Barley, Doc, Sudsy, Magnus, the Professor, Jukebox Pat, Jumbo Joe, and Ponce all congregated in the City of Brotherly Love to toss back some brews, reminisce, projectile vomit (Doc), and pass out at 11pm (umm…me). A myriad of tasting notes from the weekend will no doubt begin popping up shortly. While we pounded some old standbys, we also sampled a cornucopia of brews heretofore unwritten about. Before said tasting notes begin occupying these cyber-pages, here’s a brief review of the locales we frequented. I should point out that most of us were in Philly for a scant 36 hours (and some for much less than that) so we were only able to scratch the surface of the plethora of alehouses available to us.
1. Monk’s: No surprises here…we hit up Monk’s Cafe right out of the gate. It was close to our hotel and has a legendary selection. What’s not to love? On the plus side, there are things on tap at Monk’s that you won’t get anywhere else in the city. Russian River, Le Rulles, Lost Abbey…plus their proprietary beer, the eponymous Monk’s Cafe Flemish Sour. Their bottle menu is absolutely amazing…brews that I’ve never seen in a bar before. Add to that a wonderful, shabby decor and a knowledgeable staff, and you’ve got an Alehead haven. On the flipside, Monk’s is notoriously crowded and this being Philly Beer Week made it even worse. The physical plant is very long and very narrow which is essentially the worst set-up imaginable for a large group like ours…and unless you’re eating, you have to sit at the bar stools of which there are maybe 8 at each bar (Monk’s has a front and back bar). The beers are split between the two bars which means if you want a Russian River (being served up front) but you’re sitting in the back, you’re shit out of luck. And while the bottle menu was legitimately awe-inspiring, it was also shockingly expensive. We were also a little disappointed that the beer engine was out of commission (so no cask ale) and the Flemish Sour tasted “off” to our whole party. The barkeep explained that they were having problems with the CO2 tank. Understandable, but a little frustrating seeing as how excited we all were to have their famous offering on tap. But overall, this is a fabulous alehouse…on par with the best of them. 3.5 Hops from me for a legend that didn’t “quite” live up to its promise…though it’s entirely possible that the memories I have of my last visit there 4 years ago were just too lofty.
2. Pub & Kitchen: As the name implies, this alehouse in South Philly is roughly half restaurant/half bar. The bar was bumping and staffed with remarkably attractive tapminders (so remarkable, that we remarked about them for a remarkably long time). We mostly stopped by to fill our bellies with something other than beer, but we certainly partook of their offerings. While not as extensive as a true alehouse like Monk’s, the Pub & Kitchen had a nice little draft menu. For Philly Beer Week, they had the full suite of Six Point brews which were pretty tasty. Their bottle menu, while somewhat limited, had some definite surprises on it. Doc and I split a Beer Valley Leafer Madness, for example (he hated it…and then 10 minutes later decided he loved it…a fickle man is the good Doctor). The food was excellent…I would say the Kitchen side is more the star than the Pub, but overall it was a great experience for our group. We particularly enjoyed that our “45 minute” wait was more like 5 minutes. 3.5 Hops.
3. Nodding Head: After restocking our stomachs with solids, the Aleheads wandered over to Nodding Head…a brewpub. Like Monk’s, you need to eat to grab a table, but we managed to find a high-top at which we could sit and sample their brews. The Nodding Head beers are…OK. I’m not sure how else to put it. I didn’t try anything particularly interesting…nor was I completely disappointed. Brewpubs are always challenging…you need to make brews that please the palates of a wide assortment of visitors since so much real estate is taken up by creating and dispensing each offering. Still, it would have been nice to try something a little more challenging than a standard ol’ Brown, Amber Ale, or Stout (though they did have a decent Berliner Weisse which is a rare style in the States). The ambience was cool though. The staff was nice. And Jukebox Pat entertained us with $20 worth of tunes (I vaguely remember Modest Mouse, but not much after that). 3 Hops.
4. Jim’s: We actually went back to Monk’s after Nodding Head and scored a table in the back thanks to the waitress just not giving a shit anymore about serving food. After firing up a bunch of high-end bottles (more posts on these later, of course), Magnus declared that it was time to partake of cheesesteaks. There was no argument from the Aleheads. Jim’s was the only place open at this point (we certainly would have preferred Gino’s or Pat’s all you Philly Faithful, but beggars can’t be choosers). The Professor and I split a sammy since we’re so fucking health conscious, but the rest of the gang plowed through their whole portions with reckless abandon (and yes, the Prof and I were jealous). Magnus fired up a beer, but the rest of us went without. Doesn’t matter…4 Hops for serving cheesesteaks at 3am. You’re the man, Jim.
5. Eulogy: After waking up surprisingly un-hungover (somehow I gave my hangover to Doc), we decided to take our time getting ready and then head down to Old City for some brews. Doc, Sudsy, and Jukebox Pat went off to see some sites (it being their first time in Philly), while Magnus, the Prof, Jumbo Joe and I decided to lock ourselves in a dingy bar for 6 hours on a beautiful summer day. I’m 100% convinced we made the right decision. Eulogy Belgian Tavern was spectacular. Dirty. Poorly air conditioned. Uninspiring food. Narrow. Wobbly, decrepit chairs. None of that mattered. We grabbed the best table in the house (we got there reeeeeal early), settled in, and proceeded to plow through an excellent draft list and even better bottle list. They had most of the Oskar Blues offerings on tap (the Pale Ale, Ten FIDY, Gubna, and Gordon), plus pitchers of kick-ass Belgians. Add to that a bottle list that easily rivaled (and in some ways, surpassed) Monk’s and a server who was both responsive and highly knowledgeable (she knew the bottle list by heart and how to pour a proper Hef) and you’ve got yourself a winner through and through. We spent essentially all day there. The only knock on Eulogy is that by the time we got back to the hotel to get ready for dinner, we were quite drunk and I in particular was utterly spent. What can I say? I’m an old man. 4 Hops for Eulogy…where else can you crack open a Hoppin’ Frog B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher, Russian River Damnation, and an Avery Samael back to back to back?
6. Triumph Brewing Company: Hard to judge this place fairly since our group was very full, very drunk, and very, very tired by the time we showed up for our dinner reservation. The service was good. The decor was very cool (a little too hip, but still interesting). And the food was excellent (we crushed the appetizers…although few of us had much interest in our entrees). So what’s the problem? The beer was really, really NOT good. Unlike Nodding Head, which made very drinkable, but kinda boring beers, Triumph’s offerings were just pretty bad. Off-flavors, poor head retention, and a weird selection (one of their half-dozen offerings was a lousy gruit). As a restaurant, Triumph is a triumph. As a brewery, it’s an abject failure. I’ll split the difference with 2.5 Hops.
7. The Professor’s Brown Ale: The Prof brought a homebrew for us to sample. It wasn’t too shabby. Very drinkable…nice carbonation. Some funky aromas in the nose (this was an all-in-one extract kit and the Prof wasn’t overly pleased with it). Still, it was better than anything at Triumph. 3 Hops for the Prof.
Much much more to come on the Aleheads trip…including a Maltercation to discuss the weekend. Thanks for making us feel so welcome, Philadelphia. I’m already eagerly awaiting my next trip back.