Seated in a folding chair beneath two blankets, Christina Forsythe shivered in Monday morning’s 25-degree cold outside Monk’s Cafe in Center City.
She was third in a line of eight that had formed in front of the bar. Her boyfriend, Andrew, stood next to her. They had to drive an hour to get to Philadelphia, and they had already been in line for two more.
“We got here at 5 a.m., sat in the car until about 6:30, then we got in line,” said Forsythe.
“That’s like, seven hours that you’ll have waited in line, for a beer,” ventured an observer.
“That was the silliest thing you’ve probably ever said in your life,” Forsythe responded. “This is the beer, this is the greatest beer. It’s like a unicorn.”
The beer is called Pliny the Younger, a rare and award-winning triple IPA made once a year by Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, California. It’s regularly voted one of the top beers in the world, and the only place you can find it east of the Mississippi River — for just a couple of days a year — is Philadelphia.
By the time the keg was tapped inside Monk’s Cafe Monday, the original line of eight had multiplied to 80.
Monk’s Cafe owner Tom Peters, a friend of the brewmasters at Russian River, claims personal responsibility for bringing the limited beer to town. Five years ago, he decided to turn the tasting into a good cause — donating profits from the day to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to fight childhood cancer.
“You think of children with cancer, and sometimes terminal cancer, and people who have little to no health insurance, families who have to take off work to stay with their children,” Peter’s said. “This is just a really close-to-the-heart type of charity to me.”
“Pliny the Younger is probably one of the most sought-after beers brewed in this country, so I knew I could get people to pay a lot of money for it,” he said.
Last year, Monk’s Cafe raised almost $25,000. Patrons were more than happy to shell out $15 for a 6-ounce sample — roughly the amount of half a bottle of beer.
For Forsythe and her boyfriend, the long, cold wait was worth it. Upon entering the bar, “cheersing” their glasses and taking their first ever sip of Pliny, both let out sighs of pure satisfaction.
“Oh my God, that’s the best IPA I’ve ever had in my life,” said Forsythe. “That’s better than I could ever even imagine.”
“That’s like nothing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life,” added Andrew.
Others were a bit more covert about their experience tasting the rare brew. It was, after all, 11 a.m. on a Monday.
“It was definitely worth it,” said George H. “It was for a good cause, and a very good beer.”
Asked his full name, he laughed and shook his head no.
“My wife doesn’t know that I’m here.”