City of Brotherly Suds: A Weekend Tour of Philadelphia's Best Beer
I’m convinced that there's a force field surrounding New York, preventing me from breaking free of the five boroughs. How else to explain the months that pass before I leave the city limits?
If one thing will make me leave my Brooklyn apartment, it’s beer. I’m cuckoo for bitter IPAs, chocolaty stouts, sour ales, and other carbonated pleasures of the craft-beer constellation. I’ve traveled from Portland to Portland (Maine and Oregon, I mean) to explore the brewing scenes.
But—Philadelphia? Sadly, I’ve neglected the City of Brotherly Suds, despite its groundswell of excellent breweries, bars, and eateries.
"Let’s go this weekend," my girlfriend, Jenene, suggested. "It's only two and a half hours away by train." Sold.
On Saturday, we boarded a morning train bound for Philly. After arriving at the Center City train station, we checked into our room at Le Méridien—a luxe, lovely renovation of a onetime YMCA—and alighted for the hepcat Northern Liberties neighborhood, home to the Standard Tap. Spread out across several floors and a roof deck, the Tap is a gastropub serving superb rib-sticking fare paired with great craft beer. I began with Philadelphia Brewing Company's Pharmhouse Arrest, a fruity, peppery saison. Jenene opted for java.
"I think I'll wait till after 12 p.m. to drink," Jenene said.
I exercised no such restraint, quickly disappearing my golden Pharmhouse goblet and, for sustenance, corned-beef hash. From there, we sauntered a few doors down to the Foodery, a fantastic beer shop that filled me with kid-in-a-candy-store glee. I snapped up beers from Wisconsin's Furthermore and Michigan's Dark Horse (which lack New York distribution).
"Why don't you buy some Yards?" Jenene asked, pointing to bottles of Philly's hometown brewery.
"Because we’re headed there next," I said, shoving my purchase into a sagging messenger bag.
Since 1994, Yards Brewing Company has sated Philadelphians with excellent brews such as the malty Brawler, chocolaty Love Stout (made with oysters!), brawny Extra Special Ale and the aromatic Philadelphia Pale Ale. Jenene and I snagged seats in the sunny, spacious tasting room and ordered a sampler. They were a delight for our taste buds and our pockets—just $5 for a four-beer flight.
After Yards, we returned to Center City, our sights set on the Nodding Head. The brewpub, which is decked out with dark wood and hundreds of bobble-head dolls, makes some of Philly's most unique suds—ranging from a sour, low-alcohol Berliner weisse to the bitter, fragrant 3C, a super-charged IPA. We drank our fill, then we drank some more.
"What about dinner?" Jenene wondered.
Tearing myself away from my 60 Shilling Scotch ale, we hit buzzy, Mediterranean-flavored Barbuzzo. By candlelight, we grazed on a goat cheese board, gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms, and crusty pizza painted in luscious lardo. It was a filling repast, but I wasn't done yet.
"One more beer?" I asked, thinking of Philly's famous dive bar, McGlinchey’s.
"One more," she said, with a sigh.
It’s a testament to Philadelphia's love of beer that even gritty, smoky McGlinchey's serves great microbrews from local breweries such as Stoudt’s and Flying Fish. I knocked back a Stoudt’s American Pale Ale. Then it was high time for shut-eye.
The next morn, we propped our eyes with potent La Colombe coffee and brunched at Adsum, a modern bistro located off the South Street strip. A fried-oyster omelet and buttermilk biscuits swaddled in sausage gravy—along with a spicy, herbaceous bloody Mary—righted our ships and put me in the mood for another beer.
Jenene and I detoured through the Italian market, picking up fried-meatloaf and roasted-eggplant sandwiches at Paesano’s (“Emergency food,” I told Jenene), and popped into Pub on Passyunk East (aka P.O.P.E.) for a pint. I ordered Philadelphia Brewing’s Kenzinger. She ordered water.
"What's wrong, hon?" I asked. I took a sip of crisp, refreshing Kenzinger.
"It's 3 p.m.," she said. "I don't want to be in a bar." I gazed outside, where the sun shone down like a thousand-watt lightbulb, a stark counterpoint to our stuffy, dark confines. "Besides, haven't you had enough Philly beer yet?"
Photos courtesy of Jenene Chesbrough.