featured on draft.  Other crazy events include a gong show at Standard Tap on June 6, a beer-lebrity dunk tank at London Grill and a mechanical bull riding competition at Percy Street Barbeque on June 7.

For any beer fan in the city, there will be two must-attend events.  The first, of course, will be ceremonial ‘first tap’ by Mayor Michael Nutter at 7pm on Friday, June 3 outside at Independence Mall.  Everyone is welcome to see the mayor open the first keg of Brotherly Suds 2, the official local collaborative beer of PBW 2011, with official PBW keg mallet, the Hammer of Glory.  Be sure to get tickets to the actual Opening Tap event, which will include a bevy of local breweries as well as the first tastes of Brotherly Suds 2, which was brewed at Stoudt’s by Brett Kintzer (Stoudt’s) with Tom Kehoe, Bill Covaleski, John Trogner (Troegs) and Gordon Grubb (Nodding Head).  The other event not to miss will be the 2nd annual Forum of the Gods, a round-table talk and tasting with Carol Stoudt, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, Brian Grossman of Sierra Nevada, and Larry Sidor of Deschutes.  With those kind of names, the $20 admission fee is a steal!

One thing is for certain: the week is shaping up to be unbelievably big, and we’ve only touched on a small sample of events!  To see all the events and locations, check out phillybeerweek.org or download the free iPhone or Android app, which include event listings by day and maps showing where events are located.

Read more from Ryan Hudak on his beer website, In Search of Beer. Photographs credited to Amy Strauss.