Brewing beer isn’t much different than baking Rice Krispies treats. It’s a lot of cereal grain, sugar and waiting around for the good stuff.
Boil some fresh water and add malt. Chose any combination of hops, rice, corn or wheat for flavor, allow yeast to feed on the malt sugars – and alcohol is formed. Let it chill for three weeks, cut and serve.
Gordon Grubb is a brewer for Nodding Head Brewpub, one of Philadelphia’s many craft brewing operations located right downtown, at 1516 Sansom St. He makes the restaurant’s beer while patrons chow on burgers and ribs beside fermentation tanks and malt mashers.
The pub’s granary offers the longest, strangest trip for someone unfamiliar with the brewing process. The over-glorified closet full of hops smells like a cannabis cup competition.
“Hops are the closest relative to marijuana, without the THC,” Grubb said.If you’re looking for the beer equivalent of a sack of shwag, try Nodding Head’s 3.75 percent alcohol by volume Prudence Pale Ale. Feeling up for a strain of Danish Nugs? Try the pub’s 12 percent ABV Hoptimus Prime.
“I just started thinking about how I was going to make it taste like a mix between pine tar and marijuana, but in a very good way,” Grubb said of his Hoptimus Prime.
The best place to get a taste and a buzz of Philly’s finest craft beers is at a beer festival. This Saturday, Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant’s “Brew Fest Extravaganza” will feature 50 breweries from the Delaware Valley. It gives amateurs and aficionados alike the chance to drink, compare and celebrate beer.
Classifying the extensive diversity of brewed beers in Philadelphia is almost impossible.
High alcohol to low alcohol, light to dark, malty to hoppy – no two beers are alike. Take the historic India Pale Ale, for instance.
A Philadelphia quintessential, the overload of hops gives it a taste as bitter as a Minuteman’s winter at Valley Forge. On the opposite end of the spectrum are German Wiezen styles. Made with plenty of wheat and few hops, these beers are often accented with banana or citrus flavors created naturally during the brewing process.
“Take your pick. We’re all over the map. It’s one big brewery town,” said Don Russell, a beer columnist for “The Daily News.” As author of the column “Joe Sixpack,” Russell has enough expertise to be the cartographer of that map. Today, a dozen craft breweries thrive in the Philadelphia area. United, they compete against national breweries that spend millions of dollars on advertising and control a lion’s share of beer sales.
“Our [breweries] trade brewers, share ingredients and certainly share expertise. These are the little guys. They’ve had to band together.
They wouldn’t be where they are today if they hadn’t,” Russell said.
The craft beer industry is filling taps and taking names. According to the Brewers Association, sales of craft beer saw an increase of 17.8 percent in 2006. Compare that to increases of only 2.4 percent for large domestic brewers.
According to Josh Ervine, brewer at Yard’s Brewing Company in the Kensington neighborhood, this success is due in part to the changing perception of craft-brewed beer.
“It’s really hard to change someone’s palate. It is working and a lot of it has to do with the festivals,” he said.
Philadelphia experienced its first beer resurgence soon after a wave of Germans immigrated here in the late 19th century. What we now know as Main Campus was once a brewing utopia.
Rising Sun, Nichterlein, Prospect, Klumpp, Excelsior and Kasper are only half of the production breweries that thrived in Temple’s neighborhood, which might have had students wondering if they should buy a case or go to class.
Anyone looking for a relic of beer culture may want to visit the Kardon Building, at 1801 N. 10th St., which according to Pennsylvania beer historian Rich Wagner, is “One last monument to the many breweries that were part of Temple’s campus.”
Once home to the Class & Nachod Brewing
Company, the Kardon Building housed kegs like it now houses students.
Prohibition’s effects on beer culture lasted far longer than the 13 years that American breweries were dry. Brewing beer at home wasn’t made legal again until 1978 and brewpubs serving grub and suds weren’t legalized until 1982. But, it wouldn’t be long until curious connoisseurs tried their own recipes.
Festivals sought to alleviate a consumer’s apprehension to try these homemade concoctions.
But according to brewers throughout the city, once patrons try a craft beer they’re likely to forget about what’s on tap at most other bars. Sometimes all it takes is a little coaxing, said brewer Chris Firey, resident beer chemist at Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant.
“We sell [the mainstays], but the waitress brings a 4-ounce sample of our Bohemian Blonde to the table. Sixty percent to 70 percent of the time they order our Blonde the second drink around,” he said.
Like most breweries, Nodding Head Brewpub will bring two different brewed styles to the festival. But according to Grubb, it’s about getting beer to the people, not necessarily about the beer that they bring.
“[A beer festival] isn’t serious like a wine-tasting festival. There’s no sipping, no sniffing. It’s the best opportunity to try a bunch of stuff at one time for one price. You might discover something you like and maybe next time you’ll stop by one of our bars,” Grubb said.
Although it’s practically guaranteed that you’ll find something you like, when it comes to craft beer, it’s taboo to pick favorites. “Do you ask your mother which one’s the favorite?” Grubb said.
9th Annual Beer Festival Extravaganza
Manayunk Breweryand Restaurant
4120 Main St.
Saturday, April 28
Noon to 4 p.m.
$25 advance, $35 at the door
Brian Kirk can be reached at email@example.com.