I don’t know when exactly it happened, but at some point I became convinced that there is a beer that’s perfectly suited for every occasion in life. It’s weird, coming from a guy who wasn’t even interested in drinking until he was 25, but beer has become a way of connecting with the world around me. Socially, sure, with friends new and old, but that’s just the obvious part. It’s so much more than that. In a very real sense, drinking regional craft beers is a guidance system that leads me to new avenues of experiencing life in Philadelphia.
Take the mix-and-match six pack of local bottles I picked out last week from the fridge at the Trolley Car Diner on Germantown Avenue. All different styles of beer, each from a different brewer—and each pressing a unique set of buttons in my head.
There was Philadelphia Brewing Co.’s tongue-in-cheekily-named Fleur de Lehigh, a Belgian pale ale. It’s conceived as a spring brew, and man, it delivers: I don’t think I’ve ever drank anything that tasted so much like a liquid picnic. Crisp, brisk and cheery, its lemongrass flavor effervesces on the tongue. I’d cracked it open in my kitchen, but after one sip I realized it was a pint I could only drink on my front porch. I wandered outside, got comfy on the concrete step and sat quietly—and, in doing so, listened to the sounds of my neighborhood in a way I hadn’t before, hearing how the rumble of the SEPTA train didn’t so much drown out the wind as merge with it.
There was Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch, a barleywine ale I knew would be a lifelong favorite the first time I tried it. Midas Touch has an inexplicably medieval quality to it; as I savored its spiced headiness, I made a mental note to look up the dates for the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire.
Victory Brewing’s Golden Monkey, another golden spiced ale, puts me in mind not of the future, but of the past—specifically, the fact that I discovered it via PW’s regular beer writer, Eric San Juan, who reviewed it a while back as part of his daily “Year of Beer” series, online at philadelphiaweekly.com. Eric’s writing has introduced me to so many new flavors I’d never thought to try before—and if it weren’t for the inspiration and fun of last year’s Philly Beer Week, he and I might never have thought to launch the series in the first place.
Then there’s Yards’ Poor Richard’s Tavern Spruce. Amazingly, somehow, I’d gone almost five years drinking beer in Philly without having ever tried one of the city’s most iconic labels: Ben Franklin’s face on an approximation of the brew he used to make himself. What can I say, except—holy crap, that’s a fantastic brown ale. It tastes like breakfast—hints of pancakes and maple syrup, though it’s not brewed with maple at all but with spruce tips. Note to self, I thought: Don’t take the city’s colonial history for granted; go visit Franklin Court, eat at City Tavern, reread old Ben’s autobiography that’s been sitting on your shelf getting dusty for too long.
All this, I realized—this is why Philly Beer Week is so fantastic. Not just because it’s an excuse to go out with friends and drink—but because it’s a stimulus to see new places, taste new tastes, think new thoughts.
In this issue:
The 50 greatest Philly pop songs
PW's Summer Guide 2015