When your city has an area known as “Brewerytown,” you have to assume you live in a place with a passion for beer. While the breweries that populated that area in the late 19th century are long gone, Philadelphia’s love affair with hops, barley, water, and yeast hasn’t disappeared. In fact, it’s the City of Brother Love’s obsession with a better pint that’s helped it become the best beer city in America. Need proof? Here you go:
You’d have a hard time arguing that any other city has as rich a beer history as Philadelphia. When William Penn arrived in the late 1600s, there were already taverns. That’s how far back Philly’s brew history goes. In the late 1800s, Philly was known as the greatest beer brewing city outside of Europe.
What does that mean to you now? Well, you can still experience some of it on Tippler’s Tour Colonial Pub Crawl, where you’ll relax with pints in taverns of yore. You can have the bartender draw a pint at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, the oldest continually operating pub in the city, having first opened in 1860. And to taste the suds these legendary men were downing, Yard’s brews the Ales of the Revolution Series,in which each beer is modeled after the ale someone like Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson would have consumed. Have one when you stop by City Tavern, which first opened in 1773.
It’s Home to America’s Best Beer Bar
It’s 2016. The United States of America is littered with craft beer bars. Some of these bars are better than others; some are downright incredible. But to be the best beer bar in the country, you need to do more than secure taps from respected breweries across the 50 states. Monk’s Cafe, located on S 16th Street in Philly, does just that.
As a member of the Publican National Committee (a group of six of the most influential beer bars in America), Monk’s has been able to offer rarities from Allagash (Broken Elevator), Firestone Walker (PNC Buckwheat Stout), and other big time breweries that even the biggest of beer trekkers never come across. They consistently have Russian River brews, including many sours, sometimes Pliny, once a year the other Pliny, and even, on occasion, Framboise For the Cure, available. (No other city east of Colorado can say that.) Last year, John Kimmich even stopped by with cans of Heady Topper in tow. But the thing is, incredible beer from the likes of Hill Farmstead, Russian River, and so many other U.S. breweries doesn’t even scratch the surface of why Monk’s is so great.
Belgian beer. This is what Monk’s does better than anybody. Tom Peters has been introducing American palates to Belgian offerings for over 30 years. In fact, he’s often credited as being the person who brought Belgian beer to America. He continues to do so at Monk’s, where it isn’t rare to see offerings from Cantillon, De la Senne, and De Dolle.
Other Award-Winning Beer Bars
If Monk’s isn’t your speed, six more of Draft Magazine’s 100 Best Beer Barsare located in the Philly area:
Philly Pairs Beer With Food Unlike Any Other City
Beer has become such a staple in the City of Brotherly Love, that fine restaurants offer draft lists that rival curated craft bars around the country. Craig LaBan, the Philadelphia Inquirer food and restaurant critic since 1998, even remarks on these tap lists in reviews. Gastropubs are plentiful. At places like The Dandelion, you pair exceptional pints with dishes like Chicken and Duck Liver Parfait—not exactly free popcorn and bar nuts.
It Hosts the Country’s Best Beer Week
Philadelphia hosted the first official citywide beer week in 2008. Since then, every other city has been playing catch-up. Featuring close to 1,000 events over the course of 10 days, the largest beer celebration in America features ultra-rare beers from breweries you won’t always find in the city, the chance to meet brewers from all over the country, and even a chance to watch Dunkel Dare with Marc Summers, a beer-related version of everyone’s favorite slime-filled game show.
Highlights from last year’s festivities include: Bottle pours of Duck Duck Gooze from The Lost Abbey, tap takeovers from Other Half and Funky Buddha, and a pig roast with pours of Goose Island’s Bourbon County Vanilla Rye.
It’s the worst and greatest hangover of your life.
Some of the Best Distribution in the Country
Thank guys like Tom Peters, a passionate craft fanbase, and bars and bottle shops with knowledgeable owners for Philly’s absurd offerings. In Philadelphia, you can find drafts and/or bottles from over half of RateBeer’s Top 100 Breweries.Using Seek-a-Brew,you’ll find well over 200 breweries who distribute to Philly, and you’ll find over 300 listed on the incredible Philly Tap Finder,a site that helps locals track down who’s pouring what. From little watering holes to bars with 30 taps to, hell, even the Pizzeria Unos, everyone seems to have a draft list that’s diverse and impressive. Even Armand De Belder, the brilliant mind behind 3 Fonteinen, said, “People think Belgium is beer paradise. Philadelphia. That is beer paradise.” (Source)
Hell, just the other day, Short’s Brewing decided to expand distributionout of their home state of Michigan. Where did they decide on? Surprise, surprise: Philadelphia.
New, Exceptional Breweries
To be a great beer city, you obviously need a few good breweries. Philly has them—Yards, Dock Street, 2nd Story—but it’s right outside the city, as is often the case thanks to rent and space, where you’ll find more gems. Tired Hands, which opened its first location in 2011, sits about 7 miles outside of Philadelphia, in Ardmore. It’s ranked in RateBeer’s Top 100 Breweries,boasts a Place Score of 97 on BeerAdvocate,and has brewed award-winning beers since its doors opened.
A bit further away, in the town of Ambler, is another new-ish brewery, Forest & Main, doing something refreshingly unique. Situated in a Victorian home from the 1800s, the brewery crafts old world British and Belgian ales, and pairs them with appropriate dishes that transport you to another time and place.
Variety of Styles
Cities, regions, and even states take on a personality as they grow. This applies to their beer-related desires, too. Take Vermont, for example, where the juicy IPA is king. Philadelphia doesn’t have one style. The tap lists you’ll see are as varied as can be. “If you go to Portland or Seattle, it’s hops. Go to Montreal, and it’s interpretations of Belgian styles. But I think the nice thing is, we’re sort of ‘Rome for beer.’ All beer ends up here—breweries try everything,” Tim Patton, of Saint Benjamin Brewing, told Philly Voice.
Booking a stateside brewtrip? Start looking for Airbnbs in Philly.