When Philly Loves Beer commences its 10-day Philly Beer Week on May 31 at South Philly’s 2300 Arena, one guy who’ll stand closest to The Hammer of Glory — longtime totem that ceremoniously taps the opening keg — is Brandon Szeker.
An out gay man with his own segment on MyNEWPhilly (“Gayborhood TV”) and a member of the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, Szeker been involved with Philly Beer Week since 2014 as its membership director — helping member-breweries plan and release promotional strategies for the year.
Considering beer culture is legendarily a hetero-machismo game, how does Szeker fit into this all, personally and professionally?
“Plain and simple,” he said with a laugh, “I don’t fit into it, which is why I love it. I’ve always been a fan of shaking things up and, of course, there’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a place for others, like me. If anything, it gives [beer professionals] a view into the LGBTQ community they may otherwise not get, and I’m proud to be catalyst of them getting to understand our community better.”
It’s not as if Szeker is walking around wearing a badge that reads: Gay man at work. But by being himself in a room full of beer bros, he pushed the notion of his pride being LGBTQ. je said.
“They may not get or understand the pride, but the men in this industry have been some of the most accepting people. Of course, you have your bad apples, but they’re more the exception than the case.”
Szeker is not alone being out, proud and brew-savvy.
“You sure would be surprised at how many men and women in the Philly beer scene identify as LGBTQ,” he said. “We are a mighty bunch wherever we go.” Though he said the platform wasn’t as large as he’d like, he added that “as a whole, [the industry] is very accepting and open to ideas on how to connect better with the community.”
Szeker got to all things Philly beer after doing promotions for everyone from the Beasley Group to the DNC, as well as through radio (Wired 96.5, 94WYSP, WJBR). It was, however, while making ends meet as a bartender at the legendarily problematic Farmer’s Cabinet — “Surviving member here, that’s a whole other story” — that Szeker was introduced to an intense beer and cocktail program.
“This is where my interest and knowledge of beer grew exponentially. The restaurant was also a participant of Philly Beer Week at the time and that’s when I learned just how rich the beer culture was here in Philadelphia,” he said.
Being Philly Loves Beer’s membership director, Szeker recruits new breweries, brew pubs and bars/restaurants to join the program.
“The consumer really looks to Philly Loves Beer and Philly Beer Week as the experts of all things beer — so my job is to connect the business to this super niche consumer looking for exactly what they have: beer!” he exclaimed.
“I get to visit breweries, try all types of beer and introduce that beer to our beer-loving audience in effort to help grow the companies’ brands/businesses. We use our social media following to help push messaging from our members to this audience — digital and social marketing. If you’re working with beer, you definitely want to be a part of us.”
When Szeker was asked if he thinks that it’s slightly redundant and funny, having a beer fest in Philly when it always seems like a beer fest here, he laughed and said that Philly Beer Week is far from just a fest.
“That word actually drives me up a damn wall, because when I hear “Beer Fest,” I think of Troy and his pretzel necklace looking for his girlfriend Brittany who’s puking in the corner. We’re a bit more refined. Philly Beer Week is the first and oldest Beer Week nationally. Since its inception 12 years ago, 77 other beer weeks have spawned since. Philly takes pride in being a city of many firsts, and Philly Beer Week is a part of that list. Philly is often imitated but can never be duplicated, so we should take pride that our city (once again) has set the bar high and blazed a trail.”
While there are a lot of events across the 10-day PLB, Szeker highlights three of them:
1) Opening Tap - 5/31 - 2300 Arena. “This is the kickoff to our 10-day celebration; 65-plus local and national breweries, all for your sampling. This is a great opportunity to meet some of the big players here in Philly and beyond. It’s a huge celebration of all things beer. This year we’re introducing live band karaoke, so our audience gets to take the spotlight. You know I’ll be on the microphone for a song or two.”
2) Art On Beer - 6/4 - Warehouse On Watts. “This event is one of the coolest. We’re all guilty of choosing wine and beer simply by the label, and this event brings in the designers of beer labels/art together on a panel to discuss how they go about making their art. This event is in its third year and is a huge hit. If you’ve ever wondered how people put beer design together, you’ll definitely want to check this out.”
3) Get Milked - 6/9 - MilkBoy Chestnut. “I’m super excited to be a part of Pride this year. We’re teaming up with MilkBoy to bring you the Get Milked block party celebrating the end of PBW, which falls on Philly Pride Fest, Sunday, June 9. Join us at MilkBoy Chestnut from 12-9 p.m. for a Queer Pride Festival and dance party hosted by Icon Ebony Fierce.”