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Reporting and drinking beer in Philly and beyond
Oct. 10, 2008 | From Munich, ideas well worth stealing
"Imagine this in Philly."
Philadelphia makes a great case as America's best beer-drinking city, but it could be even better. After a weekend at Oktoberfest as a guest of the Paulaner brewery, I'm back with a bunch of ideas lifted from the pros in Munich.
Take those beer trolleys for example. Somehow I doubt we'll ever persuade SEPTA to turn the Route 15 into a draft line. But the tram I rode was not a public route, either.
Instead, my Munich ride - conducted with the blessings of the city and its transit agency - was an official sight-seeing tour of the city's historic landmarks.
Someone, Mark suggested after a gulp from his stein, should launch a Philly beer tour aboard one of those goofy Fairmount trolleys, load it with soft pretzels, cheesesteaks and local beer, and take visitors for a ride.
Sure, there are some state alcohol rules that would have to be changed. But if Philly is honestly proud of its beer heritage, it should find a way to share that with tourists.
The more Mark and I guzzled, the more ideas we came up with:
Upgrade the beer selection at the airport.
Munich's airport features a beer garden in a spacious, fresh-air concourse, plus countless bars serving fresh glasses of wheat beer. The souvenir shops carry beautiful souvenir gift boxes of Bavarian beer, glassware and brewery garb.
Philadelphia? There are no last-minute gift packs of beer available in airport shops. And if someone wants a taste of the locals, it's awfully hard to find. Jet Rock, with its dozens of taps, is disappearing. And the Independence Brewpub has been replaced by an overpriced wine bar.
Other than Yuengling Lager, the only local beer I found at the terminal was Victory HopDevil at Chickie's & Pete's.
Serve pretzels at bars.
In Munich, big, soft, salty pretzels dished up with yummy mustard are a ubiquitous feature of beer gardens. They soak up enough beer to keep you going for hours.
Yo, our soft pretzels are every bit as good. And they're certainly better than greasy chips, or those seeds and stems they're serving at taverns these days.
Don't skimp on the foam.
There is nothing more attractive in a beer glass than a properly formed collar of suds rising above the rim. I don't know if it's the German draft systems or what, but even the most pedestrian lager is served with a perfect head.
In Philly, most bartenders take pains to reduce the head - perhaps out of fear that patrons will complain about short pours after the foam dies. The solution is bigger glassware, with markings that indicate a full pour.
Hire barmaids with big, um, biceps.
I love Philly's female servers. Every one of 'em. But I got an absolute rush when Helga paraded up to my table with her fists grabbing 10 - yes, 10 - full glass liters of Oktoberfestbier.
You know how much a liter of beer weighs? Four-and-a-half pounds. Do the math, then consider that, in four hours, Mark and I stared in amazement as Helga hustled up and down a flight of steps at least 20 times with a full set of mugs.
Open an authentic beer garden.
I doubt Philly will ever support a place the size of Munich's 2,000-seat Hofbrauhaus beer hall. Outside of sporting and music events, we don't gather in crowds of that size just to hoist glasses.
But we deserve at least one decent German bar. I hear there's one headed for South Street, and that's good news.
I have an even better location: Reading Terminal Market.
The knuckleheads who run that place should upgrade the market's current so-called beer garden immediately. It's a low-grade dive that scares away visitors. And it's a travesty that one of the city's premier tourist destinations does not serve any local craft beer.
Clean up the joint, put soft pretzels on the tables, pour the foam and hire some waitresses with big biceps.
Oktober ain't over, over here
Oktoberfest is over in Munich, but there are still several local fall beer fests on the calendar.