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Around Philly

August, 1999

By Bobby Bush

Although it doesn’t come close to comparing with Denver or Portland, OR, Philadelphia is a pretty beer-friendly city. In his 1998 brewery guide book, “Pennsylvania Breweries,” author Lew Bryson entitled the chapter on the home of the Liberty Bell, “Philadelphia: City of Brotherly Brewers.” Besides Belgian beer bar Monk’s Cafe and the old/new Poor Henry’s brewpub, both featured in my previous article, there’s micros Independence, Yards and Red Bell (which also has a separate brewpub in the multi-purpose CoreStates Center that’s open only for events such as hockey and concerts). Additional brewpubs include Dock Street Brasserie and Manayunk Brewing Company. Founded in 1989, Sam Adams Brew House, an extract brewery partly owned by Boston Beer founder Jim Koch, closed in early 1999. So with that city summary in mind, and Bryson’s helpful book in hand, we set out for more fun, excitement and beer in Philly.

With no activity at CoreStates, Red Bell Brewing was closed, so we headed downtown to Dock Street Brasserie. Opened in 1990, this street level, swanky restaurant-cum-brewpub held a corner position in a marble foyer office tower. Though food presentation was obviously important, this business suited yuppie establishment did not let lobster stuffed ravioli, broiled shellfish with pepper linguine or moules frites (steamed mussels with curry and wine sauce, accompanied with a side of Belgian fries) interfere with their beer.

Handed a “Beers of the Week” menu by a harried bartendress as we pulled up to the bar, we decided to try all seven of brewer Eric Savage’s beer. Author Bryson described it as “one of the most eclectic breweries in America.” One visit won’t attest to that, but I would agree that Savage offers a wide variety of true-to-style beer. From a yellow, winey but quaffable Belgian White to an extreme Russian Imperial Stout, chocolatey, roasty, full bodied and packing 8% abv, these were interesting beers to say the least. Dock Street’s Dusseldorf-style Alt was amber, its medium body revealing a swift hop finish. Rounded sweetness, topped by alcohol notes, was incorporated into Vienna Lager, while Golden Ale, a “Canadian style” brew was thin, with residual harshness. An attempt at the hoppy West Coast pale ales, California Gold was off, watery and sourly bitter. The best of the batch was the cask-conditioned Savage Ale. Its warm, flat texture revealed fruity flavor and rounded hops attenuation.

Because Dock Street’s owner sold the off-premise rights to the Dock Street brand to Poor Henry’s, brewer Savage has started his own line of eponymously-named beer for local distribution. Highly coveted by beer aficionados, I brought a bottle home. It waits in the cooler for an appropriate occasion.

Go to Dock Street for the beer. Even a smell of the delicious food is fattening. Check ‘em out at www.dockstreet.com.

Though it’s address is Philadelphia, Manayunk Brewing Company can be found in the Northwest outskirts of this river city. A nice place in Manayunk, one of Philly’s “hippest, hottest areas” (again quoting Bryson), the staff of this 644-capacity party-ready brewpub seemed more interested in incoming phone calls than in attending to business. It took a few minutes, as we helped ourselves to hard pretzels and mustard, but we finally rustled up a sampler tray.

Taking notice of the15 barrel brew house behind the bar we found Schuyllkill Punch, a raspberry wheat ale, sweet with a blessedly quick finish. Krook’s Mill was a fairly strong, 5.1% abv, Cascade-hopped American pale ale. Bohemian Blonde was pale yellow, thin with nondescript taste, while the semi-sweet flavor of Belgian strong ale style Grand Cru was overpowering. More moderate in complexity, Admiral Penn was a pleasant English pale ale. Celtic Ale, middle-of-the-road as well, began malty before concluding in softly bitter tones. Robert Hare Oatmeal Porter, was smooth and chocolatey, a pleasant brew.

Had we been served with some respect, our brief respite at Manayunk Brewing might have been more enjoyable. Atmosphere, or lack thereof, does have an affect on tastebuds.

The trip goes on, West of Philly.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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