Philly Beer Week isn’t for the weak

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MY FAVORITE BEER of Philly Beer Week 2013?

I’ll get to that in a few lines, but first, I asked my fellow elbow-benders, and their responses underscore two important features of Beer Week:

1. It’s still all about bold, diverse flavor, with an emphasis on new brands.

2. All the naysayers who believe that no one will drink “big” (high-alcohol) beer in the summer’s heat are just plain wrong.

Just check out some of their faves; there’s not a so-called session beer in the bunch:

•Allagash Coolship, a mouth-puckering, American-made spontaneously fermented ale.

Yards George Washington Tavern Porter, aged in a bourbon barrel.

•Voodoo Cowbell, a strong, dark, creamy imperial milk stout.

•Founders Devil Dancer, a superstrong (12 percent alcohol) imperial IPA.

•Troegs Scratch #94, an apricot-flavored IPA.

Ballast Point Sculpin, spiced with a zing of habanero peppers.

Nodding Head Phunky Tears, a wine-barrel-aged version of the brewpub’s notable Crosby’s Tears.

Cigar City Right Side Up, a pineapple-flavored lager.

Funky Buddha, a Florida-made Berliner Weiss flavored with passion fruit.

21st Amendment Imperial Jack, an imperial extra special bitter.

Early returns from an online survey by Philly Beer Week showed two clear front-runners:

•Mannken-Penn, an abbey dubbel brewed by Weyerbacher’s Chris Wilson and the crew at De La Senne brewery, in Belgium. Smooth, a bit sweet and too easy to drink for a 7.5 percent alcohol bottle, it lived up to the promise of its Phillyesque label depicting Brussels’ Manneken-Pis statue spritzing the City of Brotherly Love.

•Victory Liberty Bell Ringer, brewed especially for Beer Week. This double IPA is dry-hopped with Mosaic hops for a delightful tropical-fruit flavor. The 17-year-old Downingtown brewery can still bring it.

As for me, it’s always hard to nail it down, but here are my top six:

6. Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, at Frankford Hall. After countless “taster” glasses, a full liter was the ticket at the semifinals of Dunkel Dare.

5. Susquehanna Southern Rye IPA, at Philadelphia Bar & Restaurant. Gave me a chance to finally meet brewer Jaime Jurado.

4. Brotherly Suds 4, at the Philly Beer Week Garden. The English summer ale with a citrus finish might’ve been the best version of Beer Week’s annual local collaboration. It was brewed at Yards with the help of brewmasters (right) from Flying Fish, Victory, Troegs, Iron Hill and Nodding Head.

3. Forest & Main cask IPA, at Kennett Restaurant. Of course it was hoppy, but its smooth, lightly sweet malt gave it superb balance.

2. Fegley’s Brew Works Arctic Alchemy, at Opening Tap. I’d interviewed Chris Bowen, the homebrewer behind this historic re-creation of the 19th-century Allsopp’s Arctic Ale, but I never had a chance to taste it. I imagine the superstrong (12 percent alcohol), malty barleywine will age nicely.

1. Twin Lakes Greenville Pale Ale. Yeah, I know: Nothing exotic here. Just your basic, good-drinking pale ale. But, as always, what made the beer great was the circumstances:

Ninety-two degrees and the sun is blazing outside Independence Visitor Center. Our crew is busy unloading kegs for Opening Tap and I’ve sweated through my third T-shirt of the day.

Rob Pfeiffer, the brewer at Delaware’s Twin Lakes, rolls up to unload his supplies. He takes one look at me and reaches into his cooler.

Pop goes the ice-cold can of ale, and down it goes. The sweat breaks, the smile returns.

It would be my first beer of Philly Beer Week 2013, and it made me thirsty for many, many more.


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