Whether you love beer or think you hate it, no trip to Philadelphia should be made without a copy of Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide in hand. Joe Sixpack is Don Russell, winner of the 2006 Brewers Association Beer Journalism Award in Consumer Print, and roving brewsman for over ten years at the Philadelphia Daily News. His caricature, inked throughout the book in a dozen humorous settings by Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Signe Wilkinson, is the perfect representation of this beer-drinking journalist. Chapter 1: Beer Tours
“Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide: A Reporter’s Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City in America” is full of Philadelphia tough-guy attitude, while spouting rivers of information about beer in the city, the suburbs, and at the shore. His directions for bar-hops in different sections of the city are priceless, with constant subtle tips about his preferred haunts, what to order, how to get around, and what beer to pair with Philly fare. Russell’s light Philly-lingo adds to the flavor of authenticity.
Chapters flow intuitively for anyone who would like to explore the Philadelphia beer scene with a minimum of effort. It is written for a guy who won’t read the directions, but wants the knowledge quickly when he decides to give in. As an extra bonus, Russell adds little boxes with bar-tales, info, money-saving hints, and local opinions to each chapter, like seasoning on a well-dressed steak.
Contents of Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide
A complete tour of the city can be grasped in less than 40 pages. In the true style of a local, Russell spews plenty of attitude about “clichés” like the Liberty Bell, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Rocky Balboa, and Ben Franklin. He then encourages the visitor to explore each neighborhood for hidden treasures that make Philadelphia the “best beer-drinking city in America.” Whatever your beer style – whether a Conventioneer, History Buff, Suburban Shopper, or Leg-Stretcher – Russell creates a tour that whets the appetite for great discoveries. He adds tips on local attractions (Elfreth’s Alley, Betsy Ross House, the Philadelphia Art Museum, etc.), how to get around, and where to get good food, while teasing you with his exuberant sense of humor.
Chapter 2: The Breweries
Breweries in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the suburbs – including PA locations in Wilkes-Barre, Harrisburg, Adamstown, and Pottsville, are briefly described. Russell adds insider information (a satisfying perk for the true beer geek) and gives mini-lists of “beer essentials” for each location.
Chapter 3: The Brewpubs
“Joe Sixpack” explores the area brewpubs with the mindset of a purist - one who truly loves beer. Just as the craft beer enthusiast trashes the generic homogenizing of the huge beer companies, so Russell flays the boring stripmall-chains in favor of the welcoming brewpubs of the city and surrounding counties.
Chapter 4: The Beer
Anxious to get started? Don gives a brief, yet concise, review of ale and lager; then, breaks them down into broad categories – German, Irish, Belgian, Extremes, Secrets, Real (Cask) Ale, Wine-like Beer, and Winter Warmers – with recommendations on where and what to drink within each style. He explores the pride associated with beer geekdom, with suggestions for honing your skills.
Chapter 5: Philly Beer History
To satiate the trivia hound, a historic timeline of beer moments that shaped America lives in these pages. He includes accounts of colonial taverns and locations, whether they are still standing and, if not, what civil engineering feat of modern-day technology now stands in its place. (Interstate-95?) He tells tales of defunct breweries and legendary beer… yet, adds connections to craft beers that are similar in style and taste to those of bygone days. For a taste of the authentic past, Don includes some old-time bars where nostalgia lives on in an “old-fashioned lager.”
Chapter 6: Excuses to Drink
Whether enjoying the heat of a ballgame, festival, or bike-race…or relaxing “down the shore” (more Philly lingo), Russell splashes his pages with events for spirited fun. Events listed may be in town, out-of-town, or out of the country. Listed monthly, this makes an ideal, user-friendly tool for the serious event enthusiast.
Chapter 7: Amusements
What’s your passion? Darts, billiards, music and jukeboxes, shuffleboard, quizzos, sports, and tavern games…even reading? Whatever your passion might be, there is a beer bar in Philadelphia tailored for you.
Chapter 8: Beer and Food
Brief and to-the-point, Don directs you to restaurant-bars that serve good fare or to BYO’s with atmosphere and attitude. He touches on beer and cheese, and pitches you a gloveful of classic Philly favorites.
Chapter 9: Going Home
With the same Philly schtick that peppers the rest of the book, “Going Home” is a treasure chest of information for everything you might question before you tie-one-on, but definitely NEED after you have over-indulged. Russell includes where to buy beer, Pennsylvania rules for bars and clubs, DUI rules, transportation, tips, hangover info, stocking your own bar, and what glasses to use when serving a nightcap at home.
Chapter 10: Great American Beer Festival
What book on beer in any section of America would be complete without a mention of the annual Great American Beer Festival? If you doubted the validity of Philly beer, peruse this listing of Pennsylvania’s award-winning beers – medal winners are listed from 1987 to 2007. An Index of Beer Bars follows, as icing on the cake.
A Final Note: Since the book was written, a few places have closed and others have opened. New beers have come onto the scene. This is expected in any city with a flourishing market. Be aware that an active city has a life of its own and don’t be disappointed by change.
For those of us who are visual appreciators, we would prefer photos of beer labels, beer bars, taps, and beer to appear in living color, rather than in the black-and-white chosen by Camino Books. Beer, and the bars that serve it, are gems in their own right, and deserve to show off their distinctive color. That said, Joe Sixpack’s Philly Beer Guide is still a must-have for the beer enthusiast, whether a Philly local or an out-of-towner.
Beer Fox recommends:
Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide: A Reporter's Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City in America
By: Don Russell, Published by Camino Books, Inc., Philadelphia, PA, USA (c)2008
Chapter 1: Beer Tours