Throwdown in Franklintown
My favorite aspect of Philadelphia Beer Week is just how much fun it is. Every beer week has rare brews, tap takeovers, and fancy pairing dinners. But Philly Beer Week has a drunken hammer relay, cat races, and beer trivia with Marc Summers (yes, that Marc Summers). My favorite event is the annual Throwdown in Franklintown where Philly beer reps from Dogfish Head, Yards, Victory, and Allagash go head to head in an afternoon of (somewhat) athletic feats. Previous years have involved everything from sumo wrestling to boxing. This year was a bit of an endurance challenge including a tug-of-war and keg-wheeling relay race. Our take-away? Don't wear flip-flops to a tug of war. Ever.
Aged in foudres (giant oak fermentation vessels) for four years with a blend of bacteria and wild yeast, the Allagash FV-13 is about as close a traditional Flanders red as you will find from an American brewery. Oak character sweeps across the palate, otherwise dotted with notes of dark stone fruit, cider vinegar, and powdery minerals. This was one of the most outstanding beers I've tasted this year.
Half Acre Grotto
Big beers and collaborations often rule the tap lines during a Beer Week, and it takes big flavor for a session beer to stand up to its imperial counterparts. Grotto, a 4.5% ABV extra pale ale from Chicago's Half Acre Beer Company was just the break we needed from an afternoon of heavy brews. With enough classic, American citrus hop character to keep our interest, we quickly reach the bottom of the glass and ordered another.
A Trio of Gose at Brauhaus Schmitz
This historical German beer style, categorized by its mild tartness and the use of cardamom and salt, is rarely found on tap. So the chance to drink three different interpretations was a welcome opportunity to explore the breath of the style. The refreshing Freigeist Gose was lightly tart compared to the more aggressively sour Ritterguts Gose, but the most interesting was Monarchy of Mussland's Son of Batch Gose. Aged on hickory wood with an aggressive addition of coriander, this fuller-bodied variation was eye-opening sip into the possibilities of the style.
A Duo of Berliner Weisse at Brauhaus Schmitz
After our Gose tasting, we just couldn't pass up a chance to compare another rare German style side-by-side. Berliner Weisse was once the most popular beer style in Berlin. Lately, it has found favor among American brewers and has made a minor resurgence stateside. We tasted the classic example, Bayerischer Bahnhof Berliner Style Weisse, with one from Pennsylvania's own Round Guys Brewing. Some tasters preferred the grainy, more integrated character of the Bayerischer Bahnhof while others loved the pungent, pickle-brine characteristics of the Round Guys interpretation.
Sour Hour with Tomme Arthur
I've attended this event for two years now and, in full disclosure, I've never seen Lost Abbey's Tomme Arthur. To be honest, I am not even sure he was there. But I do know that each year, Tomme sends a few of his rarest kegs to Philly for the sour beer event of Philly Beer Week. Fans lined up six deep at the bar for pours of Cuvee de Tomme and Red Poppy (pictured) along with two years of Framboise de Ambrosia. With its balance of malty backbone, sour cherry brightness, and funky Brettanomyces character, Cuvee de Tomme is one of my all time favorite beers, with layers that linger in your mind for days on end.
Philadelphia Brewing Company Traditional Dry Cider
For a state with a rich history of apple growing, Pennsylvania's supply of local ciders leaves a bit to be desired. So we were happy to see a locally produced cider available during Philly Beer Week. With its crisp finish, mild tartness and 5% ABV, Traditional Dry was a refreshing break from a beer soaked weekend.
Snack Break: Federal Donuts
Philly's beloved Federal Donuts were just the thing to balance an afternoon of beer drinking. It's hard to choose between the hot fried-to-order cinnamon sugar version and the slightly salty Chocolate Peanut Butter doughnut, essentially a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in doughnut form.
Perennial Artisan Ales Barrel-Aged Abraxas
It takes an exceptional breed of imperial stout to line up beer drinkers on a 90-degree afternoon. But for a rare glass of Barrel-Aged Abraxas from Perennial Artisan Ales, Philly Beer Week patrons were more than happy to stand three-deep at the Memphis Tap Room in Fishtown. Cocoa and ancho pepper notes lead the brew with a spicy, cinnamon finish to help cut its 11% ABV. A monster of a beer for a hot day, but it still impressed.
Sly Fox Grisette
Grisette may have been the original working man's beer. This petite Belgian ale style was originally brewed as an afterwork session drink for miners—the "gris" refers to their grey, drab dress. Sly Fox's rendition leads with a tart, lemony tang and finishes with a toasted grainy quality that works as well at the dinner table as it does as closing time.
Evolution Craft Brewing Co. Incubator #1
Using American hops in Belgian-style beers can be a tricky proposition. But in the hands of Maryland's Evolution Craft Brewing Co, the combination of big citrus aromas and peppery yeast create the connoisseur's session beer. Incubator No. 1 launches with big aromas of Summit, Liberty, and Cascade hops, but finishes dry and crisp for easy warm-weather drinking.