Whenever anyone asks, I can recommend a place for people to eat for almost any kind of ethnic food. Not only can I recommend a place, but I can also give a few options based on price point, as well. This is something I couldn’t really do with English food—you either ate at the pricey Dandelion or you were pretty well out of luck. That is, until the Victoria Freehouse opened at Front and Market, where Swanky Bubbles used to be.
While sampling some Christmas beer on Wednesday night, we were able to get a little taste of some of what the kitchen at Victoria Freehouse is capable of, and a return trip is very promising. Amidst the bite-sized rabbit rillettes and salmon tartar, there was the option of a faux Devils on Horseback—the original dish being bacon-wrapped stilton-stuffed figs, and our option being a hunk of stilton to stuff our own figs. Besides the finger foods was a delicious tray of perfectly cooked lamb chops, followed by small dessert bites of gingerbread cake, mini pecan pie-like tarts, and gingerbread men. The skill with the food was enough that I will definitely be back to sample a full-blown meal, and hopefully find a well-prepared fish and chips, which seems elusive in Philadelphia.
The wintery drinks we had were delicious as well, and included a mulled wine and a cocktail called Pear Tree, made with gin, pear, and rosemary clove simple syrup. It was sweet, but delicious. We were also able to try some of the English beer the Victoria Freehouse specializes in, including St. Peter’s Winter Ale, Innis & Gunn’s Black Treacle Porter, and Ridgeway’s Lump of Coal stout. The beer offerings throughout the bar include 10 taps, two casks, and 50 bottles of mostly English beer, so anyone with a hankering for a pint from overseas will be well-sated here.
If you’d like to get your hands on some of these, the Freehouse will be offering a Christmas Ales Spectacular happy hour tonight from 4-7pm, which will include flights of Ridgeway beers (Lump of Coal, Reindeer’s Revolt, Criminally Bad Elf, and Pickled Santa) for $15—and all flights will be served with the aforementioned Devils on Horseback. The pub will also be offering a Wells Imperial Pairings dinner at 7pm for $30 for three courses paired with Wells beers. Finally, throughout the month of December, the Freehouse will offer Dickens Roasts every Saturday, which will be a three-course meal for $25. Guests will be able to add a wine pairing for an additional $20 or a beer pairing for $15.
While most people don’t immediately think English food when they want to go out, when the cuisine is done well it can be quite good. While we only had samples on Wednesday, all signs point to the food being done quite well at the Victoria Freehouse, and at affordable prices—and as far as I’m concerned, that coupled with a quality beer list is really all you need. And that’s where I’ll end things, because I tell you to have a “jolly good time” or call you “old chap”—and nobody wants that.
Living in Philly, it’s not hard to start taking craft beer bars for granted. Not only does it seem like a 10-minute walk from my front step will get me to nearly a dozen places with good beer (it will), but there are also more opening up almost weekly. When everyone in the city has good craft beer, you begin to distinguish yourself in some other way—this is why a craft beer bar with excellent food has become old hat to Philadelphians. And also why, when traveling, I often find my snobbier side creeping out and thinking, “This is your best beer bar?”
Fortunately, when my wife and I took a trip to DC over the weekend and stopped at the newly opened Arsenal at Bluejacket, I could be impressed rather than disappointed. Occupying a boilermaker factory from 1918, you’d never be able to tell the building had so much history. Everything looked shiny and new, well put-together and aesthetically pleasing. From the communal tables with their warm lights hanging above to the long bar and the wonderfully lit wall-sized beer menu—all topped off by being overlooked by rows of fermenters brewing up the next batches for those seated below—there was nothing the natural light of the outside didn’t touch through the giant floor-to-ceiling rows of windows.
The Arsenal—which is the bar/restaurant portion of the operation—had many more hits than misses, with the only real shortcoming being the fried pig tails (though the General Satan’s Sauce they were in was delicious). The Juicy Lucy burger (two dry-aged brisket patties, white cheddar, dijonnaise) was juicy, messy, and flavorful enough to be a standout burger on any menu, and my wife couldn’t stop raving about the veggie burger she’d ordered. A patty made of black beans, chickpeas, and faro and topped with ancho mayo and avocado, this became only the second veggie burger I’ve had that could give meat patties a run for their money. On the side, we also had perfectly-prepared housemade tater tots (crispy on the outside, creamy and soft on the inside) and a taste of the violet mustard that usually accompanies the cheese plate. It was so interestingly herbaceous for mustard that I was never sure if I liked it, but I couldn’t stop eating it. A final tip: if you get any kind of fries with your order, ask for the harissa aioli on the side. You won’t be disappointed.
The beer from Bluejacket (the brewery portion, which boasts a coolship) was the real highlight, though. Head brewer Megan Parisi made her name through seven years (and five GABF medals) at Cambridge Brewing Co. in Cambridge, MA, so any quality should not be a surprise. Highlights included the oud bruin Trouble, the 4.2% easy-drinking Forbidden Planet dry-hopped Kolsch, the slightly funky/not-so-slightly bitter The Duel IPA finished with brett, and The Forager, a saison seasoned with poor man’s pepper and violet wood sorrel hand-foraged by executive chef Kyle Bailey. My favorite, though, may have been the Figure 8 on cask, a wee heavy brewed with figs and spices, casked with vanilla and coffee beans. This dessert-like beer, meant to mimic pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s figgy toffee pudding, was a complete 180 from its on-draft brother (which was minus the coffee and vanilla). Liquid dessert: a perfect way to end any meal.
Despite service being slow at times (the place was packed), all aspects of the bar-brewery-restaurant came together quite well in the end. The Neighborhood Restaurant Group has really amassed a group of all-stars for this current endeavor. Executive Chef Kyle Bailey (of ChurchKey and Birch & Barley), chef de cuisine Dan Hahndorf (formerly of Vermillion), pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac (just named Eater DC’s pastry chef of the year), Megan Parisi, and beer guru Greg Engert all combine to make this a must-visit if you are in DC. Having a talented chef or a talented brewmaster or a well-respected beer director would each be great for anyone, but to quote those ridiculously annoying Ford commercials, I like ‘and’ better.
If you’ve ever been to a bookstore, you’re bound to have seen at least one book in the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing: the sepia cover photo, the black title on the front outlined in red, the local town or historical landmark that makes you think, “Why would anyone write a book about that?” Luckily, though, the latest local installment is worth writing about with Robert A. Musson’s collected pictorial history of the Yuengling Brewery.
Most people from the East coast are familiar with Yuengling after their recent expansions, and anyone from Eastern PA especially have grown up with the constant reminder that Yuengling is the dominant local force in the beer industry. And from the first drawing of the brewery built on Mahantongo Street in Pottsville, PA in 1831 to the expansion of their Mill Creek plant in 2010; this book will give you a front-row seat to the buildings, people, and memorabilia from start to finish in at the Yuengling brewery.
For anyone with a passing interest of the brewery, the book functions as a quick jaunt through the years, spending the most time in the mid-to-late 1800s and quickly passing through Prohibition and beyond. The story is told through captions of pictures, giving enough information to learn something over the course of a day or two, but not so much as to overwhelm, or to make one feel like they’re reading a history textbook. (I haven’t read it, but if you’re into that kind of thing I would suggest Yuengling: A History of America’s Oldest Brewery by Mark A. Noon.) There are also plenty of interesting factoids not only about the brewery, but about how beer, bars, and advertising was viewed in the 1800s.
Bonus if you’re a current or former resident of Pottsville, PA, as the picture journey of the book will lead you down familiar streets as they were almost 200 years ago, complete with not only pictures of the brewery but some of the surrounding area. This includes a hand-drawn map of Pottsville from 1889 and aerial photos from the years after.
The only downfall of the book is that it is in black and white, so many of the pictures, I’m sure, lose their vibrancy. It is also a very niche publication for a certain subset of people, but that seems to be what Arcadia specializes in. If you know someone who is a fan of Yuengling (or just “lager” as it’s known around here), or who has ties to Pottsville, this is definitely something to add to their Christmas stocking. But don’t stop there—the book also works well for history buffs and anyone who likes or appreciates beer. And as it’s mostly pictures, it will make a great coffee table book for guests to absently flip through—after you give them a Yuengling, of course.
Craft beer pairs with many things, from cheese and charcuterie to burgers and fries. What most people don’t realize, however, is how well it pairs with other drinks. Whether it’s mixed in a cocktail or taken alongside a shot as Philadelphia’s favorite citywide special, craft beer mixes well with liquor. And if my time writing about and drinking craft beer has taught me anything, it’s the craft beer acts as the natural gateway drug to liquor.
In that vain, any fan of beer—and any fan of spirits, for that matter—would be remiss to not go to the 2013 Philadelphia Whiskey and Fine Spirits Festival, being held on Thursday, October 24 from 6:30 – 9pm at Lincoln Financial Field. The event, sponsored by Philadelphia magazine as well as Fine Wine & Good Spirits, will feature over 300 premium spirits from around the world, including whiskey, scotch, bourbon, tequila, gin, rum, and vodka.
The event will also include a Fine Wine & Good Spirits Lounge (with rare spirits), the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Experience (with a craft bourbon cocktail competition amongst local bartenders), a Buffalo Trace Saloon (with a country rock band), the Dewars Honey Suite (where you can sample the new Highlander Honey), and plenty more. There will also be hors d’oeuvres offered from local, high-end restaurants like Chima, Sampan, the Twisted Tail, Verdad, and more. Aramark will also offer a pasta station to attendees to help absorb that stomach full of booze.
If you don’t think two and a half hours is enough time to experience all of this and to get your fill of your favorite spirits, you’re in luck. The event is offering a VIP experience beginning at 5pm (an extra hour and a half in the festival) and will include a special behind-the-scenes stadium tour, exclusive spirit and food tastings, and a gift card to Fine Wine & Good Spirits. VIP tickets are $150 and regular tickets are $95 in advance or $100 at the door. There are also discounts for groups of 10 or more, and designated driver tickets can be purchased at the door. All other tickets can be purchased at phillymag.com/whiskeyfest or by calling 215.279.8316.
This is the 10th year the event has been put on, and after asking some whisky-loving friends, it’s an event worth going to. So whether you’re an experienced spirits drinker (as they are) or are just starting down the road to your favorite scotch (as I am), the benefits of being able to experience multiple tastes and zero in on what you like are extraordinary. Get your tickets soon, as they’re sure to sell out with the kind of volume and quality that are sure to be present.
When we moved to Philadelphia in the winter of 2007, I was just beginning my foray into beer appreciation. My then-girlfriend now-wife and I were living in Roxborough, and when I was finally able to get a job a few weeks after moving, she decided to celebrate with a trip to the General Lafayette—our first nice meal in the area, and my first experience with locally-brewed small-batch beer. While I may not have as many memories there (we only went the one time), and while it may not have been as special to me as it was to some others, the General Lafayette will always hold a special place in my heart.
Needless to say, it was exciting to hear that the team behind Devil’s Den had purchased the iconic building, finally ending the conjecture of what might happen to it and who might buy it. Things became even more exciting when Scott Morrison, former head brewer at McKenzie’s Brewpubs (when they were named RateBeer’s 35th best brewpub in the country) and seven-time Great American Beer Festival medalist, was named head brewer of the new venture. Devil’s Den will also be moving their head chef Paul Townbridge to Barren Hill to head up the food side of things at the Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery.
On Tuesday, October 8 beginning at 7pm, Devil’s Den will be hosting a preview of beers from Barren Hill, which will remain on draft in South Philly until Barren Hill officially opens its doors later this year. If you want an early taste of what you’ll be able to get at the new brewpub, you can sneak by for:
Biere de Octobre – A 6.75% French country Biere de Garde.
Belgian Gold – A 7.2% Duvel-inspired Belgian golden ale.
German Pale Ale – An American Pale Ale a brewed with German hops and aged on cherry wood. 4.8%.
Pilsner IPA – Also known as an Imperial Pilsner, this is a 6.4% Pilsner hopped like an IPA with Pearle and Hersbruker hops.
Galaxy Belgian IPA – The first in a series of single-hopped Belgian IPAs, using Galaxy hops (from Australia, in addition to Belgian yeast and American barley). 7.1%.
Berliner Double Weiss – One of the area’s favorite beer styles, taken to another level. Clocks in at a whopping 5.8%.
The team at Barren Hill have said they won’t really have any standard beers, but rather a rotating door of myriad styles and hybrids from around the world—as can clearly be seen by the small sample size that will be pouring for the time being at Devil’s Den. Barren Hill will open with six such drafts of their own, as well as 24 other draft lines for guest beers. While the hope is to expand to 10 Barren Hill taps, they will start slow and grow into their new endeavor.
The wait for the newest tenant to resurrect the General Lafayette has been long, and at time not promising. A great team has taken it over, however, and promise to make the most of the space. Stop by Devil’s Den to get your first taste, and build your own excitement for the Philly-area landmark’s reopening as Barren Hill Tavern and Brewery.
Devil’s Den will be kicking off Breast Cancer Awareness Month beginning Friday, October 4 at 7p.m. with the release of Free Will Brewing Company’s collaborative Saison de Rose. The beer, which will make its debut at Devil’s Den, is the effort of Free Will and a who’s-who of women in beer: Erin Wallace (owner of Devil’s Den, Old Eagle Tavern, and Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery), Tara Nurin (independent journalist and Epikur 2012 Writer of the Year), Carolyn Smagalski (independent journalist and Beer Fox), and Marnie Old (sommelier and author) and will be celebrated with food specials and raffles.
The saison, which will be limited, is tinted breast cancer awareness’s signature pink thanks to the addition of hibiscus flowers, and is brewed with pink grapefruit, fresh ginger, and pink peppercorns. For the entire weekend, it will be served alongside eight other Free Will drafts at Devil’s Den, and $1 from every Free Will draft sold will be donated to the Rena Rowan Breast Center at Penn Medicine. Stockerton Beverage Company, the beer’s wholesaler, will also be donating all of their proceeds from Saison de Rose, which will be approximately $30 per keg. With that, as well as bars across the city being encouraged to join the fun, the city-wide effort anticipates raising over $16,000.
In addition to the Saison de Rose this weekend, Devil’s Den will be tapping Free Will’s Bready Monster (marzen), Freshie (wet hop IPA), Pixie’s Revenge (barrel-aged Belgian), Napoleon Red (sour), Techno IPA, Destiny Wit, and Coffee Oatmeal Brown Ale. Chef de cuisine Matt Daggett and Executive Chef Paul Townbridge have also created menu specials for Friday night, which include a fennel and orange salad with lemon thyme marinated shaved fennel and ricotta salata, duck ragout with creamy corn polenta cakes, and scallops with parsnip-apple puree and truffle mushroom vinaigrette.
If you can’t make it to Devil’s Den this weekend, there will be plenty of opportunity to try out Saison de Rose and help make a difference in someone’s life. On Sunday, October 6, the beer will be poured at the Midtown Village Fall Fest between McGillin’s and Bru Craft & Wurst. Old Eagle Tavern will also be having a Free Will Night on Wednesday, October 23, where $1 will once again be donated from all Free Will drafts sold. Finally, Red Owl Tavern will be featuring the Saison de Rose at their first anniversary party on Thursday, Octoer 24, with proceeds from the evening also benefiting the Rena Rowan Breast Center. The bar will have a specialty cocktail inspired by the beer, specialty dishes, and raffles.
Be sure to make it out to something featuring this beer to not only get what is sure to be a tasty beverage, but to also help support breast cancer research. There are plenty of reasons to drink craft beer, but you can’t find much better than a cause like this. The beer will be on draft throughout the city and suburbs, so there should be no excuses.
Drink beer. Fight cancer.
On Saturday, November 2nd, Philadelphia’s beer-loving population will be able to try out over 300 beers from over 120 breweries at the Epic Beer Festival, which was formerly known as the PA Beer Festival. The fest will take place at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and offer two sessions for 6,000 attendees to choose from.
Each session will run for three hours (1p-4p and 7p-10p) and will cost a lowly $45. There is also the option to add on a VIP hour to each (beginning at noon and 6p respectively) for a $59 ticket. In addition to these reasonable prices, the most reasonable will be the designated driver ticket: free to all confirmed designated drivers. You don’t get much better than that. In addition to the 3-4 hours of drinking, the ticket prices will include a commemorative miniature tasting mug, a DJ, live music, games, vendors and more. The VIP package will include all that and a free Epic Beer Fest t-shirt.
With over 120 breweries present, attendees can be sure some of their favorites will be on the line-up, whether they prefer national brands like Great Lakes, Elysian, and Avery or smaller local breweries like Vault, Manyunk, and Naked Brewing—or anything in-between. And while the major breweries and the locals will be nice to sample, the real promise comes from the smaller breweries from out-of-town being featured that we wouldn’t have much experience with, such as Bottletree Beer Co., Gunpowder Falls, or Nectar Ales. Are any of them good? Buy a ticket and you’ll be able to find out.
In addition to the beer, food will be for sale through the convention center. Unfortunately, no food trucks or outside vendors will be permitted, but the convention center will be able to take care of all your drinking food needs, including standbys like cheesesteaks, nachos, popcorn, pizza, tacos, and more. But even though they’ll have food, be sure not to arrive with an empty stomach—that’s bad form for a festival of this size.
Epic Beer Fest will offer the largest selection of craft beers of any festival in Philadelphia, and at a better ticket price than most others. But don’t be discouraged by the number of breweries—quantity does not mean bad quality. Take a look at the list of breweries (subject to change) on epicbeerfestival.com and see for yourself. And while you’re there, be sure to grab your tickets—the event sold out last year and will certainly do so again this year. Don’t miss out on your chance to try all the beer you’ve been missing!