Six great local beers for your Philadelphia Union season opener tailgate

Six great local beers for your Philadelphia Union season opener tailgate

For many Philly sports fans, few things compare to taking an afternoon off from work and heading down South Broad for the Phillies' home opener. No one needs any reminders that winter can be brutal here, and one weekday afternoon, even when it happens to be chilly and rainy, is still the mile marker where our lives switch back to a pattern of proper outdoor drinking that can last straight through Eagles season.

These days, the tailgating season opens even earlier for those of us who are five-for-five fans, with the Union starting their campaigns at PPL Park every March. Whether or not soccer's your thing, the tailgating they do in the lots along the banks of the Delaware is a great time. This Saturday, the Union faithful will file in to open the club's fifth season, fire up the grills, kick the ball around, and throw down a few brews. With the weather expected to be near 60 degrees and precipitation-free and the Union brimming with a new level of talent, we're ready to fill the cooler and throw some meat on a tiny grill.

Steve will be along with a look at how the U match up with the New England Revolution, but to get a jump on the weekend planning, we're gonna start with our recommendations for some great local beer options to kick off the season. We're not going to bog this post down with tasting notes, mouthfeel, nose, and ingredients lists—just why they merit a spot in your Igloo.

Tröegs Cultivator Helles Bock 

A new addition to the local scene, Cultivator is Tröegs' latest seasonal offering.
Why We Like It: This is a crowd pleaser, smooth and malty. The label chats up the fresh hops that mark the season, but don't brace for the bitterness this may evoke, as Cultivator trends more toward its toasty grains. A perhaps underrated style, bocks are very accessible, yet when done this well, can satisfy a refined beer palate.
ABV: A deceptive 6.9%
Pair With: Your face.

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Sly Fox Pikeland Pils
A new-world take on an old-world classic.
Why We Like It: Here at The700Level, we're NOTHING if not responsible, respectful tailgaters. And nothing packs out easier than craft brew cans, a trend gaining popularity around the country and spearheaded locally by Sly Fox. Last year, they introduced a rebellious full-mouth can. While packaging gimmicks like the swirl-neck Miller Lite bottles are kind of a laugh, this one is relatively functional. Oh and the beer is damn good too. Also very accessible, this 2-time GABF Gold and 1-time Bronze Medal winning German malt/Czech hop combo should work well for most crowds.
ABV: 4.9%
Pair with: Other Sly Fox canned heat. Want something with more bite? Climb the hop ladder to Phoenix Pale Ale and 113 IPA. Or, take it down a notch to the delicious Helles. Another Helles on this list? Hell yes.

Victory DirtWolf Double IPA

The boys from Downingtown took their time in crafting a new full-time hopmonster, and it was worth it. You know your beer speaks for itself when you can have "dirt" in its name without concern.
Why We Like It: Because we love hops, and this is packed with a spectrum from floral to citrusy to piney, all at once. It's hard to live up to the expectation level Victory set with its longstanding regulars, seasonals, and specialty brews, not to mention taking the masterful Hop Wallop out of circulation for a few years to make room for this newcomer, but DirtWolf hits the mark for us.

ABV: 8.7%
Pair With: Don't bother. Your tongue, gums, and the roof of your mouth will be soaked in Citra, Simcoe, Chinook, and Mosaic. Or, you can go with what Victory recommends, which just so happens to be what you're likely to have on hand anyway: burgers, BBQ, and... hard cheeses.

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Yards Philadelphia Pale Ale
A Philly classic and regular award-winner since 2000.
Why We Like It: YPA (not to be confused with YSA) brings tasty Simcoe and should satisfy all but the ardent hop haters in your game of washers, coming in well below the IBUs of the increasingly pungent I-PAs gaining popularity these days.
ABV: 4.6%
Pair With: Your undying need for refreshment.
(Side Note: Yards recently introduced a Rye IPA, but we haven't been able to get our hands on it yet. If you're bringing it to the lots, save one for us and you could have a beer bottle you once owned featured on Instagram.)
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Philadelphia Brewing Company Kenzinger
Our list a bit stuffy for you? Kenzinger should loosen things up a bit.
Why We Like It: Straightforward, without an ounce of pretension. A light, crisp pilsner, it meets the style we like for some day drinking, and won't cost as much as some of the other options. Yeah we loaded this list up with the Helles variety, but it's a great style for tailgating, and trying this side by side with the others on this list will show you how far that term is being stretched on this side of the pond.
ABV: 4.5%
Pair With: A shot of whiskey.

Photo by Tin & ZZ

Dogfish Head Burton Baton

The easiest way to add variety to this Helles-laden list is to bring Sam Calgione into the mix.

Why We Like It: It's big, it's boozy, and it's blissful. An English-style old ale and an imperial IPA are brewed and fermented separately, then blended in an oak tank. Burton Baton almost shouldn't work, but somehow the hops still pop despite the blend drawing out the flavors of the wood vessel. And at 10%, it's quite… functional. Not your traditional tailgater, but not everyone wants to slam the lighter end of the spectrum before filing in. We originally thought to put the seasonal Piercing Pils on this list, but it may be hard to find this side of February (fresh, anyway).
ABV: 10%
Pair With: A comfortable chair.


Finally, a Nod to Our Opponents' Regional Beer 
Boston has no shortage of good brewing going on, but to represent the New England beer Revolution on this list, we're going a bit farther north. Several hours farther up 95, actually, to Portland powerhouse Allagash Brewing Company. Although their brand new Saison offering is tops on our list of beers to try as soon as we can, it's not on the market yet, with a public launch of March 21. We're putting it here as a bookmark to come back to for the second home match, March 29 hosting Montreal. Allagash has gotten blissfully easy to find in Philly and its burbs. Their White is remarkably approachable, as are their Dubbel and Tripel, but the Curieux, Confluence, and Interlude will class up your tailgate in a hurry. Elite bottleshops and growler fillers like nearby Pinocchio's in Media and 320 Market in Swarthmore should have some of these, without the need to buy a whole case.

This is by no means a "Top 6" but rather a list of beers we really, really want to drink tomorrow that are made within a reasonable drive, and should pretty easy to get your hand on before you get to 291.  We're not beer experts. Hell, we're not even sports experts. But we love 'em both, together whenever possible.

So what are you planning to bring?

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

Penalties the only consistent theme for Doug Pederson's Eagles

CINCINNATI — There’s one thing the Eagles are very consistent at, and it’s nothing to be proud of.

The Eagles continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL, and with 10 more infractions in their 32-14 loss to the Bengals on Sunday, they increased their 12-game total to 100 — second-most in the NFL this year.

Five times they’ve been called for 10 or more penalties, and that’s one shy of the most games in franchise history with double-digit penalties in a season.

And there’s four games to go.

The Eagles have been cited for penalties seven or more times in all but three games. They’re on pace for the third-most penalties in franchise history.

Earlier this year, the Eagles committed seven or more penalties in four straight games for the first time in six years. The last month, they did that again.

This is not a disciplined football team. Not remotely.

“The penalties are hurting us,” said Brandon Graham, who was called for a personal foul after a low hit on Andy Dalton Sunday. “You kind of get frustrated a little bit and sometimes a lot of stuff starts happening. But we have to clean that up.”

The Eagles are on pace for 133 penalties. The franchise high is 138, set in 1994 by a Rich Kotite team that lost its last seven games. The 2005 team — torn apart by the Donovan McNabb-Terrell Owens feud — committed 134.

The only team with more penalties than the Eagles this year is the Raiders with 112. They always lead the league in penalties and at least this year they’re winning anyway.

The Eagles aren’t. Their lack of discipline has contributed greatly to their current stretch of seven losses in a nine-game span.

For the Eagles, it’s been just another part of the season that’s gotten away from coach Doug Pederson and his players.

“Penalties have got to stop,” Pederson said Sunday night. “Obviously, the turnovers and things like that too. It’s just not characteristic of how we coach and how we play.”

But it’s how this team has played. Consistently.

Only against the Bears, Cowboys and Giants have the Eagles committed fewer than seven penalties. When they commit 10 or more, they’re 1-4

“Some of it is focus, and some of it is anticipating the snap count,” Pederson said. “Some of it is a little on the quarterback, because we’re using so many snap counts and cadences to get indicators from the defense to tip their hat a little bit.

“Guys are geared up. We’ve got to focus in on that, because it’s something we work on every single week. Obviously the silent count we work on every week.”

Here’s a breakdown of the Eagles’ 100 penalties:

12 — Jason Peters

8 — Jason Kelce

7 — Nolan Carroll

6 — Zach Ertz, Allen Barbre

5 — Jalen Mills, Fletcher Cox

4 — Dorial Green-Beckham, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Malcolm Jenkins

3 — Nigel Bradham, Rodney McLeod, Najee Goode, Marcus Smith, Brent Celek

2 — Jaylen Watkins, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Destiny Vaeao, Trey Burton, Matt Tobin

1 — Kenjon Barner, Darren Sproles, Ron Brooks, Jordan Matthews, Wendell Smallwood, Vinny Curry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Donnie Jones, Bennie Logan, Chris Maragos, Leodis McKelvin, Halapoulivaaati Vaitai.

And here’s a breakdown of the types of penalties the Eagles have been hit with:

22 — False start

16 — Offensive holding

10 — Unncessary roughness

8 — Defensive pass interference, offensive pass interference

7 — Defensive offsides

4 — Delay of game, illegal formation, defensive holding

3 — Roughing the passer, facemask, neutral zone infraction

2 — Chop block, defensive 12 men on the field, encroachment, illegal contact, running into the kicker

1 — Unsportsmanlike conduct, horse collar tackle, illegal block above the waist, illegal shift, offensive 12 men on the field, offensive offsides, illegal use of hands

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

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USA Today Images

Resurgent Penn State headed to Rose Bowl vs. USC

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State players and coaches rolled hopefully back into Happy Valley on Sunday, greeted as Big Ten champions by cheers and honking car horns.

They got off the team bus, filed into a meeting room and huddled around a giant projector screen as the College Football Playoff selection committee made its picks.

As the contenders were announced, it became clear -- this unexpectedly triumphant season was going to fall frustratingly short of college football's biggest stage.

The fifth-ranked Nittany Lions -- winners of nine straight, including a huge comeback against No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game -- won't be part of the four-team playoff. Despite a head-to-head win against No. 2 Ohio State, the Big Ten title and a run fueled by one of the country's most explosive offenses, Penn State was ranked fifth by the selection committee.

Instead of playing for a national title, Penn State (11-2) will face No. 9 Southern California (9-3) in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

"I would say there were a handful of guys that obviously showed a little bit of frustration and body language and things like that," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "But 99 percent of the guys in there are just excited about staying together as a family and being able to play in such a historic bowl game."

News about the bowl destination quelled a bit of that disappointment, and some, including quarterback Trace McSorley , tweeted their excitement with rose emojis Sunday.

Franklin didn't sleep much on the flight back from Indianapolis and is about to start a six-day recruiting trip, but he was still clearly amped for the Rose Bowl during a phone call with reporters -- even though he believed his team had done enough to go to the playoff by winning what he called "the toughest conference in football."

"Obviously, our guys would've loved to have the opportunity to go to the playoffs and compete for a national championship," Franklin said. "But like I said during the week, I thought our guys would be appreciative of the opportunity to be able to stay together as a family for another week and play the great game of football."

They'll do so against a team that's on a similar trajectory.

The Nittany Lions and Trojans have combined to win 17-straight games and are among the hottest teams in college football. Both have mounted striking turnarounds after ho-hum starts, energizing historically strong programs that had struggled with the weight of NCAA penalties in recent years.

Franklin arrived at Penn State in 2014 and took over a program heavily sanctioned by the NCAA for the university's role in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Although the Nittany Lions have a full scholarship load this season, they're still feeling the impact from reduced scholarship numbers and start just five seniors, with only 17 on the roster.

USC, meanwhile, incurred NCAA penalties, including the loss of 30 scholarships, in the wake of a scandal involving former football player Reggie Bush and basketball player O.J. Mayo, who the NCAA determined accepted gifts in the mid-2000s.

This will be the third time the programs match up in the Rose Bowl -- the first was in 1923 and the other in 2009.

"I think it makes for fabulous TV, that's for sure," USC coach Clay Helton said. "And it makes for a great bowl experience and that's what this time is all about."