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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Props to a beer pioneer

Someone posted on BeerAdvocate today that they'd found a copy of Beer Philadelphia, Jim Anderson's irregular bi-monthly beer publication, from 1995. It took me back, and I realized that although Jim and I had not parted on the best of terms -- I'm still not sure why -- I owed him a lot...and so does Philadelphia's beer culture. More than almost anyone, the exceptions being Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe, beer wholesalers Eddie Friedland and Nima Hadian, and perhaps Walter Staib at City Tavern (a criminally overlooked figure in Philly's beer story), Jim Anderson is responsible for Philadelphia's status as one of the pre-eminent beer towns on this continent. Jim laid the groundwork for a lot of what is happening today, and most younger beer enthusiasts have no idea who he is. I thought that should change. Here, revised and expanded, is what I said in response. Hail, Jim.

Let's talk about Jim Anderson.

You may have heard Philadelphia referred to as the "Fertile Crescent of beer." Jim Anderson coined the phrase.

You've heard of and been to Friday the Firkinteenth, you may have heard of or even been to the Real Ale Festival in Chicago. Jim Anderson's Real Ale Rendezvous pre-dated both of them, and saw some truly amazing cask beers.

Jim Anderson created and ran Split Thy Skull, which was, I believe, the East Coast's first all barleywine/big beer event. He also convinced Young's to condition a cask of Old Nick to send to the event (something we were told that Young's had never done before); I can still picture the mad venting, beer hitting the ceiling and splattering all over Eddie Friedland. And that beer remains one of the best I've ever tasted; I recall saying "I wish this was about 3.7% so I could drink it all day long."

You may have seen the "downdraft" system at Bridgid's, an innovative gravity-flow tapping system that brings cask ale down from the floor above, a U-boat periscope of beer. Jim Anderson invented it.

Most beer festivals in this area continue to be run at the brewers' expense: beer is "donated." Back in 1996, Jim Anderson made it a policy to always pay for the beer at the events he promoted and ran, and to note that on the festival program.

Don Russell's writing a bar guide to Philly and the surrounding area -- an excellent project, and I'm gonna get me one when it comes out. Jim Anderson (and his then-wife Lisa) wrote one in 1992; I bought a copy at one of the first Michael Jackson mass-tastings. It was quirkily beer-centric.

Beer Philadelphia was around for three years (and yes, I think I have a number of old copies), broke a number of stories and stirred up a number of controversies (including Jim's flat-out hatred of draft Guinness) in Philly's beer community, which Anderson had a large hand in bringing together. (Ol' Jack sez it was more like six years...glad someone reads this.)

Jim Anderson ran a weekly radio program -- an hour long -- on beer on an AM station, paying for the time himself. It was a fun show, if a bit unfocused at times. I was on one morning: we talked, we drank, we had some laughs, and people called in.

Jim Anderson hosted a number of beer events -- always hugely entertaining -- and tended bar one night a week at Tavern on Green; I regret that I never got there when he was behind the stick, because I'm sure it would have been a fun night.

For ten years, if beer got into the mainstream press in Philly, it was because Jim Anderson put it there. (Well, except for one time when this guy got a piece in, and even he wound up mentioning Jim within a few paragraphs of starting).

Then Jim, weeks before another Split Thy Skull, with hardly any warning, split for Scotland, where he took over a hotel and restaurant, and became a local champion of cask ale -- his true love, I think -- and evidently a fair success. Friends have been there, and say Jim's the same as always, and the beer's magnificent: no Guinness, of course.

I suspect that if he moved back tomorrow he would slot right into the Philly beer scene and be moving and shaking once again.


Red Rooster said...

Philly in the mid to late 90's was a phenomenal city to be if you loved beer. I've been back a few times in the last few years, and while I still enjoy it, I think Philly has slipped a bit, but it is still a fantastic city for craft beer. I remember my first trip to Bridgid's, and Yard's ESA from the gravity tap. Fond memories of those days in Philly.

Jack Curtin said...

Thanks for the mention in the Jim Anderson tribute, but you picked the wrong story to link. The story you've picked ran in American Brewer in 1997; the original story to which you refer was the cover story in Philadelphia Weekly in July 1995. Here's the correct link for that one:

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks for the correction, Jack: I've fixed the link. Story holds up pretty well, but I wouldn't expect less from a pro like you.

James W. said...

I met Jim years ago at STS 7 or 8 I think (XIII!) and he was a great fella. Where did he go? I haven't seen him at STS in years and miss him!

Lew Bryson said...

Sorry, James: when I edited the link to Jack's story, I inadvertantly excised about three lines. Jim went to Scotland, where he took over a hotel and restaurant near Inverness (which he renamed, with his customary modesty, "The Anderson"). It's been very successful, and won an award for best beer offering in the UK...which doesn't surprise me at all.

Stonch said...

Fortuntely cask conditioned Old Nick isn't quite as rare as all that - sometimes in London you can be lucky enough to chance upon one in a Young's pub at around this time of year. Great beer.

Bill Coleman said...

Nice post, Lew. Jim also brought the Split Thy Skull to Brooklyn at Mugs the first year. It may have been the last event he did before leaving for Scotland. I'm sorry I haven't made it to his place in Scotland, but my traveling is somewhat limited these days.

Syllogism said...

My favorite Jim memory was the beer event he and his wife hosted at Brigid's which purported to be the first time that a beer from each of the trappist breweries had been served at one sitting. Remember going there with Scoats, and finishing it off afterwards with a bottle of gluhkriek. I still have the menu somewhere at home.

Steve - Bell Beverage said...

I was lucky enough to be a guest on Jim's radio program. The Philly beer scene was put on the map in large part to Jim's work. Thanks for calling attention to this Lew.