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March 21, 2008 | A beer so local they called it Philadelphia

FOR THE first time in almost 60 years, Philadelphia has a namesake brewery.
Philadelphia Brewing Co., a spin-off created when the owners of Yards Brewing split last year, hit the streets this month with a portfolio of ales that evokes some of the city's iconic images:


Rowhouse Red, a so-called biere de Mars whose label displays one of the city's classic, red-brick two-story rowhouses. On draft, it's poured from tap handles crafted from recycled banister spindles.

Newbold IPA, a hoppy ale named after the resurgent Newbold neighborhood west of Broad Street above Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.

Walt Wit, an unfiltered Belgian-style witbier named for the great American poet, Walt Whitman, who lived across the river in Camden. Its tap handle is a giant pencil.

Kenzinger, a light, golden ale that recalls a classic, extinct Philly brand, Esslinger, as well as the brewery's home, just off Frankford Avenue in Kensington.

"We are all about being a Philadelphia brewery first," said Nancy Barton, who owns Philadelphia Brewing with her husband, Bill. "That's why we chose the name."From left, Bill Barton, Atlantis bartender Erin Berry and Nancy Barton

That Philly First attitude rings throughout the brewery, especially in its connection to Kensington. The Bartons have been fixtures there since Yards moved its brewery to Amber Street in 2001. (Yards founder Tom Kehoe will reopen his brewery this spring at a facility on Delaware Avenue in Northern Liberties.)

"When we first moved to Kensington, our initial thought was we'd probably come to work, close the big door out on the loading dock and not necessarily be a part of the community," Barton said. "But somehow, we just bonded with our neighbors. Our neighbors are just awesome."

On any given day, you'll find locals inside the mammoth, 19th-century brewery; on my visit earlier this week, I bumped into Robert Fritz, head of the East Kensington Neighbors Association, helping out with some plumbing.

Besides hosting frequent community events, the brewery works closely with the urban Greensgrow Farm on nearby Cumberland Avenue and is donating space (and beer) for the farm's cheese-making operation.

As for its beer, the brewery's slogan might be "Philly First . . . And Only."

"I would love to distribute 100 percent of our product in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties," Barton said. "I have no desire to send beer to California or Oregon or Boston. There's enough people right here who drink beer."

Already, Philadelphia Brewing products are available on tap in more than 50 taverns and restaurants around town, Barton said. (You can taste all four on tap at Atlantis: The Lost Bar, 2442 Frankford Ave., Kensington, across the street from the brewery.) Its bottles are expected to be at distributors next week.

About the beer

All four of Philadelphia Brewing's brands are noticeably light in body and low in alcohol. These are what you'd call "session" beers - ales that you can drink all night without getting hammered.

Kenzinger is a Kolsch-style ale (4.5 percent alcohol) with a decidedly lager flavor, a Rowhouse Red from Philadelphia Brewingproduct of its California common-lager yeast strain. I'll predict right now that it'll be Philadelphia Brewing's No. 1 seller, not just because of its easy drinking flavor but because of its retro name and label.

Walt Wit (5 percent) is refreshing, with a lightly spiced flavor.

Rowhouse Red (5 percent), made with rye, is tart and satisfying.

Newbold IPA (6.5 percent) is an understated, well-balanced IPA. Instead of slapping you over the head with a bundle of hops, it seduces you with a fresh aroma and an enjoyable body.

Overall, the four styles don't take any chances, but they're well-made, flavorful and certainly worthy of the name, Philadelphia Brewing.

About that name

Philadelphia Brewing was the corporate name of the old Samuel Adams Brewhouse on Sansom Street (now Nodding Head). The Bartons purchased rights to the name from the pub's former operator, David Mink.

Before that, however, Philadelphia Brewing was the name of one of the city's larger breweries, operating at 6th and Clearfield in North Philadelphia from 1893 to 1949.

News accounts show that the brewery managed to continue operating sporadically throughout Prohibition. According to local brewery historian Rich Wagner, shortly after repeal it was the city's second-largest brewery behind Schmidt's, producing 135,000 barrels a year.

Its biggest-selling product was Philadelphia Old Stock, known simply as P.O.S.

Even earlier, other beer makers latched onto the city's name. In the mid-1800s, breweries in California, Missouri and Nevada called themselves Philadelphia Brewing because, according to Wagner, "the city's name implied high quality."

History lesson

You can get a good taste of the new beers and a free lesson on the name tomorrow afternoon when historian Rich Wagner presents his lecture, "Philadelphia Brewing: Then and Now." It starts at 2 p.m. at the brewery, 2423 Amber St., Kensington. Info: 215-427-2739.




© Copyright 2006 Joe Sixpack