Philadelphia is celebrating Philly Beer Week (March 7-16). Beer deserves celebrating. But some people in Philly aren’t satisfied with merely celebrating the city’s beer scene; they also want to claim that they have the best “beer scene” in the country.
Some claim Philly’s beer scene is the best in the nation. Not so fast, say others. Can the city’s first-ever Beer Week settle the issue?
In exploring the question of whether Philly’s beer scene is the best in the nation, the article points out:
[Portland boasts] probably the strongest collection of local breweries in the country. According to the Washington, D.C.-based Beer Institute, Oregon ranked fifth in the nation in 2007 with 93 breweries, with Pennsylvania coming in seventh with 81.
Bear in mind Pennsylvania has four times the population of Oregon.
Then there’s the brewpub issue. For a city of its size, Philadelphia has a surprisingly small number of them (four, with Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant, Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant, Triumph Brewing Co. and Nodding Head Brewery and Restaurant), especially compared to tiny Portland (more than 20).
And by “more than 20” they mean 30.
Ultimately the article gets around to arguing that imports, especially from Belgium, are easier to find in Philly than any other city. This is debatable (see Higgins, Belgian Embassy, Belmont Station), but after Portland beats Philly in all the other categories they come up with, even if it were true it wouldn’t be enough to hang your “best beer scene in the nation” hat on.
The official site for the Philly Beer Week also makes the spurious claim that Philly is “America’s Best Beer-Drinking City”.
Here’s their reasoning:
Tradition. We’ve been crafting it for more than 300 years, since the days of William Penn. Our forefathers wrote the Declaration of Independence in colonial taverns. We brewed America’s first lager. We practically invented porter. We were already famous for beer when Milwaukee was a cow pasture.
Philly’s an old city, by American standards. It doesn’t follow that it is thus America’s Best Beer-Drinking City.
Diversity. While most American craft breweries focus on regional interpretations of one or two styles of ale, Philly-area brewers produce more varieties of beer than any other region in America. Everything from bock and pilsner to extreme beer and wild ale is made within 50 miles of City Hall.
I’d like to see some evidence for this claim. Granted, some Portland brewers, and beer drinkers, haven’t realized there are other varieties of beer besides IPA. But in Portland I can find a virtually any style of beer, including the four mentioned above, brewed locally.
Neighborhoods. Instead of plastic pubs in non-descript shopping centers, Philadelphia’s taverns are the real thing. Good beer is served in old-time corner bars and newly rehabbed saloons in the very neighborhoods in which people live. Beer is not some fad; it is a social lubricant of our daily life.
Is this a description of Philadelphia or Portland?
The People. Philadelphia is known around the world for its savvy beer-drinkers. Many of the best imported German lagers and Belgian ales are shipped first to Philadelphia, while the rest of the country has to be satisfied with meager leftovers. Meanwhile, every American microbrewery either sends its kegs to Philadelphia, or wishes it could.
Of course top imports, not just the “meager leftovers” are readily available in Portland too. But seriously, when you brew as much beer as we do in Portland, you don’t *have* to drink imports.
The Choices. There are more than 400 great places to grab a great beer in the city and near suburbs.
Heck, Portland has over 400 strip clubs that serve craft beers and imports.*
*I made that up . . . though it could be true. Nevertheless Portland has no shortage of “great places to grab a beer” and silly claims deserve silly rebuttals.
Dr. Bickle says
If Philadelphia beer is so great why can’t we get any of them here? I’ve been out drinking in Philly, and it is certainly a better beer town than New York (which probably explains why the writer of this story is so carried away with the idea). But you can get Rogue and Deschutes and (as I recall) Portland beers there; I can’t think of a single Philly beer available here except for Rolling Rock.
Dr. Bickle –
Yeah, that’s what surprises me; so Philly has good neighborhood pubs serving quality beers and lots of imports are available. Somehow that equals “best beer scene”?
I would think you’d have to have more than a handful of craft beers brewed locally to even be in the running. Yeah, and I can’t think of any Philly beers offhand.
I’ve lived in both cities in the past year and I gotta say that beer-wise, Philly has nothing on Portland. Philly is a great city to drink in, for sure, but it’s a stretch to call it America’s Best Beer-Drinking City.
Perhaps we need to claim that Portland makes the best cheesesteak sandwich in the US.
I totally agree with Heather!
I have a question for all of you beer connoisseurs. One of my professors claimed that most people who set out to have a brewery do it so they will eventually be picked up by a larger company (Budweiser, etc). Are local brewers really only in it for the money?
Brian – the articles did pique my interest in visiting Philly; sounds like there are lots of good neighborhood pubs, and who can complain about that? But of course you need more than that to claim the country’s “best beer scene.”
Heather – I wish I’d come up with that comparison – dang!
VF – I think that might be true of some of the more entrepreneurial-minded brewers, but most of the small ones are just good old fashioned beer-geeks who are probably fantastically content doing what they love for a decent living.
Dr. Bickle says
Also: When are Philly’s many beer fests, centered around the big international one held in the summer? I need to book flights….
Rock Colors says
Did most of you even read the article? It is quite balanced and basically concedes that Portland is superior.
“Realistically,” adds Tom Kehoe, founder and brewer of Philadelphia’s Yards Brewing Co., “we don’t have enough brewpubs.”
So Philly isn’t quite beer heaven yet.
But here’s the thing. Even those who say Philly isn’t the best beer-drinking city in America — Hieronymus praises Philly but gives the nod to Portland, “just because of the sheer number of local breweries,”
Um yeah right Portland Oregon, I mean really what kind of sophistication is that? Could you be any further from Europe? It’s in OREGON. If we were aguing Boston then that’s an interesting debate but I’d rather get on a plane and fly to Belgium than go to Oregon. Quantity of brew pubs means nothing I was just at a tasting of over 200 “microbrews” and a lot of them may be carefuly handmade but they were awful. I’ll take a belgium brew and some well made frites and bourbon sauce any day.
Alita – That’s rich! No one’s staking a claim to being more “sophisticated.” You’re entitled to your opinion about the quality of craft beers, and please, fly to Belgium. But the discussion here is about the claims by some that Philadelphia is the Best Beer Drinking City in America.
Rolling Rock is not and has never been a “Philly beer”. It was brewed in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Saying Pittsburgh is a suburb of Philly is like saying San Fran is a suburb of LA. Different geographically and culturally.
Perhaps you’re thinking Yuengling.
I’m sure you can find DogFish Head out that way. I know, it’s brewed in Lower Delaware, but outside of Boston, Philly is DHF’s home base. The owner of DFH is originally from New England and has a cult following twice that than Philly.
Most of the breweries in the Philly area (apart from Victory and DFH) have a Think Local, Drink Local mentality. They like to contain themselves and the markets. Something about quality control, I guess. Not one has been gobbled up by the megaswill makers.
I think you’re missing out if you don’t enjoy a good import once in awhile.
Philly has been called the Brussells of America time and again and I believe we have more local beer people who were knighted by the Belgian beer authorities than anyplace outside of Brugges.
Duvel Green. Here 1st. Chimay, Rochefort and Duvel on tap. Here 1st. You name any Belgian beer and chances are it appeared in Philly in either bottle or on tap before being mass marketed elsewhere.
Most microbreweries around the US make sure they have a presence here before going on to NYC, Beantown, DC or elsewhere. We are a proving ground without the faddish pretenses you’d find in the 5 boroughs. I’m not dogging the Big Apple. I do love the place.
You have to see the marketing ploy behind calling Philly the best beer drinking city, let alone the best anything city.
We do win out on being the birthplace of lager in America, we win out historically (pre-Prohibition) as having perhaps the greatest number of breweries and most eclectic brewing history, we win out with the imports coming here first, and with being a beer proving ground.
Our brewpubs are pretty much a suburban phenomenon. Though, I believe all are multi-time medal winners at the GABF.
If not for a select handful of guys in this city, you wouldn’t be drinking that Westvleteren or 120 Minute.
Toe-to-toe, Philly does beat any city on the east coast hands down as being the best beer drinking city. I’ll freely admit that and back it up with the fact that I’ve traveled to the other major cities to experience their beer scene 1st hand. None compare. It takes 5 Boroughs and Brooklyn in particular to come close. Sorry, though, no cigar.
You won’t find too many 100 tap beer bars here. Save that for Manhattan, Baltimore and DC. I’m not knocking huge selections of beer on tap. But, we don’t do that here. You will however find a lot of beer bars that cater to fresh, local brews only (10-12 rotating taps), plus some of the best Belgian cafes (supposedly, we have more per capita next to Brussels) serving 75%-80% Belgo beer on constantly rotating taps.
I invite you guys here. If you have questions, email me. I can’t point you in the right direction.
BTW, please don’t even try eat a cheesesteak (we really call them “steak sandwiches” or just “steaks” here). You’re wasting your tastebuds and your money. Especially if they serve you roast beef.
If you come to Philly, I’ll direct you away from were all the stupid tourists snake around the block for crappy steaks and to a little shop that was just voted Best of Philly.
I prefer pizza steaks with sauce and provolone. No onions. The steak melts in your mouth. No need to chew. It’s not chopped up and definitely not fatty. My Brooklyn born and raised girlfriend won’t eat any other steak sandwich.
And, we don’t say “wit” or “wit’out”, either! :0)
PhillyBob – Thanks for your contribution to the discussion! I actually prefer Belgian beers to what most of the microbreweries out here produce (i.e. over-hopped English-style ales), so if I ever get to the East Coast I’ll try to get in a trip to Philadelphia!
I just found out that Trolley Car Diner & Deli in Mt. Airy has over 70 beers plus seasonals! I was shocked to see how many good philly beers they offer….like dogfish, victory, yards…plus you can mix and max a 6 – pack which is really nice if you want to try some new beers. You can see their beer list on their Deli menu online at http://www.trolleycardiner.com. It’s also pretty cool to go eat at a Diner with such a huge selection….the food is pretty good too.
Ketch Rudder says
Portland is a great town albeit with marginal weather.
Yet you’d be hard pressed to argue that better ales get brewed either in Portland or Philadelphia.
The best ales get brewed in So Cal, especially in greater San Diego.
Compared to Stone Brewery, Port Brewing or Reaper, Rogue is lame.
What Philly and Portland offer are great old-school city architecture owing more to the climates of those cities, which drive the building design style.
Don’t be a bunch of soar losers. Best baseball team and best beer city. Just accept it. Philly rocks!