by Tara Nurin - 221 Reviews - 105 List
After a few astoundingly successful Philly Beer Weeks and several years of incessant drum beating by media entities like us, the overwhelming majority of bar and restaurant owners--even chains!--have recognized that they can't get away with opening a drinking establishment within city limits that doesn't serve locally brewed beer. Even Main Line and South Jersey bars are starting to catch on. So where does all of this so-called local beer come from? And more importantly, where can I get it at the source? For now, we're sticking to breweries and brew pubs within an hour's drive, although there are some that are nationally acclaimed just outside this radius. That, friends, will be a story for a different day. (Photo courtesy of McKenzie Brewhouse)
Updated: February 05, 2010
Want to play a fun trivia game with your friends? Guess the explanation behind the names of PBC's beers, each christened for a Philly-related location, person or concept but not always done in an obvious way. Or if you prefer that fun not get in the way of your drinking, skip it and just show up at the historic Kensington brewery on Saturdays between noon and 3pm for a free tour and tasting. Then hang out after and shoot pool in the tasting room while you pretend you haven't already tried everything.
With three locations around the region, the one in Old City is the closest to the action. Beer heads looking for a mellow night can find it within the dramatic and refined architecture, two complete dining rooms and a quieter second bar upstairs. Those coming to Old City to guzzle a party can get their satisfaction through three bar/lounge areas, a communal circular couch and frequent live music and events.
This Chester County brewery knows how to throw a bash. When brewery hands aren't getting thousands of people drunk with their notoriously high-alcohol recipes at two annual festivals, they're pouring them pint glasses of their wares at the largest brewery dining hall in the region. Here, chefs cook BBQ and hearth-baked pizzas in a German-style hall that's complemented by live jazz music and a constant supply of activities for beerphiles. Prefer your beer without so much fuss? Free brewery tours happen Fridays at 4pm and Saturdays at noon.
With the opening of Yards? tasting room, the newish Delaware Avenue location is finally open for on-premise imbibing. Owner Tom Kehoe and his guys insist it's not a pub--they don't want to compete with the bars that keep them in business--but with a bar, booths, draft beer, food and a pool table, it's hard to tell the difference. For that reason, they're only open until 7pm on most days but if you just can't get enough, free walk-in brewery tours on Saturdays from noon to 4pm include free samples.
Boy, does this beer have nine lives or what? Back in the day (the `80s) Dock Street was one of the first microbrews in the country. Owners opened a popular pub, closed the pub, sold the name and the rights, contracted with a brewery in New York to make the beer, bought back the name and the rights, then, in 2007, returned to its Philadelphia home with a brew pub outside the fringes of gentrified West Philly. Or something like that. Today, there's just enough beer brewed on site to serve to in-house patrons but it sure goes down smooth with those hand-thrown pizzas and the satisfaction of knowing it's back where it belongs.
It takes a rare ego to willingly share the spotlight when profits are at stake but that's what happens at this brewery and restaurant, where house-brewed beers share equal billing with kegs and bottles procured from Philly, Belgium, New York and beyond. These ?guest beers? are chosen by owner and head brewer Tom Baker and served with flat breads (don't call them pizzas) and a planet's worth of environmental consciousness.
Two brewery restaurants in Phoenixville and Royersford have been keeping suburban beer lovers coming back and back and back. Sustained by regulars who come for nightly dinners and enlivened by newcomers enticed by multitudinous events like the annual goat race, these twin breweries show that you don't have to come into the city for good beer served over a production line's worth of camaraderie.
The biggest craft brewery in New Jersey is also one of its proudest. Despite winning awards year after year from the Great American Beer Festival, this brewery maintains a regional distribution and an attitude that's all Jers. After a free tour of the industrial park facility, given Saturdays from 1pm to 4pm, brewers shuffle visitors into a minimal tasting room and might pour from the self-mocking ?Exit Series,? named after ... well, if you know anything about Jersey's biggest joke, you can figure it out. And by biggest joke, we're not talking about "The Situation."
Well, whachu wanna do is ... amble down the 1500th block of Sansom Street, pull open the door that looks like it leads into The Oyster House, climb a dark, narrow flight of stairs, tell a funny joke, then finally settle in over a pint of some of the most overlooked award-winning beer in the city. Order the crisp fries and a juicy burger and say hi to Pete, the weekend bartender, who will share frothy samples and informed musings on the current state of the planet.
This chain of brew pubs skirts the city with locations in Delaware, the western `burbs and now Jersey. Spacious, open, and trimmed with brass, these gastropubs look like they come directly from Central Casting. But their beer is far from generic, having won dozens and dozens of national awards over the years. Perhaps, though, they have a slight advantage: they have a different brewer at each location who has discretion to try out some of his own recipes.
Two gastropub locations west of the city brew up to ten beers but those beers won't come to you. Instead, you'll have to come to here to sample five standard bearers and a rotation of seasonals. Chances are you won't mind because these bars have a little something for everyone: live music, dancing, game nights, sports on the tube, a full food menu and, if you don't like the beer, an assortment of other brews that managed to find their way in through the door.