written by Amy Strauss
He may be a self-proclaimed wine guy, but Mayor Michael Nutter is a fundamental figure in Philly Beer Week. Tasked with tapping the ceremonial first keg of the collaborative Brotherly Suds beer at Opening Tap (Beer Week’s kickoff event), Nutter is on his way to becoming a keg-cracking expert. But, he’s not there yet.
Elected Philadelphia’s mayor in November 2007 and asked to participate in the first Beer Week just months later in March 2008, Nutter reveals he wasn’t too well-versed in beer-related appearances.
“Normally, it’s a ground-breaking with a shovel or it’s a ribbon cutting with big scissors, and this is a very different kind of event,” explains Nutter. “I admitted that I had no idea of what I was doing and it was a big public thing, so I didn’t want to mess up.”
Though, his first Philly Beer Week tapping was done without the now-legendary Hammer of Glory. “They handed me a very little mallet to tap the keg, and I asked, ‘What am I supposed to do with this?’” laughs Nutter. “But, the second year, in 2009, they handed me the official Hammer of Glory; I did not realize how big that hammer was and that was a little bit of a surprise. Then, I held it up in front of the crowd and people really enjoyed it. That’s become part of the tradition now.”
Since being re-elected in 2011, Nutter’s Beer Week participation has continued through the recurring eight years of the annual celebration. “[Tapping a keg] is not the kind of thing you do every other day,” continues Nutter, “But, I’m working on it. I only do it once a year. You pretty much have a 50/50 chance of doing it really well or really messing up. I’ve done both.”
Speaking of that keg-tapping fiasco … “I did have a big mess-up once,” he elaborates. “The Flyers were in the playoffs [in 2010] and I had my Flyers jersey on. I was getting ready to go to the game—tap the keg at Beer Week and then go to the Flyers game. And I just didn’t hit the keg right and it sprayed all over the place—including on me!”
Outside of kick-starting the annual beer-focused festivities with its “first tap,” Nutter thoroughly acknowledges the recent growth—and more so, success and exposure—that the Philly Beer Week has garnered for the city.
“It’s filled with an incredible array of different beers and seasonals,” he says. “I have to say—I go to a lot of events, and everyone really seems to enjoy the various Beer Week activities. I’m also excited that other cities have started doing their own beer weeks too. It’s not an exclusive kind of thing—beers are all over the place.”
But it’s not just the on-going beer celebration that has experienced a substantial evolution. Philadelphia’s beer scene has been fortunate to witness endless advancement in its recent years.
“Microbreweries and the growth of the homegrown beers—that has really exploded on the local scene and I think has made Philadelphia,” he says. “That, combined with the tremendous millennial growth of population here in the city—all of that goes together.” From 2006 to 2012 alone, the city’s population of 20 to 34-year-olds skyrocketed by about 100,000, estimates the U.S. Census Bureau.
“[That population increase] is about entrepreneurship; that’s about jobs; that’s about beer drinking; it’s about fun,” he suggests. “All of that combined has really helped to liven up Philadelphia, make it that much more attractive as a city and it’s a part of this incredible renaissance that has been going on for the past five, six, seven years.”
But, let us remind you, a prosperous Philadelphia beer culture isn’t a new thing either. “Beer has always been a big beverage here in the city of Philadelphia, historically,” says Nutter. “We have had many breweries here; Schmidt’s was here for a long, long time [1860–1987], as were very many others. I don’t know a tremendous amount about beer but I recognize its importance; It’s a huge industry.”
A quick trip down memory lane reveals that more than 90 breweries operated in the Philadelphia proper from the mid-19th through early 20th centuries. Though Prohibition stifled that brewery boom, producers have continued to replant the groundwork for a local brewing culture, particularly since the late 1980s.
One thing that is especially paramount to the mayor is that the local drinking culture is all-inclusive. “Anyone can enjoy a beer!” he says. “And, Philadelphia’s beer culture goes across a variety of racial and socioeconomic areas that proves that. Here, in our city, we are enjoying great American beers, as well as wonderful national and international brews.”
Will we catch the mayor at any Philly Beer Week events outside of Opening Tap? “I like going to the Beer Week events,” says Nutter. “People are happy, they are having fun, they are trying different things, it’s just a great part of the city. Plus, there are also such wonderful personalities; the people involved in this. I’ve gone to one or two events each year, and if the schedule aligns and we can work [it] into the schedule, I will absolutely go!”
Sadly, 2015 marks the final year that Mayor Nutter will reign over Opening Tap ceremonies, as he will leave office in early January following the completion of his second term. Perhaps he’ll pass along a few pointers to his yet-to-be-decided successor, but in the meantime, he sends Philadelphians well wishes: “I think, as with anything, like that tagline in those commercials, ‘drink responsibly.’ Do your thing, have fun and don’t be an idiot; just have a good time.”
And, if you spy Yards Brewing Company’s Belgian spring ale, its Saison, on tap—try it. “It’s quite wonderful,” endorses the mayor. “I rather enjoyed it.”