A real hollow leg launched 20 years of foamy memories

A note from Don: This is the first Joe Sixpack column. It was named the best column of the year by the North American Beer Writers Guild. Second place went to Michael Jackson, who was my beer-writing idol. He congratulated me and we remained friends till his demise.


Twenty years ago, on a cold night in a central Pennsylvania college town, I fell in love with beer.

Underage and mildly buzzed after a coupla Genny cream ales, I leaned on the bar and watched my roommate try to pick up a sorority sister. The front door swung open and in limped a guy with a dog.

“What’ll you have?” the barmaid asked.

The dog said nothing.

The guy said, “Fill ‘er up.”

She reached for a mug, but before she could pull the tap, the guy said, “No, fill this.”

Then he leaned over and twisted off his leg beneath the knee, and stood it on the bar, his workboot and red-striped sock still in place.

The barmaid didn’t miss a beat. She grabbed the hollow plastic leg and poured the tallest draft I’ve ever seen.

“On the house, pal,” she smiled.

He grinned and took a guzzle, the suds sloshing down the side of his calf and into the boot. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and passed the leg to the guy on his right.

Everyone at the bar that night took a slug, till we drained the beer past his ankle and out of his toes.

I fell in love with beer that night – not just the taste (obviously, for this was Genesee), but the whole frothy world of saloons and beer gardens, of ales and lagers, of sassy barmaids and honest pints.

And now, 20 years later, the Daily News is going to let me write about it.

They call me Joe Sixpack. Just a reg’lar Philly guy who enjoys downing a good brew almost as much as the Phantom Rider likes straphanging on the Frankford El.

Unlike SEPTA, the local beer scene is actually on the move.

After decades of shutting down its historic but hopelessly outdated megabreweries (Schmidt’s, Ortlieb, Esslinger), the city has opened up more than a half-dozen microbreweries and brewpubs in the ’90s. A dozen others have cropped up in the ‘burbs.

All of them are producing fresh, imaginative brews; some of them – including the hoppy bitters from Yards of Manayunk and the malty fests from Stoudt’s of Adamstown – are classics.

Around town, a score of beer outlets and quality pubs bolster the local selection with micros from the Pacific Northwest, Colorado and New England. Meanwhile, Philadelphia has a growing reputation as the Belgian capital of America, as that country’s once-obscure lambics, abbeys and reds are now often stocked at neighborhood pubs.

Coors and Bud and Miller still dominate the scene, but the bottom line is that, for anyone who really cares about what he or she imbibes, this is the best time in the entire history of the universe to drink beer.

Maybe you’re thinking, hey, that’s a mighty bold statement coming from Joe Sixpack. Isn’t he the kind of guy who satisfies himself with a can of Coors?

To be perfectly honest with you, I haven’t swallowed a drop of that crap since Wilson Goode was mayor. Right now, in fact, I’m sipping a perfectly chilled La Trappe quadruppel out of a snifter, the better to snort the yeasty waft of alcohol.

But that doesn’t make me a stinkin’ beer snob.

To me, a snob is the guy who refuses to taste anything other than the same brew he’s been drinking since his first fake ID, who is utterly convinced that mankind is incapable of inventing something better than rice swill.

Joe Sixpack – he’s the beer drinker who, upon entering a taproom, searches the row of draught taps for something different, something that just might grab hold of the taste buds and seduce the cerebral cortex. Once satisfied, he grabs a handful of quarters for the juke box and calls “next up” on the pool table.

A snob? Yo, cut me a break. If you don’t believe me, well . . . the Cowboys suck, all right?

Now that the testosterone is out of the way, pop open a cold one and enjoy the column. Because the Daily News, God bless its soul, has passed us a leg-full of beer, and we’re going to drink it dry.

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The other paper can have its wine columnist. Today the Daily News introduces Joe Sixpack, Philadelphia’s first columnist to write about the beverage of choice among People Paper people. With the city enjoying a veritable beer renaissance, Joe Sixpack will explore the ales and lagers, the brewers and the taverns. Catch him here every other week, or look for him at the end of the bar.

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