Ale Street News December 2007/January 2008

Regional News: Philadelphia

By Rich Wagner (

The Malted Barley Appreciation Society held their Philadelphia Pub Crawl in November, and with so many respectable beer bars they could do a different itinerary in this town every week, but they picked a great lineup starting with Monks, then on to Nodding Head, Standard Tap, and Euology, and capping the night off at Triumph.

And speaking of Triumph, I stopped in towards the tail-end of their Oktoberfest season and noticed a cask on the back bar. “That’s First Thursday beer,” I was told, “They tap a wooden barrel and serve it until it’s gone, usually something special.” Previous tappings have included: Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout, Rauchweizendoppelbock and Roggenbock. Looking ahead, Triumph is pouring Winter Wonder - a holiday ale spiced with star anise, sweet and bitter orange peel, and cinnamon. They also have a dunkel lager and a very strong dark Belgian ale for the holiday season.

Rosemarie Certo informs me that Dock Street was chosen by the City Guide as one of the top five gourmet pizza restaurants in the area. Julius Hummer has moved on and Scott “The Dude” Morrison is serving as interim brewer once again. His Royal Pilsner has become a permanent fixture and he brewed an Espresso Stout with 50 pounds of organic Free Trade espresso beans that Rosemarie describes as “awesome!” And for the adventurous, he’s got a Barleywine in the offing for 2008!

Gordon Grubb is planning a hoppy wheat beer for Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant this winter. “I tried a couple of the hoppy wheats that other brewers have on the market and I liked the novelty of the taste and decided to brew one myself.” Gordon liked the flavor of Sorachi hops so much when he brewed with them as part of his Single Double IPA series that he’ll be using them exclusively for this hoppy heffe-weizen, which he expects to turn out around 5%. He’s also been working on an IPA that “has been evolving.” Gordon says, “I wasn’t satisfied with using Summit hops for dry hopping so I switched them to the kettle and went with Amarillo for the dry hopping.” Imbibers can expect Sled Wrecker, Oh-Tay, George’s Fault (the usual gang of winter suspects) along with Rudy’s Kung Fu Grip, a strong reddish Belgian style ale.

I caught up with Tom Kehoe not long after I heard he had found a location for Yards Plant #4 at Poplar Street and Delaware Avenue. Most recently a skate park, the gaping 26,000 square foot chasm loomed around me. Off in the distance I saw what appeared to be a giant tinker toy set, but it turned out to be the brewing equipment Tom purchased from the defunct Ybor City Brewing Company in Tampa. What struck me was how much the space reminded me of Independence Brewing Company, the city’s first production craft brewery in the northeast, when I first saw it early in 1995.

We walked over to where they were excavating to shore up the floor with pylons to take the weight of his 200 barrel tanks. He wants to be up and running as early as possible in 2008, but the floor project has been somewhat of a “snag.” And while he doesn’t rule out contract brewing to keep the Yards brand in the marketplace, Yards will start off with draught production until he works out all the details of a packaging line.

Thinking back to the mid-nineties made me take stock of just how much the local craft brewing landscape has evolved since those early days. As Tom elaborated on his vision for the place, his optimism for the future of craft brewing in Philadelphia was contagious. Out on the sidewalk he pointed across the street, “They’re planning to build a casino over there, we’ll be a very visible presence. We can use that billboard on our building, ‘Yards Brewing Co.’, they’ll see us from the Ben Franklin bridge!”

Meanwhile the Barton’s are getting things together for an early 2008 start-up of the Philadelphia Brewing Company. “We take possession of the building the first of the year,” Nancy told me, “and we’ll spend a couple weeks cleaning and doing some maintenance, and hope to be brewing by mid-January.” One of the additions will be the construction of a cheese cave beneath the beer storage cellar. She told me that Chris Morris has headed up sales and that Josh Irvine and John Rehm will be brewing for Philadelphia Brewing Co. and that Dean Browne is on board with the new company.

They’re meeting with the Federal Tax & Trade Bureau (formerly BATF) and the State PLCB to take care of all the necessary licensing, label approval, etc. Nancy says they’ll be starting off with four brands; a Kölsch/Pils style beer, an IPA, a Belgian style White, and a stronger Belgian Ale.

I’ll be doing some research on the old Philadelphia Brewing Company that was located at 6th & Clearfield Streets up until the 1940s, and I’ll be giving a presentation entitled: ”Philadelphia Brewing Company Now and Then” on Saturday March 15 at 2 PM at the brewery, 2423-39 Amber St. near Frankford Avenue and York Street. The event is free and open to the public, no reservations required.

At Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant, Chris Firey brewed up a batch of his holiday beer, “Best of This Festivus,” where he concocts his magical day-long reduction of a bag of spices in the kitchen. I will be giving a presentation entitled “Philadelphia’s Breweries on the Schuylkill” at Manayunk Brewery & Restaurant on Saturday January 26 at 2 PM. The event is free and open to the public with a cash bar.

I’ve mentioned Chick’s bar at 614 S. 7th Street in the past. On Tuesday, December 18, they are hosting a tutored tasting with beer importer Jon Lundbom of B. United International entitled “Noel Beers From Around the World” that will include beers from Belgium, England, France, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

There’s literally never been a wider selection of holiday or seasonal beers to give and receive as gifts, or simply share with friends and family in a toast to the new year.