I had just moved to Philadelphia after a decade in D.C. and an around-the-world backpacking trip. I’d heard for years about this mythical Pliny the Elder, but could never find it. One day, I was sitting at Independence Mall with my wife, reading Twitter. Then, like a lightning strike, Foobooz tweets that Strangelove’s would be tapping a keg of Pliny at 5 pm that day. I was new to the city and I didn’t know where to find good craft beer. I didn’t even know where Strangelove’s was, but I made it my mission to find out. When I finally made it there, I sat at the bar and had truly one of the finest IPAs I’ve ever had—a beer that quickly became one of my new favorites. Not only that, but I discovered a fantastic bar that I’ve returned to time and time again for great conversation, great food and, of course, great beer.
I started drinking beer seriously (and by that I mean actually TASTING the beer rather than just DRINKING it) during my first year of graduate school in 2003, in Bologna, Italy. There was a bar down the block from my apartment that had a pretty extensive bottle list—mostly Belgian stuff. Italy wasn’t exactly a bastion of craft beer and I didn’t appreciate at the time how special this bar was. My friends and I were in there 4-5 nights a week because we didn’t have an actual living room in our apartment, so it became our de-facto living space. We got to know the family that ran the bar. They helped us learn Italian. Every Sunday at midnight, Italian TV would show a truncated American football game. It was amazing—just the plays with all the stoppages and commercials cut out. It was over in 25 minutes, and we’d try (and fail) to explain to them the rules of American football.
After that, I always had an appreciation for good beer and was always interested in trying new stuff, but I didn’t start getting really into craft beer, specifically American craft beer, until a few years ago. In fact, I was one of those fools who just thought, “Well, NOTHING is better than Belgian Trappist stuff.” There wasn’t really a specific catalyst. I joined Untappd and found I really enjoyed keeping tasting notes and seeing what other people were drinking and enjoying. Washington D.C., where I lived for about 8 years, is now enjoying a craft brew boom with several small brewers opening and thriving (DC Brau, Chocolate City, Bluejacket) and it was exciting to live there and experience that growth.
During my trip around the world, I made sure to drink as much local, interesting beer as possible. I spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia, home of the watery lager. One of my favorites was Myanmar Beer because it tasted pretty good, but the bottle caps were a gambling game. You could get about 25 to 50 cents off your bill or, if you got lucky, a free beer. The servers in Burma were always rooting for you and everyone cheered when you won a free beer.
In experiencing all this, it was only natural that it was in Philadelphia that I wanted to explore and enjoy the craft beer scene. Philadelphia’s craft beer scene is truly second to none. I recently went to Kraftwerk in Brooklyn thinking that surely they would also carry Russian River beers, but when I asked the bartender he said, “Nah man, you gotta go to Philly for that!” I love my new city and I can’t wait to drink my way through it.