Big news on tap in sixpack stores

Posted: July 26, 2013

THERE'S a new style of watering hole in town, and I'm really not sure what to call it.

It's essentially a sixpack store, with a row of coolers filled to the brim with all types of beer - American craft, imports, locals, you name it, and maybe a shelf or two of BudMillerCoors - which you can take home and suck down in front of your TV while watching the Phillies lose another one.

The twist is that it also sells draft beer. You can either fill up a half-gallon growler to go, or order a glass to enjoy in the shop, maybe standing up at a small, afterthought of a bar.

For lack of a formal name, I'm going to call it a takeout taproom.

The name isn't as important as the fact that they even exist.

Consider that it wasn't so long ago that, in these parts, you could count the decent sixpack stores on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to flip the bird at the Parking Authority officer who just ticketed you for throwing on your flashers in a loading zone while running into the store for said sixpack.

The list pretty much began with the Foodery at 10th and Pine and ended with "Let's drive over to Jersey and see what they have."

This was mostly due to those infamous Pennsylvania liquor laws that favored the sale of so-called "off-premises" beer at distributors, which are permitted to sell no less than a full case of 24 bottles or cans.

The sale of takeout sixpacks, meanwhile, requires a restaurant license, typically used by establishments that are mainly intended to serve alcohol for consumption on the premises. Take-out beer at these places is mostly a customer convenience - something to bring home to the wifey after you've gotten soused all afternoon.

But with the rising price of craft beer and premium imports came a realization that there were bucks to be made by selling beer to go. Not that grossly inflated 12 bucks that the corner bar charges for a sixpack of Yuengling Lager, but the $35 you might shell out for a mixed six of Danish imports and American one-offs.

So, in the last few years, we've seen an outcrop of takeout taprooms.

Places like Pinocchio's Beer Garden To Go (131 E. Baltimore Ave., Media), a sliver of a shop appended to a longtime pizza restaurant.

It's dominated by a well-lit row of coolers filled with more than 850 brands. At the back end, there's a small checkout counter that doubles as a stand-up bar. You can drink anything from the fridge or its rotating lineup of 25 draft beers.

That's right, this modest joint has more taps than Center City's famous Monk's Café and is rated at Beer Advocate as one of the top beer destinations . . . in the world.

That high ranking is mostly due to support from devoted fans who treasure a rare high-end suburban oasis in beer-thirsty Delco.

But even if it doesn't look like a typical bar, Pinocchio's is a pretty cool place. It's casual, the service is excellent, you can order slices from the adjoining restaurant, and the talk is delightfully beer-centric. Invariably, the clientele will offer gentle suggestions and pithy critiques while you fill up your sixpack carrier.

You may not find it a terribly comfortable hangout, but it's still fun to drain a fresh draft while dawdling over your takeout selections.

Maybe the new-style take-out tap will never replace our beloved corner bar, but it's a fine addition to the local beer world.

Here are a few others:

Bottle Bar East (1308 Frankford Ave., Fishtown). Though it faces heavy competition from the nabe's other craft bars, it holds its own with a giant TV and charcuterie. Eight taps, 500 bottles.

The Beer Store (488 2nd Street Pike, Southampton). Wings and fried food are OK, but you're here for one of the area's largest bottle selections. Twenty-four taps and, at last count, 2,254 bottles.

Bottles, Packs & Growlers (Andorra Shopping Center, 701 E. Cathedral Ave.). You may never remember its unwieldy name, so just call it the place next door to Doc's World of Beer. Twelve taps, 150 bottles.

Gat Beer (1900 Grant Ave., Northeast Philly). Strip-mall atmosphere, but some surprises in the coolers. Fifty-percent off growler fills on Wednesdays. Six taps, 350 bottles.

The Beer Shoppe (44 Greenfield Ave., Ardmore). It's in the same strip center where Iron Hill Brewery plans to build its next brewpub. Eight taps, many bottles.

The Craft Beer Outlet (Morrell Plaza, 9910 Frankford Ave.). What is it with these generic beer-store names? Very well maintained inventory with lots of rare specialties. Eight taps, plenty of bottles.

The Corner Foodery (1710 Sansom St., Rittenhouse Square). An offshoot of the original deluxe beer deli, this convenient location is big on sandwiches. Five taps, 600-plus bottles. (Note: The Foodery location at 6138 Ridge Ave., Roxborough, also pours draft and fills growlers with nifty "counter-pressure" taps to keep the beer fresh.)

Passion Vines (265 New Road, Somers Point, N.J.). This is Jersey, so not only do you get a tight lineup of taps and bottles to go, but you can grab wine and a bottle of the hard stuff on your last stop before dry Ocean City.

Rybrew (2816 Girard Ave., Fairmount). Just opened on Monday, the area's newest bottle shop does not yet sell draft beer. It's notable that this stretch of Girard was once notorious for its seedy stop-and-gos. One sure sign of neighborhood gentrification: when 750ml corked imports replace 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor.

Finally, don't forget Whole Foods and Wegmans. Several of their stores include separate pubs with big takeout selections and draft to go.


"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly e-mail update at www.joesixpack.net. E-mail: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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