Philadelphia, PA (and surrounding areas)
Philadelphia is a great beer city. Probably the best beer city on the East Coast. Distribution is incredible, bars and breweries are plentiful, Beer Week is world class, and the city itself is pretty damn cool.
Philly Beer 101
Philly has a fantastic resource for bar/bottle shop taplists, operated by the actual bars, rather than crowdsourcing like BeerMenus, so it's the most accurate and up to date taplist you can find. Organized by Neighborhoods, searchable by beer/brewery.. it's the only way to organize your drinking plans.
Philly Beer Week - June 3 - 12, 2016
Years ago, there was an annual beer dinner at the University of Pennsylvania. It was hosted each year by Michael Jackson (not the King of Pop), and was attended by all manner of local beer people and bar owners. After MJ dies, a bunch of those folks got together and decided not only to keep the annual beer dinner going, but to make it even bigger and turn it into Philly Beer Week.
For the first couple of years, it was in March, but then it got moved to late May/early June. The response was huge, the second year saw something like 500 different official events at bars all across the city, and probably another couple hundred unofficial ones. Brewers come from all over the world. Larry Bell is no longer allowed to attend PBW due to some drunken table-dancing, and Jean van Roy was (a) amazed that people recognized him walking down the street and (b) given enough shit about discontinuing Fou'Foune that he started making Fou'Foune again. Armand Debelder from Drie Fonteinen was here, as was Rodenbach's brewmaster. It's a big deal.
Craft Beer Express - April 9, 2016
This biannual event is a bus ride that drops by about a dozen local craft beer bars all over the city. The bus only runs until 7pm, so it's not going to see you through until closing time, and if you peak too early you've done something wrong. Plus it tends to coincide with the Erin Express, which is a rowdier, drunker bus that loops around to various Irish bars for St. Patty's day, and this can cause some conflicts when a horde of green-clad drunks want to climb on board your bus not understanding that it's going to Kite & Key and that's not anywhere near McFadden's. Still, it can be a fun way to do a bar crawl, and the stops on the loop usually save up some rare beers for the event.
Let's just get this out of the way.
PA alcohol laws are super fun and not confusing at all, and also continuously changing.
- You can *only* purchase liquor or wine in a state-owned "Wine & Spirits" shop. These are everywhere, and the pricing is regulated by the state.
- You can *only* purchase cases & kegs at a Beer Distributor. They only sell cases & kegs.
- You can purchase single bottles and 6packs at Bottle Shops, and now some grocery stores, dependent on if they serve food, or have a special license, or some other nonsense.
- You can purchase single bottles and 6packs to-go at some bars, pizza shops, etc, dependent on if they serve food, or have a special license, or some other nonsense.
- There is a 192oz maximum purchase per transaction. This affects brewpubs (growler fills or bottle sales) and bars, because of some licensing nonsense. There are exceptions to this rule, and it's very arbitrary-seeming, so just go with whatever the cashier tells you. You can walk in/out and do "another transaction".
Philly Beer in a Weekend
Philly has a lot to offer, but if you want to make the most out of your brief visit, there are some Must-Dos, in this humble goon's opinion.
Tired Hands is arguably the most unique and most beer-nerd-satisfying stop in the Philadelphia area.
Monk's Cafe is arguably the best bar in the city, for both the atmosphere, the tap and bottle list, and the Belgian food menu.
Yards Brewing Company - 901 N. Delaware Avenue
The quintessential Standard Brewery. IPA, "Philly Pale Ale", Mild, ESA, Stout. They typically release Chocolate Love Stout yearly, and it's the best thing they produce. They do a set of "historic" ales which are interesting if not tasty. They do a charity beer, Pynk, for Breast Cancer Research, and it's terrible.
Dock Street Brewing Company - 701 S 50th St
Probaby now best known for some gimmick beers. Cranberry porter brewed with roasted goat brains, in honor of The Walking Dead. Saison aged on Wu-Tang Clan music. The standards are pretty good, and the location is cool.
Philadelphia Brewing Company - 2439 Amber St
For better or for worse Kenzinger is as ubiquitous as Yuengling. It's a sessionable helles lager/kolsch/pilsner/let's-start-an-argument-about-what-style-this-beer-really-is that's been showing up on permanent tap all over the city since the brewery first started producing it. They also make a quality witbier (Walt Wit) and a really solid coffee porter (Joe). They don't make anything crazy, so don't look for barrel-aged-limited-release whathaveyou coming out of this place. It's just your standard brewery making average beer.
Earth Bread + Brewery - 7136 Germantown Avenue
Brew pub making some interesting beers. A lot of what they do are one-offs that show up for a season never to be seen again. They don't bottle, but they do fill growlers. So it can be completely hit or miss. But the food is awesome. And it's pretty inexpensive, so worth the trip.
2nd Story Brewing Co. - 117 Chestnut St
A newer Philly brewery, making nothing remarkable, but decent. Operates out of the former Triumph Brewing location in Old City, next to Han Dynasty, so my recommendation would be to go to Han Dynasty, eat your face off, and maybe they'll have a 2nd Story beer on tap there.
Crime & Punishment Brewing Company - 2711 W. Girard Ave
Another newer Philly brewery, not much to talk about. Okay I guess.
Saint Benjamin Brewing Company - 1710 N. 5th St
"A fucking mess." Coffee kolsch that tastes like hops & dirt. Smoked porter that tastes like a trash fire. Avoid.
Bar Hygge - 1720 Fairmount Ave
A new bar & brewery owned by the same folks from Earth Bread+Brewery. "It's not terrible." -HatfulOfHollow
Western SuburbsTired Hands Brewing Company - 16 Ardmore Ave, Ardmore PA 19003
This is the brewery that put Philly on the map on the ISO:FT boards. Two locations in Ardmore PA, a Main Line Suburb of Philly. The Cafe and Fermentaria are literally two blocks apart, so checking out one and walking to the other is a must-do. Heavy focus on hop-forward IPAs, french/belgian style saisons, bold american wild ales, and fruiting/wine-barrel-aging a lot.
The Brewcafe is an awesome space in a renovated dentist's office. Two floors of exposed brick and rich wood with a 5bbl brewhouse in the back. They bake bread on site, candy their own bacon, and serve a small selection of paninis, cheese and charcuterie, and greens/salads/kimchis/interesting stuff. The beer at this location seems to be the more experimental "test" batches, now that the production facility is fully operational. But this is the original Tired Hands brewing model, where the two 'house' beers (HopHands and SaisonHands) are on permanent tap, with the other 6 lines constantly rotating and rarely repeating.
The Fermentaria is the shiny new Tired Hands, love it or hate it. A much larger facility that had some growing pains RE: menu, pricing, and vibe. At this point it's not too different from any typical brewpub, except the food and beer are absolutely excellent. 12 taps, and a rotating selection of the "new standards" that everyone loves. MagoTago, Alien Church, Infinite Energy, and other crowd favorites make appearances every month or so. Still brewing one-offs, and putting out some absolutely phenomenal stouts now, thanks to some new brewing staff (the guy who did ANTEAD at Kane). The menu is taco-focused, with a few standard options, and a rotating menu of some cool takes on tacos. The entrees are much more reasonably priced now, and the burger/chicken sandwich are A+.
Can releases are happening every week now, usually announced a day ahead of time, and typically at 5:00pm on a weekday. One or two beers, limits anywhere from 2 4packs to a full case each.
Bottle releases happen every month or so, having slowed down from the breakneck pace of when the Fermentaria first opened. Still Sunday at noon, still 4/600ish bottle count, still a huge line in the morning.
Victory Brewing Company - 420 Acorn Ln, Downingtown PA 19335
Not in Philly itself, but it's a SEPTA train away in Downingtown. Victory seems to specialize in immaculately-clean German styles: Prima Pils is one of the best American-made pilsners around; their Moonglow weizenbock is excellent, and while St. Victorious isn't as good as Ayinger Celebrator it's pretty damned good. Victory has pretty huge distribution so you'll find it all over the local area, but if you do make it out to Downingtown to drink here you'll also find a huge restaurant space with food that's either "really good" or "meh" depending on who you talk to.
Stickman Brews - 326 N Lewis Rd #240, Royersford PA 19468
New brewery in the PA suburbs. Putting out some great takes on standards and experimenting from the get-go. Not going to see the plain ol' IPA, Porter, Stout, Kolsch menu here, they're going hard and getting hits & misses along the way. Kudos for that.
Hidden River Brewing Company - 1808 W Schuylkill Rd, Douglassville PA 19518
GABF Best New PA Brewery in 2015, and well deserved. 10 minutes up the road from Stickman, based in a historic mansion that's super creepy, definitely haunted, and a ridiculously cool spot to drink some fantastic beer. A well-thought-out rotating taplist of 15-ish beers in varying styles. "We brew creative and unusual small batch beers featuring local ingredients in as many ways as we can. We also offer a small, local, and truly farm-to-table menu in our pub." Well worth a dedicated trip from Philly, with some good places to stop along the way.
McKenzie Brewhouse - 240 Lancaster Ave, Malvern PA 19355
McKenzie is a local chain of pretty average Brewpub-style restaurants. The exception to this is the Malvern location, which has the good fortune to have a guy by the name of Nate Walter brewing for them. This location has the typical corporate happy hour taplist, but on the semi-rare occasion that they do a bottle release, it's typically a take on a barrel-aged saison, which is the specialty of the brewer. His license plate is "SAISON". He does saisons, very very well.
Neshaminy Creek Brewing - 909 Ray Ave, Croydon, PA 19021
Random industrial park-based brewery who specialize in some really well-reviewed IPAs (The Shape of Hops to Come, A Good Problem to Have, J.A.W.N., and more) and some great barrel-aged/adjuncted stouts. A good selection of their best stuff is usually on tap, they don't round out the taplist with 'regulars'. Not too far from the city on I95.
2SP Brewing - 120 Concord Rd, Units 101-103, Aston PA 19014
Another newcomer to the Philly scene. This brewery originated from the 2 Stones Pub brewpubs (Wilmington DE & SEPA-near-Wilmington), which in my opinion have a reputation of mediocrity. But some staff changes and a new brewhouse may make 2SP the new hotness. We'll see.
Sly Fox Brewing Company - 520 Kimberton Rd, Phoenixville PA, 19460
There's not much to say about Sly Fox, and I wouldn't advise taking a special trip there, but if you're near Sly Fox, there's not much else around, so check out Sly Fox.
Troegs is not particularly "near Philly", being 2 hours away in Hershey PA, but included here as one of the bigger regional brewers. Nugget Nectar is a sought-out seasonal, Flying Mouflan is a delicious barleywine, and Perpetual is a solid year-round IPA. Troegs also does a regular series of one-offs which occasionally get turned into regular releases. Or you might never see one again. Most everything they do makes it to Philly but if you do drive out to Troegs you can drink a bunch of beer and then take a quick hop next door and ride roller-coasters at Hershey Park for bonus hurl points.
Forest and Main It might be way the hell up in Ambler but this place is definitely worth the trip. Brew-wise, they do English session ales and Belgian saison-ish styles. There's an English bitter called Tiny Tim which is ridiculously drinkable and is only 4%, a barrel-aged saison called Lunaire, and some seriously good food. No shit, everything in this place down to the bread and butter they put out on the table is way better than you expect from a brewpub. This isn't mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings. [Review]
Go & drink the Palo Santo Porter
Not worth a trip, but worth a visit if you're nearby.
See above. Forgotten Boardwalk actually operates out of the former Flying Fish brewery.
"pope, local 44, Memphis taproom, monk's, tria, and Barcade. Everything else sucks." - hatfulofhollow
There are a lot of bars in Philly, and a lot of great bars. But the magical thing is Philly Tap Finder, which allows you to just decide what you want to drink, and find where it is. Bullfrog? Hill Farmstead? Russian River? Search and find out who's pouring what. Or browse bars and figure out who's got the best taplist today. Whatever you want to do.
Monk's Cafe - 16th and Spruce Streets
This is arguably one of two local beer Meccas. Proprietor Tom Peters was the first guy in the United States to serve Chimay on draft and this place has a lot to do with Belgian beer being as popular in Philly as it is. For newcomers, there's a very accessible sour in the form of Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour, brewed by Van Steenberge, and there's even a collaboration beer blended by Tom during a visit to Cantillon. This latter is gone from the shelves, but Peters still supposedly has some left in his secret stash. If you go and he's there, don't hesitate to talk to him about beer, he loves that shit. The downside is it can get packed with people, especially during beer events, but if you sneak your way through the crowd into the back bar you might stake out some space. But probably the back bar will be just as packed as the front. If you do get there during a slow period, it's pretty close to beer Heaven. [Current tap list] [Partial and not-too-frequently-updated bottle list]
The quintessential south Philly hipster dive. This bar is Royal Tavern's dirtier cousin. If you get here before 7pm the place is practically empty most nights but soon it's standing room only, making it difficult to get the bartender's attention. Not a problem if you are able to get a table in the back. This bar is worth it for the excellent draft list, which usually includes 2 or 3 local selections. La Chouffe is a permanent tap and they almost always have Founders and something interesting from Dogfish Head. Other breweries come and go, but those seem to be staples. They also have a really great bottle list. They also have a large bottle selection. The food can be hit or miss, but if you're from out of town it's just a short walk from Pat's/Geno's/Cheesesteak Vegas and might be worth the detour.
German beer bar on South Street. All German food. All German beers. If this bar was anywhere else other than South Street it would be amazing. But because of the location you have to usually deal with a bunch of chucklefuck shitheads. That said, there are quite a few locals who frequent this place so at the right time it can be awesome.
Barcade - 1114 Frankford Ave
Along the riverfront closer to the Ben Franklin bridge. There are numerous taps of various beer from West coast favorites such as Green Flash to the locals such as Yards, Manayunk and Sly Fox, including one cask available. In addition to a solid draft list, there are numerous retro video games that only cost a quarter to play. This is a fun bar with a good atmosphere.
The Grey Lodge 6235 Frankford Ave
Technically in Philadelphia Proper, but far enough that it warrants removal from the "downtown" bars. Wayyy the hell up in Northeast Philly, it's your standard local bar with a focus on American craft beer. If you're a local you're already drinking there, but if you're not you want to go on a Friday the 13th, which they call the Firkinteenth, when they get a bunch of rare firkins and start tapping them. Soon as one kicks, something else goes up. It's usually about two dozen or so firkins, many of them rare or one-offs and it's a hell of a time. Worth taking the day off from work for.
Teresa's Next Door 124-126 N. Wayne Avenue, Wayne, PA
Out in the suburbs, but worth a trip and located just across the street from the Wayne SEPTA station. This is actually two different places: Teresa's, an Italian restaurant that's been there for over a decade; and Next Door, the beer bar. You can sit down at the Italian side and order beer from the bar, so there's a bit of overlap. Beer side is probably the other local beer Mecca, after Monk's. 24 taps, 2 hand pumps, there's always Russian River Damnation, Chimay White, and Tripel van de Garre, and everything else rotates, with there always being a German lager, about half a dozen or so Belgians, an English selection, and then the rest are filled out with American. Has on more than one occasion poured Fou'Foune on draft. Pours RR sours with some regularity. Food is also consistently pretty damned good, great burgers and fries and mussels. Nothing here is bad except the noise level, and due to the stupid township it has to close at 1am instead of at 2am like every other bar on the street, but at least the kitchen stays open late. The bottle selection is solid but the draft list can get completely fucking ridiculous.
Just go to New Jersey.
Pinocchio's Beer Garden - 131 E. Baltimore Ave, Media, PA
Out in Media. Neighborhood pizza place. Good pizza, cheesesteaks, hoagies, etc. 23 taps with some great stuff on (and then one that's something like Yuengling because this is still a neighborhood pizza place). About 800 different bottles to take out or drink on site.
New Jersey/Even Further
NJ is not subject to PA's liquor laws or alcohol taxes, so you can A) buy cheaper beer and B) buy beer, wine, and liquor in one place. All of the Jersey beer shops have similar pricing and distribution, so one isn't *really* better than another.
Total Wine - 2100 NJ-38, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002
Maro Brothers - 2031 N Black Horse Pike, Monroe Township, NJ 08094
Joe Canal's - Various locations in NJ.
Roger Wilco - 600 NJ-73, Palmyra, NJ 08065 (and various locations in NJ)
Special mention for having a great taplist and a crowler machine.
State Line Liquors - 1610 Elkton Rd, Elkton, MD 21921 (Delaware/Maryland border)
In 2016, I would make the argument that State Line is no longer worth a trip from Philadelphia. It used to have a plethora of out-of-distro beer at an excellent price, and even rare(r) stuff, including lambic. But it's really been picked over for at least 2 years now, and the distro in Philly continues to increase, so you're gaining very little by heading down to State Line.