With Philly Beer Week upon us once again, Spring Garden Street east of Broad is suddenly coming into focus as Philly's hopping new beer corridor. The Roy-Pitz Barrel House (990 Spring Garden St.) and the sprawling new location for Yards Brewery (500 Spring Garden) have already delivered brewpubs worth an afternoon of sipping. Sly Fox's renowned head brewer, Brian O'Reilly, recently announced his departure from that Phoenixville brewery for a new project slated for Yards' former space in Avram Hornik's Craft Hall complex on Delaware Avenue. And plans for yet another new brewery have just been announced: Triple Bottom is planned by a Weyerbacher and Stone Brewing alum for the former Reading Railroad Building at 915 Spring Garden. Those two exciting projects are still in the works. But yet one more great beer destination is already up and brewing.
The newest addition to Philly's beer scene – Love City Brewing – recently opened a couple short blocks south of that strip. And it's a beauty. Love City is the creation of Melissa and Kevin Walter, a longtime veteran of the Iron Hill brewpub chain. And though it's black-painted facade is tucked just out of view from Spring Garden behind Union Transfer on tiny Hamilton Street, the 19th-century warehouse space that once housed a railroad parts manufacturer (and, more recently, an MMA gym) is surprisingly large and inviting, its red-paned garage door windows rolled up onto a soaring room filled with distressed-chic industrial accents, a gleaming new 20 barrel brewhouse, and crowds of eager sippers.
As many as 500 customers a day, in fact, have found their way to Love City on busy weekends, when food trucks are also in residence. And I suspect it will remain that way, because Love City is aiming very skillfully for "the accessible" beer-drinking crowd, with a willing nod to some trendy styles like cloudy New England-style IPAs (like Eraserhood), but a deliberate focus on a wide range of more familiar classic styles Kevin mastered under his mentor Bob Barrar while at Iron Hill outposts in Media, Lancaster, and Voorhees.
It's no surprise, then, that Love City makes a fantastic oatmeal stout, though its Sylvie is a lighter weight version of the Imperial Russian that Barrar has made famous at Iron Hill, and now 2SP. Also, unlike a lot of smaller brewery start-ups, Love City has lots of space for slow-fermenting lagers. And I was particularly impressed with Walter's take on those leaner styles, especially the super-crisp American pilsner (Pathways) that had a beautiful balance of floral hops and bready malt. Love City's biggest hit, though, might well be its signature take on a classic lager. It's a perfect gateway for macro drinkers looking to step-up and taste what a true craft brewer can bring to the style, adding just a touch of pale ale hops for a hint of orange aromatics to give every bright sip of it a smooth, clean landing. It's so ready for the new Spring Garden's beer district's summer love, Love City has it canned and ready to crush.
— Craig LaBan