There are conferences throughout the year that diehard beer fans would love to attend to rub elbows with those who have become celebrities in the industry. But the Craft Brewers Conference is reserved for industry members only. And the Great American Beer Festival is an awesome chance to sample the best beers from around the country and possibly get a quick howdy/thanks with the brewmasters as they spend a portion of the time pouring their own beers. But what about conventions for the hoi polloi? If you want to fraternize with like-minded beer geeks, there are three such conferences this summer around the country. And for what it’s worth, rock-star brewers will be in attendance and are just as happy speaking to the community that supports them, which of course is part of the reason the community is so supportive in the first place.
When the sold-out National Homebrewers Conference hits the City of Brotherly Love in June, it’ll do so in the city where Benjamin Franklin and William Penn dabbled in a little homebrewing long before the advent of the American Homebrewers Association. So if you’re a homebrewer, you’re in great company, and this annual event is immensely fun and educational regardless of your skill level.
After all, we can’t all be pioneering professionals the way braumeister John Wagner was. He’s commemorated by a historic marker on North American Street at the corner of Poplar for having brewed “America’s first lager” here. It’s situated just down the block from Standard Tap (901 N. 2nd St.; StandardTap.com) in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Among its two dozen taps, you’ll always find offerings from the Keystone State’s finest, from America’s oldest brewery, Yuengling & Sons, located in Pottsville, to Sly Fox Brewing located in Pottstown, whose Pikeland Pils would likely have done braumeister Wagner proud. You’ll also have the chance to try one of my favorite IPAs, Double Simcoe from Weyerbacher’s in Easton. The brewery’s over an hour’s drive north, so just get a pint here.
Our beer docent is Bryan Kolesar, who’s been blogging at BrewLounge.com since 2005 and also covers the local beer scene for the Communities section of The Washington Times. He starts with Yards Brewing (901 N. Delaware Ave.; YardsBrewing.com), established in 1994. Kolesar points to this brewery’s “cult favorite ESA” (Extra Special Ale, medal winner at last year’s Great American Beer Festival), though the brewers have expanded beyond their original British-style ales. The tasting room is open daily with tours offered weekends from noon to 4 p.m. Having said that, one of the best places to enjoy the ESA is from the gravity tap found at Bridgid’s (726 N. 24th St.; Bridgids.com), a Eurocentric tavern that serves the ale from a cask located a floor above the bar.
If you’re venturing out to Bridgid’s, cross the Schuylkill River and hit Dock Street Brewing (701 S. 50th St.; DockStreetBeer.com) in West Philly. It’s easily reachable by hopping on SEPTA’s trolley route 34. Kolesar conducts an annual beer run during Philly Beer Week (early June) in conjunction with the brewery, in case that inspires you to run there (3.5 miles each way from Center City. Speaking of which, locals absolutely do not refer to this district as “city center”). At Dock Street, don’t miss Illuminator Dopplebock, hailed by the legendary Michael Jackson as an “enlightening example” of the style.
Another brewery to make sure to check out, although it’s nearly five miles from Center City, is Philadelphia Brewing (2439 Amber St.; PhiladelphiaBrewing.com), itself only a dozen years old though housed in a beautifully restored 19th-century brewhouse offering free tours Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. Afterward, amble a couple of blocks into the heart of the Kensington neighborhood to the Memphis Taproom (2331 E. Cumberland St.; MemphisTaproom.com), where you’ll find a great beer garden, several locals on draft, including offerings from Victory Brewing and tasty vittles.
Of course, one need not venture far from Center City to visit a local brewery. Walk through Penn Square and then upstairs to Nodding Head Brewery (1516 Sansom St., 2nd floor, NoddingHead.com). It has racked up several awards, including a three-year run of GABF medals for Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse. While this summer seasonal is refreshing and delicious on its own, Kolesar says, “Owner Curt Decker has mentioned that no one takes more delivery of woodruff syrup outside of Germany than do they.” Food-menuwise, you’ll find a range from Belgian mussels and frites to Southern chicken and waffles.
If it’s Belgian you’re craving, continue on a few blocks farther for Philly’s highly esteemed Monk’s Café (264 S. 16th St.; MonksCafe.com), whose private-label oud bruin, a Flemish brown ale, is always one of the 20 taps among an impressive list of Belgian beers as well as a few American-brewed ones, typically in various Belgian styles. The bottle list is even more ridiculously drool-inducing.
As for area breweries, Kolesar also encourages hopping the Chestnut Hill East train toward Northwest Philly so as to check out Earth Bread + Brewery (7136 Germantown Ave.; EarthBreadBrewery.com), where husband-wife team of Tom Baker and Peggy Zwerver wield grains into delectable edibles and libations. Nearby is the Philly outpost of Iron Hill Brewery (8400 Germantown Ave.; IronHillBrewery.com/chestnuthill). “With their thirty-plus GABF and WBC awards over the past decade or so,” their beers are on the money.
If you’re attending the NHC (or just doing a beercation to Philadelphia), the host hotel, the Marriott Downtown, is already sold out, but the Hilton Garden Inn-Center City (1100 Arch St.) offers an NHC discount rate.
Finally, a word about eating. Kolesar offered a deluge of great cheesesteak and hoagie spots (Jim’s, John’s, Chubby’s, Dalessandro’s) and acknowledged that the two primary traps—Pat’s and Geno’s—“are good for people-watching at 3 a.m., but nearby in Old City is Campo’s (214 Market St.; CamposDeli.com), where you can find a great hoagie.” Better still, advises Kolesar, head to the historic Reading Terminal Market (51 N. 12th St. at Arch Street; ReadingTerminalMarket.org) for a collection of restaurants that proffer history, a variety of smells and visuals, and great sandwiches and beers. His top choice? “DiNic’s (TommyDiNics.com), period.” Be sure to order the roast pork sandwich with broccoli rabe and aged provolone, which he points out won best sandwich in the country (on the Travel Channel). “The Market is a local treasure … for produce, fish, meat, coffee, ice cream and a decent beer bar named Molly Malloy’s.”
Brian Yaeger is the author of Red, White, and Brew: An American Beer Odyssey.