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.

 

Beer for breakfast (on a Tuesday night, of course)

Difficult to work out if smoke is coming from the pan or the beer

A Tuesday night in January just has that dreary feel to it. Tuesdays are not that great and January is one of those months we hope to get out of the way as fast as possible. I did however use a recent one to conduct another experiment of beer and food matching, this time beer to go with breakfast.

Objectivity and rigour are important in conducting any such experiment so I would like to point out that I conducted this in the evening time (health and safety of course necessitated this). The idea came to me by looking in the fridge and deciding that all I felt like for dinner was a fry. This got me wondering what beers would match and this of course would be applicable for those who avail of all-day breakfasts (or brunch if you want to be posh) as well.

A number of beer books feature beers to go with breakfasts as part of general guides to food matching but I haven’t had the opportunity to try them. Besides a few early houses, we really don’t have a culture of early morning drinking (probably for the best). When I was working in Brussels I went to grab a coffee and a pain au chocolate in a café under the Berlaymont (aka European Commission HQ). I didn’t stand just stand out because I wasn’t wearing a grey suit, I was the only person not partaking of a beer at breakfast (it was 7.45am or in Brussels 07h45). Observing this scene, it wasn’t some romanticised scene portrayed in many a beer book, it was simply something that was done and they were drinking cheap lager straight from the can.

So with the pan on the hob and the sausages frying away, I selected the beers to be used. With such a meal we overload on fatty foods. A crisp lager to cut through such food would be too easy a choice. A Mild Ale, breakfast in a glass in its own right, could be a runner but I had none at hand. I was thinking of beers that contain flavours that our brains would easily make the connection with breakfast time. Unfortunately I didn’t have Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast to hand, so I focussed on wheat because of our familiarity with cereal, bread etc. With a fried breakfast, we have an unbelievable ability to consume a wide array of pork products so why not try and match it with a smoked beer. The two beers selected were these: Weisser Hirsch, a Hefeweizen by Privatbrauerei Höss der Hirschbräu and Schlenkerla’s Aecht Rauchbier Märzen

The two contenders

First up, Hirschbräu’s Hefeweizen poured extremely pale with a good head and remarkable lacing around the glass. The aroma was an incredible blend of ripe banana and clove. It had a pleasant body with an off-dry finish. Frying the sausages resulted in some caramelisation occurring, which clearly allowed the food to really emphasise the sweetness in the beer, reminiscent of Weetabix. It also matched perfectly when the toast was taken into account. This beer was refreshing in the finish and gave me the impression, like I had a fresh juice alongside my meal.

The second beer being possibly the most iconic of smoked beers. I must admit that I do enjoy Schlenkerla’s Aecht Rauchbier Märzen once in a while (and I also mean no more that one at a time as well). This is a beer that needs food for it to be truly enjoyed. I’ve read how well this goes with German sausages and now its time to see how well it goes with an Irish fry. It pours a rich caramel colour that’s on the point of turning burnt. There’s no head and the beer itself has a transparency to it that you wouldn’t expect in such a dark beer. On the aroma front, it is pure smoke, so much so that you don’t know if it’s the beer or that you’re burning the pan. Besides intense smoke, bacon and leather aromas (what a combination) come through. This beer is clearly enjoyable with food. It works, don’t get me wrong but I feel that it was not the right match on this occasion as I did not have the ingredients on hand that would really allow it to shine.

Difficult to work out if smoke is coming from the pan or the beer

The Aecht Rauchbier Märzen deserves real quality ingredients, from the type of sausage to the type or rasher. Smoked meats would come into their own alongside this beer. How I wished I had one alongside a fantastic breakfast that I had in the Loveless Café during a recent trip to Nashville. The pit-cooked pork barbeque & eggs could be the ideal match for this beer (although it was smoked with hickory wood, unlike the beer which has malts kilned above beech).

The Loveless Café’s famous pit-cooked pork barbeque & eggs is just crying out to be served alongside Bamberg’s finest

This was certainly a fun experiment for a Tuesday night. I would be leaning on the hefeweizen as a good match, although if I had a breakfast roll and was consuming everything at once, the rauchbier might win out. I doubt, however, if I will be reaching out for a beer anytime soon alongside my breakfast and will most likely be sticking with coffee. That is not to say that you can’t match beer with breakfast.