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Rolling on the river

September 24, 2000

By Kurt Epps

You won't find Ann Frankel's statue next to Rocky Balboa's in the City of Brotherly Love. Nor will you find her name on a list of people in Philadelphia with physically imposing frames. So slight in appearance, so soft spoken is this will o' the wisp woman that it seems as though a gust of wind could carry her off into the Delaware River.

But Ann Frankel is a hero. Ann suffers from Crohn's disease, and she has had to live with this insidious, life-draining illness for the better part of thirty years. But her strength is clearly visible in her piercing blue eyes that reflect an uncommon resoluteness which refuses to let this condition get the best of her.

What's more, she has decided that it is she--not the disease with no known cause or cure--that will determine the quality of her life. To be sure, she is not alone in that heroic approach, as her attitude is evident in thousands of those who suffer from this pernicious form of IBD (irritable bowel disease). But what sets her apart is that she has decided to actually DO something about it by chairing the annual Sippin' by the River event which raises funds for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America (CCFA).

She has been the impetus behind this beer, wine and gourmet food festival that has been "growing by leaps and bounds every year, just by word of mouth" says husband and co-chairman of the event, Richard Frankel.

"When you're in a position of strength," Ann says, "you have to give back." Pretty heady words from a person who suffers from a disease that can sap your strength as quickly as it can break your will.

"It's not about money," says Ann whose husband owns an Infiniti car dealership outside Philly. "It's about time. It's about effort."

And the effort the Frankels have brought to life is now one of the best attended and highest fund-generating events of its kind in the nation.

The Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, framed by two bridges and the Delaware River was the site of the fifth annual Sippin' by the River on Sunday September 24. The multilevel layout, replete with fountains and flora, was ideal for the setting. At least forty-eight breweries and wineries proffered their wares to the public to help generate funds for research on Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, which affect an estimated one million children and adults in the US.

Even the predicted weather--rainy with thunderstorms--seemed to recognize the importance of the day as the precip held off until well after the fest was over, giving thousands of fest-goers a chance to mingle, munch, sample and sip under generally pleasant skies.

And no, you weren't dreaming if you thought you saw cigar-puffing women sprinkled liberally throughout the crowd. John Hay Cigars was on hand, doing a land office business purveying fragrant, smooth stogies to men and women alike -- and donating half of each sale to CCFA. "It's fun, number one," said proprietress Debra Stewart, "and it's a worthwhile cause."

That attitude seemed to permeate the entire Plaza, as young and old meandered about, the rock tunes of a solid band providing the acoustical backdrop.

A plethora of outstanding Pennsy breweries was on hand. Nodding Head brewery, just six months old, was making a powerful statement with its "Alesner," a crispy golden ale brewed like a pilsener. It is intended as a transition beer, and it moved the PubScout to declare that if this doesn't make converts to craft beer from mainstream, nothing will. And watch out for its Whiplash IPA. Don't be surprised if Denver discovers it next month.

Yard's was also on hand with a solid selection of quality beers, though my favorite -- the 8% IPA -- wasn't among them.

Of course, Victory Brewing brought its Weizen Bock and Festbier along, virtually assuring long lines that kept Michelle Smith busy all day. (Michelle's drop dead gorgeous good looks may also have had an effect on the mostly male lines.) Weyerbacher's outstanding Autumn Fest was also available, but not for long.

New Jersey had some of its best beers on display as Triumph (I just knew that Woodruff Berliner Weiss wasn't going to last), Heavyweight, Flying Fish and Blue Collar had busy afternoons trying slake the thirsts of craft beer lovers. Good guy John Bonato of Vineland's Blue Collar Brewing even jumped into the Chimay booth to help its attendant uncork and pour to what may have been the longest line at the event. (But that's what guys who make a great American Pale Ale do.)

Even some macro-micros like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada had a solid presence. So popular were John Maier's beers from Rogue in Oregon, that Sebbie Buhler ran out of beer after just two hours.

A neat feature of the event was its tutored tastings of beer and wine, with the beer sessions hosted by the knowledgeable Jim Richardson. Food demonstrations also punctuated the afternoon, and there was a decent collection of food booths to suit every taste.

What struck the PubScout and his better half -- herself a former ulcerative colitis sufferer -- was the absence of pretense and pompousness from the sponsors of the event, and there were too many to list. These folks put up big bucks to help make the event go, but they were as down to earth as your best drinking buddy.

Sippin' by the River is an event that is all about support. Brewers and vintners can support their fans with great products. Lovers of good beer and fine wines can enjoy those products while supporting the CCFA. The CCFA, in turn, supports those who suffer from IBD. It's a win-win-win situation any way you look at it.

All brought together because the disease had the bad judgment to attack a little hero named Ann Frankel.

Good can come from bad.

®Kurt E. Epps 2000 All Rights Reserved

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