On Mifflin Street, coffee grinds, barley, stimulants and depressants share some space at the bar.
At Brew, a beer boutique in South Philly, beer fanatics can enjoy their favorite brew in a coffee shop environment. Brew, which shares its space with coffee shop Ultimo Coffee, offers a wide selection of craft beers for sale, both bottled and on tap, for customers to drink in or take to-go.
“It’s the coffee shop atmosphere, but it’s not as pretentious as going and sitting in Starbucks.” said Brew employee Shawn Whyte. “It’s like a bar you can get [stuff] done at. It’s hard to bring a laptop to a bar. If you want to drink and not be at your own house, but not be at a bar, [this is the place].”
Brew offers more than 500 different bottles of beer, and another 10 beers on tap. The boutique, a craft beer enthusiast’s dream, specializes in solely craft beers.
“Generally craft beer is better,” said Brew manager Kathryn Wiggins. “It’s tastier, a little more full-flavored. [Craft beer] uses better quality ingredients … usually it’s better made, a better example of something new and interesting.”
Wiggins said craft beers tend to use actual hops and malted barley, compared to larger beer producers Budweiser and Miller, who use corn and rice for the malt process to tone down the flavor and bitterness of the beers. This tends to appeal to a mass-market audience.
Brew’s specialization in craft beers also comes from its owner and Temple alumnus, John Longacre. Longacre also owns South Philadelphia Tap Room and American Sardine Bar, both of which specialize in craft beers.
Due to Philadelphia’s liquor licensing laws, a customer at Brew can only purchase 192 ounces of beer at one time, which in turn created the shop’s unconventional layout. Beer at Brew can be purchased to-go in 12-ounce bottles, 64-ounce growlers, and 38-ounce milk cartons, compared to Pennsylvania beer distributors, which can only sell cases of beer.
“That’s the one thing about Pennsylvania’s liquor laws that makes this place unique,” Whyte said. “[At] distributors you’re stuck getting one case and just 24 bottles of one beer. Here you can mix and match, you can get 24 bottles of 24 different beers.”
Wiggins said the popularity of craft beer in recent years is for a variety of reasons, including consumer tastes for more locally-made products.
“[Craft beer has] become popular for the same reason local food and local farms have gotten more popular,” Wiggins said. “People are more interested in knowing where the stuff that they’re eating is coming from … A lot of times you can know the people are producing [the beer]. It’s not some nameless, faceless giant. Joe Schmoe around the corner is making your beer.”
In Philadelphia, there is no shortage of breweries, with more than 10 breweries located within the city limits. Local breweries include Yards Brewing Company in Fishtown, Dock Street Brewing Company in West Philadelphia and Saint Benjamin Brewing Company in Kensington, all of which have beers stocked by Brew, adhering to the local flair that Brew looks to capture when stocking beers.
Philadelphia hosts the yearly Philadelphia Craft Beer Festival at the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia, the most recent of which was held on March 7. Craft beer enthusiasts also got a taste of rare beer this month, when Philadelphia bars Monk’s Cafe and City Tap House had tastings of acclaimed Russian River beer, Pliny the Younger and more.
Whyte claims that Philadelphia hosts one of the largest craft beer communities on the East Coast, and thinks the amount of breweries in Philadelphia lends itself to a growing community of craft beer drinkers. Whyte said events like the Pliny the Younger tasting will only increase demand for craft beer in Philadelphia.
“There will be people waiting in line for Pliny the Younger at all of these different bars,” Whyte said. “And it won’t be less after people drink it once, they’ll be going to the next place to get it again. It’s just that rare.”
“The only place [Pliny the Younger brewer] Russian River distributes on the East Coast is Philadelphia,” he added. “The only place they send their beer is Philly because they know we drink it … and the more beer there is here to drink, the more people there will be to drink it.”
Christian Matozzo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.