Untapped: Behind the Scenes With the Hammer of Glory
In the misty recesses of time, two noble warriors embarked on a heroic quest to honor the nectar of the gods. To a great forge they dragged wood and steel, and in the fires they created a hammer so mighty that humanity would tremble at its power and unite behind its strength. Behold, the Hammer of Glory! One hammer to rule them all!
Or, maybe it actually went down like this: Three years ago, two Philadelphia bar owners—the Standard Tap’s William Reed and Mike “Scoats” Scotese of the Grey Lodge Pub and Hop Angel Brauhaus—were clowning around one night and they hatched the idea for a cartoonishly oversized keg mallet that would become an indispensable part of Philly Beer Week, the country’s largest beer-drinking celebration that takes place June 3-12.
“We were saying that there’s not enough weird shit at Beer Week,” Reed recalls. “We wanted a little bit of spectacle. The Olympics were on, and we were like, ‘Maybe we could have something like an Olympic torch ...’ And then it turned into a hammer.”
With all due respect to the Mummers, cheese steaks and those Rocky imitators running up the Art Museum steps, the city has been in dire need of a fun, new tradition for a while now, and the annual relay featuring the Hammer of Glory—better known as the HOG—that kicks off Philly Beer Week festivities has become just that in three short years.
An odyssey of epic and hilarious proportions, the HOG relay takes the 4-foot-long, 22-pound mallet (custom-made by Philly metal artist Warren Holzman) on an all-day bar and brewery crawl—nearly two-dozen different establishments this year—before ending up at Beer Week’s Opening Tap festivities at the Independence Visitor Center. There, Mayor Nutter will wield the HOG to ceremonially tap the first keg of PBW.
But there’s one important catch—the HOG is supposed to be carried from bar to bar by human power only. And so Friday’s relay, as in years past, will feature creative, often over-the-top modes of transportation during each leg: A marching band, a kinetic sculpture in the shape of a giant space shuttle, the Philly Roller Girls, a tricycle ominously called “The Reckoner,” and, in Reed’s case, a pogo stick that’ll take him from the Standard Tap to the Foodery just across the street in NoLibs.
“It’s not that far, and I can pogo for pretty much as long as I want to, at least until I collapse from exhaustion,” says Reed, “but it is a bitch trying to go any particular direction. I probably should practice before the relay.”
It should be considerably safer than his stunt last year, when he rode a zip line from the Tap’s second-floor window to the Foodery without so much as a test run. “I was all ready to go and I realized I had no plan what I was gonna do with the Hammer,” Reed laughs. “It didn’t occur to me that I was gonna need to hold on. I stuck the hammer in my belt, but the zip line sagged down and I thought I was gonna die.”
Jim Kirk, co-owner of the Kite & Key, says his HOG leg this year could turn equally hairy. “We’re recreating the ‘Crossing of the Delaware,’ so we’re gonna have the Father Judge wrestling team towing a beach patrol boat on a trailer around Logan Square during rush hour,” he says. “I’ll be in costume as George Washington, I’ll have all my soldiers on the boat with me. Pray for us.”
The Four Seasons, meanwhile, intends to give the HOG a bit of relief from its stressful journey during their leg. “We’ve built a bed on a bell cart and we’re actually gonna tuck in the Hammer of Glory,” says Farra D’Orazio, the hotel’s publicist. “It’ll have a little sleep mask and chocolates on the pillow, and one of our doormen will be pushing it. Ours will be a very relaxing ride.”
Once the Hammer reaches Independence Mall, Scoats is charged with handing it to Nutter for the big sudsy swing. “It’s all part of the surreality that is modern life,” says Scoats of the fact that the Hammer he helped come up with now gets wielded with relish by the leader of a major American city. “Mayor Nutter is a fun guy. He’s hung out at the Grey Lodge a few times, so I’m not surprised that he’d be on board with this.”
Timed to the minute, the 12-hour HOG relay could be a logistical nightmare, but in years past its handlers have managed to keep it on schedule (take that, SEPTA!). And there’s another concern—that someone might try to swipe the one-of-a-kind HOG during its travels.
After all, the HOG has quickly become one of the city’s most prized talismans. “People flip out when they see the Hammer, they want to take photos where they’re smashing someone over the head with it,” says Reed. Scoats says he’s seen a few suggestive Hammer photos crop up online, “but I have not yet seen it used as an insertion device.”
As the Hammer’s keeper year-round, Reed stores the HOG at the Standard Tap in a case with an oversized shackle and padlock. It’s called the “Hammer of Glory Hold”—“so it’s got that Middle Earth thing and also a bathhouse thing,” Reed says.
Rarely does the Hammer come out prior to Beer Week, because its creators respect its mythical powers. “When I’m holding it, I feel sunshine shooting out of my fingers,” says Scoats. “You know that whole Rapture thing that was supposed to happen a couple weeks ago? The hole opened up in the heavens and the Hammer just whacked it back shut.”
And, notes Reed in a slightly more serious moment, the HOG relay “embodies what Beer Week is all about, that we’re one big Philly beer community. Sometimes I think it’s a revelation to the public that bar owners, we’re all good friends. They’re like, ‘Oh, I thought you guys were in competition.’ But everyone in this city can find their own niche and do well, and I think the Hammer really brings that idea out.”
On Tap for Philly Beer Week
After the relay is over, there’s plenty more fun to be had. Here are our Top 25 picks to plan your week (10 days, actually) of drinking and reveling. For a complete list of PBW events, go to phillybeerweek.org
Belgian Trappists are renowned for their dense, complex ales. Berlin is justifiably famous for its bracing Berliner Weisse. But with all the attention that our own city’s brewing and drinking culture has received in recent years, the answer to one essential question is still open to debate: Does Philadelphia have a definitive style of beer?
Philly Beer Week 2013