Go to a beer festival, and the biggest crowd isn't necessarily circling a keg; more likely, they're autograph-seekers hounding Stone Brewing's Greg Koch, or Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River.
And brewers are not all dungaree-wearing bohemians.
Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewing wears impeccably tailored suits and speaks like a viscount. Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing carries himself with all the refinement you'd expect from the heir to a washing-machine fortune.
Most brewers may not be ready for prime time. But in the all-important malt-based demographic, the men and women in rubber boots pull in the ratings.
Need proof? Check out the dozens of "Meet the Brewer" events that will highlight Philly Beer Week, starting today. More than 40 out-of-town brewers will join local beer makers at area taps over the next 10 days.
(For a complete schedule of Meet the Brewer nights and other events, visit www.phillybeerweek.org.)
Here are some of the notables. And remember: Even if you're not into idol worship, these guys are still worth meeting because brewers always bring the beer.
_ Jim Koch, Boston Beer.
Thanks to countless TV ads, he's probably America's best-known brewer. He showed the world that craft beer can push the envelope on extreme styles and still be a big-time business. Beer freaks love him for: His support of homebrewing and Utopias, the world's strongest beer.
_ Garrett Oliver, Brooklyn Brewery.
An exceptionally lucid, passionate speaker, he's the one behind the whole trend of beer as cuisine. Some day, this guy will have his own TV show. Beer freaks love him for: "The Brewmaster's Table," the authoritative tome of beer and food.
_ Fritz Maytag, Anchor Brewing.
The father of American microbrewing, he saved Anchor from the grave and revived several styles, including barleywine and Christmas beer. A man of eclectic tastes, he also founded a distillery and winery. Beer freaks love him for: Saving American beer.
_ Rob Tod, Allagash; Adam Avery, Avery Brewing; and Tomme Arthur, Port Brewing.
Together with Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River, Ron Jefferies of Jolly Pumpkin, and the aforementioned Calagione, they're the most recognized practitioners of the "extreme" brewing movement. Their unusual brews - sometimes brewed with wild yeast or aged in oak barrels - prompt the kind of praise and criticism reserved for avant-garde artistes.
Beer freaks love them for: Envelope-pushing styles, including Allagash Curieux, Avery The Beast and Port Mo Betta Bretta.
_ Fergal Murray, Guinness.
He's responsible for brewing the world's most famous stout and maintaining 250 years of tradition. One more miracle and the Irish will nominate him for sainthood. Beer freaks love him for: The Perfect Pint.
_ Larry Bell, Bell's Brewery.
Founder of the oldest craft brewery east of Colorado, he's an opinionated advocate of small brewers. His Hopslam double IPA is the reigning cult beer du jour among hopheads. Beer freaks love him for: A wide variety of stouts.
_ Greg Koch, Stone Brewing.
The creator of "massive" beers, he's in your face with all the attitude of an Arrogant Bastard. Luckily, he has the beer to back up the bravado. Beer freaks love him for: Stone's Vertical Epic series.
_ Phil Markowski, Southampton Publick House.
He wrote the book on farmhouse ales and mentored several other brewers, including Brian O'Reilly of Sly Fox. He's the public face of one of the nation's fastest-growing breweries. Beer freaks love him for: Saison Deluxe.
_ John Maier, Rogue.
A former electronics technician, he gave up the pocket protector and emerged as the prototypical Oregon hop-oriented brewer. His John's Locker Stock series of limited releases, available in just 100 locations, has fans lined up at the door. Beer freaks love him for: Hops, hops and more hops.
_ Hildegard Van Ostaden, Urthel.
She makes strong Belgian beers and invented Belgian-style IPA, but that's not why guys are always taking her photo. She's a babe. Beer freaks love her for: Urthel Hop-It.
_ Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head.
America's most adventuresome brewer, a veritable PR machine, but that's not why gals (and guys) are always taking his photo. He's a hunk! Beer freaks love him for: World Wide Stout. And the Pain Relievaz, his rap duo with brewer Bryan Selders. *
"Joe Sixpack" by Don Russell appears weekly in Big Fat Friday. For more on the beer scene in Philly and beyond, visit www.joesixpack.net. Send e-mail to email@example.com.