What would make a trip to the east coast to see Metallica live [twice!], at their hand-picked music festival, better than starting the trip out at a great craft beer city like Philadelphia? Throwing in a trip to the Dogfish Head brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Oh, and shooting dice at a casino. We always try to pack in as much as possible on a beer trip, and we figured the festival, casinos, and bars in Atlantic City couldn’t boast the same selection as Philadelphia, so we had to make our two days there count. I think we did pretty well. We arrived in Philly ahead of the rest of the group, and immediately went for some cheesesteaks, namely the (in)famous Pat’s and Geno’s. We decided to have a mini throwdown and ordered the “whiz wit” at both locations. Personally, they almost tasted the same. John preferred Pat’s, and I liked the whiz sauce at Geno’s marginally better. We both didn’t like the chewy bread, which I was told later was because of their hard water and for sopping up all the juices. Other locals gave us the names of a few other places to check out, but we ran out of time. Plus, Papa Geno’s in Houston rules.
After two cheesesteaks, it was definitely time for a beer. Originally we had planned on hitting some of the breweries outside of Philadelphia, like Weyerbacher, Fegley’s BrewWorks, and Troëgs, but on our way out to Weyerbacher we discovered they weren’t open until Friday afternoon. The guy at Weybacher suggested we go to Iron Abbey in Horsham for a beer, since we were already on the way out there. So we took his advice and had a few beers and watched part of the Czech-Italy match while we reassessed our plan. I ordered a flight of a few beers that stood out on their draft list, and even tried Magner’s Hard Cider. From left to right in the picture below:
Voodoo Cowbell: this was definitely my favorite beer at Iron Abbey. An imperial oatmeal milk stout that tastes like its on nitro- creamy and smooth. I love the mouthfeel of nitro beers, and this one was no different. Milk chocolate, lacto sweetness, and roasted malts dominate the taste. This is a stout you could drink almost everyday, solid and not over the top.
Southampton Biere de Mars: I’ve had a thing for Bière de Gardes ever since a few of our Texas breweries started making their own versions. The aroma was fruity and bready, a familiar smell for this style. The taste started out sweet and slightly fruity then ended with a spicy bread flavor. Not my favorite I’ve tried of this style, but I am biased toward the sour end of the style spectrum, like Abbaye de Saint Bon Chien.
Stone/Elysian/Bruery La Celeste: I’ve had this before and didn’t really love it, but everything else on the board I had either had before or were IPAs/Pale Ales that John ordered. The beer has a weird (to me) mix of spices, citrus notes and too light of a body. Per usual Dogfish style, there are like 15+ ingredients and in this case- I don’t think it really worked.
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout: This is one of the Dogfish beers that we don’t get in Texas, so seeing it on draft was a nice treat. The beer is rich and boozy, an 18% stout tends to be like that. It was sweet and sticky, like molasses. A taster of this is the perfect amount, I don’t think I’d want to finish a whole snifter of this.
After our bartender gave us the lowdown on Philly bars and breweries, and a traffic warning, we decided to head back into Philly.
John and I stumbled upon Oyster House while killing time before dinner at Farmers’ Cabinet, so we grabbed a quick dozen of Delaware Bay oysters and a beer. They were no gulf oysters, but they hit the spot. Their oyster crackers were also not what I’m used to, they were spherical crackers, making it hard to use with the oysters. Apparently, nobody in Philly carries saltines. To wash those babies down I wanted something local and different so I chose the Love Stout from Yard’s, an oyster stout. It was so delicious, and would have benefitted tremendously from a nitro tap. It was creamy and roasty with just the slightest briny flavor.
While planning the trip we did some research to find a place where could have a nice dinner and good craft beer, and all signs pointed to Farmers’ Cabinet. I am so glad they did, what an incredible food and drink experience. The interior is both romantic but still cool for a group. One wall is lined with beer bottles and cabinets full of more beer (maybe wine, too) on the adjacent wall. Scattered around were a few choice taxidermy pieces, and they also had a rack of barrels, that I hope are full of their beer. It is very dimly lit with mason jar candles and we sat in the middle of a big community table that filled up very quickly by the end of our meal.
I could live off of cured meats, cheese, and pickles, so imagine my glee at seeing the menu featuring local and housemade selections. We hade their house-cured coppa, sopressata, genoa, and duck prosciutto along with their house pickles and a few local cheese selections. The board also had a tapioca powder that was a nice sweet touch to the plate. The rest of the menu seemed unimportant at the time, but we ended up picking the bone marrow and foie gras dishes. It is vacation!
Then, there was the beer list. Sigh, I can’t even start to explain how outstanding the beer list was. After studying it, I think we saw only two or three beers that we get in Texas. They focus on European imports but they also brew their own beer at another location, and have collaborations with other breweries.
To get things kicked off, after much discussion on how to attack the monster beer list to get the most out of it we possibly could, we decided to stick to their draught selections. John and I could have spent hours trying to pick a bottle. Half pints were the way to go, we got to try more beers and if a random choice doesn’t pay off, you aren’t committed to a full pint of something you don’t like. But they did.
We started with two beers that were brewed especially for Philly Beer Week, earlier in June, during an event at Farmers’ Cabinet. They introduced 25(!) one-offs that three breweries, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Evil Twin, and Cabinet Artisinal made, in a series called 3×8. Each brewery took one of the Cabinet beers and created their own version, 8 different ways. EIGHT. Stillwater’s called their series Raritea, a brett-fermented saison brewed with eight different teas. Thanks to In Search of Beer‘s post for the details on the event.
Lichi Noir: Made with Lichi Noir tea. The nose and taste had a distinct tea flavor. It was so light and crisp, and very tart. There were distinct lemon notes that paired well with the spices from the saison. I was so enamored with this beer, drinkable, full of flavor and enough sour to satisfy my sour needs.
Freak of Nature Oolong: This one wasn’t quite as tart, but the tea flavor was more pronounced than the Lichi Noir. It had nice citrus and spice notes, but not as enjoyable to me as the Lichi Noir was. Maybe its the kind of tea used as I am not much of a tea drinker, but most of it doesn’t do it for me.
Picobrouwerij Alvinne Kerasus: This beer is brewed with wild Morpheus yeast and then aged on “a boatload of cherries”, which is very prominent on the nose. The beer wasn’t sweet, which is a risk with fruit beers, and it was quite sour. Definitely my style.
Birrificio Barley Toccadibo: One of the other interesting draught selections was an Italian Belgian stronge pale ale aged in Zinfandel barrels. It was dry, fruity without being too sweet, light and had a really nice spice aroma in the nose and on the front of the taste. It finished with a very subtle tart note, which was perfect to complement the spice and dry mouthfeel.
I really didn’t want to leave Farmers’ Cabinet and if I am in Philly again, I will be returning. Luckily, Friday night included another visit with the whole group.
After leaving, we headed over to Nodding Head, a brewery we scouted out while having oysters earlier. It is an appropriate name, as you walk up the stairs there is a huge cabinet filled with bobbleheads of all kinds. I spotted a Berliner Weisse on the menu and really didn’t have to look any further.
Ich Bin Ein Berliner: was a great example of the style, light but full of flavor. They even served a shot of Woodruff syrup on the side, as the custom is in Berlin. It is an interesting green color and sweet, for people who want to balance out the tartness that is common in the style. I did try it, but I didn’t like the sweet. Plus, why would I ever want to tone down the tart factor?
To end our night we ordered Nodding Head’s cherry ale, Picnic, which was dubbed as “dangerously drinkable” at 7% ABV. The beer is a very deep, gorgeous ruby color and the cherry is very prominent in the nose and taste. It was a bit too sweet for me, but the big dark malt profile helped balance it out a little.
We headed in for the night as we were going to have just as full of a beer day Friday, visiting some of the other well-known Philly establishments like Monk’s cafe and Eulogy, and of course more breweries!