City of Brewery Love

Brother, Philadelphia is where the beer flows, especially in its pubs and micro- breweries

$500 Getaway

October 29, 2006|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,[Sun Reporter]

PHILADELPHIA — A lot of people don't know this, but beer aficionados have always revered the great Benjamin Franklin.

"Ben Franklin?" you say. "Short guy with bifocals? Crazy long hair? Statesman, inventor, scientist, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution?"

Yep, that Ben Franklin.

For it was Franklin who was credited with writing the greatest beer-marketing slogan of all time, when he wasn't busy being one of the Founding Fathers and one of the most brilliant, accomplished men of his time.

"Beer," he purportedly stated, "is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

Taking that to heart, my wife and I took a recent trip to Philadelphia, Franklin's adopted hometown -- he was born in Boston -- on what could be called a Beer-Lovers $500 Getaway. (OK, my wife, Nancy, isn't really a beer lover. But that's what we named it, and we're sticking to it.)

The fact is, Philadelphia has a rich and varied brewing heritage.

According to, a Web site "dedicated to advocating, supporting and bringing awareness to the worldwide craft beer scene," the city can be considered the first beer capital of America, since, by the end of the 18th century, it produced more beer than all the other seaport cities in America combined.

By the early 20th century, "Philadelphia was known as the greatest brewing city in the Western Hemisphere," according to the Web site

Although there's only one brewery still operating in the city -- the highly regarded Yards Brewing Co. in Kensington (more on this later) -- the Philly area has a number of neat microbreweries and a thriving pub scene where local prize-winning beers are served.

Downtown, there's even something called a Tippler's Tour, where beer lovers can visit historic watering holes accompanied by a guide in Colonial garb.

While folks on the two-hour tour sample beverages from when Ben Franklin and his boys were knocking them back, the guide discourses on 18th-century drinking traditions, songs and toasts -- at least until people start getting well-lubricated and stop paying attention.

It sounded great, but the Tippler's Tour was only offered Thursday evenings and we arrived Friday afternoon, so that was out.

As it was too early in the day to be sampling the City of Brotherly Love's fine beers -- although ... is it ever really "too early" for that? -- we began our visit at the famous Mutter Museum, at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia on South 22nd Street.

The museum, according to its brochure, "was founded to educate future doctors about anatomy and human medical anomalies."

And, brother, are they big on medical anomalies.

For the $12 admission fee, you can see -- and I hope you are not reading this over breakfast -- a collection of 2,000 objects extracted from people's throats; the preserved fetuses of conjoined twins; the cancerous growth removed from John Wilkes Booth's thorax; a cast of a woman's head with a horn growing from it; and an example of every kind of tumor, war wound, disease, skin infection, congenital abnormality and body and head trauma known to man.

It's all fascinating, but when you leave there, believe me, you'll really need a beer.

Evening of suds

So after leaving the museum, we walked to McGillin's Olde Ale House at 1310 Drury St., billed as the oldest continuously operating tavern in Philadelphia.

(In case you're wondering, there was no drinking and driving on the Beer Lover's $500 Getaway. Uh-uh, we're solid citizens. We parked the car at our hotel, the Best Western Center City, and walked to and from all the pubs.)

The garish, neon-pink sign outside McGillin's says "Est. 1860." It seemed to us that no business established 146 years ago should have a big, garish, neon-pink sign, but that was no more jarring than the plasma TVs inside and Aerosmith wailing over the sound system.

Still, McGillin's is a wonderful Irish pub that serves great beers, such as the tasty Oktoberfest from Stoudt's Brewing Co. in Adamstown, Pa., that I tried first, and the hoppy, full-flavored OktoberFish from Flying Fish Brewing Co. in New Jersey that my wife sampled.

The nice man behind the bar also poured a free sample of a pumpkin ale from Dogfish Head -- who makes up these names? -- microbrewery in Rehoboth Beach, Del.

Dogfish Head boasts that it makes "off-centered stuff for off-centered people." But a pumpkin-centric beer -- aren't you supposed to make pies from pumpkins? -- was a bit much for us.

From McGillin's, it was a short walk to Ludwig's Garten at 1315 Sansom St., the local Valhalla of German beer and food.

We had a nice meal of potato pancake appetizers and a platter of knackwurst, weisswurst, German potato salad, Alsatian bread, pickles and spicy sauerkraut served by a lederhosen-clad waitress in a dining room that looked like a Bavarian inn, with huge pictures of stern-looking monarchs on the walls.

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