We’re in some crowded neighborhood in Reading, Pa., that looks like Manayunk, only with slightly wider streets. It’s taken me 15 minutes to find a parking spot, and a few of the locals are giving me menacing looks for the South Philly tap I applied to one of their cars. You know, when you’re backing in, and you nail the other guy’s fender hard enough to rock it back a foot or so and set off the alarm, but not quite hard enough to leave any permanent damage.
It’s a statement that says, “This space would have big enough for my T-Bird, dammit, if you hadn’t parked like a jackass.” That’s aggressive talk coming from an out-of-towner.
We hurry off down the street, past shadowy rowhouse porches.
It’s over this way, I tell her. I think I see a neon Boddington’s ale sign in the window.
She nods and follows, but the look on her face tells me she views this adventure about as entertaining as an afternoon in a Kosovar refugee camp.
“Is this going to be another one of those things we do?” she groans.
She looks at me.
We’re on a beer safari.
They say the difference between men and women is that guys are hunters and girls are gatherers. It goes back to some mysterious prehistoric genetic coding that also leads rich people to register as Republicans.
According to this hunter/gatherer theory, cavewomen planted things and watched them grow. And then they made salads.
Neanderthal guys ran out for pizza.
We’ve evolved considerably in the last 50 million years or so. Now, we’ve got cable, and the pizza shop’s on speed dial.
Some critics (wives) regard this not as evolution but pure laziness.
Much as I hate to admit it, they may have a point when it comes to beer.
Consider that, for most, beer hunting today amounts to rolling down to the distributor and loading up on six or seven cases of cans for the weekend. Maybe 12 if it’s a holiday. Though the racks are overflowing with delicious micros and exotic imports, we put little thought into our selection and simply plunk down our credit card for whatever’s on sale.
Fellow hunters, this is the equivalent of stalking a woolly mammoth and spearing a Budweiser.
Drinking bad beer is just plain laziness.
We must return to our roots.
That, I explain to her for, like, the thousandth time, is why we’re walking down a dark street in Reading, Pa., heading for some obscure bar. I am trying to get in touch with my inner self. I am expressing my manliness. I am evolving as a species. I am. . .
“You just want a beer.”
Yeah, well, that too.
Our destination is the Northeast Taproom, a hole-in-the-wall joint that I’ve been hearing about in recent months. It’s a corner pub that serves great beer, and only beer. On my visit, there is not bottle of even whiskey in sight.
I’m told there is a dart board and maybe even a pool table in the back room, but on this night I cannot drag myself from the tiny front-room bar. The floor, covered with peanut shells, is packed with the same locals who had grunted at my earlier park job. Zappa is on the juke and eight or 10 excellent craftbrews are on tap. Guinness Stout is the worst thing you can drink, and I say that as a compliment. I satisfy myself with a cask-conditioned Fuller’s Porter and a pint of Three Floyds Alpha King.
She sips on a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale and gives me a look that says, “I’m glad you dragged me along for the ride.”
The Northeast Taproom is a neighborhood place. Zagat’s probably never heard of it. And traipsing 60 miles into the wilds of distant Berks County may seem like a preposterously worthless adventure when Philadelphia has dozens of its own perfectly suitable corner pubs.
But this is a beer safari, and we are, after all, talking about the evolution of mankind.
It’s worth the trip.
This summer, Joe Sixpack embarks on an epic junket for great beer in out-of-the-way places. Though I’ll always return to my favorite hangouts, I want to expand my horizons while writing off huge amounts on my expense account.
And, when I can wipe off the salt from the beer nuts, I’ll write a few words about my travels.
Here’s what I found on this week’s Beer Safari:
Northeast Taproom (610-372-5284) at 12th and Robinson streets in Reading, open 3 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday to Saturday. It is not easy to find, so call for directions.
Joe Sixpack (written this week with a bottle of Mordue Workie Ticket) appears every other Friday.