If a picture says a thousand words, then the label for Manneken-Penn says a million.
Before cracking the top on this beautiful Frankenstein of sudsy goodness, one is hard-pressed not to be drawn to the bottle art. The label tells the story every bit as much as the beer’s unique hops, oats and molasses (yes, molasses) recipe.
It depicts a boozy Billy Penn statue sitting atop City Hall and relieving himself on the streets below as empty beer bottles float among half-sunken skyscrapers.
“It’s the perfect label to be quite honest,” says Weyerbacher head brewer Chris Wilson. “We’ve had a few [complaints], but not many. Someone always gets upset about something, but I think the voice of dissent will be overshadowed by those who think it’s really funny.”
Manneken-Penn is the unofficial collaborative brew of Philly Beer Week. The Belgo-American dubbel, brewed in Brussels, Belgium, is the result of an exhaustive effort between trendy Pennsylvania brewery Weyerbacher and famed Belgian brewery Brasserie de la Senne.
The journey from idea to bottle began back in mid-January when Philly Beer Week organizers held a contest at Field House to determine which local brewer and which lucky beer-loving raffle winner would head to Belgium to craft the brew. The pair — brewer Wilson and raffle winner Matt Hohorst — along with Tom Peters, the owner of Monk’s Cafe, met up with Yvan De Baets, the head brewer at Brasserie de la Senne, and went to work.
“It was more drinking than brewing,” admits Wilson.
The story behind the label goes that the four guys were sitting around one night in Belgium when a fist hit the table. De Baets presented the idea to a Belgian artist and Philly Beer Week’s best-kept marketing secret was born.
“I’m not sure I’ve spoken to anyone who hasn’t said, 'That’s really awesome,'" Wilson says.
Roughly 10 weeks later, Manneken-Penn was bottled. Those bottles cleared customs just a few weeks ago and will be unveiled for the first time at Philly Beer Week's Opening Tap on May 31 at the Independence Visitor Center. It will be served at select bars this week.
“Everything about the beer is Belgian except me,” says Wilson. “It was brewed there, bottled there and the art was done there.”
That’s not to say it doesn’t have a strong Philadelphia component.
“Shoo-fly pie,” says Wilson. “We added a bit of molasses, inspired by William Penn. The beer won’t taste like pie, but it does have a bready, crusty character.”
» Ingredients: American hops, Belgian hops, molasses, oats, chocolate malt
» ABV: 7.5% (served in 11.2-ounce bottles)
» Our review: Delicious take on traditional Belgian dubbel. Nice, frothy head that settles almost immediately. Caramel color with sweet molasses aftertaste and very subtle spice. Thick, bready mouthfeel. Goes down easy.