Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Brewery mergers have been the talk of the town in recent days, so let's go the opposite direction and talk splits. A little over two years ago Tom Kehoe, founder of Yards Brewing Company, and Nancy and Bill Barton, Yards co-owners since 2001, came to an agreement to part ways. In a nutshell, Kehoe retained the Yards name and existing recipes and relocated the brewery shortly thereafter, while the Barton's held onto the Yards facility (originally constructed as a part of the Weisbrod & Hess Oriental Brewing Company in 1885) and equipment in the Kensington section of Philadelphia and formed the Philadelphia Brewing Company in 2008. The brewery now cranks out four regular beers (Newbold IPA, Rowhouse Red, Walt Wit and Kenzinger), along with a handful of seasonal offerings. I had the good fortune to sample a bunch of their stuff recently and here's how they all fared:

Kenzinger (4.5% ABV, a "golden session ale" and PBC's flagship beer) was up first and it looked amazing: a crisp golden color with a huge rocky, foamy head that lingered atop the liquid. Everything finally settles in and leaves hefty gobs of residue on the glass. Quite frankly, the head out of the bottle was actually a bit too crazy, as even the most careful of pours foamed up very easily. Regardless, this one was incredible looking.

There's a blend of sweet, subtle hop juice, some caramel and a bit of grainy bread in
the aroma, and these all carry over to the flavor where they meet up with a nice hint of pepper which hits you with a quick hop bite at the finish of each sip. Mouthfeel was maybe a touch thin, but this is a light bodied beer so that's to be expected to an extent.

Kenzinger was ridiculously easy to drink and quite enjoyable. Simple, flavorful and certainly one to revisit.

Next we had the Walt Wit (4.2% ABV, Belgian Style Wit) which poured with your typical (for the style) looking cloudy golden color and hits you with the basic wit aromas and flavors of lemon and other citrus notes, some wheat, a bit of yeast, and some herbs and spices such as coriander. The flavor brought the citrus and wheat to the forefront a bit more for a slightly bolder taste than aroma but overall everything was fairly tame. Balanced? Yes, but tame.

In terms of fitting within the style, this one did, but fell pretty close to the middle of the pack as it was average in just about every area. I wouldn't say to pass on it, but don't expect to be wowed either.

I was most curious to see what PBC's take on an IPA would be, as it's been the "in" style for some time now. Everyone's brewing them and most are going big with Double IPA's as well. I'm happy to say that the Newbold IPA (6% ABV, India Pale Ale) took one of the more unique approaches to the style that I've seen recently.

This was another one that looked amazing, with a nice murky amber color and a huge off-white head that is chunky as hell and which also left large patches of itself on the glass as it subsided.

The aroma and flavor were where this one started to stray from IPA territory, yet remained in character for the style at the same time. Sweetness and earthy malt dominated, with a good bit of fruit presence as well. Hops were in the mix for sure, but not nearly to the level that you'd expect, even for a basic IPA. They did come to the front a bit more in the flavor yet still remained tame, to the point where I'd say it even leaned toward a Pale Ale, yet not. I liked the murky, smoky undertones here as well. Weird. Good.

Interesting stuff and an odd one to pin down, but I liked it. A lot of atypical flavor and really unlike any other IPA I've ever come across.

Finally we had Joe (5% ABV, Coffee Porter) which was just released to the market in bottles and was a world apart from the three beers just discussed.

It's near black in color and had a rugged, coffee/chocolate aroma and flavor to it, yet was cut with a good amount of sweetness for balance. Come to think of it, the chocolate was actually more cocoa-like than straightforward chocolate. Coffee took over in the flavor yet still remained fairly balanced as the cocoa mellowed out a touch. A big fault of many porters is that they come at you with a hefty stout like body, but this one did not. It's certainly medium to full bodied, yet remained thin enough and spot on for the style.

I personally can't stand coffee as a stand alone beverage, but find myself liking a lot of coffee stouts and porters, and Joe was yet another one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

So there you have it. Overall I'd say there's some solid stuff coming out of the Philadelphia Brewing Company tanks with a few of the beers having some unique twists on their respective styles. When you sample four beers from a brewery and really enjoyed three of them with the worst thing you have to say about the fourth is that it was tame/average, that it's a nice place for them to be, or so I think. Hell, it's just one man's opinion, and who says I'm right anyway? If you live within their distribution area (only Pennsylvania and New Jersey right now as far as I know), pick up some of their stuff and prove me wrong...or right.

Hopback, beer, Philadelphia, Brewing, Nancy Barton, Bill Barton, Yards, Tom Kehoe, Kensington, Kenzinger, Walt Wit, Newbold IPA, Joe, Coffee Porter, Pennsylvania