OLD BEERS never die. They just slowly lose their fizz.
Red Bell, Ortlieb’s, Independence – these favorite Philadelphia beers had a good run, then kicked the keg . . . and still somehow climbed out of the recycling bin for a second (or third) round.
Now, it’s the return of Dock Street.
You remember Dock Street: classy brewpub on Logan Square, right next to the Four Seasons; primo ales, including a world-class barleywine and the powerful Illuminator double bock.
Founded in 1985, Dock Street was the town’s first micro to bottle its brew. It was such a popular icon of ’80s yuppie culture, it made guest appearances on the popular, Philly-set “Thirtysomething” TV series.
The brewpub has been closed for 2 1/2 years. Bottling rights have bounced around town, from investment groups to sheriff’s sales and back again.
Now, the label is back in the hands of Rosemarie Certo, who – along with her husband, Jeffrey Ware – was one of the brand’s founders. And she’s jumping back into the mash tun with both feet.
This month, her company – the Old Dock Street Brewery – reintroduced Bohemian Dock Street Pilsner in bottles and draft.
Dock Street’s old pilsner was, in fact, a world-classic beer, right up there with the likes of the original, Pilsner Urquell. Fresh and clean with a perfectly balanced Saaz hops aroma, this lager was – 15 years ago – perfect evidence that America’s microbrewers could turn out beers on par with the old world masters. No less an authority than beer writer Michael Jackson once declared Dock Street “one of the finest pilsners in the United States . . . as aromatic and soft as the best from Bohemia.”
You’ll have to decide for yourself if the new version deserves such unqualified praise. For me, it comes up a bit short of the original, lacking some of its well-defined hops character. A harsher critic would say it’s been “dumbed down.”
Certo said the new brew has the same “flavor profile” as the original.
I’m not sure what that means, exactly. More telling is that it’s priced in the $17 range – about $5 to $10 under America’s top micros. You might say that means cheaper ingredients; I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and tell you it’s a decent craftbrew bargain.
As was the old style, Dock Street’s new pilsner is brewed in Utica, N.Y., at the well-regarded F.X. Matt brewery. On ice, it’s a crisp refresher; it could give Yuengling Lager a run for its money in the softball cooler.
That’s what Certo is hoping.
“The marketplace is totally different from back in ’85 to ’92, the heyday,” Certo said. Since then, “Yuengling has become the dominant player” in the local draft scene. Rather than go head-to-head with its old flagship, Amber Lager, she said, Dock Street turned to its Bohemian and “made it more accessible in price and flavor . . . ”
“We worked with [former Dock Street brewmaster] Bill Moeller to make it lighter and really, really soft and really drinkable.”
The company press release refers to it as “a crisp, zeitgeist flavor.”
The way the city’s older micros have bounced around (last we checked, Red Bell’s long-awaited Manayunk brewpub was still unopened), it’s impossible to predict anything about Dock Street’s future. Three years ago, the label made a brief reappearance when Ware (who’s not involved in the current venture) tried to revive it.
That lasted about six months.
Certo, who also operates the Rustica Restaurant & Bar on the Penn campus, seems enthusiastic.
“I was very lost without Dock Street,” she said. “It took me three years to extricate myself from the daily operations of the restaurant. My heart and my mind was always thinking how to get back to Dock Street.
“Just when it seemed like Dock Street was going to go off the face of the earth, we reacquired it . . . Thank God that Dock Street has incredible brand recognition, a lot of local history and maintains a really upscale image.
“Because of that, I have a chance to recapture some of the sales we used to have.”
In addition to the Bohemian, Dock Street will bottle its amber (no draft) at a premium ($25 a case) price. No plans, yet, to introduce any of Dock Street’s other flavors.
The highly accurate online rumor mill at the Beer Yard (www.beeryard.com) in Wayne reports that those familiar 750ml bottles of Stoudt’s are a thing of the past. As part of taking its 12-ounce bottling operation in-house (previously the small brews were bottled in Maryland), the Adamstown brewery is killing off the bombers . . .
Ommegang, the Belgian-style brewery in Cooperstown, N.Y., is releasing its first draft beer. It’s Ommegang Witte Ale, a spicy white ale intended as a summertime refresher. Brewer Randy Thiel will be on hand to introduce it to Philadelphia from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at Monk’s Cafe (16th and Spruce streets, Center City).
Tonight: Brewer’s Reserve Night at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant (30 E. State St., Media). It’s Belgian Madness II, featuring seven Belgian styles from the chain’s brewers, including Framboise, Cassis, Kriek, Tripel, Dubbel, Oud Bruin and Belgian Brown. Taps open 8 p.m. No cover. 610-627-9000.
Tomorrow: Brew Extravaganza at Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant (4120 Main St., Manayunk). Find a sunny spot along the canal and guzzle selections from two dozen regional breweries. $25 ($35 at the door). Taps pour from noon-4 p.m. 215-482-8220.
Sunday: Annual Goat Race & Bock Festival at Sly Fox Brewhouse & Eatery (Pikeland Square Village, Route 113, Phoenixville). Drink fresh Sly Fox Maibock and watch horned animals run wild. Starting gun, noon. 610-935-4540.
May 8: Beer festival at Moody Monkey (2508 W. Main St., Jeffersonville). Twenty-five breweries (and wine for your mother), with food by this Norristown-area beer bar. $45 (benefits Elmwood Park Zoo). Taps open 2 p.m. 610-631-1233.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Ayinger Celebrator.