TEN YEARS AGO this week, Joe Sixpack made his first appearance in the Daily News. That’s a lotta beer and a lotta words.
Getting a beer column into the People Paper was a tough sell at first. At least one editor wondered whether there’d be enough material to justify a beer reporter. I bought him off with two cases of Yuengling and never heard from him again.
The fact is, no self-respecting newspaperman who spends his best hours in the barrooms of Philadelphia could fail to come up with a ton of great columns. There is no better place in the city to meet people and hear their stories.
Still, looking back, there’s plenty I never saw coming.
6 that astound me
- Brussels, USA. Today, quirky, expensive ales made by Trappist monks and Flemish farmers are served at no fewer than five Belgian-themed bars in Philadelphia. And $7-a-glass Chimay is on tap in at least 50 more.
- Citizens Bank Park is brewtopia. Just seven years ago, the Phillies’ beer vendor was ripping off fans with short pours of crud lager. Today, you get honest pours of a dozen different craft-brewed ales.
- The $20 bottle of beer. And cases. You need a bank loan to afford some imports.
- Imperial India Pale Ale. Bland, low-hopped lager still rules, but the hottest new style among beer freaks is over-hopped ales that take bitterness to new, mouth-puckering levels.
- Expensive beer in blue-collar neighborhoods. It’s not unusual to find trendy beers in Fishtown and South Philly, pouring side-by-side with Schmidt’s and PBR.
- A wealth of exceptional flavors. Try this killer sixpack, unheard of 10 years ago:
- Victory Golden Monkey.
- Yards Philly Pale Ale.
- Sly Fox Incubus.
- Dogfish Head Raison d’Etre.
- Weyerbacher Insanity.
- Troegs Mad Elf.
6 I could’ve done without
- The implosion of Independence and Red Bell breweries, which, despite the well-deserved criticism of their financial planning, still managed to brew a few decent beers.
- Light beer. Also, low-carb beer.
- The demolition of the old Schmidt’s brewery. I miss that huge old sign up on Girard Avenue.
- The impending no-smoking ban. Sorry, but a bar is the last refuge of non-conformist behavior. You want a healthy, smoke-free environment, go to a gym.
- Eagles president Joe Banner reaming me on live TV when I dared ask him to justify the infamous hoagie ban at the Linc. Wait. I actually loved that – especially when he backed down a week later.
- Those sugary malternatives, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade. They give malt beverages a bad name.
- Visiting the guys at Yards Brewing one morning when they were first starting out, making a batch in their tiny garage in Manayunk. They were talented young enthusiasts in love with their craft, and that beer was good.
- The standing ovation I got at Veterans Stadium when the Phillies beer vendor dropped its prices following my expose of its notorious beer-skimming scam.
- Meeting Vince Rapinesi, the 80-something guy who fixes the kegs and taplines for nearly every bar in town.
- The hate mail I got from the city of St. Louis before the Birds’ loss to the Rams in the NFC championship. The yokels were upset when I dissed Anheuser-Busch.
- Exploring the mammoth, now-abandoned Schwechat beer cellar near Vienna, Austria, with Victory Brewing’s Bill Covaleski. The place was creepy and dark and dirty. Then, over cold mugs of Zwickl, I learned how an old-world lager influenced new-world micros.
- The afternoon that guys from Budweiser pulled up in front of the Daily News in their bar-on-wheels and invited me for a brew that had been bottled that morning. Sure beat lunch in the company cafeteria.
6 for the next 10 years
- Straighten out the stupid state beer-sales laws, especially the ones making it nearly impossible to buy single bottles and sixpacks.
- Open up Internet sales. You can buy wine online in Pennsylvania, but not beer. That’s gotta change.
- Build more brewpubs. Philly has three; two more are on the horizon. Compare that to Portland, Ore., (with one-third the population), where there are 40.
- Legalize beer sales in movie theaters. We’re civilized enough to enjoy a cold draft while watching a film, aren’t we?
- Re-open A Man Full of Trouble, the city’s oldest standing tavern, now owned (and ignored) by the University of Pennsylvania.
- Drink more beer. C’mon, Philly, don’t slow down now!