1. Founders Porter. Porter is a core style of beer with a rich, impressive history. There are lots of porters out there, some of them pretty mediocre—but Founders Porter is one of the very best on the market; it gets a perfect 100 at ratebeer.com for a reason. Pouring a brown so deep it might as well be black, the frothy tan head kicks up aromas of chocolate, toffee, and a hint of coffee, and the taste is pure bliss. You know that “ooooh” sound some people make when they bite into a rich chocolate cake? Yeah, it’s like that: pure sex in a glass. Drinking it in public feels like an indecent act. Founders Porter is sometimes available at South Philadelphia Tap Room, the Farmer’s Cabinet, American Sardine Bar and the Greeks Next Door.
2. Ithaca Apricot Wheat. Your rambunctious buddies are going to bust your chops for this. Apricot beer? Really? And your answer is, hell yes. Because all it takes is a taste. Ithaca is very quietly one of the best brewers on the East Coast; they really deserve to be held in higher esteem than they are, and Apricot Wheat is a good example of how high-impact they can be. This isn’t a beer for someone who doesn’t like sweet beverages. The apricot is not subtle; it’s right up front and in your face, making this a fruity brew perfect for a hot day. Try one of these while sitting poolside and you’ll be in a small slice of heaven. Ithaca Apricot Wheat is sometimes available at the Abbaye, Westbury Bar, Pinocchio’s Beer Garden, Redwood, and Garrett Hill Ale House.
3. Troëgs Mad Elf. I don’t know if Satanists or pagans or something are getting together in the woods each winter to bust cherries, but I DO know that each winter they—and everyone else—are scrambling to get Tröegs Mad Elf ale, which is the sort of beer you’d get if a bunch of drunk Pagans brewed the most cherry-poppin’ beer they could imagine. That, and the devil himself would have to have thought of adding honey to the mix. So, yeah. Once done stretching analogies as far as possible, you’ll find yourself struggling with the insane 11 percent ABV, even as you revel in the sweet sin of this beer’s fruity nectar. Those nutty Tröegs people—they know how to do it, don’t they? Oh, and here’s a secret not many people know, since folks scoop this up every winter and drink it ASAP: This beer ages pretty well. If you have a few bottles, don’t be shy about stashing them away for a few years. Tröegs Mad Elf may still be available at Kyber Pass Pub, and this winter will be back in most fine establishments.
4. Avery Brewing’s Mephistopheles. Get your crash helmets on, folks, because this ride isn’t for the faint of heart. Colorado’s Avery Brewing puts out a “Demons of Ale” series that might as well mark the end of days—that’s how aggressively evil these beers are. Mephistopheles is a big ol’ stout that tends to hover in the 16 percent ABV range. To put that in perspective, one bottle of this has the same alcohol impact of four bottles of the best known stout in the world, Guinness. This ridiculously big beer should be consumed like a fine wine, with slow sips to appreciate its complex flavors. Be ready for a big, boozy syrup with notes of chocolate, coffee, cocoa, licorice and more. Imagine burnt Kahlua turned into a beer turned into a wine, and you are maybe getting close. It’s as intimidating as a demon should be. Try it at least once. There is nothing else like it. Avery Mephistopheles is sometimes available at the Belgian Café.
5. Ommegang Hennepin. Ever step out onto a grassy field or fresh farmland and been invigorated by the lush, clean, earthy smell of the air? That’s Hennepin. It’s made by Ommegang, one of America’s best brewers of Belgian styles, and it’s one of the definitive examples of the elusive saison style. Saison is a broad category, but the basics are that they tend to be pale, musty and have some herbal spice kick. This beer is exactly that to perfection. Hennepin is effervescent but complex, easy drinking but strong (7.7 percent ABV), and so good it will leaving you pining for the glorious taste of horse blanket (that may sound gross, but it’s actually a real flavor description in the beer world). Ommegang Hennepin is sometimes available at Kennett Restaurant, City Tap House and elsewhere.
6. Terrapin Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout. I have a confession to make. When I was a teenager, I had a giant wall of yellow in my bedroom made up of nothing but Yoo-Hoo cans. Until beer came along, it was the greatest beverage known to man. I drank so much of it, my zits had zits. Also, I failed to rinse out the cans before I stacked them up, resulting in an awful spider problem best left for a horror novel. A horror novel that features Terrapin’s Moo-Hoo Chocolate Milk Stout, however, is one I’d read twice. Maybe three times. This seasonal beer is a milk stout brewed with loads of chocolate, and it’s creamy, delicious—and tastes like the adult version of Yoo-Hoo. If this was around when I was 15, I would have died by the age of 19 of liver failure. As it stands, I’ll have to hold out for 59. Terrapin Moo-Hoo has sometimes been available at City Tap House.
7. Flying Fish Exit 16. “What exit?” is a Jersey thing, so it’s fitting that New Jersey’s largest craft brewery, Flying Fish, has a whole series of beers devoted to New Jersey Turnpike exits. Previously one-time beers only available in 750ml bottles, a few have now made their way to six-packs. Exit 16 is one that sounds odd but tastes so right. This is a wild rice Double IPA—and yes, it’s actually brewed with rice. If that brings to mind tasteless macro lagers, set your fears aside. This is a complex yet utterly drinkable beer that gives off aromas of citrus and tangerine, and drinks far easier than an 8 percent IPA should drink. It has all the flavor of a great Double IPA, but with a softness on the palate that really makes it stand out. Maybe the second best thing to come out of Jersey (after pork roll, egg and cheese). Flying Fish Exit 16 is sometimes available at Growlers, The Grey Lodge Pub and Perch Pub.
8. Troëgs Dreamweaver. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that the greatest thing Harrisburg has to offer is Tröegs Brewery, one of the best of Pennsylvania’s many amazing craft breweries. (Seriously, folks, Pennsylvania is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to beer. Only California, Michigan and Oregon can compete.) So when Tröegs puts out a modest little wheat beer, we expect something special. And yes, Dreamweaver is something special. Sure, it’s just a German-style wheat beer, but it’s a super great one, with spicy clove, musty yeast and easy drinkability. Without straying too far into hyperbole, it just might be one of the very best American interpretations of a German wheat beer. Suitable for all occasions. Tröegs Dreamweaver is sometimes available at City Tap House, The Grey Lodge Pub, Perch Pub and Kildare’s Irish Pub.
9. Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour Ale. Sours are surging these days, but let’s be honest: Sour isn’t for everyone. Their acidic, tart bite is heaven in a glass for those who enjoy the style, but can be puckeringly off-putting for those who don’t. This beer, though, this is a sour for the masses. Brewed for the legendary Monk’s Café, this red ale is only mildly sour, with a nice, fruity sweetness that does a fine job of balancing the beer’s acidity. It’s a brew that goes especially well with a meal (a salad, a spicy fish, or chocolate make great pairings), but that also stands up nicely on its own. There are few sours as approachable as this one. It drinks so smooth and easy even your finicky friends will find themselves enjoying it. If you’ve never had a sour beer before, this is a great place to start. Monk’s Café Flemish Sour Ale is sometimes on draft at 12 Steps Down and Alla Spina, and is always available at Monk’s.
10. Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils Pilsner. Among beer snobs, it’s nothing but a whipping boy, and for good reason: All those fizzy yellow drinks made by the Mega Brewers that beer snobs scorn are pilsners or light lagers (which is kind of redundant, actually, since pilsner IS a light lager). Tasteless, they say! Watery, they say! And that’s mostly true. But Oskar Blues’ Mama’s Little Yella Pils puts the lie to the notion with a crisp, smooth, tasty and stupidly drinkable pilsner that will rock your BBQ in the same way Def Leppard rocked ages. Or something. I’m pretty bad at analogies, but I’m GREAT at drinking beer, and this beer is great to drink. If you want to convert your lousy-beer-loving friends to craft beer, this is a great place start. Even better? If you’re not having it on draft in or around Philly, it’s available in the container nonsnobs prefer: cans! Mama’s Little Yella Pils is sometimes available at the Greeks Next Door and Field House.
Over the course of a week that somehow lasts 10 days, close to 250 venues across the Philadelphia region will host a thousand brew-related happenings. How do you choose? Here are three dozen unique options to start with.
It’s Philly Beer Week—and PW is here to guide you through all those suds. Meet the bartenders, check out the brews, hit the town!
PW's Year of Beer: River Horse Lager