Philadelphia: The City of Brotherly brews

“They who drink beer will think beer.” — Wash­ing­ton Irving

Ig­nore what you’ve heard about Port­land, Ore., or Ashev­ille, N.C. — there is no bet­ter city in this coun­try to drink beer than here in Phil­adelphia.  

In the City of Broth­erly Love, we have a depth and vari­ety of beers that are found nowhere else. In oth­er words, when it comes to beer, all roads lead to Philly. And in Phil­adelphia there is no bet­ter neigh­bor­hood to drink beer in than Fishtown; we have gast­rop­ubs, two brew­er­ies, exot­ic im­ports, re­gion­al beers, a Ger­man beer hall and more corner dive bars than your liv­er can handle.  

Now that most of the pump­kin beer has been cleared off the taps, it’s time for the next big sea­son­al shift to hol­i­day beers.

But there is no way to cap­ture the winter beer ex­per­i­ence in Fishtown in just one column, so for my first look at some of the best brews avail­able on loc­al taps, I chose to high­light a few bars in the neigh­bor­hood and a few just out­side our bor­ders.  

For this de­li­cious mis­sion, I’ve en­lis­ted my friends Ed and Katie to provide some feed­back on vari­ous beers, and bar-crawl­ing we went.

Our first stop was Kung Fu Neck­tie, which straddles the bor­der of Fishtown and Kens­ing­ton at 1248 N. Front St.  

They have two sea­son­als on tap: We will start with Si­erra Nevada’s Cel­eb­ra­tion.

Cel­eb­ra­tion Ale is an oddball among the hol­i­day beers. There is no cin­na­mon, nut­meg or any oth­er spices ad­ded to the beer.  As Ed said upon try­ing a sip, “It’s an IPA.”  Katie thought the hops wer­en’t too far off from Si­erra Nevada’s flag­ship Pale Ale. 

If you like the Pale Ale but al­ways wished it were stronger (Cel­eb­ra­tion comes in at 6.8 per­cent ABV), or you think hol­i­day beer is too thick, sweet or over-seasoned, this is the beer for you.  

Also on tap: Fly­ing Fish Brew­ery’s Grand Cru, which also is an odd one as far as the typ­ic­al sea­son­al goes. The beer is a pale golden col­or, and the cori­ander the beer is spiced with jumps out at you, as does a strong sweet fla­vor.  Ed — al­ways one to call a spade a spade — gave this ver­dict: “It tastes like a wit.”

Katie was a big fan of this one, and I thought it was a good sip­per, though an odd choice for the ven­ue. I guess it just doesn’t scream “rock ’n’ roll” to me.

Next we moved to In­ter­state Draft House, 1235 E. Palmer St., where we saw a broad se­lec­tion of hol­i­day beers on tap.  

First up was the Great Lakes Brew­ing Co.’s Christ­mas Ale, which was a de­cept­ively strong 7.5 ABV. The beer poured dark and trans­lu­cent, which is what I think of when I pic­ture winter sea­son­als.  

This was Katie’s fa­vor­ite for the night, though Ed and I thought the linger­ing chocol­ate fla­vor and sweet­ness made the beer less ap­peal­ing. The taste of pine up front def­in­itely made me think of Christ­mas.  

We also sampled the Wey­erbach­er Brew­ing Co.’s Winter Ale. It is only 5.6 per­cent ABV, and the light season­ing show­cases the fact that it is a good beer un­der­neath; some­times the beer can get lost in the spices.

It’s a good choice if you want some winter beer fla­vors and season­ings but you don’t want the high al­co­hol con­tent that goes with it.  

Next we hit Johnny Brenda’s at Frank­ford and Gir­ard av­en­ues. It’s my fa­vor­ite stop for loc­al beers, and their winter beer se­lec­tion is why.

On tap is the stand­ard bear­er for loc­al hol­i­day beer, Troegs Brew­ing Co.’s Mad Elf (which also is avail­able at In­ter­state Draft House).  

To me, the re­lease of this deep-am­ber-colored beer means the hol­i­days have ar­rived. Cher­ries are one of the pre­dom­in­ant fla­vors, as is a bit of sweet­ness, though not too much con­sid­er­ing that this is an 11 per­cent ABV beer (that high al­co­hol con­tent means you should be care­ful drink­ing too many pints of this one). 

Just down the street, Kraft­work, on Gir­ard Av­en­ue at Mont­gomery, has some in­ter­est­ing beers that should be tapped soon.  

One is the St. Bern­ar­dus Christ­mas Ale — you can ex­pect a big, full-malt fla­vor and a very strong beer. On the op­pos­ite end of the spec­trum is the Bear Re­pub­lic Brew­ery’s Racer X, an im­per­i­al ver­sion of its Racer 5 IPA.  

This is a big beer with lots of hops, but it’s well-bal­anced with the malt.

Last week, Bar­cade fo­cused spe­cific­ally on sea­son­al brews dur­ing its Winter Beer Night, but many of the beers should still be on tap now and are worth check­ing out.  

Cli­max Bar­ley­wine, He Brew Jew­be­la­tion and oth­ers are great ex­amples of beers that aren’t as com­mon in Philly but the Brook­lyn, N.Y.-based own­ers of Bar­cade have brought them in­to the city.

I would be re­miss not to vis­it the Mem­ph­is Tap­room at Mem­ph­is and Cum­ber­land. Here they take a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to hol­i­day beer. 

In­stead of simply of­fer­ing beers brewed with hol­i­day spices, the tap­room of­fers beers brewed in the hol­i­day spir­it. The De Ranke Pere Noel and La Moneuse Spe­cial Winter brews show­case this, with full-bod­ied Bel­gian fla­vors, a touch of al­co­hol and not a hint of nut­meg. 

Be sure to check out their Box­ing Day Beer Fest­iv­al on Dec. 26 — the taps will be ded­ic­ated to hol­i­day beers like these.

My fi­nal stop was the Port Rich­mond Pour House at 2253 E. Clear­field. This neigh­bor­hood bar has the malty and sol­id Har­poon Winter Warm­er in bottles as well as the unique Maple Oat Ale from Peak Or­gan­ic on tap. 

All these sea­son­al beers might seem like a lot to swal­low, but that’s only the tip of the ice­berg for hol­i­day beer in Fishtown. There are plenty of bars I missed that are serving up some ex­cel­lent beers. ••

Tim Pat­ton is a Fishtown res­id­ent, beer afi­cion­ado and brew­er. His column, de­b­ut­ing this week, is ded­ic­ated to show­cas­ing everything that is great about en­joy­ing beer in the river­wards. He can be con­tac­ted at tim@stben­jamin­brew­

comments powered by Disqus