It started innocently enough. There I was, walking around Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market– overwhelmed by rich food scents and visions of neon and oysters and meats of all kinds thinking that the one thing that would make all of it perfect would be a beer. But counter after food stall- soda. juice. water. No beer. Everyone seemed so happy. How could they be without beer to go with their hearty meaty lunch sandwiches? Something was missing.
And then I saw it. A few people standing in front of a row of tap handles with a bar behind them. Molly Malloy’s. I checked out the bar- no seats available. That’s when I noticed that the guy next to me was getting his beer to go.
I rubbed my eyes. Am I still in the US?
YES! More people were gathering around, so when I saw that the first beer on the crafty draft list was an “India Cream Ale” I ordered it. To go. I know I know- the plastic cup and the straw is campy. But you know what? Sometimes you gotta go with the locals.
And that’s how I met Ben.
It was really terrific walking around the food stalls, openly, with a beer. It’s the thrill of going against the hyper-restrictive and puritanical American alcohol culture. The giant smile on my face probably spooked people more than the beer. And I caught myself nearly holding the beer in the air.
It took a few minutes for me to realize it. But the beer was fantastic.
That’s when the stalking began.
I went back for more St. Benjamin’s, dragging other people away from the Craft Brewers Conference to try it, (all to raves and ‘thanks for showing me this!’) to the point that the bartender just brought me a pint of it when he saw me. Nothing like becoming a predictable regular within a week, especially considering all the special beery events and truly so much incredible beer everywhere in the city. But I could not stop going back for more Ben.
Simultaneously, I became obsessed with Benjamin Franklin, the man. As in, I developed a crush on man long dead.
Philly happens to have a museum devoted to him! Not surprisingly for the man often quoted as saying, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” – some of the exhibits are beer related. His tankard, his rules about work (water at work, beer later- which was new at the time. Yet his particular exhibit did not tame my ardour.) I read his autobiography.
Can you guess where I was and what I was drinking while reading this book about tavern history in Philadelphia? (below)
And then it hit me. What am I doing? Why visit a museum and do all this reading when St. Benjamin’s is a Philadelphia brewery- I must go there!
Uber could not find it at first. Because the tasting room had only been open a week.
But suddenly- I had arrived!
I tried to calm down and sampled some of the other St. Ben beers.
While I waited for Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets of Brasserie de la Senne– who shared my new passion and planned to join me- I met a delightful couple at the bar. They were adorable, and locals to Ben (lucky devils) and we hit it off.
Yvan arrived. We ate, drank, and bought a case of the India Cream Ale (Inca) in cans to take back to Cambridge with us. Very happy. And then one of the brewers, Christina Burris, came out to meet us. A woman! Woohoo!
She insisted we have a tour. And the adorable locals joined us. It was a memorable and unexpectedly splendid evening.
As I write this, I am enjoying an Inca in my St. Benjamin’s hoodie, smiling about the great pleasure of discovering and loving a beer that I didn’t find though a website, an app, or a recommendation. Just my taste buds and Harvey Butler luck.
Ben and me. We get each other.