There’s an old story told in some churches: “Jewish people don’t recognize the Christian’s Messiah. Protestants don’t recognize the authority of the Pope, and Baptists don’t recognize each other in the liquor store.” Nevertheless, in other Baptist circles, drinking is still frowned upon. As a Baptist minister and in the interest of self-preservation, I am writing about my discovering craft beer anonymously.
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, I think my father only drank the cheapest beer he could find. A few sips of whatever swill he had when I was in high school was enough to keep me at home when my peers would scoot down over the West Virginia state line on Friday nights after the football game to guzzle down some 3.2%. Skipping ahead six or eight years, I found the first beer I thought was worth drinking in a little dive bar near the end of the transit line where I’d wait to pick up my wife after work. The bar was safe because it was over the county line from where I lived. Again, the idea of anonymity in the interest of self-preservation and continued employment was important to me.
Beck’s Dark was the first beer I drank that had flavor. Flavor! What a great idea! Soon after that discovery, we moved about 600 miles away to an area of the country with more progressive ideas about alcohol and many other ideas as well.
In a nearby Irish bar, I had my first encounter with a Black and Tan (Guinness and Bass Ale). As I recall, the bar had several half and half specials. I began to realize that I preferred the Guinness more than the Bass and soon ordered the Black and Tan, sans tan. In that neighborhood was also Wachusett Brewing Company; this was from where I had my first actual craft brew beer. Having been drawn to darker beers, I found their Nut Brown Ale and Milk Stout to be very attractive.
In the late 1990s, I moved to the Philadelphia metro area and was amazed at the comparative variety of good beer available. At that time, Monk’s and Eulogy were the highlights of beer culture and availability for me. It is really astounding how the beer culture has exploded in this area in the last 15 years. In New Jersey in those days, the only good beer bar I could find was in Mt. Holly—the High Street Grill. Now, the Pour House, The Irish Mile (with 60 taps), Keg & Kitchen and PJ Whelihan’s are all within a mile or so of one another.
In Philadelphia, there are multitudes of amazing craft beer bars everywhere, in every neighborhood in the city. A few of my favorites include Grace Tavern and Ten Stone. For a long time I was afraid to go into Khyber. Passing it one day, they had New Holland Dragon’s Milk on their sign. With Dragon’s Milk being my all-time favorite beer, I bravely entered and have been back several times since. Dragon’s Milk also tempted me into Barcade®, which has become one of my favorite beer bars. With 25 taps, they always have a wide variety of excellent beer from which to choose. My number one go-to place continues to be The Abbaye in Northern Liberties. With numerous taps, there’s always something good to drink. They have a super staff that is friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.
Some of my (non-Baptist) friends think I’ve become a beer-snob. I respectfully disagree. There is just so much good beer being brewed these days, I just won’t waste my time and money to settle for mass-produced beer aspiring to the lowest common denominator.