There's probably no town that's more beer-friendly than Philadelphia, home to Monk's Cafe, the now-venerable Belgian beer bar that got the good-beer revolution going, and lots of exciting newcomers like Grace Tavern, Chestnut Grill, and the quaintly named Devil's Den. So the obvious question for Philly beer lovers is: Why bother to travel in search of beer at all? Can't you be a cerevisaphile and just stay home?
Sure you can, but here's what might move you to take your beer love on the road.
Meeting the beeristas. These are those strangely dedicated and passionate people who brew, sell, and talk about beer. Some will show up in a bar near you, but if you treasure enthusiasm, you'll want to meet them on their own turf.
The tastings and the chance to expand your palate. A lot of beer lovers start out just being astounded that beer can be tasty. Then they fall in love with hoppy, citrusy beers. Beer tasting is a skill. Like wine tasting, it involves a set of steps: seeing, sniffing, sipping, swallowing, and savoring. And just like wine tasting, it's a lot more fun with company.
Getting an education. Beer is a wonderfully complex drink and part of the pleasure of loving it is knowing where the complexity comes from. Learn more about brewing and sustainability (breweries tend to be green), meet enthusiastic beeristas, and learn even more.
The pleasure of a pilgrimage. What could taste better than a brand-new beer in a friendly, unfamiliar place?
Discovering brewing. Breweries are different from bars; they're not even much like brewpubs. They're places where the beer's the thing, the one and only reason for being. The brewery is a beer temple, and sometimes you just have to go to temple.
Camaraderie. Let's face it, cerevisaphiles are still a minority group, and brewery people tend to be great social facilitators. There's a good chance your tour will end with some new friends.
In some parts of the country, breweries have developed into tourist destinations complete with guest houses and landscaped spaces to throw a party. Stone Brewing in California, for instance, is as interesting as any Napa winery.
Once you decide to take your love of beer on the road, there are a few breweries in this region that should be on every beerista's bucket list to visit.
Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del., (2 hours from Philadelphia) and Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (21/2 hours). This is the oldest and largest microbrewery in the region. Brewery tours are upbeat, scripted, and packed with information, and they end with a tasting of four beers. Most brewery tastings show off a few middle-of-the-road beers, but Dogfish hits you with four full-blown, interesting eccentrics. If the weather's good and the mood strikes you, there are two bocce ball courts right outside the tasting room (bocce and beer are distinctly compatible).
Brewings & Eats is Dogfish's experimental brewery and brewpub. If you find that fun, this is the place for you. Summer is a great time to visit because it's near the Delaware beaches.
Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown (50 minutes from Philadelphia) does not offer tours, but does have a legendary brewpub with good food and a wonderful, wholesome atmosphere - you'll see fathers with both toddlers and pints. The beers are wonderful renditions of Belgian, British, and American classics, and you can buy a flight of five selections to find your favorite. The entertainment comes from lots of slightly surreal events (think of a soggy Burning Man Festival) and things so hokey-lovely they could be at the county fair. On June 8 for example, they fired watermelons out of a 10-inch pumpkin cannon. Check the website for future events, and be sure to download a map.
Flying Dog Brewery in Frederick, Md., (2 hours, 45 minutes away) is edgy and the beers are consistently delicious. The brewery's hero is Hunter S. Thompson, and the beers have wonderful names. You can sample Raging Bitch, Kujo Imperial Stout, Horn Dog, Under Dog, and Snake Dog.
Flying Dog charges $5 for tours of the brewery floor and a six-sample tasting. You'll need a reservation.
Heavy Seas Beer in Halethorpe, Md., (2 hours away) offers a chance to taste and learn about two interesting outliers in the beer world: cask-conditioned and wood-aged beers. No matter when you visit, there's always one of each on tap. These are quirky and complicated throwbacks to preindustrial brewing. Be sure to try the Big DIPA, a 10.5% IPA with a grown-up taste.
Tours are $5 with a souvenir pint, Saturdays only; book online.