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June 07, 2024

At Dock Street, Philly's oldest craft brewery, making lagers isn't a trend. It's part of its beer making heritage.

Head brewer Mark Russell picks what beer pairs well with pizza and what to drink at the shore for his Brewer's Choice six-pack.

Food & Drink Beer
Dock Street Mark Russell PROVIDED IMAGE/Mark Russell

Mark Russell has been the head brewer at Dock Street Brewing since 2016.

Dock Street Brewery is the oldest microbrewery in Philadelphia and its flagship Bohemian pilsner, which has been on tap since it opened in 1985, is still their biggest brand, head brewer Mark Russell said. But that hasn't always been the case.

"It was an effort of ours when we opened up the location on Washington Avenue (in August 2019) to reinstate the lager brewing portion of Dock Street's heritage, and so we have some bigger tanks and a system that's really well set up," Russell said. 

  • brewer'c choice beer series
  • Brewer's Choice is an occasional series where PhillyVoice asks local brewers to build six-packs using our prompts. Look for it on Fridays or follow along on social media with #brewerschoice.

For its lagers, Dock Street does decoction brewing, a traditional and more labor-intensive technique. Despite admitting they could brew two or three IPAs in the same timeline as a lager because of the fermentation process and time in the tank, Russell said Dock Street is "happily making a bunch of lagers." They still brew a ton of IPAs, too, "that's what sells still," but Russell said there's been a bit of a lager movement around the country — and particularly in Philly.

"We're always playing the game of trying to stay true to our roots while also creating new and relevant beers all the time," Russell said. 

MORE: Evil Genius' Matt Lally details the art behind coming up with nostalgic '90s beer names

Dock Street Brewery's original location was 18th and Cherry Streets in Logan Square. In August 2007, the brewery relocated to a century-old building in Cedar Park, and then, for a few years, operated two locations after opening their Point Breeze brewpub at 22nd Street and Washington Avenue in 2019. (Dock Street closed its Cedar Park brewery in May 2022, and that space is now home to Carbon Copy. In April 2023, Dock Street Fishtown opened at 1229 N. Front St.) 

In Point Breeze, one of the first beers it brewed was another kind of lager: the Futuro Italian pilsner.

"That's a bit more of a modern take on a classic where we lightly dry hop it with those sort of heritage variety hops that are typically associated with Czech and German beers," Russell said. "So they're not the same sort of hops we might make an IPA with, but it still does mean it has those aromatics that are not quite as present in some of the other lager styles that are a little older."

Russell started homebrewing in college and made over 100 batches in a year in a "very much experimental methodology." From there, he took an apprenticeship at Dock Street before becoming the head brewer in 2016. 

"I think the biggest thing that I've learned over the years is that all breweries should more or less have access to the same kind of ingredients," he said. "So more and more my focus has been on technique. ... Taking a lot of care in the process is the best thing I could suggest anybody."

Here's Mark Russell's handpicked six-pack. Each beer choice is based on prompts provided by PhillyVoice, and we asked him to limit selections of Dock Street's beers. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.

1. What beer pairs best with pizza?

Celebration IPA, Sierra Nevada, 6.8% ABV

Assuming we're talking about a traditional set of toppings on a red sauce pie, you want something flavorful enough to compete with the gooey, salty, crunchy, deliciousness without overpowering those flavors. A safe bet is Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, but in season I'd go with Sierra Nevada Celebration. In both beers, the hop character is strong enough to cut through some of the richer flavors, and the malt backbone is consistent enough to keep you coming back for more. There is a reason those beers have been winners for almost 40 years.

2. Dock Street launched its Wedding Beer in 2023, three years after you were married. What did you drink at your own wedding reception?

Futuro, Dock Street, 4.8% ABV

Dock Street of course! We had a few DS options, but the beer of the night was definitely Futuro, our Italian pilsner. We canned it for the first time about a month before my wedding, and it's been a staple in our lineup ever since. It's a personal favorite of mine. If I needed to choose a single beer style to drink for the rest of my life, it would be hoppy pilsners.

3. If you could pick only one lager to drink for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

STS Pils, Russian River, 5.35% ABV

If you catch me at Monk's Cafe, it's always the first beer I order. And often also the last. It's a truly great example of an American take on a classic German pilsner where the addition of a dry hop adds great aromatics and elevates the beer into something else entirely.

4. What is your beer of choice to watch the Phillies? 

Fiddlehead IPA, Fiddlehead, 6.2% ABV

The last time I was at the ballpark, I noticed they started selling Fiddlehead IPA. Fiddlehead has made a big push into Philly the last couple years, and I'm not complaining. I frequently find them at places that don't always have a big focus on craft beer or maybe have a decades-old idea of what brands are actually craft (I'm looking at you folks serving Goose IPA), so as a customer it's great to see a regional brewery making a stellar beer that actually gets tap lines.

5. During shore trips to Avalon, what's in your hand when your feet are in the sand? 

Fuego, Tonewood, 6.2% ABV

I take any excuse possible to swing by Tonewood Brewing (locations in Oaklyn and Barrington, New Jersey). I'd trust just about any beer they make, but they have a particularly deft hand with hops so it's common for me to have some Fuego in hand. I think they consistently make just about the best hoppy beer in town these days.

6. A friend comes over tonight, what beer in your fridge right now do you have to offer? 

Marius, Forest and Maine, 6% ABV

Aside from my endless stash of Dock Street brews — let's call it quality control — I have some Forest and Maine bombers that have been sitting in my fridge for at least a couple of years — a rare instance where I successfully aged a beer rather than just drinking it soon after I bought it. Marius is among my favorites, the peach version specifically. Bombers are meant for sharing, and Marius is too good not to pass around.