Thanks to the popularity of Philly Beer Week, local restaurateurs are raising their glasses to craft brews with tasting menus, flights, and cocktails.
On tap: Yards Brewing Company's Philadelphia Pale Ale.
The beverage world used to be neatly divided into two parts: There were wine people and beer people, as irreconcilably divided as North and South Korea. The oenophile would never dream of pairing a dish at a high-end restaurant with a brew, and the stereotyped acolyte of Homer Simpson turned his nose up at the perceived snobbery of wine. Thankfully, that is no longer the case (if it ever really was). Ever since our city’s craft-beer renaissance burst onto the national scene, practically everyone in Philadelphia seems to have embraced the beauty of carefully crafted brews alongside good food.
“The flavor combinations of craft beer and food are nearly limitless,” explains Tom Kehoe, owner and brewmaster of Yards Brewing Company (901 N. Delaware Ave., 215-634-2600). “Beers can be paired to accentuate or balance out certain flavors, and certain flavors in food will bring out components of the beer. It’s a very happy marriage, food and craft beer.”
The intersection of great food and beer has become so popular, in fact, that there is a growing national community of certified “cicerones,” essentially beer sommeliers whose expertise can be leveraged to add even more texture and excitement at our city’s best restaurants.
Then there are local beverage leaders like Steve Wildy, a James Beard Award semifinalist who helped design the much-lauded beer program at Alla Spina (1410 Mt. Vernon St., 215-600-0017), currently overseen by general manager Mike Gillespie; it has done much to introduce Philadelphians to a huge range of beautifully curated brews, plus beer cocktails and beer milkshakes. Jeff Benjamin, one of the most knowledgeable wine experts in the country and COO of the Vetri Family restaurant group, was at the forefront of bringing beer into the rarefied realm of high-end dining when he began offering beer pairings at Vetri (1312 Spruce St., 215-732-3478) back in 2002.
All of this suds-love comes to a head every year with Philly Beer Week, one of the greatest celebrations of craft beer in the United States. This year, from May 29 to June 7, venues all over the city will turn their attention to the great brews all of us should be drinking right now. “Our mission with Philly Beer Week is to show that our city is America’s best beer-drinking city, a place where you find the best beer in the world, both local and international,” says Kristine Kennedy, Beer Week’s executive director. “Many of our most popular events, such as the International Great Beer Expo, Varga Bar’s Annual Pinup Block Party, the PBW Beer Garden at the Shambles, and our marquee event, Opening Tap, will [return].”
So much for that old division between wine and beer lovers. These days, it’s all about flavor, which is just as likely to be found in a glass of IPA as it is in a bottle of Burgundy. Smart drinkers should take advantage of both. There are plenty of opportunities to do so.