Let me begin by first setting the scene: On Saturday, June 2nd, at 11 a.m., it was 74 degrees with blue skies and a slight breeze.

Following a fantastic night at the 4th Annual Philly Beer Week Opening Tap at Independence Hall, the warm-weathered Saturday happened to be the perfect conditions for a nice, quiet brunch with some of the best brewing experts in the Northeast visiting this fine city this week. Surprisingly, one-on-one brewer interviews followed by 2 hours of VIP tasting at the 4th Annual International Great Beer Expo (our second beer festival in 12 hours) happened to be a pleasant surprise that I had not been expecting.

With 55 Brewers, including at least 3 who were new to Philly Beer Week, it’s a lot to cover. While the Sam Adams, Staropramen, and Victory old faithfuls were out for the day, I stuck with some of the lesser-known but equally tasty talent. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Favorite Ale: I was shocked by how much I liked Thomas Hooker Brewing Co.’s Watermelon Ale. Made in Connecticut and selectively distributed, the name and aroma of this beverage had me convinced that my non-fruity no vote would rear its ugly head.  Instead, Curt Cameron, President of Hooker Brewing, delighted me with this refreshing, not sweet or syrupy, beverage with just a hint of watermelon. Ship Bottom Brewery’s Barnacle Bottom Stout came in a close second. I’ll keep my eye out for opportunities for both.
  • Biggest Disappointment: Having started as a home brewer 15 years ago, Robert Zarko, president of Ship Bottom Brewery, is always amazed at the support received from brewing giants like Yuengling and Victory. This support is likely due to the originality of his annual concoctions. While a newcomer to Philly Beer Week, his most recent success was with Ship Bottom Brewery’s Tropical Fruit Hefeweizen, at the Brandywine Beer Festival. I was disappointed that this was not brought along to this event.
  • Favorite Story: in 1977, Brian Boaks’ mum called him a beer snob. 20 years later, his wife bought him a Mr. Beer Kit from Linens’n’Things. After six years of testing his 10 gallon home brews at tailgates, he won 2005 Best In Show for Boaks Beer Monster Mash Russian Imperial Stout. Three years later, Brian sold his first bottle of beer. His actual job? Providing insurance for the very wealthy; drinking his beer is not required.
  • Best Bottle: Brew Master Jake Kristophel, one of five partners of Full Pint Brewing Company, is also a newcomer to Philly Beer Week. On Full Pint’s Hobnobber Session Ale, brewed with a different hop every time, you’ll find Jake’s father dressed like a business man from the 1800’s. On Full Pint’s Rumpelpilson, you’ll find Jake dressed as a gnome-slash-drunk, naughty leprechaun. As a side, I liked Full Pint’s White Lightening more than their Hobbnobber, but I’ll be keeping my eye out for their Pils as I hear it is a best seller.

You can find these guys all over town this week, so make sure you get out and enjoy what Philly Beer Week has to offer. My next stop: the With Love Beer Garden Tap Takeovers at the Four Seasons. Get online and find the venue for your next favorite flavor by clicking here. You have until Sunday, June 10 to partake in 2012’s Philly Beer Week – act fast!