“Philly and Beyond” is the latest episode of One Pint at a Time.
One of our lost episodes, we visited the Greater Philadelphia area for a long weekend in the Spring of 2012. It was mainly a trip to visit our friend Andie at Victory Brewing, but we took the opportunity to explore beyond the Keystone State. By traveling just a few hours we experienced the beer scenes in Delaware and Maryland, as well.
So enjoy our beer adventures on the East Coast…
For all the episodes of One Pint at a Time go to beergeekTV.
In the blink of an eye, it was already Saturday morning, the last day of our trip. Having packed a lot of breweries into the first three days, we had a light schedule planned for our finale, a couple of breweries followed up by the San Jose Earthquakes v. Philadelphia Union soccer match.
After a quick lunch at Mckenzie Brew House in Chadds Ford, we crossed back into Delaware. Most of our beer travels take us to small brewpubs or industrial park breweries. Rarely, do our brewery visits include a historic 252 acre farm. As we drove up the long driveway to Twin Lakes Brewing, Merideth and I were struck by the beautiful setting. Though, I have to say, I only saw ONE lake.
The brewery was housed in an out building on the farm, the old tractor barn. We entered the upstairs tasting room after the daily tour had already begun. While sipping on Greenville Pale Ale and Tweeds Tavern Stout, we listened to Sam Hobbs, brewery co-founder, talk passionately about his family history (seven generations on the farm!) and the Twin Lakes brews. Sam was particularly emphatic about their ingredients, especially the pure water that comes from the aquifer on the property.
Merideth and I were chatting casually with Sam after his talk. Knowing we were from out of town, he asked us where. Replying California, Sam remarked that he went to university in California, Berkeley to be exact. In another example of beer making the world smaller, turns out that Sam and I graduated from Berkeley the same year (1988) with the same major (Political Science). Twenty four years later, we met for the first time, both deeply involved in the craft beer world.
Sam was a very gracious host and wanted to show us more of the farm. Spending the afternoon drinking beer and walking all over the farm sounded great. But we had to get back to Philadelphia for the soccer match.
We finished our trip on a cold, windy and eventually rainy night at PPL Park along the Delaware River. Sam had given us cans of the very drinkable Greenville Pale Ale for the road. After coaxing her out of the car, Merideth and I tried our best to tailgate in the less than stellar conditions. I think the Tweeds Tavern Stout would have paired with the weather much better.
Our San Jose Earthquakes, behind 2 goals from Steven Lenhart, defeated Philadelphia 2-1. A nice ending to a memorable last day of our trip.
Hitting the road in the morning, I realized that it was going to be tough to top the previous day’s adventures (especially the seeing Sam part). Luckily, we had our friends Andie and Greg to help us round out another fantastic beer day. But first, we had a few stops to make before meeting up with them later in the evening.
After an hour and a half drive from Rehoboth Beach, we made a stop at Argilla Brewing Co. at Pietro’s Pizza in Newark, Delaware. We weren’t sure what to expect from the 1.5 bbl system that had only been serving for a month, but we were up for anything. Plus, we were hungry.
Pietro’s looked like any other pizza joint inside and the 80’s music playing throughout was especially inviting. We took seats at the bar and ordered a taster set. They had four beers: pale ale, IPA, amber, and a Cream Ale. These days, this line-up seems a bit ho-hum, but you know, there is absolutely nothing wrong with serving the basics. As I sampled the beers, I started to really appreciate the simple pleasure of drinking well-brewed beer. No super strong ABV. No over the top hops. And no barrels involved.
All of the Argilla beers were solid, an impressive feat for such a young nanobrewery. It’s no surprise that Chris opted for a pint of the IPA to have with his salad. I paired my whole grain veggie flatbread pizza with the amber. Before we left, we had the opportunity to say thanks to not only the brewer Steve, but also our friend Carlo’s brother, Mike who works in the kitchen and had prepared our lunch. All around, an honest place with good beer and good food made by good people.
We were now ready to move on to our next stop: Dock Street Brewing Company. Opened in 1985, Dock Street was Philadelphia’s first microbrewery. We had heard great things about them and were anxious to try the beer for ourselves. What we didn’t know was that it would be another hour before we got the chance to do that.
After getting off the highway, we drove for another 45 minutes through the lesser well-kept neighborhoods of West Philly. Hitting what felt like every red light possible was a frustrating experience and it was a relief to finally arrive at the brewery.
Housed in beautiful red brick building, Dock Street is situated on one corner of a neighborhood square. Caddy corner to the brewery stands an impressive stone church and brownstones line the street on the other side of the grassy park in the middle. We quickly found parking around the corner.
If Pietro’s Pizza was a normal everyday pizza joint, Dock Street was a gritty one. With black tables and chairs and a floor with red and cream-colored paint wearing off to expose the gray cement, Dock Street reminded me of something you’d find in San Francisco. Sitting at the bar waiting for our taster set, we looked through the window into the brewery. No fancy super-polished cooper kettles here. These showed the age and character of being one of the first microbreweries in the country.
Our six-beer sample set ranged from the easy drinking Summer Session (5% ABV) to the Super Saison (10.3%). In between, we tasted the sweet and strong Caliente Golden Ale (9.5%) made with blue agave nectar and ancho chilies and the Satellite Espresso Stout (5%) brewed with locally roasted organic fair trade espresso beans. I especially enjoyed that last one. It was like drinking iced coffee and it gave me the boost I needed to get over my mid-afternoon slump.
After a quick stop at the hotel, it was on to Victory to meet up with Andie and her husband Greg, our chauffeur for the night. Before we hit the road on our evening’s beer adventure, we had a few CBC beers that had been tapped since our visit the previous night. Chris went with the Bavarian Polaris IPA while I enjoyed the Bavarian Mandarin Pale Ale.
Our first stop of the night was Boxcar Brewing Company in West Chester. A two-man operation, this small brewery is located in an industrial park warehouse. They describe themselves as a “community oriented brewery that relies heavily on the support of the community, family, and friends.” This heart-felt sentiment embodies the true labor of love that is Boxcar Brewing and from what we tasted, they do a fine job of giving their friends, family, and community a good reward for their support.
Our visit was short and sweet. They had just blown a keg of their Original Ale, so the only beers available for sampling were the Brown and the IPA. Andie is a big fan of the Boxcar Brown and I became one, too. Thanks to Andie’s connection, we also managed to get a brief tour of the brewery in the adjacent space, including a taste of a mango ginger ale right out of the tank. The carbonation obviously wasn’t there yet, but the flavor was nice and refreshing. Then we were off to Stoudts Brewing Company, 50 minutes away in Adamstown.
Andie’s husband Greg warned us that Stoudts was an unusual place. From the outside it didn’t seem so unusual. I thought it was a large complex, but still didn’t fully understand what Greg was talking about. Until we stepped inside Stoudts Black Angus Restaurant & Pub.
The Black Angus Steakhouse has been in operation for 50 years and it definitely has an old school feel, complete with a specialty martini menu. The large restaurant is divided into rooms, almost like you’re in someone’s house. We sat in a room with red walls and loads of beer memorabilia. It was cool and kinda creepy at the same time. I chose the Kölsch to have with my pulled pork sandwich that came on a wonderful herb bun. Chris chose the Pils to have with his schnitzel.
In addition to the brewery and restaurant, there is also a creamery, bakery, and large antique mall. This mixture of businesses is what Greg thinks is so oddly fascinating. It was nice of Greg to drive us so far out and I was happy to have been able to visit one of the pioneering breweries in American craft beer.
Andie and Greg had one last place to take us–Lancaster Brewing Company in, you guessed it, Lancaster. It was dark by now and the lamps on the outside of the red brick building set it off beautifully. Between the mood lighting, ivy covered exterior and the name painted on the wall, it was clear we were walking into a historic building. In fact, it was an old tobacco processing facility.
The bar was packed with hipster college students, most of whom were male. Chris said it was very “bro-mantic.” We made the best of it, though, and I drank the Gold Star Pilsner while Chris and Andie went with the Hop Hog, a 7.9% IPA. I was the first to express that my beer had a strong metallic flavor. Chris thought the Hop Hog did, as well. Apparently this was unusual and Andie was a bit surprised because the beers are usually quite tasty.
The building, on the other hand, was every bit as amazing as I expected. The wooden decor of the bar fit well with the antique equipment left over from the building’s tobacco days. We sat near what looked like an old scale, while a few yards away there was an antique lift that is still operational. It would be nice to make a second visit to Lancaster Brewing. That way we could explore the historic building and give the beer a second go. On this visit we left our pints unfinished.
Greg was nice enough to not leave us in Lancaster and drove us back to our hotel. We really appreciated his and Andie’s willingness to help us add a few more breweries to The List. Friends helping friends. I’ll drink to that!
We were last in Pennsylvania in March 2008 as part of a media tour for the inaugural Philly Beer Week. On that visit, Merideth and I experienced a whirlwind tour of the greater Philadelphia beer scene. On our own this time, we planned another crazy four days, including not only Pennsylvania but also journeying into Delaware for the first time.
A series of on-time flights and a quick airport exit had us in downtown Philadelphia before 10am on Wednesday. With some time to kill before our first beer stop, we joined the hordes of school children and throngs of normal tourists in Independence Mall. The line was too long for the Liberty Bell, but we were satisfied just peering through the window to see the famous crack.
On our previous visit, we covered the downtown Philly beer scene thoroughly, so we focused on the wider world this time around. But we couldn’t travel across the country without making another pilgrimage to the world-renowned Monk’s Café.
Monk’s was just how I remembered it: dimly lit with a lot of patina-ed wood. One of the first customers of the day, Merideth and I grabbed the corner spot at the bar in the front room. [Monk’s Café tip: the front door isn’t locked. It’s just heavy.]
I started with the Mikkeller Single Hop IPA, while Merideth’s first beer was her East Coast staple, Allagash White. With my delicious Seitan Cheese Steak, I drank the Monk’s Café Flemish Sour. Merideth’s lunch-beer pairing was the uber-garlicky Caesar Salad with grilled shrimp accompanied by Ommegang Hennipen.
Our short visit to Monk’s concluded with a quick chat with Tom Peters. Then, we were off to explore.
Located in an industrial building down by the Delaware River, Yards Brewing was our first brewery stop of the day. We drank a few of their beers on our previous visit– the Extra Special Ale at the Philly Beer Week opening celebration and the ‘Ales of the Revolution’ series at City Tavern. Since this facility was not yet open last time, Yards counted as a new brewery on the List.
There were a few other customers at the bar when we arrived a bit past 1pm. Merideth and I took our normal positions at the bar and ordered both the signature and revolutionary flights of beer.
The Ales of the Revolution beers were just like I remembered them: interesting. One has to really appreciate molasses in beer to get into these brews. Love Stout was the fourth brew in the flight. We didn’t have it at City Tavern, so I’m not sure of its colonial American heritage. A roasty 5.5% ABV oyster Stout, it was my favorite of these four.
From the signature series, the Philadelphia Pale was the standout for me. Light-bodied and hoppy, it reminded me of one of my favorite brews, Drake’s 1500. Merideth tapped the seasonal Saison as her star. With a mixed six-pack of these two beers in hand, it was time for Merideth and I to leave Philadelphia and head west.
Merideth and I only got lost twice in the confusing maze of merging and splitting highways on the drive to Downingtown. One outcome of our 2008 trip was that we met our friend Andie and lucky for us, she happens to work at Victory Brewing. Over the years, we promised we would come visit her. Well, here we were.
Thankfully, Andie picked us up at our nearby hotel and brought us to the brewery. Arriving around 5pm, the beer hall was already packed with the after work crowd.
With its wonderful feel and ambiance. I did almost feel like I was at a beer hall in Bavaria. The most striking feature was the decorative copper kettle tops that sat above a few of the tables.
It was a festive atmosphere at Victory, made even more festive for me when Bayern Munich eliminated Real Madrid to reach the Champions League final.
Time blurred as the hours went by. Andie introduced us to some of her fellow employees and numerous regulars. The wonderful Victory brews were plentiful. Hop Devil, Headwaters, Donnybrook, Braumeister Pils, Prima Pils, Alla Spina Novello were a few of beers we enjoyed. HUGE thanks and hugs go out to Andie and her co-workers for their generous hospitality.
We finished our night at The Station Taproom in Downingtown. The quiet and cozy beer bar was just what the doctor ordered as the jet lag was really setting in for Merideth and me. Dinner and a few more beers and then we were ready for some well-earned sleep. Our first trip to Delaware awaited us the following day.