Heading to the 2nd story for beer

2nd Story Brewing can be found on 117 Chestnut Street.

Philadelphia is a great city to get out and explore. 24 hours isn’t nearly enough time to take it all in. Yards Brewing is close to downtown. However, if you’re stuck for time, for example if you’re skipping out of a conference or simply balancing beer and site-seeing, there’s a brew pub even closer than you think.

After checking out Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell, you'll have earned a beer. The good news is that there's a brew pub 3 blocks away.
After checking out Independence Hall & the Liberty Bell, you’ll have earned a beer. The good news is that there’s a brew pub 3 blocks away.

2nd Story Brewing Company is only three blocks south of Independence Hall on Chestnut St. The origin of its name is simple enough – there’s a 15 BBL system on the 2nd floor. There’s seating in upstairs so drinkers can oversee the brewing side. It’s bright and airy. The ground floor has far more seating but is fairly dark, like so many American bars.

2nd Story Brewing can be found on 117 Chestnut Street.
2nd Story Brewing can be found on 117 Chestnut Street.

Having spent the morning in the National Constitution Center (I’m a politics nerd, not just a beer one), I felt I deserved a beer. I didn’t have long before heading to Washington, DC so I opted for a flight. The beers rotate fairly frequently so of those I describe below, it is more than likely only Five Mile will be on when you visit – it is one of their two standard brews. Expect some of the other beers to return at both the brewer’s and seasons’ discretion. My choice was heavily influenced by the recommendations of the bar staff.

The 15 BBL brewery is on the 2nd floor so it's not just a clever name. Wonder if there's a penthouse brewery out there?
The 15 BBL brewery is actually on the 2nd floor so it’s not just a clever name.

First off was Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv), which poured a wonderfully refreshing-looking light gold. It was almost perfectly clear. There was a touch of fruit and wheat bread on the nose. Tart but creamy also. There were hints of apples and lemon in the flavour profile continuing into a very pleasant dry, lemon finish. When this beer is pouring, you can avail of syrups to blend with it should you wish,

Next up was Thrills & Pils, a 4.5% abv German pilsner hopped with Hallertauer Blanc and Jarrylo. It poured slightly hazy, yellow straw. The aroma was a blend of grass, herbs and mango. It drinks fruity at first before a good dose of bitterness kicks in. There’s an intense herbal finish to this beer.

L-R: Thrills & Pils (4.5% abv); Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv); Evolve – VII (7.7% abv) & Five Mile (3.7% abv)
L-R: Thrills & Pils (4.5% abv); Berliner Weisse (3.6% abv); Evolve – VII (7.7% abv) & Five Mile (3.7% abv)

Evolve – VII is a Double IPA (7.7% abv) hopped with Hallertauer Blanc, Jarrylo and Hull Melon. It’s hazy, light orange in appearance and there’s a bright, floral character to the aroma. At first, it is sweet, floral and pleasant for a DIPA. Then, everything changes. The “D” could equally stand for deceptive. Bitterness descends and lingers warmly into the finish.

As I mentioned above, Five Mile, an English Mild (3.7% abv) is one of their two standard brews. Fritzie’s Lager (4.9% abv), a Vienna red being the other. I suppose being a brew pub, it’s important that your house beers are session-friendly and similar to Yards,  they are traditional styles tapping into to the historic city. Five Mile’s a ruby mild with hints of chocolate and dark mahogany in its appearance. Toffee, chocolate and hints of coffee all feature on the nose. Its flavour is not too far from a hazelnut macchiato. It finishes smooth, creamy and nutty. Think coffee cake in a glass.

Pope Beer - Pater Noster in disguise?
Pope Beer – Pater Noster in disguise?

I couldn’t leave the place without trying a beer that was brewed to commemorate Pope Francis’ visit to the city a few weeks earlier. It was simply called Pope Beer. It was straw-like in colour with plenty of esters and clove on the nose. It was fairly-well carbonated which helped balance the sweet and spicy flavours of this beer. I have my suspicions that this beer might’ve have been their Pater Noster, a 4.9% patersbier, simply rebadged. Either way, it wasn’t bad.

Recreating a Belgian "brown bar" with a splash of colour
Recreating a Belgian “brown bar” with a splash of colour

It should be noted that Belgian beers are celebrated in the City of Brotherly Love. From what I saw in Yards and 2nd Story Brewing, local brewers are happy to produce their own versions. There’s more than a few serious Belgian beer bars in the city. Monk’s Café is far and away the best. It has a serious tap and bottle list. Sadly, a late night visit wasn’t conducive to photography – I’m sure you’ll understand. Anyway, you’ll encounter other Belgian bars too when your wandering around the city.

Going the extra Yards in Philadelphia

Sadly, I’m not in Philadelphia this week for the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo America®. Fortunately, I was able to visit the city last autumn. Ten years has passed since my one and only visit to the city. Regeneration has played a key role in its revival and it has become a good stop on one’s beer travels. I had less than 24 hours to take in a couple of beer destinations and see some of the sites.

Yards Brewing, now in its 22nd year, is in easy reach of downtown. It is one of those breweries that suffer unfairly from being one of the early movers on the craft beer scene. Familiarity can count against you in the craft beer movement, even one that holds “traditional” as key tenet.

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It’s a short walk from the Spring Garden metro stop. The first hundred yards or so is a tiny bit sketchy but the entire area is up and coming. You’ll see just how far it’s come on when you get to North Delaware Avenue, with the condo developments. This used to be the nightclub area of the city but with close proximity to the river front, land prices are going through the roof.  The vacant lots won’t be there for much longer. This part of the city has one added benefit. It comes complete with the smell of wort emanating from the brewery.

Yards Brewery focuses on traditional beer styles but they can have a twist. The branding, like its beers, reflect traditional British ales, a likely a nod to the revolutionary routes of the city. It also doesn’t hurt to compete with the British imports like Sam Smiths. The brewery operates Monday to Friday before opening up for tours on the weekends (12-4). Apparently people line up before it opens but they run every 20-25 minutes. Oh and it’s free!

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It’s worth visiting due to a good tap room and getting to meet the regulars, many of whom drop in on their way home from work. The tap room offers a window into the brewery so you don’t have to be there on a Saturday to get a view of the operations. Of course, visiting brewers and beer tickers stop by.  A group from nearby Conshohocken Brewing were in visiting. The tap room’s a great place to chat to the brewery staff. They can be found enjoying a post work pint at the bar but at times ducking back into the brewery to check up on things. Work never stops.

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First, up was Brawler a 4.2% abv English Mild. It was rich mahogany in colour with excellent clarity. As you’d expect the aroma was malty with slight coffee and nutty aroma. As a session beer, it was smooth and almost milky in mouthfeel. Toasty with a hint of caramel roasted nuts in the finish. Next was the Extra Special Ale (6% abv). Its appearance captured the colours of Philly and Pennsylvania perfectly – copper and chestnut. Think Liberty Bell & rusting factories. I’m partial to an ESB and this beer is interesting. There’s a lot going on. Spicy, nutty, dark chocolate flavours complete with a slight, citrus bitter bite. It has a big finish building intensity of the bitter malt. I would love to try this on cask but sadly they didn’t have it on when I was visiting.

L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)
L-R: IPA (7% abv); Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv); Extra Special Ale (6% abv) & Brawler (4.2% abv)

Of course, the brewery’s pale ale and IPA offering is part of the signature flight. Philadelphia Pale Ale (4.6% abv) pours an incredibly clear golden colour. The aroma is of freshly squeezed oranges, thanks to being dry-hopped with simcoe. It’s certainly easy drinking with notes of fresh tangerines in the flavour. It’s reminiscent of orange squash with a pleasant dry, bitter finish. The IPA is called IPA because let’s face it, why bother coming up with a name for it because it’s a beer style that people just ask by style rather than name. At 7% abv it falls outside the session beer category. The colour is polished brass with orange on the nose. The fruit flavours continue with a sherbet-like mouthfeel at first before being hit by a big, bitter punch. There’s a sticky sweetness and pine notes in the finish. It’s hopped with chinook and amarillo.

Of course, you’re bound to take in some of the historical sites when in the city. If you’re not in the mood to actually venture into Independence Hall, you can smooth you conscience somewhat by trying beers inspired by three founding fathers as part of the brewery’s Revolutionary Flight. These beers are inspired by historic recipes of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin.

L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson's Tavern Ale (8% abv) &  General Washington's Tavern Porter (7% abv)
L-R: Love Stout (5.5% abv); Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv); Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale (8% abv) & General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv)

General Washington’s Tavern Porter (7% abv) has an aroma of roast coffee and beef. It’s smooth with a smoky body before a big dark chocolate and caramel finish. There’s also a bourbon barrel-aged version, which I have yet to try. Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale on the other hand is a strong golden ale (8% abv). It pours a clear, copper colour. The aroma is of lightly toasted wheat, red fruit and spice on the nose. The flavour and finish is of spice and honey.

Poor Richards Tavern Spruce (5% abv) is apparently based on a recipe of Benjamin Franklin. Billed as a historical style, it’s brewed with molasses and local blue spruce tips. Amber in colour, there’s ginger and vinous notes on the nose. The flavour and finish is of ginger and pine; a really interesting beer. The final beer of the flight is Love Stout (5.5%) named for the City of Brotherly Love. A nitro pour, it’s almost jet black topped by a creamy head. The aroma is of powdered milk chocolate. It’s creamy, with a coffee hit in the finish.  I understand there’s a variant of this beer containing 100% cacao Belgian dark chocolate.

L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)
L-R: PYNK (5.5% abv); Hefeweizen (5.4% abv); Saison (6.5% abv) & Cicada (8.5% abv)

The final flight consisted of four refreshing seasonal and small batch brews. Beginning with Hefeweizen (5.4% abv). It was 24ct gold in colour, if it was any clearer the guys on TV’s Gold Rush may finally retire. There was plenty of banana and clove on the nose. At first it comes across as a tad over-carbonated, leaving it too dry. It finishes in the opposite direction, however, with sweet banana flavours lingering long after. Saison (6.5% abv) also pours a lovely, polished gold. There’s banana, clove along with other saison yeast notes. It’s sweet, cereal with lemon and honey blending into a pleasant finish. There’s a dash of pepper and bitterness too.

Yards, like other breweries, are keen on giving back. They are passionate about supporting charities and what better way than through brewing beer. You should check out their Brew Unto Others initiative. Part of the proceeds from PYNK (5.5% abv), a tart berry ale, goes to support breast cancer research and awareness. This is a pink beer, no doubt about it. What’s better is that the colour is natural thanks to the cherries and raspberries. It’s none of that artificial colouring for green beer. It’s amber with a big splash of pink. For the aroma, think raspberry yoghurt. Upfront, there’s pleasant fresh sour cherry in the flavour before a brut, dry finish. The palate isn’t overpowered by the tartness.

The last beer of the flight was Cicada, a Belgian-style IPA brewed with local honey (8.5% abv). This bronze ale had a big Juicy Fruit aroma. It was hard to pick up the Belgian yeast aromatics; only the slightest banana esters could be detected. Drinks bitter at first, then floral and honey notes take over. There’s a warming bitter tropical fruit and herbal bitterness in the finish.

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I couldn’t leave the brewery without trying Olde Bartholomew Barleywine (10.3% abv) on cask. It pours lovely, clear amber. The aroma is a wonderful medley of marzipan and grapes. It’s not overly sweet, one might say medium-dry. The flavour is penetrated by pleasant hints of fruit. It finishes dry and spicy.

I had only planned to stay an hour or so in the taproom but I was there far longer than that. As I mentioned before, the taproom has a real “local bar” vibe to it. It’s a friendly place, whether you’re from the city or just passing through. And of course, the beer is good.

 

An IPA offshoot that’s lilting?

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It’s been a while since I had a can of Lilt. So long in fact that I don’t even know if it’s still available. All of this was sparked off by Brewdog’s Elvis Juice. It tastes a lot like Lilt, period.

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One could imagine the Brewdog product development team used the following checklist. A grapefruit infused IPA with an aroma consisting largely of, you’ve guessed it, grapefruit. Box ticked. It’s refreshing, even at 6.5% abv. Box ticked. Did I mention that this beer is 6.5% abv? Box ticked. Make sure you produce a beer the “punks” will shout about. Box ticked (perhaps this one’s too easy). Use “Elvis” in the name to confuse people. Box ticked. Explore the use of fruit to substitute for high hop prices. Box ticked, or maybe I’m being unfair on that last one.

The beer’s fine. It’s certainly drinkable and the infused grapefruit gives it a vibrant, fresh aroma. Is this cheating though? Before you judge me too harshly, yes I’m more than aware that infused beers have been around for yonks – even for the IPA style. I’m just not convinced that this beer in particular works.

Beer geeks have been hyper-critical of the new wave of radler-style offerings popping up here, there and everywhere. Why should fruit-infused IPAs be treated differently? Okay, darker versions may be better but even then they play the Terry’s Chocolate Orange card. Overall, craft infused-beers do tend to be better balanced in bitterness and drinkability – Elvis Juice has a somewhat muted dry bitterness to it.

The appearance of so many fruit-infused IPAs of late merely point to the latest fad off-shoot of the overall style. Of course they’re appealing. I can see them becoming big sellers. They could even be useful in beer cocktails for those so inclined. A 3-3.5% abv or lower version could be huge, especially during the summer. Then again the neo-prohibitionist lobby could brand them in the alco-pop territory.

For me, I prefer a lot more out of a beer than this particular beer. If I want a refreshing grapefruit hit in abundance, I’d stick to the likes of San Pellegrino before moving onto beer. Brewdog certainly produce better beers than this but then again, who am I to judge this beer’s appeal.

A beer that needs serious revision

I was in Tesco yesterday picking up yet another forgotten ingredient for dinner. Why is it that no matter how long you spend shopping, you nearly always forget something. Or you since changed your mind on what you feel like eating. Anyway, whenever I’m in the store I like to peruse the beer fridges. Who wouldn’t? The alcohol section is often the quietest part of the store… thankfully. It’s become a sort of an oasis of calm even if the stock on the shelves are largely barren of charm and appeal.

Since it was a Sunday evening, I thought why not have a beer to round off the weekend. Tesco isn’t the usual place of choice for my berry acquisitions. I wanted something different and opted to try the Saison from the Revisionist range, “craft brewed by Marston’s exclusively for Tesco”.

The label's not bad as far as own-brands go but the beer doesn't match up. Which is more important?
The label’s not bad as far as own-brands go but the beer doesn’t match up. Which is more important?

So what’s it like? Well aficionados of Belgian farmhouse ales should look away. It pours a clear yellow gold with a head that quickly dissipated. The nose is dominated by a trifecta of lemon, plasters and toffee (too harsh to say butterscotch?). The citrus notes carries into the flavour but it’s not clean tasting. The carbonation level contributes to the disjointed nature of the beer. There is indeed citrus bitterness with only a slight hint of cracked black pepper in the finish. Overall the mouthfeel is somewhat soapy but it’s perhaps a tad mean to say this beer doesn’t pair so well with a meal but would go well with the washing up.

I’ve now had the opportunity to try the full Revisionist range. The Rye Pale Ale and Dark IPA are passable but the rest are mediocre. The branding is good and screams premium own brand. However, this is beer we’re talking about. Price matters and this is certainly true in the congested retail environment that is Tesco. At a relatively high price point, none of the Revisionist range represent value.

All is not lost, however, Bo Bristle has joined the likes of O’Hara’s, McGargles, Solas range and Finn Lager on the shelves of Tesco. The Irish craft offerings either match the Revisionist prices or beat them. Now that’s value. Every little helps.

A good name for a style that’s wandering

Over the summer Eight Degrees released their latest limited edition beer, Nomad. It’s an India Pale Lager folks. What’s that you say? It’s a style that has many detractors. A few see it as just an excuse to introduce a little variety to the IPA. The common denominator being hops and lots of them. It may fall outside style guides and the majority may be just going for the hop hype effect. However, when it is made well, it can be something to be sought after. Who better than then the likes of the Mitchelstown crew to try their hand at this. They’ve made some truly fantastic stuff over the past few years. Not only do they love what they’re doing, just as importantly they know what they’re doing.

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Nomad pours a golden rich honey colour. But as you look at this beer, you become conscious that this beer has a big, big aroma. Think pungent pineapple, kiwi and tangerines. It’s fresh. There’s a crisp bite to this beer with the first sip. There’s no sense of sweetness there. There’s a similarity with the likes of Jever and other northern German lagers but that’s where it ends. This beer certainly cannot be described as austere. It’s anything but. The aroma blends superbly with the clean, bitter body and finish.

Nomad screams out for food to be savoured alongside it. It could be one of the better beers this summer to have a with a good burger. It has bitter and crispness, along with a degree of heftiness that could match the char, red meat and an overdose of toppings that are burgers these days.

 

The beer works but like other IPLs, would people keep looking for this style of beer? Nomad makes a good seasonal release for sure. However, will hop heads continue with this style beyond the rare occasion? It’s doubtful beyond those ticking it off the list. But the willingness of Eight Degrees to constantly give things a go is to be admired. They have enough in their core range to appeal to varying tastes and that’s before we get to their rotating range of specials.  In fact, you could look to their limited releases to get a full picture of the challenges facing the IPA today. Besides changing up the hop bill for various releases, there has been black, white, double, single hop, single malt and session IPAs all from this brewery. This is replicated across the globe.