PHILLY BEER WEEK is about the beer. But more importantly, it's about drinking the beer.
And more important than that, it's about where you drink the beer.
For the 10-day celebration of America's Best Beer-Drinking City is a full-frontal showcase of scores of great beer bars and restaurants. More than 200 participating venues and breweries are hosting hundreds of events featuring some of the best beer you've never had.
The best way to enjoy the week is to just plunge in. Pick a neighborhood and explore. You're bound to discover a new joint, a new flavor and maybe some new beer-drinking buddies.
Here's a thumbnail guide. (The full calendar is at www.PhillyBeerWeek.org and on free smartphone apps for iPhone and Android.)
Unlike many big cities, Philadelphia's central business district thrives with great beer because people live (not just work) here. Monk's Café, Tria, Jose Pistola's, Doobie's, Fergie's, Misconduct Tavern, Nodding Head, McGlinchey's . . . there's another great tap lineup just around the corner.
Essential stop: Monk's Café (16th and Spruce streets). The back room of this Belgian-style bar is Ground Zero of Philly Beer Week.
Hidden gem: McGillin's Old Ale House (1310 Drury St.). Often overlooked on tiny Drury Street, the city's oldest bar emphasizes local variety on its 29 taps.
Don't miss: The Saison/Biere de Garde Seminar with the always-entertaining beer importer Dan Shelton at Farmers' Cabinet (1113 Walnut St.), Wednesday. Tickets: $65.
They drank Philadelphia beer here in 1776, and they'll be drinking it here in 2076. Just start at 2nd and Chestnut and pick a direction - you won't go wrong at Eulogy, Triumph Brewing, Fork, Amada, Beneluxx or a dozen others.
Essential stop: Khyber Pass Pub (56 S. 2nd St.). The city's original craft-beer bar has been remade as a 20-tapper with Southern cuisine.
Hidden gem: The Irish Pol (45 S. 3rd St.). Forty taps but even better, it's cheap.
Don't miss: 12% Imports Tap Takeover at Eulogy Belgian Tavern (136 Chestnut St.), with unusual flavors from some of Europe's newest, and smallest breweries. Monday, no cover.
Once home to the city's two largest breweries (Schmidt's, Ortlieb's), it's now the city's prime beer'hood, with Kraftwork, the Institute, N. 3rd, the Abbaye, the bars surrounding the Piazza at Schmidt's and, once again, two breweries (Yards, Philadelphia Brewing).
Essential stop: Standard Tap (901 N. 2nd St.). The very definition of an American gastropub, with all local beers and wholesome local food. Afterward, pop in across the street for 1,000 different bottles at The Foodery (837 N. 2nd St.).
Hidden gem: Memphis Taproom (2331 E. Cumberland St.). Ten taps complemented by a beer garden with a hot dog and fried-pickle wagon.
Don't miss: It's a Firkin Riot at Johnny Brenda's (Frankford and Girard avenues) offers more than a dozen casks of British-style real ale. Tomorrow, no cover.
Prodded by an army of tattooed hipsters on fixed-gear bikes, these dense multicultural blocks now sparkle with fine joints (Devil's Den, Royal Tavern, Kennett Restaurant, The Wishing Well) and takeout shops (Hawthornes, Brew, Beer Heaven, The Bottle Shop).
Essential stop: South Philadelphia Tap Room (1509 Mifflin St.). Its 14 taps and beer engine are complemented by a local and sustainable menu.
Hidden gem: 12 Steps Down (831 Christian St.). It's a "group therapy" bar where the therapy might come in the form of Founders Double Chocolate Breakfast Stout.
Don't miss: The Bells Brewing tap takeover at the Pub on Passyunk East (1501 E. Passyunk Ave.), the Michigan brewery's only event during the week. Monday, no cover.
Those college kids may still be chugging Natty Light, but their professors and thousands of other higher-education workers are enjoying a craft beer at Local 44, Dock Street Brewery, MidAtlantic Restaurant & Tap Room and more.
Essential stop: City Tap House (3925 Walnut St.). It boasts the city's largest draft-beer selection, with 60 taps.
Hidden gem: Bridgewater's Pub (inside 30th Street Station). I defy anyone to show me a better draft-beer selection in any train station in America.
Don't miss: Philadelphia Night Market, the Food Trust's local food initiative, comes to 38th and Market, pairing local food with fresh suds at The Blockley's Beer Garden. Thursday, no cover.
The leafy streets nestle right up to old Brewerytown. Today, the corners host the likes of Belgian Café, London Grill, Rembrandt's, McCrossen's and North Star Bar.
Essential stop: Bridgid's (726 N. 24th St.). The prototypical neighborhood tavern, with a friendly horseshoe-shaped bar and 10 Belgian-centric taps.
Hidden gem: St. Stephen's Green (1701 Green St.). Quieter than The Bishop's Collar, but with 13 fine taps, it's more lively than the martyred St. Stephen.
Don't miss: Throwdown in Franklintown at Kite & Key (1836 Callowhill St.) is beer plus sumo wrestling. Tomorrow, no cover.
It's no longer surprising to discover envelope-pushing flavors in Montco, Bucks or even the former Beer Wasteland of South Jersey.
Essential stop: Teresa's Cafe & Next Door Bar (124-126 N. Wayne Ave., Wayne). A bar that hosts Chimay, Ballast Point, Stillwater and Sierra Nevada in just one week is a bar that can not be ignored.
Hidden gem: Haddon Township, N.J. Quaint Haddonfield may be dry, but Haddon Avenue is alive with the likes of Cork, the Pour House and the new Irish Mile. Visit 'em all during the Haddon Pub Fest. Tomorrow, free trolley.
Don't miss: Hop Head's Heaven at Jamison Pour House (2160 York Road, Jamison, Bucks County), with an all-star lineup of IPAs. June 8, no cover.
How about the Grey Lodge in Mayfair, Southwark and Brauhaus Schmitz along South Street, Capone's in Norristown, Iron Abbey in Horsham or the entire Uno Chicago Grill group? They all host can't-miss events.
Keep going . . .
Manayunk's Main Street will hop with a different local brewery every night. Doylestown will raise a Beer Week yell on Thursday. Boxcar Brewing will take over the old West Chester Railroad on June 10. Montgomery County's Craft Brew Bus will cruise into town on June 11. Grey's Ferry rocks nightly with the friendly trio of Grace Tavern, Resurrection Ale House and The Sidecar Bar & Grille.
Whew . . . So many neighborhoods, so much beer. Either I need a breather or Philly Beer Week needs an entire month.
"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net.