Written by JoeMcPhee
RateBeer Archives > Beer Travels
Exploring the beer scene in the City of Brotherly LoveMarch 26, 2009
Toronto, ON, CANADA -
A few of us were chatting a few weeks ago, and we realized that we had never been to PhiladelphiaÖ even though itís only a short two-hour drive down the road. In an attempt to remedy this, puzzl, feedmecookies, and I met up at New Yorkís Penn Station and caught a ten dollar bus to Philadelphiaís Market St. area. A few minutes are spent checking into our hotel before we head out to check out the local scene.
In the interest of getting started quickly, we first visit The Nodding Head, which is only a five-minute walk from our hotel. Upon walking up a narrow stairway, we find a dark brewpub with several dining rooms all connected through a large central bar area. The dťcor is a bit eclectic with a central display case showing a large collection of bobble heads that lend the brewpub its name. The bar has a comfortably worn in feel, without appearing grubby. The clientele is a mix of after work professionals, college age people and a smattering of families out for a late meal. As soon as we arrive, we notice the board showing the offerings on tapÖ Berliner Weisse? Sweet. Iíll take one. What follows is a quite wheaty and lightly citric take on the style. The beer is suitably tart with a finish showing just a twang of yoghurty lactic character and a nice herbal flavour as well.
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photo credit: feedmec00kies
After somehow managing to secure a table in the already packed bar area, we order a sampler. Although fairly pricy at 18 bucks, you do get a flight containing 10 oz pours of everything the pub has on tap. Itís suitable for sharing which we did and while none of the other beers were truly standouts, the bar did have a wide range of styles that differed from the typical brewpub sampler, with a few British ales, a chocolate stout and a dark Belgian-style beer, called ďGrogĒ.
Since we hadnít had dinner, we order food and on this front the Nodding Head was a standoutÖ I had a Nicoise salad that came with a perfectly seared piece of tuna loin, ripe chopped tomato, briny olives and a simple vinaigrette. Puzzl had a mighty tasty looking spicy chicken burger while feedmecookies enjoyed a simple, but well-made dish of mussels in herbed beer broth. Once we finished chowing down, we caught a cab down to Triumph Brewing.
While this should have been uneventful, I can honestly say that it was the scariest one-mile drive Iíve ever takenÖ a series of rapid accelerations/decelerations, hitting 50 mph only to be snapped forward when the cabbie hit the breaks for yet another traffic lightÖ Iíve been in some hairy NYC cab rides, but even that hadnít come close to preparing me for this ride. The cabbie probably didnít deserve a tip, but I was so happy to be alive that I didnít follow through.
We enter Triumph and are greeted by loud, obnoxious music representing remixes of the worst that the 80s and 90s had to offer. Apparently the 70-degree early March weather also encouraged the removal of clothes, revealing copious quantities of pasty cleavage on a mix of club hoppers and trendily dressed 20-somethings. These people are dancing around a DJ who is incongruously placed in the middle of the barÖ it canít be like this all the time, but it is like this now. A pact emerges to spend as little time here as necessary and we grab a table as close to the door as possible.
First up is their Jewish Rye, a beer that has never disappointed in the past. Although suitably caraway flavoured, it represented a bit of a departure from the heights that this beer has achieved in the past, with a notably thinner body and much less rye flavour than I recall from past offerings. A few other beers are sampled, most of them fairly underwhelming, although there is a bang on example of a Dry Stout that is suitably creamy, dry and roasty with a touch of fruit and a long lingering bitter finish.
<IMG border=0 width=130 align=left SRC=/images/features/pbw_feature_2.jpg> A short stumble away and we happen on Eulogy Belgian Tavern. Ahhh, now thatís more like it. Low music and a busy hubbub of conversation envelop us as we secure a table by the door and head to the bar to place our orders. I pick up a goblet of Russian Riverís always delicious Damnation, simply because I canít resist this beer that we are quite unfortunate to not have access to in New York. We also decide to split a bottle of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch WeaselÖ a delicious treat that made for a pretty solid end to our first day in Philly.
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photo credit: feedmec00kies
I wake up around 6:30 and take an early morning walk around Philly while my fellow travelers sleep off the previous nightís activities. I enjoy the mornings for sightseeing because most people have not risen yet and the traffic is light enough that my hungover brain can still navigate the streets relatively safely. Philly is a much more horizontal city than New York but it has a definite vibe all its own. After a few hours of walking and a few strong cups of coffee, it was time to resume where weíd left off.
Our first beer-related venture of the day involved a trip out to Tom and Peggy Bakerís Earth Bread+Brewery. This operation is a short distance out from the city center, but there are a number of transit options that will get you there. Bus #23, or SEPTA R7 line to Sedgwick or the R8 line to Allen Lane. We opted for the train followed by a ten-minute walk and were greeted by Peggy upon our arrival. Rough-hewn wood floors, pale cream-coloured walls and a lot of natural light give the place an airy feeling that is quite different from most breweries Iíve been to. The walls are covered with paintings from a number of local artists that also contribute to the welcoming atmosphere.
We order a selection of flatbreads and some of each of their house-brewed beer. On this particular trip, there was a pretty solid take on a dry stout and a pale mild ale, something we donít see very often in North America. Their saison was fairly fruity and spicy, but in a muddled way that didnít work as well for me. The standout here though was their Ober Spliner, a beautifully made strong pilsner that was bursting with bright zesty hops, fresh bready malts and a long softly bitter hoppy finish.
After catching a bus back downtown, we made our way to our next stop. Our cabbie seemed a bit confused because he knew that the address we gave him was actually the location of a large apartment complex, while I insisted that it was a barÖ as it happens, itís both. The Tiedhouse is a very large, modern looking bar/restaurant that is located in the first floor of a high-rise apartment building. There is a long bar at the front with a number of black banquettes up the middle of the room. At the back are some high bar tables, which is where we parked ourselves so that we could take in a bit more of the slowly fading sunlight.
<IMG border=0 width=130 align=left SRC=/images/features/pbw_feature_4.jpg>The tap selection here was pretty impressive, with more than 15 taps and a wide variety of styles represented, most from General Lafayette brewing of Lafayette Hill, PA. The first beer I tried was Economizer, a mild ale brewed from the second runnings of their West Coast IPA and also hopped with American hops. This was a tasty, low gravity beer, weighing in at 3.2% and showing a bright citrusy flavour. At 3 bucks a pop, the price was tough to beat too. This was followed by their house-exclusive Tiedhouse Lager, an absolutely delicious kellerbier loaded with fresh crackery malts, soft herbal hops and a clean finish. These are two styles that donít get a lot of love in the US, but theyíve nailed them here. Another beer of note is their BiŤre des Fraises, a tart and fruity sour ale made with strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. While not as mouth-puckeringly sour as other examples Iíve had recently, the beer has a nice soft fruitiness and a subtle complexity that is most welcome.
We spent a few hours at the Tiedhouse, and by then our rumbling stomachs indicated that we should move on. We caught a cab to check out the competing lineups at Patís and Genoís cheesesteaks. While we didnít really know anything about either of these places before going, we ended up joining the line at Patís since it was longer (good sign) and contained orders of magnitude less neon than that gaudy establishment across the street. Feedmecookies and I went with the snobbish choice of provolone, while puzzl went for the Cheez WhizÖ in the end, puzzl was vindicated and the whiz won out in the taste category. Having finally had a cheesesteak, I can honestly say I have no idea why people are so passionate about these thingsÖ itís a warm roast beef sandwich people, thatís it, and no sandwich is worth waiting 45 minutes for.
The last stop of the evening brought us to the famous Monkís Cafe where we found the place completely jammed. Whether this was due to the late hour or the press associated with Philly Beer Week, I donít know, but we were told we would have to wait an hour for a table... after previously enduring a long wait for a sandwich, this information was not welcome and we managed to park ourselves in a narrow cranny between the back bar and the front bar while we drank glasses of Cantillon Kriekenlambik. While our drinking environment was not the greatest, this beer certainly was. Poured into a classic tumbler, the beer was deep garnet red in colour and smelled of fresh cherries mixed with delicious horsey funk. The fruit skin added a soft tannic character and there was a light apricot/almond note as well. I made a mental note to come back the following day to try this beer again in a more ideal tasting environment, but even now, this is the beer of the day for me and it ends the day on a definite high note.
While puzzl and feedmecookies head out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I continue my quest to show my liver whoís boss. I first pop into the Foodery, a bottle shop that is located a few blocks from the hotel. Since this is my first time in Philly, I am quickly introduced to Pennsylvania beer laws. After selecting a bunch of beer from a wall of oddly dark coolers, I take them to the front of the store to pay for my purchases and am informed that I canít buy any beer until after 11. I kill the next hour at a brunch place just up the road before returning to the store. I picked up a selection of stuff that is unavailable in New York, mostly Bellís and Founderís stuff. The store has a decent selection of singles available, but it is very pricey. I donít know what regular prices are like in Pennsylvania, but after buying 12 12 oz bottles and one bomber, I was shocked to see the total come to just under 60 bucks! Since none of the stuff is priced itís impossible to make any decisions until you get to the front of the store. I guess with so little competition for singles purchases, they can charge whatever they wantÖ I only know that I wonít be back.
I decide to head back to Monks to grab lunch and try another glass of the Kriekenlambic. The vibe is much more chill than it was the previous evening and I take a seat at the bar. I order a simple salad topped by a filet of smoked trout topped with capers and red onion. This is very simply prepared, but it is absolutely delicious. I eye a few of the dishes that other people have and they also look very tasty. I know that Iíll be coming back.
The people around me were very interested in my note scribbling and I end up chatting for the next hour with an older couple from Long Island and a gentleman with his mother from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Interestingly they had recently started getting into craft beer, after a long stretch of time when they had been exploring wine fairly seriously. I found this very interesting because I had been wondering about a recent study suggesting that craft beer sales were up over 10% in 2008. It seemed counterintuitive that craft beer would experience such strong growth in a year marked by such a dismal economy. Both groups of people had begun exploring with an eye to beer’s relatively inexpensive nature, but the more they tried, the more they began to enjoy it for what it is. In many ways this story mirrored that of many people Iíve spoken with about craft beer. If craft beer can continue to experience growth among this type of person, there is no reason to think that this trend wonít continue through the eventual economic recovery.
Buoyed by these thoughts, it was unfortunately time for me to say goodbye to Philadelphia. I picked up my bag at the hotel and met up with puzzl and feedmecookies by the 30th St. train station and boarded a bus back to Penn Station. I was a little sad to see the weekend coming to an end, but I was at least glad to know that it wouldnít be the last time I spend a few days in Philadelphia.
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