STORY WRITTEN BY MATT BRASCH
For Digital First Media
Maybe you’ve been in a bar and heard someone say (probably with a lot of enthusiasm), “They have a firkin!” For those who don’t know what a firkin is — or why someone would be excited about it — a great way to find out is at the first ever Pottstown Firkin Fest, beginning at 1 p.m. on April 30 in Manatawny Park in Pottstown.
The event’s website defines a firkin as “a barrel, equivalent to 10.8 gallons, that holds cask-conditioned ale.” What is cask conditioned ale? Without getting too technical, “conditioning” is the process of maturation of beer, where fermentation slowly occurs. A traditional cask conditioned beer was one that conditioned in the vessel, and was served directly from the vessel, without any filtering or additional carbonation. As the website explains, “The beer has a much gentler level of carbonation, a rounder mouthfeel, and since it is unfiltered, is slightly cloudy and shows a slightly more complex flavor and aromatic profile.” In addition, U.S. brewers are using firkins to modify their standard beers — for example, for Firkin Fest, Yards Brewing will be putting their standard Philadelphia Pale Ale in a firkin and conditioning it on citrus fruit.
The Firkin Fest will showcase 24 brewers and 40 different firkins of beer. Tim Hennessey was the driving force behind last October’s very successful Pottstown Brewfest and the creator of Firkin Fest. When asked why he would try to organize more than one large beer event within a year, Hennessey explained, “It started after the Pottstown Brew Fest. People said we can’t wait for the next one, but we don’t want to wait a year. At first I said no way — it would be too much work. But as time went on, it made sense — instead of having a large festival, I wanted to focus on craft beer drinkers. Firkins are very cool — they are special brews that are not regularly made by the brewery.”
While most beer festivals have a VIP session an hour before the General Session, the Firkin Fest is designed to have a VIP feel throughout. Because firkins are small batch, specialty beers, “We wanted to create an all-VIP experience, including a 16 ounce, Belgian-style premium sampling glass, and catered food from two of the top chefs in Pottstown — Adam Burch with Lily’s Cafe and Mike Falcone’s “Heart Food Truck.” Hennessey provided a sample of the mouth-watering menu for the event: Pulled Pork and Mac & Cheese with bacon — “Because it wouldn’t be a beer festival without bacon!” Live music from the Lehigh Valley’s “Latitude 24” will be playing, filling the air with tropical music from Jimmy Buffett to Bob Marley.
IF YOU GO: Tickets are $75, purchase them and learn more details about Firkin Fest at pottstownfirkin.com. Designated drivers tickets are $25.
The breweries that are coming to Firkin Fest — and their beers — are listed on the event website. When asked which firkin Hennessey was most excited about, he said “There are so many that I’m excited about! Steve Armstrong from Armstrong Ales in Pottstown is bringing three firkins — a Dry Irish Stout, an IPA, and an American Wild Ale. Douglassville-based Hidden River Brewing Company will be there; they only participate in three beer fests, and the Firkin Fest and Pottstown Brewfest are two of them!” Sterling Pig Brewing from Media will be bringing their “Snuffler IPA” on citrus and tropical fruit. While most of the breweries will be local, Hennessey is also looking forward to Escondido, California-based Stone Brewing serving a firkin of their flagship “Arrogant Bastard Ale.”
Hennessey is passionate about Firkin Fest not only because of the beer but also because he wants to be a part of the economic re-development of Pottstown. “Whether it’s the Pottstown Brewfest or the Firkin Fest, we’re always raising money for someone in Pottstown — I want to see Pottstown come back. It’s all about strengthening the community. That’s why we try to focus on as many local breweries as possible.” Last year, the first Pottstown Brewfest brought in 1300 people, and Hennessey is hoping that the Firkin Fest will further grow Pottstown’s reputation.
Dan Falcone, who works with Tim on the planning of the events, agreed, “The cool thing about Tim’s events is that they are only getting bigger. Last year we had 1,300 people show up to Pottstown for the Brew Fest, and he’s planning on doubling that this year. He’s a Pottstown kid — he wants to help the town revitalize, and this is a fantastic way to do it. It just brings an enthusiasm to the town.”
If you’ve never had beer from a firkin, Hennessey’s Firkin Fest is a great place to start. In addition to drinking special beer, because of the limited number of tickets you’ll be able to talk to the brewers serving the beer one-on-one. Tickets ($75) are still available — purchase them and learn more details about Firkin Fest on the website — pottstownfirkin.com.