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Philly Brews

July, 2001

By Bobby Bush

Philadelphia’s beerscape has changed a bit since my last visit in July 1999. Poor Henry’s, with everything it needed to become a respectable regional brewery except customers, closed shop. They had just obtained the rights to bottle Dock Street beers. Who knows, that might have been Poor Henry’s un-doing.

And on the other side of town, Nodding Head Brewery opened in late 1999/early 2000- they weren’t sure. Located on a rather obscure side street, we trudged up a flight of stairs to find the small bar rather busy. We’d already decided to hold off on lunch until our next stop at Monk’s Cafe. The owners of Monk’s have some percentage of ownership in Nodding Head.

I spied a row of over-sized head bobbing ceramic figures, from whence this brewery derived its name, on the top shelf behind the bar. Two stools on the end, a pair of sampler trays, served in wine glasses, was ordered for our examination. The bartender was efficient but rather curt with his delivery- poor barside manners - though he warmed up to the task later. While diners worked on burgers and salads behind us, we began the afternoon with beer. Thin and malty, Fools Gold was a pils-like ale with mild hop finish. Judged a “watery Fat Tire” by my drinking companion, Dingle Dew was a nitro-smooth Irish ale. Bronze with medium body and malty-yeasty interplay, this brew was topped by a long-lasting head (non-nodding) of thick white foam and chased by sweet aftertaste. Whiplash IPA, brewed in “true English style,” was super hoppy with lingering roof-of-the-mouth bitterness, while Grog, a Scottish-style black ale, was reddish-black in hue and full of coffee and molasses in complexity.

Busy in short pants and high rubber boots, brewer Brandon Greenwood barely had time for hello as he scurried between bar and his glass-enclosed brewery just feet away. His beers were impressive as was Nodding Head’s slogan- “Taking Over the World Seven Barrels at a Time.” Check ‘em out at www.noddinghead.com.

We had just missed Nodding Head’s Royal Stumble Beer Festival by three days. Invitations were extended by the downtown brewpub to area breweries for a battle of the breweries event. Per fest rules, the crowd of anxious beer drinkers is unleashed upon the assembly of local beers. The brewery with the first empty keg is declared the winner. For the second year in a row, brewpub General Lafayette Inn of nearby Lafayette Hill was declared the winner.

Perusing Nodding Head’s menu once more - jerk mussels, grilled Atlantic salmon, hot Italian sausage and peppers sandwich - we decided to hit the sidewalk.

Just blocks away we located Monk’s Cafe. No trip to Philly is complete without stopping in for a gander at their beer list. Even though this was American Beer Month, Monk’s had not changed their agenda. Specializing in Belgian beers and cuisine, with emphasis on the beer, we pounced at the knowledgeable bartendress and quickly ordered lunch and liquid nourishment. On tap were Jever Pils, Straffe Hendrik, Hoegaarden and Abbaye de Leffe Brown. Over 200 bottled selections, including many US micros, were waiting in the coolers. There aren’t too many places where you can find Gales Prize Old Ale vintage 1995, LaTrappe Quadruppel and Dogfish Immort Ale.

Though I had already made up my mind, we scanned the menu salivating over delicacies like rabbit terrine, smoked trout and spanish flies (buffalo wings). Sipping on the Abbaye - smooth and sweet with hints of caramel and beets - I waited anxiously for steamed mussels and authentic pomme frites. These double-fried french fries are a Belgian treat which had escaped me to that point. They were good, but not worthy of the hype. My second brew was Three Floyds’ Alpha King Pale Ale. The Munster, Indiana brewery had this bottled beer brewed under contract in New Ulm, Minnesota. A highly hopped American ale, the bottle’s label serves as a challenge: “If you’re unwilling to compromise on your beer, we urge you to try it.” Monk’s hosts monthly beer dinners. On the upcoming calendar we saw Brooklyn Brewing, a World Beer Dinner and South Hampton Public House in line for celebratory feasts featuring pairings of beer and six course meals.

A small bar, dining room for only 50 or so people, Monk’s has been the beer mecca in Philly since it opened in 1985. Hungry or thirsty, it doesn’t matter- Monk’s is the place. See www.monkscafe.com.

At the suggestion of our helpful bartender, we headed out in search of a New Jersey brewery. Follow along at Iron Hill

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

© Bobby Bush

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