Don Russell likes beer. It’s as simple as that. As a founder of Philly Beer Week, he’s had a part in putting Philly on the map as a craft brew destination, but we’ve also known him to enjoy a green Miller Light on St. Patrick’s Day.
His latest book wants to make a similarly educated, open-minded beer-lover out of you before the hops snobs ruin your fun. Written under his pen name Joe Sixpack, “What the Hell am I?Drinking?” is a collection of 50 essays designed to shed some light on the gigantic draft list now available at your corner bar.
We caught up with him because, well, we never know what we’re drinking over here.
Do even you wonder what the hell you’re drinking?
It’s gotten to the point that yes, sometimes. I remember when you just asked for a beer and that was it. It was just beer. I think today, beer drinkers are confronted with thousands of different styles and might not be completely sure what they’re ordering.
Is that a good thing?
I think it’s a good thing — I’ll never complain about more beer. I’ve thought for some time now that we’re living in the best time ever to be drinking beer. Pretty much anyone can find a beer that they’ll really enjoy the flavor of. But an educated consumer is a good consumer.
It’s almost as intimidating as ordering wine.
I’ve described it as the wine-ification of beer. Beer, in many ways, has done things that are very wine-like. A good example is the price of beer. It’s inching upward and upward all the time. And I think that’s a bad thing — beer should be accessible, and it has to be careful about turning off consumers because it’s too expensive or too special. What beer has always done well is that it is the everyman drink — you shouldn’t have to worry about how to pronounce it.
Is part of this because we’re in beer-crazed Philly?
Philly is leaps and bounds beyond almost every other city in the country, but it is happening everywhere. When we started Philly Beer Week in 2008, it was the first one in the country. Now there are over 75 of them. And it’s not just big cities — I saw one the other day in Huntsville, Ala. I don’t think there’s much of a beer culture down there besides Bud, but they got it together.
So, what the hell are you drinking for Thanksgiving?
You would think that there would be a lot of fall beers out right now, but unfortunately most of the pumpkin beers are off the shelves. Right now, you’re apt to find the first of the Christmas beers coming in — some of the outstanding beers from Belgium and some of the American craft beers.
What’s on Joe Sixpack’s Christmas list?
Here are his three picks for seasonal brews this year:
1. Anchor’s 2011 Christmas Ale
2. Troeg’s Mad Elf Ale
3. Lion Brewery’s Stegmaier Winter Warmer