The lowdown on where and what to drink this year.
Too often, we tend to drink the same stuff every time we go out. Here, then, is what a real New Year’s resolution should be about: Not exercising more, not curbing your road rage, but drinking better, and drinking more adventurously.
Philadelphia is the right town to do that in. Despite the iron fist of the Philadelphia Liquor Control Board, there’s a thriving, creative drinking culture here that will challenge and inspire you if you’re up for it.
Jamonera, the newest addition to Marcie Turney’s and Valerie Safran’s 13th Street empire, is offering guests a chance to explore one of the most misunderstood beverages around: sherry. In late 2010, I spent a week in Andalusia on a sherry-tasting excursion sponsored by the Fedejerez, came back addicted to the stuff and had a painfully difficult time finding it here in Philadelphia. A notable exception, thankfully, was Tinto, whose dozen-strong selection of sherries was a rare bright spot in my otherwise generally unimpressive quest. Amada also offers a handful, and good bars make brilliant use of it in cocktails.
But Jamonera will really be the first Center City restaurant to focus on the range of styles and food-pairing options that sherry boasts, from briny Manzanilla to hearty Oloroso to sweet, complex Pedro Ximenez and beyond.
Restaurants are continuing their expansion of wine lists to include a broader range of grape varieties and regions than they have in the past. Lists that once consisted of deadly boring collections of, say, mass-market Australian Shiraz and oak-bomb California chardonnay have now grown far more inclusive. Tashan, for example, features a wine list (presented on an iPad, which I also expect we’ll be seeing more of) full of the kind of grape varieties that pair best with their food, not necessarily that pander to customer whims. Their “Many Faces of Riesling” section is brilliant, with examples from Austria, Germany, the States and more.
The team behind London Grill will be opening Paris Wine Bar shortly, which will feature a rotating selection of six Pennsylvania wines in kegs, a perfect way to serve young, fresh wine that’s a lot more environmentally friendly than traditional bottles are.
Philly continues to be a nationally respected beer destination, and there are no signs that our ascent is slowing down. Even the smallest beer lists in the city and suburbs tend to feature, at the very least, a handful of standout local brews, and it’s rare to find a list whose highlight is a bottle of Coors cold enough that the mountains have turned blue. In a positive sign of the times, Tröegs has opened a 90,000-square-foot facility in Hershey, which would be a heartening development even were we not in this recession. Also look for more great beers in cans (Percy Street actually allows you to take them out) and cider to increase their footprints.
Then, of course, there are spirits, the sheer local range of which is enough to send even the heartiest liver into cirrhotic fits. Tequila continues its conquering march through the region, and whether you’re in the mood for, say, a Casa Noble Reposado (at Bryn Mawr’s Verdad), a Siembra Azul Blanco (at Tequila’s), or a less familiar Marquez de Valencia, your options often seem infinite. Also look for more idiosyncratic whiskies. Angel’s Envy, for example, a port wood-finished bourbon, is a great option at Village Whiskey.
Gin, too—a pariah for far too long—is showing up in all manner of beautiful, complex guises—from The Botanist’s excellent Islay gin distilled by the team behind Bruichladdich single malts (find it at a. kitchen), to Martin Miller’s fresh, almost pine-like brightness (at Talula’s Garden).
There’s a great deal to drink in this town, and a lot of exciting new bottles to tuck into. I’ll be pulling up a seat at the bar—most likely at the much-anticipated Hop Sing Laundromat, drinking potato vodka from Maine or some other magical elixir that’s brand new to me—and doing research as often as possible.