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?

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice on Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out on Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. 

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period it got kind of (got) sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being a hundred percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014. 

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Jason Kelce, Darren Sproles to replace 2 Falcons in Pro Bowl

Jason Kelce, Darren Sproles to replace 2 Falcons in Pro Bowl

Jason Kelce, one of the Eagles who could potentially be a salary cap casualty next season after an up-and-down year, is headed to the Pro Bowl. 

Kelce and Darren Sproles were each named to the Pro Bowl Monday as replacements for center Alex Mack and running back Devonta Freeman, who will be in the Super Bowl for the Falcons.

Kelce didn't miss a snap this season for the Eagles and hasn't missed one in 39 straight games dating back to Week 10 of the 2014 season. 

Despite the Pro Bowl nod, Kelce gave an honest, harsh assessment of his season in November.

"I think that I quite frankly need to do a better job. That's what it comes down to," he said. "I love playing in this city, I love playing in this organization, and if I'm going to keep doing that, I have to do a better job."

Sproles, meanwhile, has now made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with the Eagles, all of them after his 30th birthday. Sproles had 438 rushing yards, 427 receiving yards, four TDs and a punt return average of 13.2 yards this season. His 94 carries were a career high.

Kelce and Sproles join Jason Peters and Fletcher Cox, giving the Eagles four Pro Bowlers after a 7-9 season.