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 firstname.lastname@example.org