So, I started where it officially began – the Opening Tap celebration on Friday, June 3rd. While Trumpeter Josh Lawrence & the Uptown Brass Band started playing at the outdoor festival stage, my friend who was fresh off the train from New York City and I decided to stop into one of many brew pubs, Race Street Café. Okay, so we started near where it officially began. We simply couldn’t wait for our ‘beer week’ to begin. Locals steered us to the pub that carries 15 constantly changing draft beers in Center City. As we strolled to the wood-beamed, low-key café, we realized it was First Friday. On the first Friday evening of every month the streets fill with art lovers of all kinds who wander among the neighborhood’s 40-plus galleries. Our first beer on this first Friday? Cask Yards IPA. How could I not begin with a beer from a Philadelphia brewery? And I’m never one to start off slow…cask IPA? Yes, please. It’s like the hops got together on HopHarmony and made beautiful music…or something.
After our first two beers of the week, we wondered back to the Independence Visitor Center where it was officially beginning. We tried as many as the 30+ local breweries we could just a few steps of America’s birthplace. The center was bustling with giddy beer drinkers from all around.
It was an awesome start to my first ever Philly Beer Week.
On Saturday afternoon, we headed over to the Navy Yard for the 3rd Annual International Great Beer Expo. 50+ breweries from across the globe (Belgium, Germany, Japan and more) vied for my attention. The first to win was Scottish Rum Cask (I see a trend here) Oak Aged beer from Innis and Gunn. These guys really brought out the big guns (pun intended) when it came to appearance and marketing. As I sipped the beautiful clear reddish-brown beer, I noticed the taster glass emblazed with the matching logo. The nose was full of oak and toffee with hints of vanilla, tobacco, just a touch of ginger, dark fruit and rum. The taste began with a mixture of molasses and brown sugars, lending into a sweet malty toffee and oak middle which highlighted some berry and apple notes. It ended nicely with a light clove and spiced rum. Three separate maturations follow fermentation in this Scotch Ale.
My next beer sampler was a 5.3% German Pilsener, Landbier by Brauerei Kapsreiter GmbH. It had a sweet, honey-like, malty smell and was quite drinkable. After a couple more samplers, I tried the only certified organic beer at the Expo, FishTale Wild Salmon Pale Ale from Olympia, Washington. Its four organic malts impart a mellow, nutty, sweetness that’s matched by the citrusy, slightly peppery Yakima Cascade hops. Fish Tale Organic Ales are brewed with 100% Organic barley. A refreshing beer, it’s one that I remember.
Ludwig's Revenge (Roy Pitz Brewing) and Weyerbacher Merry Monks’ were next on the list. The Merry Monks is a bottle conditioned Belgian style Abby Tripel with hints of banana & cookie dough. Oh yeah, it’s was nice. Keeping the taste of banana flowing, next on the list was a banana split. It wasn’t the real kind, but the two beer mixture of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout and Wells Banana Bread beer (both by Wells & Young’s Ltd). Just simply pour ½ Double Chocolate Stout and ½ Banana Bread beer in a glass, and voilà – a banana split! It was delicious. The stout cut the sweetness of the banana bread beer, but added the real chocolate flavor. After all, it’s brewed with real dark chocolate and chocolate malt.
Overall, an awesome festival where occasionally a jovial drinker would lift his (it was always a man, in this case) glass and bellow sounds of ‘hey, I’m drinking, happy, and you should all lift up your glass with me to toast this awesome event’, and people did…several times. It came out sounding like, “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeoeoooooeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyy!!!!!”
We started Sunday, with Sunday School. Tria is Philly’s wine, cheese and beer café, where I certainly didn’t mind learning a few lessons. Hill Farmstead’s Shaun Hill was in town pairing his beers with cheese from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. I started my class in a glass with the Edward Pale Ale, named after Hill’s grandfather. Paired with the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, it was near fermentation perfection. Cabot Creamery teamed up with the Kehler brothers at Jasper Hill Farm to produce this crunchy, palate-pleasing American cheddar. As we paired our beer and cheese and listened to a celestial, female version of “Wish You Were Here”, I thought, yeah, there’s a few more people I wish were here to experience this schooling.
Next on the list was Abner Double IPA, named after his great grandfather. I paired this with the Tête de Moine, a cheese from Bern, Switzerland, and a spicy honey glaze. The cheese had a pungent and complex mushroom flavor and the cutting style looked like cauliflower. The way that it’s cut lends itself to the smoothness. The unabashed flavors in both the beer and the cheese paired beautifully.
Making sure I got my fill of education, I continued on to Stillwater Artisanal Jaded Belgium beer. Stillwater Artisanal Ales was recently heralded as a top brewer in the world for 2011 by ratebeer.com, Jaded is volume 3 in Stillwater’s Import Series (brewed in collaboration with De Struise Brouwers in Belgium). It’s a dark Belgian wheat ale. Strong. Dark. Unique. Nothing short of amazing. I didn’t pair this beer with a cheese, as I really just want to savor these flavors alone. I immediately tasted notes of dark fruits and malt, with a very balanced, nutty flavor. You get a nice dose of Belgian-like sweetness and spice from the yeast and malts with this dark chestnut colored beer. Hints of chocolate, caramel, fig, plum and raisin make this beer beautifully complex. Zesty peppery spice, countered by a subtle floral presence make this a beer not to be missed.
How does one get better than that…on the same day? Well, it’s not so black and white. Moving on to Khyber Pass Pub, it turned into shades of gold, honey and deep red. Khyber Pass Pub was hosting Saison Sunday and they did not disappoint. Boasting two beer engines and 22 handles, beer veterans often say that it’s the original beer bar. I started off with a Nogne O Saison in a Tulip glass, the nose caught subtle notes of pepper & clove, with earthy and fruity tones. The pub offered a great variety for Philly Beer Week, including my next beer, the Voodoo Brewing Gran Met. A Biere de Garde, coming in at 10.5%, it’s brewed with cane and beet sugar, along with German Pilsner Malt. Tasty notes of honey, coriander and fruit blended beautifully.
So, yes, by this time, my handwritten notes of the beers began to appear larger, and a bit (okay, very) messy. I mean 10.5%, we were messin’ around.
A delightful surprise awaited us as we sipped, Duck-Rabbit brewery was in town, in the pub and serving their End of Reason on cask. Oh yeah. I sat down with head brewer, Troy, he described it as “porter on steroids”. End of Reason is a Baltic Porter brewed with sour cherries resulting in a slightly acidic sour brew. This rare beer was aged in bourbon barrels and brewed with Michigan cherries. Calling themselves the dark beer specialists, this North Carolina brewery takes their beer very seriously. They are debunking the myth that the south wants to only drink light beers. Seriously.
Troy has a biotechnology degree and you couldn’t help but listen intently as he spoke passionately about the enzymes that play against each other. The founder & brewmaster, Paul Philippon, tied the brewery logo/name with the duck-rabbit diagram. Years ago, before he became a professional brewer, he made his living teaching university philosophy. Troy explained, “Paul wanted to take a little bit of his life before and a little bit of his life now.” In the diagram, depending on the viewer’s perspective, one sees a duck or a rabbit. And depending on the taster’s perspective, one can taste a multitude of various notes and flavors. Philosophy never tasted so good. Side note: great juke box at Khyber Pass Pub. Having got my fill of Pixies for the afternoon, we moved onto Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown. Almost every bar you could think of was having great specials on craft beers, including our next stop, Standard Tap.
It was indeed an amazing day and night filled with wonderful craft beer and those brewers and drinkers that enjoy the finer things in life, like a damn good beer.
Alas, I only was in Philly for several days and so I decided to end my beer week at a place that served 20 taps and over 60 bottles and held “Firkin Nights”. Just a few blocks from where I was staying, my last night also just happened to include specialty beers from Colorado’s first microbrewery, Boulder Beer. Hulmeville Inn was hosting special meet the brewer and brewery nights all week. With an awesome selection available, a beer flight was in order – Killer Penguin, Mortimor, Pliny the Elder, Bourbon Chai Porter & Mojo IPA. The Killer Penguin was a treat in June, because this high octane barleywine is usually released in November for the colder months. Boulder Beer saved some especially for me, I mean, for Philly Beer Week. And the Mortimor – this was an amazingly tasty fusion of the mojo and porter brewed in Chardonnay barrels. David Zuckerman, Brewmaster at Boulder Beer Company, was there and enjoying his rare beers. So was I.
Philadephia has become the beer city to love and appreciate, not just for one week, but all year round.