|The Princeton Triumph Brewing Company Location:|
Not "JUST" a brewpub!
If you look carefully at the photo above, you'll notice something that seems innocuous upon first glance. After some contemplation however it will grow ever more disconcerting. Figure it out yet? Bingo. It's the fact that, right above the entrance to their establishment, the good people at Triumph (Princeton) feel the need to note that you are entering a brewpub and a restaurant--as if the former couldn't simply be enough to stand on its own.
Granted, this might not seem like that big of a deal but it serves as an omen for what was to come. We arrived early--shortly after they opened as a matter of fact--with the expectation that we might grab a quick bite to eat along with whatever samplers we wound up ordering. As soon as we walked inside though I began having my doubts. You can often tell a lot about an establishment by something as obvious as the decor and as minute as the type of napkins that are used. In this case, I knew I was in for a wannabe four-star-dining type of experience.
My suspicions were confirmed as soon as we reached the hostess' station. Her verbiage and diction belied someone who was used to dealing with gastronomes of incredibly delicate palettes and supremely refined tastes. To be fair, we were in Princeton, literally across the street from one of the world's most revered universities, so I'm sure that this woman has dealt with her fair share of snobby professors and students alike. With that said, we were lead to the dining area (of course we were) and seated. I don't remember what the food specials were but they would have turned a hipster tumescent at the sound of all of the buzzwords flying around--things like "free range, locally grown, fully organic, etc."
Flipping open the menu, I had to stifle a laugh. The least expensive item was some bizarre sort of goat cheese pizza that ran more than ten dollars for an über-small portion. Not looking to blow thirty bucks on food that would hardly sate even the most peckish of patrons, we decided simply to order the sampler of beer. Needless to say, the waitress was horrified. You could see her attempting to calculate her tip in her head based upon a meager flight of beers. I shit you not when I say that she stood there stammering for a full thirty seconds before composing herself enough to ask if that was really all that we wanted. It was pretty clear that we were the first people in history to order only beer. Then again, this wasn't just a brewpub, right?
A brief aside: there's nothing that pisses me off more as a beer traveler than visiting a brewery or brewpub in which the beer isn't the star attraction. Seriously--if you're into food first then open a restaurant. If it's some sort of attraction or diversion that interests you, then why not build something around that instead of transforming beer into the bastard stepchild of the family? This has happened enough times for me to be able to pass judgment on the spot about the quality of the place's beer AND of the eating/drinking environment that I can expect. Basically, if I go to a brewpub (it's pretty rare for this to happen at a brewery) and I'm given the eyebrow for ordering either only a flight of beer or a flight and some small snack AND/OR I ask a question about the beer and the server either doesn't know or doesn't care about what's on tap, I know I'm in for a shitty experience. Basil T's was far and away the worst (the only time in my life I truly considered not leaving a tip at all (I think I went with 3%)) but the Princeton Triumph location makes the top/bottom five.
Once she recovered from her initial shock, the waitress seemed to undergo a metamorphosis right before our eyes. Gone was the florid soliloquies she had theretofore been using to describe the food and the location. Suddenly, she was just an ordinary person--one who seemed to understand that we were not some strange neanderthal heathens sent from a far distant past to wreak havoc upon this haven of the elite, reclaiming it for the hoi polloi one tiny sampling glass at a time. I can't stress this transformation enough though: it was as if she was changing before our very eyes. The tightness of her features relaxed and she actually smiled with genuine light. She explained to us that the brewing actually took place upstairs and that we were free to stroll about the premises while we waited for our samplers if we wanted to explore and to take pictures. No longer did she hover, returning every few minutes as if at our beck and call to see if we were ready to decide upon a dish to indulge upon. In fact, I think she brought us the beers and then brought us the check when we were done maybe twenty minutes later.
Of course, lost in all this is the caliber of the beer--the raison d'etre for our even being there. Despite the fact that the Princeton location of the Triumph Brewing Company is an aspiring upscale eatery masquerading as a brewpub, it brews some damn good beer. With a clear slant towards English styles of beer, I enjoyed seven different offerings that represented an uncommon cross-section of microbrews. Though the American Amber / Red Ale and Irish Dry Stout represent two of the more ubiquitous denizens of the brewpub realm, the inclusion of an English Porter, English India Pale Ale, a Dortmunder / Export Lager, and a Roggenbier (my first encounter with that particular style) helped to diversify the tap list to a high degree. Though the American Blonde Ale tends to make a few too many appearances, the fact that it was brewed with local wildflower honey served to render it different enough that it stood out on its own as a solid offering.
Now, if my only experience with Triumph was in Princeton then I'd be pretty confident in saying that I'd never be going back. Fortunately, later that same day, we visited the second of three locations in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Located almost directly across the Delaware River from River Horse brewing in Lambertville, New Jersey, Triumph of New Hope serves almost as the antithesis of the Princeton location. Open, inviting, and clearly favoring a more welcoming vibe, this Triumph location featured excellent views of the river, pool tables and other entertainment opportunities, and an environment far more conducive to enjoying some high quality microbrewed beer. We wound up eating here and the food was brewpub fare par excellence. Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so because if you Google "Triumph Brewing Company," the Princeton location received a Zagat score of 16 / 30 and the New Hope one earned 20 / 30--25% higher than its ritzy titzy brethren.
Once again, the beer was phenomenal and varied. There were a few overlaps between the offerings from Princeton and those at New Hope but I was able to try a German Pilsener, a Rye Beer, and an English Bitter, the latter two of which received scores of A and A- respectively. The waitress here was extremely accommodating and enthusiastic about the beer. It was obvious that she didn't treat her job as merely another paycheck but rather was a fan herself of the great suds being brewed up in New Hope. It was evident from the way she spoke about the beer that she was a dedicated drinker of at least one or two of the brews--a surefire endorsement on her part that she believes in what's coming out of the taps.
Finally, exactly two weeks later we took a beer road trip to Philadelphia and once more began our day at Triumph Brewing. On a gloomy, overcast day, Triumph Brewing of Philadelphia served as a bright beer beacon shining out to us through the darkness. Located literally up the block from Penn's Landing--one of Philadelphia's best spots to visit and hang out in the warmer months, Triumph is a prime location not just to grab a few beers and a bite to eat but rather to be the place that you go to with your friends. Family-friendly, open, and featuring live music regularly, the Philly location of the Triumph Brewing Company is the perfect destination for a night out. The food was great, the beer was consistently excellent, and the environment really set this place apart. Receiving a Zagat score of 20 / 30, this along with the New Hope location are CLEARLY the spots to visit if you're looking to check out what Triumph has to offer.
The Triumph Brewing Company, as a whole, serves as the quintessential brewpub but transcends the typicality of the standard experience, particularly with the live music in Philly. The food menu is diverse and will please a wide variety of folks from kids to foodies while the beer menu will be a refreshing departure from the norm for any craft beer fan. The environments of two of the three locations render those spots wholly worthy of your time and the collective of that, the beer, and the food is worth your money as well. I would say that you should DEFINITELY visit the New Hope and Philly locations and avoid the Princeton one.
Philly Grade: A-
New Hope Grade: A-
Princeton Grade: C- (though the beer would receive a B+ on its own)
Honey Blonde ( B )
Amber Ale ( B+ )
Dortmunder Export ( B+ )
Irish Dry Stout ( A- )
Bengal Gold India Pale Ale ( A- )
Roggenbock ( A )
Porter ( B- )
New Hope (new beers only)
German Pilsner ( B- )
Jewish Rye Beer ( A )
Best Bitter ( A- )
Philly (new beers only)
Kinder Pilsner ( B+ )
Belgian Double Rye PA ( A- )
Hefe-Weizen ( B )
Munich Dunkel ( B )
Belgian Golden ( A- )
For more information about the Triumph Brewing Company please visit their official website here.