Well, screw him. I'm very happy for Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell and the success of his brand-new book, Joe Sixpack's Philly Beer Guide: a Reporter's Notes on the Best Beer-Drinking City in America. It's well-deserved, because this book is packed with great stuff about drinking in Philly and the surrounding area. After reading it for a while, I almost expected to see bits of notes and napkins sticking out of it on the sides; useful information bulges out of this book.
Useful information for the beer drinker, that is. Don't come here looking for much else: Don's total focus is admirable. There are beer bar walking tours (excellent, with maps), lists of the local breweries, Philly beer and bar history, take-out tips (absolutely necessary in Pennsylvania, a very useful guide to the beers you're most likely to find here (that would be everything), even a welcome chapter on where to find your favorite beer-linked "Amusements" -- darts, pool, shuffleboard, good jukes -- but don't expect to find much in the way of filler on what to go see in Philly. This is about finding your way through the gloriously rich jungle of beer that is Philadelphia.
Actually, there is one bit of extraneous material: Bill Conlin's Top 6 Barroom Brawls. Don has a newsman's nose for a story -- his Daily News column has always been a great read, even back in the early days when he was still getting up to speed on the full breadth of beer -- and Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin had some great stories to tell. I don't give a damn about sports, these stories really have nothing to do with beer -- other than taking place in bars, mostly not in Philly -- and I'm glad Don put them in: they are amusing and solidly real. Kinda what you'd expect from the Daily News.
That's another thing: this book is funny. What else can you say about a chapter titled "Excuses to Drink", featuring festivals, events, ballgames, and "Other Excuses to Drink," which include "Because you need some place to wear your beret" (Ortlieb's Jazzhaus) and "Because you have a bunch of $1 bills in your pocket" (Penn's Port Pub, the Delaware Ave. skin bar that started serving crafts during the 2006 Craft Brewers Conference in Philly, and discovered people liked them).
I also enjoyed this bit:
I've always suspected the microbrewery [at Stoudt's] was a slick business scheme
by Ed and Carol Stoudt to lure reluctant men to their shopping bazaar. Under
more sober circumstances, the typical male head of household might be somewhat
circumspect about carefree spending on junk. But get the old man sauced on
high-octane beer, and next thing you know, you're happily loading a pink
flamingo into the car trunk. I hate to admit this, friends, but Joe Sixpack is
speaking from experience on this one.
That's what makes this book fun as well as extremely useful: Don Russell's been around. He's been writing his column for more than ten years, he's won a number of awards for it -- well-deserved -- and he's been assiduously drinking beer in as many great bars as he could find in Philly and the surrounding area. Take his distilled experience and profit from it. Buy this book.