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The Philly pilgrimage

Plus, the splendid American Craft Beer Fest
By LOU PAPINEAU  |  June 12, 2013

CHOOSE YOUR WEAPON The tap handles at Fette Sau.

We’re usually all about the local breweries and the locally-available stock in this space, but sometimes we get in the Kia and head for beer adventures across state lines. Last October we indulged in telling of our trip to the wilds of Vermont and New Hampshire; recent forays brought us to the big city beer meccas of Boston and Philadelphia.

Boston was the site of the 6th Annual American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center, the grandest gathering of beerists on the East Coast. This year’s event boasted more than 140 brewers proudly presenting more than 640 beers. Yeah, it’s an astounding array. Last year we winged it, but this year we worked the beer list in advance and managed to check off most of the wanna-tries. Standouts included Ballast Point’s Victory At Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter; the Hoppy Bunny American Black Ale from the dark beer specialists at Duck-Rabbit; Great Divide’s 19th Anniversary Ale; Lawson’s Finest Liquids’ Double Sunshine IPA (the fest’s first entrants charged to the Lawson’s table and were moaning when told that the first pours wouldn’t be available for 10 minutes); and Julius and Space & Time, an American IPA and imperial stout, respectively, from the much buzzed-about Tree House Brewing from Brimfield, MA (our next road trip?). The 3.5 hours flew by, and we still had 610 or so beers left to sample. Next year’s ACBF can’t come soon enough.

In a recent readers’ poll in Travel and Leisure magazine, Providence placed eighth (tied with Boston) on the list of America’s Best Beer Cities. Philly was #14. As the Philly-spawned duo Hall and Oates sang, I can’t go for that (no can do). It has to be in the top 3. The Brotherly Love burg just wrapped up Philly Beer Week, with more than 1000 events at more than 100 venues. We hit two of them last weekend: a high gravity tap takeover at the Prohibition Taproom (savoring Bell’s Third Coast Old Ale barleywine and North Coast’s Old Rasputin on nitro), and the Fishtown FestivALE, a block party hosted by three craft purveyors (including the knockout BBQers at Fette Sau — our pound of pulled pork disappeared toot sweet, and their beer taps are rather unique; see photo above), where we sipped a Sixpoint Vienna Pale Ale and a Rye of the Tiger from Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing. (Attention local distributors: please work on bringing their fare to our fair state. Thank you.)

Philly’s beer scene has other distinctions. It’s the only East Coast city where you can find the beers from Russian River, and you can also get rarities from Bell’s, the Duck-Rabbit, Central Waters, and some jaw-dropping imports. At the ultra-pricey Beer Heaven (hey, you get what you pay for), we got singles from the aforementioned brewers, plus Terrapin (Athens, GA) and Baltimore’s Brewer’s Art — a can of Ozzy, a celebrated Belgian strong pale ale. And local angle-wise, we were thrilled to see the hands-down bargain at Beer Heaven — a six-pack of ’Gansett tallboys for $7.29 (contrast and compare with six-packs of Sam Adams going for $13.50!).

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