The laughing and lively conversation can be heard immediately upon entering Exit 190 Beer Deli in Dickson City.
Past the shelves and shelves of bottles, three men from three very different backgrounds have gathered around a table, as they do once a week, to discuss their shared passion for beer – and how it has overflowed into so much more.
Freddie Fabbri, who goes by Fast Freddie; John Kennedy, usually referred to as Dr. Johnny Blindside; and Derek Warren are the on-air personalities heard on the Beer Geeks Radio Hour every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on 102.3 FM The Sports Hub, sponsored by the business in which they currently sit. The show debuted on Dec. 14, but the clear chemistry in their conversation seems like it has been brewing for years.
Fabbri, well-known in the area as a popular DJ and radio personality, is the boisterous ringleader of the trio, eager to jump right into today’s interview with The Weekender. Kennedy, his large hands, decorated with championship rings, engulfing his beer glass, is also recognizable to locals as a former quarterback for the Scranton Eagles; he is more reserved and chooses his thoughtful words wisely. Warren, the bespectacled columnist behind The Weekender’s popular “I’d Tap That” weekly beer article, fits the “geek” profile the most, his love and knowledge of cult horror films rivaling his passion for beer, but the three friends agree that being a beer geek doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know everything there is to know about beer. In Fabbri’s case, it doesn’t even mean you have to drink it.
“I’m the driver. I’m the host of them, but I am a beer geek because I do love the science and I love the culture and the camaraderie. People aren’t sitting around plugging beers like they did at the VFW after working in the mines – I’m talking about coming out and tasting and talking about the texture and being able to find the different ingredients and how this was brewed,” he explained.
“I’m a rock ‘n’ roll guy, but I do love stuff that brings people together, and craft beer is bringing people together.”
It will do just that on Saturday, April 12, when the inaugural Beer Geek Festival takes over the new Slocum Hollow Bar & Restaurant at Montage Mountain.
“This is going to be a unique experience for a true craft beer lover, whether you’re novice or aficionado. There is not going to be a better festival in this area for somebody to go to than the Beer Geek Festival. When you have your own brew for your own festival that’s being made out of respect for the distributor and the people that are putting it on, that’s just a great feeling to have, and it complements the radio show that we’ve been doing,” Fabbri enthused.
“You’re not coming up here just to catch a buzz. This is an event. If you love craft beer, you want to be here, and this is the ultimate shopping and tasting experience for any beer lover.”
NO BORING BREWS ALLOWED
This experience is one that they share with each other and their guests each week on the radio, creating some fun and sometimes surprising moments.
“You don’t have to be a restaurant owner or a bar owner to come on our show. We have regular people come up and do taste tests. What better way to let people know what you have and what the product is about when they’re doing taste tests live on the air?” Fabbri asked, recalling one particularly amusing moment.
“That one girl’s face when she took a hit of the one double IPA – her face just sucked right back into her head and it was better than anything I’ve seen in a commercial or anything like that!”
“We constantly on the show talk about how there’s a social thing,” Kennedy continued. “I go to bars that have good beers because I don’t want to have the guy that drinks 15 Keystone Lights and falls off the bar stool and pukes on you and wants to fight you. I want him to go, ‘Did you have this one yet? This is delicious,’ and you talk about it.”
Even Fabbri, who hasn’t touched a drink since 1993, always finds something to chat about.
“They parlay the information, I drive the bus and throw some entertainment over it because I don’t know s—t about beer,” he admitted.
“I’ve done a lot of great stuff and I’ve had a lot of success with different bands and different radio shows that I’ve worked with, but the people that I have coming up to me or e-mailing or texting me about different kinds of beers and stuff is hilarious because I’m like, ‘Wow, you guys caught this and you thought I was funny,’ because we don’t bore people with it. We make it exciting.”
The excitement built up from the program quickly snowballed into the idea for a festival, which will grant attendees the rare opportunity to sample over 100 specialty and craft brews, each handpicked by the beer geeks themselves, and the brewers will be on-hand to explain their brewing processes and the unique flavors they create.
“Everybody is going to find something up there. That’s what we’ve been doing with the show,” Warren said.
“Boulder Beer, Tröegs Brewing Company, Stone Brewing Co., and 3 Guys & A Beer’d are all making beer just for the festival. Deschutes Brewery is making their first appearance in our market at the fest, and it will be the only place in NEPA to try their beer. BrewDog is also coming back to the area after being gone for a number of years and is launching their comeback at the festival.”
These handcrafted beers can be paired with regional cuisine from Armetta’s Restaurant & Pizza and the Peculiar Culinary Company, among other businesses; the latter teamed up with the radio show last month to present a pop-up restaurant and beer dinner, so festivalgoers should prepare their palates for something special.
“It’s a healthy, fun obsession,” Kennedy said. “It will be good for novices. … You’re going to have some of the stuff that’s less offensive or strong that won’t shock you, there’s going to be stuff that’s milder, but then you’re going to have a chance to taste some of the best beers in the world that at other festivals you’re not going to get that chance.”
Other local businesses, such as Triple 6 Tattoos and Northeast Music Center, who will be giving away an electric guitar, will also join the festivities, and Last Call and A Green August will provide musical entertainment. Marley’s Mission, a nonprofit organization offering free equine therapy to children who have experienced trauma, will benefit from the event, with $5 from each ticket being donated to the worthy cause.
AN ARMY OF GEEKS
The name of the festival may say it all, but the self-professed geeks stress that the term doesn’t imply that participants have to know anything about the drinks they’re imbibing – just that they enjoy and appreciate them.
“(A beer geek is) someone who has a passion for craft beer. I wouldn’t even say a lot of knowledge – just a lot of passion that translates into knowledge. What’s nice about this is you can read all you want, but until you actually start trying the different things, you don’t really understand a lot of it. It’s very hands-on,” Warren said.
“It’s a point of pride for people to say they’ve had certain beers.”
The popularity of craft brews has exploded across the country over the last few years, and Kennedy, who first sampled real craft brewing in Germany, believes that drinkers’ increased exposure to “true beer” created the swell of demand breweries and distributors receive today.
“They told me what was put in American mass-marketed beers – you don’t want to drink it!” Kennedy emphasized.
“Part of it is Internet culture because you had a lot of beers that were brewed really scarcely and built up a high demand. Out in California is where I had Stone for the first time; Stone wasn’t out here, so I never even knew what it was until I was out there. But now with the Internet you can hear about a beer that’s out in California that’s not here and people start demanding it,” Warren added.
Geek culture has also become mainstream in recent years, but Warren feels that this particular interest differentiates itself from comic books or movies, as its fans aren’t as quick to scoff at newcomers to the game.
“What’s different with this is you can literally walk into this not knowing anything and still kind of feel like part of something. Some stuff you can really get into, but you can kind of keep it at a distance. This you kind of have to get in there with it,” he noted.
“That’s what this festival is for, to kind of educate people. That’s what the radio show is for. That’s what the articles are for.”
“We come from the beer gods,” Kennedy boldly stated after a pause. “We are the prophets, and we’re looking to convert as many followers to our army as we can get.”
Beer Geeks recommended festival brews:
• BrewDog, Hardcore IPA
• Deschutes Brewery, Fresh Squeeze IPA and Black Butte Porter
• Stone Brewing Co., Enjoy By 4.20.14 IPA
• Susquehanna Brewing Company
• Breaker Brewing
• 3 Guys & A Beer’d
• Harpoon Brewery
• Stone Brewing Co.
• Dogfish Head Brewery
• Tröegs Brewing Company
• Brewery Ommegang
• Orval Brewery
• Boulder Beer
• Avery Brewing Company
• Abita Brewing Company
• Chimay Brewery
• Vanberg & DeWulf
• Coronado Brewing Company
• Victory Brewing Company
• Otter Creek Brewing
• Green Flash Brewing Company
• Dixie Brewing Company
• Founders Brewing Co.
• Yards Brewing Company
• Deschutes Brewery
• Samuel Smith Brewery
• Lindemans Brewery
• Ayinger Brewery
• Bitburger Brewery
• Wells and Young’s Brewing Company
• Paulaner Brewery
• Hacker-Pschorr Brewery
• Zywiec Brewery
• Warka Brewery
• Baltika Brewery