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Philly Beer 101

On Tuesday, we attended “Philly Beer 101,” a beer-appreciation class taught by Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) at the Trolley Car Diner in Mt. Airy. “This thirst-quenching course takes you through the confusing choices with a focus on the best values in the local beer scene. We’ll discuss the people behind the breweries, the styles they make, great beer bars and pairing your favorites with great food.” Herewith some random notes on the evening.

He served us some Miller Lite first, which he used to demonstrate the marked contrast between its feeble flavor and the more-robust beers to follow.

He then continued by explaining the two great branches of beer taxonomy, ales and lagers. The first pair of lagers were Sly Fox’s Pikeland Pils and Troeg’s Troegenator. Here were two lagers that taste vastly different. He noted that the Philly area is rich with great pilsners (Victory and Stoudt’s also make one).

Next were two ales, Yards Philly Pale Ale and Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (an “Imperial” IPA with 9% ABV, twice as much as the Yards!). These beers were similar in flavor, but at opposite ends of the bitterness/hoppiness scale. I love Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute, but the 90 Minute was a little too much for me.

Moving on to the Belgian styles, Don noted that Philly boasts many places with fine selections of Belgian beers. He served us Flying Fish’s Belgian Abbey Double and Yards Saison. I liked both of these a lot (how can you not like a saison—they are so refreshing), but was surprised that I loved the Abbey Double, which wasn’t too malty and sweet for my taste.

Stoudt’s Winter Ale was next and this was my favorite beer of the evening. Victory’s Baltic Thunder was next. It was introduced recently to some fanfare, and while it wasn’t bad, it was the first Victory brew that I didn’t think was perfect. Something about the balance didn’t seem right, and I think I still prefer Three Floyds Christmas Porter and Fuller’s London Porter.

Don classified Dogfish Head’s Raison D’Etre as a brown ale, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. To me, it tasted “Belgian” i.e., malty. Weyerbacher’s Blithering Idiot is a barleywine with 11% ABV (the highest in this group). This was my first barleywine and for me at this point, I would have to classify it as an acquired taste.

In between the tastings, Don wove a spellbinding (to me, at least) commentary on each beer, embroidering each description with innumerable facts and figures. We also received an excellent handout with 24 recommended bars and a list of about 30 beer styles each with a representative example.

After class, Don was selling copies of his book, Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide, which was just released. I think the title says it all, although there’s also excellent coverage of the surrounding counties and even two places in New Jersey. I bought a copy, of course.

This class will be held one more time on March 25. It is already sold out, but you can add your name to the waiting list. I had a great time.

Tomorrow, it’s the Philly Craft Beer Festival as Tony’s Beer Month continues. Cheers!


Thanks for the follow-up! Very interesting! I've had a lot of those beers. There are so many good brews in Philly! I think that Dogfish Head and Victory makes some of my favorites. Though I do love that Sly Fox Stout! yum!!

i'm a big fan of the raison d'etre. soooo good especially for a high ABV (i think 8%) beer. i find that many high ABV beers are too alcoholy without enough craft going into the flavor of the beer.

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