By AML Publisher
Photos courtesy of Mimi Janosy
Mimi Janosy Professional Photography Studios, Philadelphia, PA
The Main Line is saturated with the martini-mingling, wino-wasping and cocktail-collaborating crowds that are a part of every private party and happy hour from Wynnewood to Wayne…and beyond. Until two years ago, when beer aficionado Suzanne Woods came along with a blog called beerlass.com. Woods has carved out a creative niche among Philadelphia and national beer writers with her site, which chronicles her adventures spearheading the area’s first women’s beer club, In Pursuit of Ale. With the surging popularity in craft beers and the second annual Philly Beer Week just two days away, Suzanne Woods’ liberating concept is giving the region’s female beer lovers reason to raise a pint of Chimay in celebration!
Woods, a Penn State grad, has been a lover of craft beer since 1999, when she discovered she had a discerning palette for finer hops. Woods found herself reaching for Double IPAS at college parties instead of a can of an American light beer, like her female counterparts. A few years after graduating, she landed a job working at Boston Beer Company (brewers of Sam Adams), where all employees are required to learn how to homebrew—which greatly enhanced Woods knowledge of the beer industry and culture. She eventually parlayed her hobby and appreciation of hops into a career that included a stint at World Café Live as an event coordinator organizing beer festivals. Today, Woods, 30, wears several hats as the sales coordinator and event manager for Sly Fox Brewery (www.slyfoxbeer.com) based out of Royersford.
In June of 2006, Woods decided to start a beer club for women called In Pursuit of Ale, which now meets biweekly within the Philadelphia city limits or Main Line suburban region to “gather, gab and guzzle,” as her blog promises. Their interesting adventures are published on beerlass.com, where Woods waxes poetic about a local pub’s fare, atmosphere and selection of beers on tap. And, since the launch of her blog, Woods popularity among the region’s beer writers has grown tenfold. The brunette bombshell with her petite frame, cool confidence and Kathleen Turner-like rasp has developed a name in an industry largely dominated by men over the age of 50.
Last year with the inaugural Philly Beer Week, Woods’ blog traffic surged with beer geeks looking for a daily recap and an industry expert’s guide to the hottest pairings and events. And beerlass.com has never looked back. Now her site chronicles Woods’ weekly experiences with new brews, local excursions and fills her visitors in on the latest beer trends. A recent blog post highlighted what looked like a scrumptious pancake bread pudding served by Bridgids in Philly for Fat Tuesday.
As part of AML’s comprehensive and exclusive online Main Line coverage of PBW 2009, AML hung out with Woods and her IPA crowd on a recent Saturday at Teresa’s Next Door (in Wayne) to share a cold one…or two. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to go one-on-one with Woods as I learned more about the current craft beer craze, what’s hot for Philly Beer Week ’09, and what’s the next big thing for beer lovers…all courtesy of The Beer Lass.
AroundMainLine.com: As a sales manager for Sly Fox Brewery, you are out there pounding the pavement in the ‘man’s world’ of beer. How is that environment, day-in and day-out?
Suzanne Woods: I love it! I decided from the very start since I am in an extremely competitive industry, to set myself apart. The title on my business card reads ‘Beer Lass,’ that’s actually where the idea of my blog came from because I got a very positive response from it at the get-go. Instead of being the normal, boring title of ‘Director of Sales’, ‘Regional Sales Manager’, I thought ‘Beer Lass’ and it just stuck. It communicates ‘Lady of Beer,’ ‘Beer Chick’-something totally different. When people heard about it, I got a very positive response and it caught on quickly so I started branding myself as the region’s ‘Beer Lass.’ It was a no-brainer when it came to naming my blog.
AML: You have a huge following and great level of respect among the beer writers, the breweries, wholesalers in this region and even across the country. I’m sure I am not telling you something you don’t already know. But, it was natural for me to approach you because as soon as I started researching and writing about beer a few months back, your name came up constantly. Every time I ran into Matt Guyer [from The Beer Yard] he would say to me, ‘You have to get in touch with Beer Lass!’
SW: Thanks, this is my business and an industry and passion I really love and I think it comes through. I’m not just a sales person; I feel I am bringing so much more to my job, from a public relations approach as well. I coordinate events, I develop and facilitate relationships, and I get out in the area and dine out a lot with In Pursuit Of Ale (my women’s beer club). So, I see what is hot and what the public is gravitating towards. It’s nice to hear that effort is recognized and respected.
AML: Absolutely, you are a local celeb blogger! What is your take on the second annual Philly Beer Week that starts Friday?
SW: Philly Beer Week is so perfect for this area. Last year there was a local bar, I will call them a ‘hybrid’ bar, and they had a few events for PBW. It was the first time they served craft beers on tap and it was neat for me to see the owners open their eyes to the craft industry. Their bar was completely jammed; the (craft) beer was a huge hit! They moved more beer in that week then they had ever in the history of their restaurant. After Philly Beer Week, they never looked back. I think that story probably happened all over the area.
And, I think the idea that eleven, twelve other cities have quickly tried to duplicate PBW is a huge compliment. There are so many opportunities to meet and greet, visit new bars and restaurants and enjoy some wild and wacky events. Philly Beer Week takes craft beers and the craft beer world and makes it fun for everyone, whether you live here or you’re part of the thousands coming in from out of town.
AML: The In Pursuit of Ale biweekly R5 ladies-only outings are a cool concept. Where did that come from?
SW: Since I serve the five counties (as a sales manager) with Sly Fox, I know all the great gems in and around the Main Line and suburbs. So, with the train stations centrally located right in the neighborhoods, it just seemed like a great fun group outing to organize. And, it’s not just a bunch of ‘chicks’ getting together drinking beer. I really want to make it educational for the women who join to provide them with a fun time but also let them know they can walk away with some new knowledge about beer, food pairings, and maybe a new group of friends.
AML: What is the hottest trend in the beer industry right now?
SW: That’s pretty straightforward–hands down Session Beers. Lew Bryson, a local beer writer, is spearheading a movement of Session Ales and its really catching on. He has a very popular blog as well that has captured a good deal of interest called sessionbeerproject.blogspot.com. Session Beers are low IPA beers; they are under 4.5% ABV and are milder. So Lew is championing the lighter beers–countering the wave we have seen towards heavier double IPAS and Belgian tripels. It’s very interesting and I tend to agree that is where the tide is turning, slowly away from the big beers.
AML: That is so interesting; I’ll have to take some time to educate myself on Session Beers. I’m starting to become fascinated with beer trends because it can directly affect the direction of the food and restaurant industry, since now beer and food pairings are hotter than ever. What is THE most anticipated event, if you can pick just one, coming up with Philly Beer Week?
SW: I’d have to say Tuesday night March 10th at a place at called The P.O.P.E., it stands for: The Pub on Passayunk East. It’s on the corner of Passayunk and Dickinson downtown and starts at 6pm. I’m having a really fun cheesesteak smackdown down, a West Coast-East Coast competition with Sly Fox taking on Trevor Jankowski from Lagunitas Brewing Company out of Petaluma, California!
Everyone gets a complimentary pint with each sandwich. I like these types of events with Beer Week because they bring breweries together from, literally, opposite ends of the country and add a different feel and level of excitement. And, also at The Opening Tap we have some funny awards that myself and other writers came up with, some tongue and cheek awards for the different breweries.
AML: We will be covering Opening Tap, can’t wait! Shifting gears…there used to be this group (of women) on the Main Line who met monthly and called themselves ‘Wednesday Night Winos.’ It had this very Main Line elitist thing to it, you know how that goes. What I am so excited about is that I think you are taking that same idea and making it modern and approachable. So, what I really appreciate about beerlass.com is you are keeping it real. Plus, beer is equally as fascinating and just as complicated as wine. I know a lot of sommeliers on the Main Line who are going to start incorporating craft beers into their menus and food pairings. I think that demonstrates where this is headed– a lot of women are just realizing that you can be social and sophisticated…and be drinking craft beer!
SW: One of my goals is to actually ‘tap’ into those women’s groups and introduce them and educate them about beer. I love finding a woman who says she does not enjoy beer. There are 125 different styles of beer and I am sure I can seek out one that fits her taste. So, I take on that person as a project and challenge and really inquire about what types of wine she drinks. And, after we have a chance to chat, I bet I can find that woman a beer they would enjoy that they probably never even heard of.
Forty percent of beer drinkers in England are women; here in the U.S. that number is only twenty-five percent. So, I have work to do! There are so many intricacies to beer–from pairing it with chocolate and cheese, to entrees and now desserts. And, another interesting fact, women actually have better palettes than men and a better sense of smell. It just boils down to a matter of enlightenment and that is what I’m attempting to do with the blog and my every day job.
AML: Well stated–Changing public perception is never easy but you seem to have a perfect approach and, obviously, a great deal of experience and industry knowledge to pull from.
SW: I know what women are thinking from the start, beer is filled with calories. Not necessarily true—at least many times not always more than the wine they are drinking and that’s part of our goal of our club, In Pursuit of Ale. So, if I can work with that first rebuttal and then educate and enlighten—then I can really open women up to the great world of craft beer. That’s exactly what I love about my job and my passion. I definitely hope to meet a lot of the region’s newest (female) beer lovers during Beer Week. Its going to be ten unbelievable days of the region (and really the world’s) best beer. And, I want the women in this city to embrace the hundreds of opportunities it has to offer them to learn about and fall in love with beer, just as I have!
The Beer Lass’s Best Picks for Philly Beer Week 2009
Provided by Suzanne Woods, Beer Lass (www.beerlass.com)
Friday March 6th
Philly Beer Week Opening Tap
The Comcast Center Winter Garden, 1701 JFK Boulevard, Philadelphia
7-9:30pm, $40 prepaid/$50 at the door.
Let the drinking begin. The first tap is a must! It will be a great chance to hobnob with all your favorite brewers at the Comcast Center Winter Garden. Mayor Michael Nutter will be partaking in the opening ceremonies, kicking off an Olympic-size celebration of beer. William Reed has commissioned metalman Warren Holzman to craft the mallet that will ceremoniously tap the first keg, which will be filled with The Yards Brewing Company’s ESA.
Saturday March 7th
Ladies Beer Tea at The Belgian Café, 21st & Green, Fairmount
2:30pm, $30 per person: Contact The Café for reservations 215-235-3500
Hosted By: Nancy Rigberg of Home Sweet Homebrew
Join Nancy for unique beers including a special surprise, paired with a twist on high tea with savories, tea sandwiches and dessert complimenting the beers. The location is the sunny dining room of The Belgian Café, conveniently located near the Philadelphia Art Museum. And, hats are optional! Then later that night, at 6:00 pm come help crown the “king” pin of the Philly Beer Scene at Standard Tap. They’ll have 10 pins of local beer on the bar. If you’re coming in from the burbs, you can easily take the Market-Frankford line to 2nd street as part of the Septa Sips Safely Campaign!
Sunday March 8th
The Sidecar Bar & Grille Sunday Brunch, 22nd & Christian, Philadelphia
Head to The Sidecar Bar & Grille for your Philly Beer Week Sunday brunch, which kicks off at 10:30am—just enough time to sleep off your Saturday night fun. Join Larry Bell and the Sidecar all-stars for some of the best food and beer around. And, the 2nd Annual Khyber Chili Cook starts off at 2 p.m. Go for the judges alone!
Monday March 9th
Brew Masters 5k at The Bishops Collar, 2349 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia
I recommend the Brew Masters 5K at the Bishops Collar starting at 3 pm Monday. Squeeze a little sweat in your week–run a 5K with Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Brian O’Reilly of Sly Fox. After the hard workout, reward yourself with a few beers.
Tuesday March 10th
Luncheon with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewery at Teresa’s
Teresa’s Next Door, 126 North Wayne Avene, Wayne
Sly Fox vs. Lagunitas Cheesesteak Competition
The P.O.P.E, 1501 East Passayunk Avenue, Philadelphia 215-755-5125
Enjoy a highly anticipated lunch starting at 12:30pm with Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head at Teresa’s Next Door in Wayne, this is expected to sell out! Later that night, I suggest you come visit me actually at the P.O.P.E. (Dickinson and Passayunk). I’ll be hosting an East Coast (Sly Fox) vs. West Coast (Lagunitas) cheesesteak competition. Trevor Jankowski from Lagunitas will be prepping his best take on the California Cheesesteak. And, look forward to plenty of Sly Fox and Lagunitas beer in the lineup to wash the steaks down! The fun festivities start at 6 pm.
Wednesday March 11th
Center City Bar Crawl
Jose Pistolas 263 South 15th Street, www.josepistolas.com
Good Dog Bar and Restaurant 224 South 15th Street, www.gooddogbar.com Fergies 1214 Sansom Street, www.fergiespub.com
Time Restaurant, Whiskey Bar and Tap Room, 1315 Sansom Street
McGillin (Hosting Bar Crawl After Party at 10pm) 1310 Drury Street
Hang out with the local Philly brewers on a pub crawl throughout Center City. They’ll be kicking a quarter keg of 8 different beers at 8 different bars. Bars include Jose Pistolas, Good Dog, Fergies, Time, McGillin’s and more–6 pm start.
Thursday March 12th
Left Hand Lumberjack Night
South Philadelphia Taproom, 1509 Mifflin St., Philadelphia, 215-756-1002
Meet The Brewer Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing
Four Seasons Hotel, One Logan Square, Philadelphia
I recommend hanging out at Left Hand Lumberjack Night at the South Philly Taproom. Prizes will be awarded for must burly lumberjack getup. Left Hand will be throwing some great specialties on tap till 9 pm. Or, meet the legendary Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing, the main who pioneered craft brewing, in The Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel at 5 pm.
Friday March 13th
20th Celebration of Friday the Firkinteenth
The Grey Lodge Pub, 6235 Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia
‘Smoke ‘Em If You’ve Got ‘Em
The Yards Brewing Company, 901 North Delaware Avenue, Philadelphia
If you’ve never been to the Grey Lodge for a Friday the Firkinteenth event, you’ve got to change that this Beer Week ’09! One of Philly’s most famous beer events falls during Philly Beer Week. The lodge master starts tappin firkins at 9 am this time around with casks and cakes for every beer enthusiasts’ breakfast of champions. Look forward to some interesting beers from out of towners as well. There will be busses going back and forth between Friday the Firkinteenth and the Yards/Triumph co-sponsored, “Smoke ’em if you got ’em,” featuring all smoked beers. The Yards event is a first of its kind, featuring smoked beers from some of the world’s finest breweries, smoked food from Philadelphia’s best BBQ. There will be over 20 different smoked beers and music. Your $15 admission gets you food, a first beer and glass.
Saturday March 14th
Throwdown in Franklintown: Kehoe vs. Kirk
The Kite and Key Tavern, 1836 Callowhill Street, Philadelphia
Come watch the “Throwdown in Franklintown” at The Kite and Key on Callowhill, an event a little off kilter but highly anticipated. Its pay as you go and the fun starts at 2:30pm. Kite and Key owner Jim Kirk and Tom Kehoe of Yards will sumo wrestle for beer and bragging rights. Love Stout will be on the hand pump–you absolutely don’t want to miss this!
Sunday March 15th-Final Day of PBW 2009
Zythos Belgian Beer Festival, University of Penn Museum of Archeology
That Totally Unnecessary Drink, Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street
Everyone who is anyone enjoying PBW will be at the Zythos Belgian Beer Festival at The University of Penn Museum of Archeology, the finale kicks off at 4 pm. Then I recommend the 2nd annual T.U.D-That Totally Unnecessary Drink. T.U.D. is the best way to end Philly Beer Week at Fergie’s Pub on 12th & Sansom at 9pm Sunday night. Just when you think you can’t take it any more, have one more beer.