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Another Epic Pennsylvania Beer Post

After ten days in my motherland of PA I find myself back at my desk in my house putting fingers to the keyboard again.  The sun here is out and within the next hour the humidity will be somewhere around 1000% for sure.  Man did I not miss that at all on my vacation.  But as is the norm whenever I go up there for a trip there is plenty I shall miss about there.  My amazingly receptive family that always puts me up at their places for one.  The beautiful weather that doesn’t involve sweating my ass off within 5 seconds of stepping out a door.  And the reason for a post like this, the beer.

After last year I made it a point to make my summer vacation be back to Philadelphia for Philly Beer Week.  A week long celebration of beer in an amazing beer city while getting to spend time with my family is always a great thing.  So the tickets were booked and the decisions were made as to who I would stay with on what days and I was off.

There was a number of a events I wanted to go but knew I couldn’t make them all.  I’m glad I got to hit almost all spots I wanted to in my time there so it’s not that big of a bummer.  I missed the Smoke Em if You Got Em event at Yards on Sunday June 6th.  It was a smoked beer festival with all you can eat BBQ.  This was my first day with another group of family and couldn’t make it to that one.  I also missed the Victory/Stone/Dogfish Head Brewer’s Lunch as it was sold out and I didn’t buy a ticket in advance.  Yes that is a fail on my own part.  I also missed Lost Abbey night at Monk’s Cafe.  The weather was really crappy all day with continuous rain.  I didn’t want to be driving all the way to Center City by myself in rain then have to drive home in the rain after having a couple.  But other than those misses I was quite happy.

I attended the Opening Tap ceremony at the Independence Hall Visitor Center.  I was amazed by the turn out for this as the line to get in was quite long.  Once inside the majority of the happenings were upstairs in a small ballroom and out on the patio overlooking the Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.  All of the breweries present were Pennsylvania or South/West New Jersey breweries.  Oh yeah Dogfish Head was there too.  I was bummed that Victory did not bring out their new Summer Love as had been reported but there was enough brews to make a man happy.  My favorites of the night were Drake’s Crude, an oatmeal stout with big chocolate flavors, from Erie Brewing Company and a Smoked Wheat from Yards.  It was also nice that they had game 4 of the Stanley Cup playing on a big screen for all to enjoy as the game took place a few blocks away.  There was not as many beers as you would expect from a normal beer festival but this was very nice as it was with the theme.  A great time in a great setting.

The plans for Saturday was to attend the International Great Beer Expo in South Philly at the Naval Yard.  We had intended on heading down via public transportation but ended up missing the train.  So we just drove down.  The event itself was in a large building used from cruise line processing.  It had a lot of space and most importantly was air conditioned.  You could see a number of tables when you walked in and this got me excited but soon my excitement dropped a bit when I actually checked out the tables.  A number of advertised breweries were not present.  Cigar City, Green Flash and Dark Horse were the ones that stood out to me specifically because I was looking forward to them.  The festival’s website also mentioned that Ballast Point would be pouring Sea Monster and Sculpin which turned out not to be the case.  They were still there but with neither of those treats.  There was oddly no presence of big name brewers like Dogfish Head, Victory or Rogue anywhere.  The only Stone item there was Old Guardian at a table that just had a pot luck of craft brews that also included Saint Somewhere and Hoppin Frog.  Many of the good breweries just didn’t bring their top stuff really and resorted to pale ales, wheats and lagers.  Yeah I know it’s summer and those can go well but come on, it’s Philly Beer Week.  But among all the euro lagers and underwhelming pales I was able to find a few good spots.  I was able to try the Bruery’s Black Orchard for the first time.  It wasn’t bad.  Blue Point’s Rasta Rye was quite good as was Ithaca’s Cascazilla for first time tries.  All in all I had a good time but just was a little disappointed by the lack of beers that would blow me away.

Through the rest of my time I was able to visit a number of great beer bars.  Being that I stayed mostly in the suburbs that is where most of the bars I went to were.  I visited Iron Abbey in Horsham and you all should have read that review already.  If you haven’t please do so.

Blue Dog Tavern in Chalfont is always a treat.  I was there last time I visited and just marveled at the rare stuff they would get in on tap and bottles in there take out section.  I had Lost Abbey Carnevale and Founders Double Trouble on tap while I destroyed my way through some ribs and BBQ chicken.  On my way out I picked up a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin E.S. Bam and a can of 21st Amendment’s Monk’s Blood.  Their take out section is just awesome.

Stepping away from the bars for a minute, in Warrington you can find a great little gem for buying beer and not in bulk.  State laws only allow for stores to sell beer in bulk but you can sell take out in a bar or cafe.  Wegman’s grocery store as gotten around the bulk limits.  Their cafe carries beer by the bottle and six packs.  Now you can only buy the equivalent of 2 six packs at a time but you can just go put the beer in your car and come back in.  Dumb, I know but it works.  Here I got Russian River Damnation, Flying Fish Exit 16 and Lindeman’s Cuvee Rene Gueuze.  Full reviews on these coming later.

Okay, back to suburban beer bars.  At the Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem (my hometown) you can find Manny Brown’s.  A local chain of sports bars that love good beer.  They had quite a nice selection on draft and bottle.  I started with a Dogfish Head Festina Peche as that day was quite hot and I knew a nice Berliner Weise would just hit the spot.  And for the record, it did.  Some happy hour buffalo chicken strips then went with my next beer, Weyerbacher Juliet.  It is a one off altbier that is made in kegs only for local distribution.  This was my first ever altbier and it was alt to say the least.  Very odd and complex but I enjoyed it.

The Hulmeville Inn is about everything I want in a neighborhood bar.  Considering it is like a one or two minute drive from my former house it truly could have been that.  It was built in the early part of the 20th century as a hotel for travelers between Philadelphia and Trenton, NJ.  It eventually became a bar called Marek’s Cafe and then in 1994 was changed to the Hulmeville Inn.  The bar is constantly voted the best beer bar in the suburbs of Philly and the definitely deserve to be in that running.  They are always bringing in new and rare kegs and casks.  The night I went was a Voodoo Brewery night.  Matt, the head brewer, was there with a cask of Big Black Voodoo Daddy, their big imperial stout.  While that was good I was absolutely blown away by Cowbell, 8.5% imperial oatmeal/chocolate/milk stout.  And to boot, this baby was off of a nitro tap.  That made it super smooth and creamy.  This seriously is up there is Southern Tier Choklat as one of the most chocolately beers I’ve ever had.  I loved it.

The last of the beer bars that I visited for my trip was actually the first beer bar I had ever been to.  That is Isaac Newton’s in Newtown.  It was right here a number of years ago that I was first introduced to craft beer by my cousin Steve.  So I definitely had to go and visit this place again.  I started off with a Dark Horse 3 since I still hadn’t had anything from them.  It is was a Belgian Tripel and pretty straight forward.  I then had a meatloaf sandwich for dinner and then afterward indulged in a glass of Lost Abbey Brandy Barrel Aged Angel’s Share.  It was absolutely lovely.  Much better than the bourbon barrel version in my opinion.  They had had Cigar City Hunahpu’s on draft but I had just missed it as the keg kicked just a couple hours before I arrived.  I’ve had it before but it would have been nice to have again.

So after two beer festivals, a number of bars and a few store purchases my time in PA was over.  This area is absolutely amazing for craft beer.  The selection is strong and the community is even stronger.  Let’s just hope some changes can be made to alcohol laws in the state to make it a little easier to find craft beer.  Other than that I love the place.  The people, the buildings, the sports teams, the food and drink.  It is just an amazing place to be and I will always love it.

Top 10 Beers Had
1. Lost Abbey Brandy Barrel Aged Angel’s Share
2. Voodoo Cowbell (Nitro Tap)
3. Yards Smoked Wheat
4. Erie Drake’s Crude
5. Voodoo Big Black Voodoo Daddy (Cask)
6. Dock Street Pimp My Rye
7. Flying Fish HopFish
8. Lindeman’s Gueuze Cuvee Rene
9. 21st Amendment Monk’s Blood
10. Dogfish Head Festina Peche

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  • Reply Rob

    Hey Mike.

    Really great recap and I’m more than a little jealous. I am happy to see your top 10 for the trip as well. Glad you had a nice time!

    June 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm
  • Reply Don

    Nice! Love it when you can get together with family and good beer! Glad you’re back.

    June 14, 2010 at 3:58 pm
  • Reply Scott-TheBrewClub

    Mike, sounds like you squeezed every minute out of the time you have up here! Philly seems to have pulled it off yet again!

    June 14, 2010 at 9:28 pm
  • Reply Phil (the ferm)

    Glad to hear you had a good time despite missing out on a few events you wanted to go to as well as missing out on several of the beers you were hoping to try.

    Its always good to go home and spend time with the family.

    As discussed we should try and make the trip up next summer.

    June 15, 2010 at 8:18 am
  • Reply Mike

    @Rob – Thanks. It’s always great to be back up there. Are you coming to the party on Saturday?

    @Don – My family means the world to me and it is always great seeing them.

    @Scott – I tried to fill every minute I could with stuff to do. I did get a bit lazy a couple days to take a break though. Philly and it’s surrounding area is truly a beer mecca.

    @Phil – Yeah you can only stretch so far sometimes and you aren’t going to hit everything. Next summer for the events is definitely a good plan.

    June 15, 2010 at 8:53 am
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