Whatever you think of Pope Francis and the hoopla caused by his visit, anyone who likes trying new beers has reason to be thankful the leader of the Catholic Church on Earth decided to grace Philadelphia with his presence.
A slew of new one-offs brewed in honor of the pontiff’s Philly trip have hit area bars, and at the Billy Penn event at the Pub on Passyunk East (aka the P.O.P.E.), we got an early sip of many of them. Check out our tasting notes below.
Philadelphia Brewing Co. Holy Wooder
The deep, rust-colored glow of this local brewery’s first-ever Belgian is a good tip-off to what’s coming. The liquid hits your mouth with a full-bodied punch, although the thick clove and banana typical of a tripel are not overwhelmingly present. The sweetness from the Belgian candi sugar does make it feel somewhat heavy — until you hit the clean finish that dissipates quickly (almost as fast as the 10 percent ABV sneaks up on you).
Bonus rumor: Word on the street is that Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, where Pope Francis is expected to stay while he’s in Philadelphia, has put in a special order for a keg of Holy Wooder — His Holiness might actually get to taste it.
Drink this if you like: Chimay White, Victory Golden Monkey
Cape May Brewing YOPO (You Only Pope Once)
A sweet, citrusy scent springs out of this slightly cloudy, golden pale ale from the 3-year-old Jersey Shore brewery. When brewer Ryan Krill said he made the beer with “an unholy amount of hops,” — he meant it; he used 40 lbs for a 15-barrel batch. Most were added in the dry-hopping stage, so instead of being bitter (like an IPA), they contribute to aroma. As you drink, the grapefruit notes come forward, and the finish is very light. Great start to an evening, or sessionable all the way through.
Drink this if you like: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale
Manayunk Brewing Papal Ale
Belgian ambers aren’t a classic style, but this one-off from the Schuylkill River brewery shows why they’re popular nowadays anyway. Brewed with water from a tank that was actually blessed by a priest for the occasion, the ruby red beer has all the spicy flavor of a Belgian, but none of the cloying sweetness. The 6.7 percent ABV is well hidden.
Drink this if you like: New Belgium Fat Tire, Ommegang Rare Vos
2nd Story Pater Noster
Unlike the dubbels and tripels they made for public sale, low-ABV Belgian singles were what Trappist monks made for themselves to drink. In this take on the style by Center City’s only brewpub, the reason for that is obvious — the beer is husky and full-flavored, but still extremely drinkable (it rings in at just 4.8 percent). There’s a pinprick of bitterness at the start that smooths out to a fruity finish.
Drink this if you like: Ninkasi Belgian Single, New Belgium Porch Swing
Iron Hill Chestnut Hill Pap-Ale
Like many Argentinians, Pope Francis has a serious yerba mate habit — he’s often seen sipping the caffeinated tea from the traditional metal straw. At the Chestnut Hill outpost of this local brewpub mini-chain, brewer Chris LaPierre added actual yerba mate leaves for another take on the Belgian single, and the spiciness mostly comes through on the nose. The finish is sweet and much fuller than the 4.5 percent ABV suggests.
Drink this if you like: Spencer Trappist Ale, Orval Trappist Ale
Forest and Main White Smoke Saison
Smokiness hits you on the nose as soon as you bring the glass close, but doesn’t overpower as it does in many rauch beers — instead of smoked malts, the aroma comes from smoked hops, and it doesn’t linger on the palate. It’s followed up by a bright, almost-sour taste that’s dominant instead of the banana-like fruitiness that usually goes along with a saison, in a very drinkable way.
Drink this if you like: Epic Sour Apple Saison, Jester King Censored
Where to get these beers
You can find many of the above brews all over town this weekend (check Philly Tap Finder for where). Hit up brewpubs 2nd Story and Iron Hill directly to try their creations, and find the Forest & Main firkin at the P.O.P.E.
Additional notes: We didn’t yet get to taste the Crime & Punishment gose called Jesus Wept — it was supposed to be ready for our event, but didn’t quite make it. You can look for it at the Brewerytown tasting room in a couple days. Saucony Creek is also brewing a gose for the occasion — it hasn’t made it to Philly quite yet, but you’ll be able to find Pope Dennis the Phyrst at the P.O.P.E. this weekend. Lastly, there’s also a Vault Brewing beer being poured at the P.O.P.E. under the name Papist Ale, but turns out it’s just a renamed version of their (very good) regular English IPA.