Red White & Brew debuts the custom collaboration with Phillies superfans the Phandemic Krew Thursday morning at Donkey’s Place in Camden City.
By Matt Skoufalos | June 21, 2023
Among the many peculiar social experiences of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, managing professional sports attendance was likely near the top.
While contests continued on playing surfaces, seats were tarped over, crowd noise was pumped into broadcasts, and cardboard cutouts replaced live spectators.
Off-season athletes trained in garage gyms and backyards, and fans resorted to COVID-safe workarounds that would allow them to support their clubs.
In Philadelphia, Audubon residents Brett MacMinn and Oscar Alvarado decided they’d camp outside the gates at Citizens Bank Park to support the Phillies by tailgating and taking in the contest on the radio.
Media folks took notice, and the small group had so much fun that they decided to return the next day. They were met there by a few more fans, and a few more the day after that. MacMinn, who’d brought a little cowbell to ring, eventually drew the attention of Phillies brass: Howard Smith, the team vice-president of business affairs, came down to talk with him about it.
“He said, ‘It’s great that you guys are here, but we can hear the Marlins more,’” MacMinn said. “They had a hand-cranked horn in their bullpen. [Smith] said, ‘You need to bring the noise more.’”
And then he asked a more important question: what was their group called? With the Phillies away for most of a week on a road trip, they had time to regroup.
“We played around with some names,” MacMinn said. “We weren’t looking to form a fan group, and we also weren’t looking to base it on a player. Bryce Harper’s son is named Krew. ‘Phandemic’ came from Oscar’s wife, Giovette — and there is a sickness [to being a Philadelphia sports fan].”
When the team returned to Philadelphia, the Krew was ready. They came to the game with compressed air horns, ladders to stand on to catch a sliver of the action through the gates, and loaded up social media accounts.
“We had a whole setup,” MacMinn said. “We’d get there an hour or two early, put up the flags, different signage – ‘Dick Allen for the Hall of Fame,’ ‘Sign J.T.’ [Realmuto, the team catcher who was a free agent that year], banners for the big years, 1980, 1993, 2007, 2008.
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“There were three sections, the ladder section, the standing section, and the chair section,” he said. “We had soap stations on the fence. If you didn’t have a mask on, we’d tell you to put on a mask. We didn’t have one single issue.”
The only issue the Krew eventually encountered was becoming too good at its job. During a series against the New York Yankees, manager Aaron Boone complained to the umpires that the group’s air horns — at times, MacMinn said there were 50 of them in play, including a truck horn intermittently activated with a car battery — were interfering with the visiting pitchers’ timing.
“He was yelling and pointing up towards the gate,” MacMinn said. “On Twitter, they said the air horn was blowing his guy’s timing. So they asked us not to blow the air horns once the pitcher sets until there’s an action.”
The resilience of the Krew, and their commitment to supporting the team throughout the unusual circumstances of the moment, endeared them to the franchise, its players, and each other. With that, connections were formed that they couldn’t have imagined when it begun.
“It was great,” MacMinn said. “It was a time when there wasn’t a lot going on. It gave us something to do; it gave us a sense of community. We had drumlines come out and perform. The players would beep and wave at us. [Phillies owner] John Middleton came and met with us. We became friends with [Philadelphia Union supporters] the Sons of Ben.
“About every month or so, something happened that I wasn’t expecting,” he said. “We got to do the Sea of Red, standing on the field during opening day. Middleton let us use his suite; Bryce Harper knows who we are. When there was limited capacity in the stadium, they gave us tickets to every game.”
Middleton and Smith also connected the group with collectible manufacturer Foco to produce officially licensed Phandemic Krew bobbleheads, Christmas ornaments, and t-shirts, all of which sold out. MacMinn estimates the Krew has generated some $60,000 through its merchandise, and distributed all of it to charitable causes.
“We don’t lose money, but we don’t make money; we give it away,” he said, “mainly to Phillies charities, polar plunges, walks, a lot of Make-a-Wish-type things.”
Because the Krew has risen to a particular place of prominence among the Phillies and their fans, MacMinn and Alvarado have been particular about cultivating its collaborations.
The duo, who met over a box of collectible Phillies mugs, had always wanted to create a signature beer for the group, but never fielded an offer that felt like the right fit.
However, when head brewer Nic Martino joined MacMinn’s and Alvarado’s hometown microbrewery, Red White & Brew, in Audubon, the duo finally felt like they’d found the right partner. Martino and MacMinn connected over their love of the Phillies, attended a few games together, and, as their relationship deepened, the Phandemic Brew was born.
“It just made sense,” MacMinn said. “Being in town, being baseball fans; the beers are good, and it’s small brewery so we can collab. I knew he was going to make a good one.”
“Over time, it just made more sense,” Martino said. “Something like this, where it’s people who live in town and were coming up here anyway on their own, it was organic. It’s not like I just saw people on TV and called them up.
“We were going to end up drinking a beer together anyway,” he said. “Why not a beer that we make together?”
“Phandemic Brew,” a dry-hopped pilsner that Red White & Brew describes as a “tailgate lager,” debuts at Donkey’s Place in Camden City 10 a.m. June 22, a few hours ahead of a 1:05 p.m. Phillies game against the visiting Atlanta Braves.
The can artwork, created by Greg LaFata of Brotherly Life Philly, is full of nods to individual Krew members and inside jokes. Martino also dialed in its ABV to 4.2 percent, the same numerals in Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson’s number, which has been retired by every team in baseball.
MacMinn hopes the approachability of the beer coupled with the inclusivity of the group will help popularize both.
“The best part is the people we met and all the connections we made,” he said. “Relationships have to be authentic; I’m not chasing clout. This happened organically, and it’s going to continue to happen organically, or not.”
Martino believe that the Phandemic Brew can also help unite neighbors and neighborhood causes.
Red White & Brew is intended as a community gathering space, and the Phandemic Krew is just one such group in Audubon.
Both groups foresee the burgeoning potential in their ability to connect people.
“Brett’s also involved in the Audubon Fathers and Celebrations committees,” Martino said.
“The fact that he’s already in town and is community-oriented already just gives us that opportunity. What can we do in the future with that?”
Eventually, MacMinn would like to see Phandemic Brew sold at Citizens Bank Park; for now, Red White & Brew will pour pints in its Merchant Street taproom with a few kegs and four-packs going out the door. More than anything, however, he wants to help both brands find their audiences through their shared love of the Phillies and camaraderie.
“We’re trying to build something for the fans,” he said. “Phillies fans are a little fractured; we’re trying to make it something where it’s not as fractured. We know that’s not easy.
“We’re not a rowdy, drunk group,” MacMinn said. “We’re not a negative group. We’re not trying to make ourselves better by putting other people down. Our three pillars are: community, support the team, be a place for fans to gather.”
The threshold for entry into the Krew is meaningfully slight. MacMinn has distilled it into two requirements.
“Are you a Phillies fan? Yeah?” he said. “Are you a jerk? No? Okay, you’re in.”
Red White & Brew Phandemic Brew debuts to the public at Donkey’s Place in Camden City June 22 at 10 a.m. Another release party is scheduled for The Mile in Runnemede at 7 p.m. June 28. For more information, visit Phandemic Krew or Red White & Brew on social media.
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