The Philadelphia Inquirer gathered up some of the most decorated brewers, beer writers, and part-time alcoholic pros to drink beer and tell everyone which were the best of the bunch in the lead up to Philly Beer Week. Craig LaBan led the charge for a motley crew consisting of Tom Peters (Monk's), Lew Bryson (author), Rick Nichols (curmudgeonly columnist), Mike Scotese (Grey Lodge Pub), George Hummel and Nancy Riberg (Home Sweet Homebrew), and Jan Matysiak (brewer at Sixpoint).
The group was tasked with deciding the best-of-the-best in two categories: Philly classics, and the top new beers on the local scene. What the panel discovered was that brewers are shying away from over-the-top super hoppy explosions, and a new respect for sour beers and the people who love them. The victors get a neat-o trophy and some center stage love at tomorrow night's Opening Tap.
The Philly Classic category was filled with the craft brews everyone takes for granted, keeping us warm when we can't get a glass of that coveted one-off from Russian River. And the winners are:
1. Flying Fish Exit 4 - In a short few years, Casey Hughes' first Exit release has become a classic, exemplifying Philly's desire to go against the grain. His American Trippel is flooded with hops that add some citrus flavor, and hide the whoop-ass 10% ABV. It's also won every damn award ever available for a beer.
2. Victory Headwaters Pale Ale - Victory has a roster full of award-winning beers, and the extreme balance of the Headwaters Pale Ale put it near the top of the list. Forget the boozy waste of time known as Golden Monkey, and spend your time with mildly hoppy and just malty enough Headwaters Pale.
3. Sly Fox Pikeland Pils - The best pilsner in a city full of best pilsners. Perfect hop balance with citrus and sweetness, Pikeland Pils is the greatest canned beer ever made. That's not an exaggeration by any stretch of the imagination.
The Best New Beer category is all over the map, with the big winners heavy on funk and sour flavors. In a world that was previously dominated by big booze and exhausting hops, it's refreshing to see brewers embrace a funky, dirty flavor.
1. Earth Bread+Brewery's Amarelle Belgian-style Sour Ale - A funk freakout, the Amarelle is referred to as a "cheery-soaked horseblanket" by the King of Sours, Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe. Sadly, this brew won't be at Opening Tap, since EB+B doesn't participate in Beer Week.
2. Appalachian Brewing Co.'s Anniversary Maibock - A lush, full-bodied golden malt beauty. This is the second year Appalachian Brewing has produced the beer, and it will soon be in the Philly Classic category.
3. Iron Hill's Saizanne Wood - Iron Hill brewer Chris LaPierre has a longtime relationship with the Beer Lass, Suzy Woods. He's had an even longer relationship with beer. So, he put the two together, and came up with the "Wild Ale" named for his lady love, who also had a big hand in producing this barrel-aged Saison.
· Third Annual Brewvitational [The Inky]