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30 March 2005
Talkin' Pils, talkin' Lager.
I just put up a Beer Yard news story about an Eric Asimov article in the "Dining & Wine" section of today's New York Times in which Victory Prima Pils was judged number one in a Pilsner tasting and Stoudt's Pils took second place. Interesting reading and it even quotes some guy named Bryson, who was part of the tasting group.

It's my hope, by the way, that local brewers push the point, during the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference, that big, over-the-top ales are great fun and all that, but well-crafted, balanced and intriguingly complex lagers might be said to be the epitome of the brewer's art and the range of such beers, many of them exceptional, in this part of the country should be both an inspiration and a challenge to brewers elsewhere.

As I suggest in the Beer Yard piece, the Victory and Stoudt's pilsners are world-class beers, the former often cited as the best example of the style made in this country. But that just a tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are other excellent pilsners readily found hereabouts. In bottles, for example, there's Tupper's Hop Pocket Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, DeGroen's Pils and Penn Pilsner; on draft there's the outstanding Sly Fox Pikeland Pils (which I put--call me prejudiced--in the same league as the Victory and Stoudt's), the new and very good Legacy Reading Pils and good versions from McKenzie Brew House and Manayunk Brewing Company.

Of course, the most vocal and committed beer geeks all too often dismiss lager beers. And yet one of this area's most popular beer events, which draws many of those same geeks from great distances, is actually a Lager celebration: the forthcoming Sly Fox Bock Fest & Goat Race, where five, count 'em, five, bock beers will be poured and eagerly consumed. Interesting, innit?

Lo, there shall come a tasting...
This week saw a good sampling of regulars on hand (Rich Ruch, Joe Meloney, Bill Huber, Del Massey and Your Humble Correspondent) with Ted Johnston filling the treasured semi-regular post for the evening. And Karl, who is and isn't there, even when he is.

Things started with Weyerbacher Hops Infusion, my contribution grabbed from the Beer Yard stash. Word is that all the Weyerbacher beers are tasting better on the new system so I want to have us taste each one as the occasion permits. That it has been tweaked was evident to us in a much more serious malt character, but the general feeling was that too much of the hop kick had been lost. Not a bad beer, of course, just lacking a bit. The brewery must think so too; I've been told by Matt Guyer that this is not the intended final version of Hops Infusion but merely a step along the way.

Bill (The Good) Huber brought us Caracole Saxo Blonde Ale, nice and drinkable at 8% abv, which we followed with Stone Ruination IPA, a two-year old bottle Ruch brought in, slightly less strong at 7.75 abv. Both good, neither, for me at least, memorable enough to have made any specific notes.

Wanderin' Joe offered up Sleighor Double IPA from California's Reaper Ales, just over 9% abv, big and hoppy and Karl's choice of the night. Del Massey had a real rarity, one of the original hand-bottled liters of Trubbel de Yards from, what, 1999? Not surprisingly, it had lost a bit over the years but it was still fun to sample.

We then sampled Ted's homebrewed Barleywine and a bottle of Fuller's Vintage Ale 2000 that he also brought. The former was actually my favorite of the night; the latter one of the poorer versions of the Fuller's Vintage that I've had. I can't find my tasting notes from the vertical sampling at the historic Griffin Brewery with Brewing Director John Keeling, two yars ago, of the 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2003 vintages, but I seem to recall 2000 was the least successful of the four and this would back that up.

Del had also brought along a small bottle of Echte Kriek which we chose to save for the end of things, as a palate cleaner. And so we did.

[Posted 10:50 am edt; Updated 11:30 am]

26 March 2005
Prague bound.
It was confirmed Thursday that I'll be traveling to the Czech Republic from April 6-11 with my friends at Distinguished Brands International (with whom I went to Germany and England two years ago this September) to see the Czech national hockey championships and visit the Real Budweiser.

I don't have the full itinerary yet, but we'll spend two days in Ceske Budjovoice and two days in Prague. I'm psyched, not having ever been to the Czech Republic. DBI is taking some of its distributors over and, having traveled with them before, I know it'll be a good--make that great--and likely wild time. Since Bryson's also going as part of the beer writer contingent, I know it'll be loud as well.

In 2002, when I followed Michael Jackson around for seven days for a story that's never seen publication (I'll try to remember to put up on site this coming week), starting here in Philadelphia and ending Washington DC for his 60th birthday party at The Brickskeller, I met Honza Kocka, a Czech citizen, who had helped bring in several of his country's beers for Michael's annual talk at National Geographic the night before the birthday bash and we've remained in on-and-off contact ever since (he's promised to come to Philly for a tour a couple of times when he's been back over here but that's not happened...yet).

Of course, I emailed Honza about our forthcoming visit and he's up for showing us several brewpubs in Prague if our schedule permits (bet the house that we'll work that out). In fact, Ron Givens, who writes about beer for the New York Daily News and is also on the trip, had already contacted him. While not a whole helluva lot of you will be able to read it, here's Honza's Czech beer website. He's also a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and you can find out more about him by going here and scrolling down to his name.

Did I mention I'm psyched?

One little letter...
Our pal Scoats, world's most ingenious publican, emailed LDO headquarters yesterday to show us how our latest report on expatriate Mike Murphy's ongoing brewing adventures overseas (scroll down to Mike In Italy, 21 March) might be misunderstood, given a too-quick reading. Or, for that matter, given our staff penchant for typos (thankfully avoided this time). He starts out by quoting the troublesome sentence:

"Mike, you will recall, is a local lad from here in the western Philadelphia suburbs who hied hisself off to Italy a year or two back, to set up Starbess/Rome Brewing (that's him peering into the fermenter)"

PeeRing into the fermenter.

OK. now I understand.

Hey, with Mike, ya never know.

[Posted 12:30 pm edt]

24 March 2005
Tastings, we got tastings...
I figured the Monday Night Tasting at Sly Fox Phoenixville on March 14 (a week ago this past Monday) would be a good one, what with some of the more, um, intense members the gang in terms of beer (the Hubers bros., Tom & Lori) having just returned from the Ale Street News Belgian trip. No such luck.

Foley was down with the vapors from the travails of round-the-clock drinking in Belgium and Lori was working to cover his medical bills; Wanderin' Joe and the Smiledges were off in Arizona and only Bill Huber showed up with a beer direct from Belgium in hand (Bob showed up emptyhanded, but then, so did I). We were joined by Kindly Old Mr. Ruck and, briefly, Del Massey, now the proud father of two, count 'em, two, offspring and already postponing beer trips until they get things under control...as if that'll ever happen.

We proud few sampled but three beers, the first of which was Grolsh Amsterdam Maximator, an 11.5% abv doppelbock which was dutifully carried across the sea by the Good Huber (the one who brought beer). It was, sadly, hardly worth his effort. Geez, you send a guy off to Belgium and you'd think...well, never mind. There's lots more on the bed where that came from (see photo below) and no sense my stirring him up any.

To show you how little I was paying attention after that disappointment, I acknowledge that I no longer remember which guy brought each of the other two beers. I think it was Ruch who served up Bear Republic XP Pale Ale (5.4% abv) and Massey who brought Coniston Brewing Bluebird Bitter (4.2% abv), but it could have been the other way around. Or some other way entirely.

Both were quite pleasant, as I recall, with the Bluebird being the best of the short night. Kinda neat, I'd say, given all the times we've ended up singing the praises of yet another big, over-the-top brew. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Tastings, we got tastings...(this time I really mean it).
Things were more back to normal for this week's Tasting. Present were Your Humble Recording Secretary, Ruch, Rick Mayberry (sorta, he spent most of the night at the bar working deals), Wanderin' Joe Meloney, Tom Foley & Lori Limper and the Good Huber (Bill). The beers we tasted: La Rulles Blonde & La Rulles Tripel, Urthel Bock, Duvel, Ska Brewing Company Decadent Imperial IPA, George Gale's Jubilee Ale and a fresh growler of Victory St. Boisterous Hellerbock.

We basically worked our way up the alcohol ladder, holding the Victory St. B until the end for no particular reason except that we thought we might not make it through if we had a growler early on. We opened with Lori and Tom's two beers they'd picked up in Belgium, the Rulles Double (7% abv) and the Urthel Bock (7.5% abv). Good brews both, with the Urthel being one of my favorites of the night.

Moving on, we had the Duvel (8.5% abv), which Bill Huber bought, not in Belgium but right here at home. Yeah, we thought that was weird too. Next up was the Rulles Tripel (8.4% abv), which I contributed, due to the I'm-not-sure-he-yet-knows-about-kindness of Matt Guyer of The Beer Yard. I was completely unaware of Foley's intention of bring the double, by the way. In any case, this was the consensus best beer of the night.

The Ska Decadent IPA (10% abv) was Meloney's contribution, brought back to bolster his argument (scroll down) about what a great beer scene there is in Arizona, never mind that it's brewed in Durango, Colorado. Whatever. I ranked it up there with the Urthel and Rulles Tripel as the night's best. Ruch, showing off, was the man behind the Gale Jubilee (12% abv), a classic barleywine. He didn't know the vintage but I'd guess it was the 2002 which, unless I'm wrong, is the last to be released in the U.S.

And, finally, we eased back with the St. B, if you can call knocking off a growler (which we did with surprising ease) of 7.8% beer "easing back."

[Posted 4:12 pm edt]

23 March 2005
Billy Bob & Bobby Bill. Very. Strange. Brothers.
they're brothers, y'know, so when Bill and Bob, the Huber boys--out of the same gene pool, nurtured in the same environment--came to the final evening of their recent Belgian sojourn with Ale Street News, it's hardly surprisingly that they both wanted to celebrate the good times in the same fashion.

Go out for one last night on the town? No.

Kick back and relax over a quiet dinner? Surely not.

Get a good night's sleep? It is to laugh.

The only possible thing to do, in an expression of Extreme Geekdom (do we call this "Imperial" Geekdom in the beer world?), is to lay out their home-bound stash of Belgian brews on the bed and photograph it!

I mean, what other choice was possible?

Let it be noted that no offense or slight is intended toward these fine men, who are slowly and kindly sharing their booty with the rest of us at the Monday Night Tastings, a behavior pattern I would not in any way want to disrupt. (And, yes, Monday Tasting Notes will make their long anticipated return in a day or two).

Is Wanderin' Joe onto something?
That's "onto," not "on." Monday Tasting regular Joe Meloney has put his those days behind him, as far as we know.

We call the man "Wanderin' Joe" because he, well, wanders. Hither and yon all over the area, and most recently, to Arizona where he stalked fellow regulars Rick & Jeanne Smiledge (the most exciting thing to happen to them since the last time they visited Jeanne's mother in Cleveland) and came back convinced that, and I quote, Arizona has almost a good a beer scene as we have here in Philadelphia. I chalk it up to sunstroke.

Aside from that wandering eccentricity, and bird watching, and rock collecting, and some rather weird political thinking, Meloney is noted, in this corner at least, for an exceptional palate (which is kinda why that Arizona comment is, at its base, disturbing). When Joe says a beer is good, or describes it, he's usually on the mark. So, Monday night, when he had his first taste of Sly Fox Glacier IPA (the first beer in the IPA Project 2005 series) and gave his opinion, I asked him to repeat it to make sure I heard him right. What he said, essentially, was this:

First sip, I got a rush...Ballantine Ale! This tastes just like the original Ballantine Ale.
Whoa! I went and got a pint myself and took a deep swallow. Damn. He's got something there. That elusive quinine-like hop bite I remember was very much like the Glacier profile (in this beer, at least). How come I didn't notice that before? 'Cause Meloney's palate is more refined and attuned to beer history than mine, that's how come. Granted, it's been used a lot more, but it still doesn't seem right.

I've recorded here before how, back in the dim and distant past, two cases of this classic beer, gifted me by the brewery after I story I did about them, were the "big bang" that created my interest in and understanding of what good beer could be all about. Mature creatures such as Joe and I remember that great beer fondly and many people have tried to recapture it, so far without complete success, to my knowledge. I did an extensive web search several months back trying to replicate the original recipe, to no avail.

This needs further investigation. I plan to get a growler or two of Glacier before it disappears from the taps and convene Meloney, me and others of advanced age who still retain some semblance of their senses (i.e., remember the original ale) and see what we think under controlled conditions (i.e., without other beers to distract us). Or, if that falls through, just drink the growlers myself. Whatever.

Any volunteers? Proof of age required.

[Posted 11:55 am edt]

21 March 2005
Mike in Italy, the ongoing saga.
Let's face it, you don't get this kind of stuff at most websites, by which I mean, of course, Bryson's. Yes, back again, the Mike Murphy Report, the story of a boy and his fermenter in sunny Italia.

Mike, you will recall, is a local lad from here in the western Philadelphia suburbs who hied hisself off to Italy a year or two back, to set up Starbess/Rome Brewing (that's him peering into the fermenter) and pursue an incipient romance. I reported that whole story here and in Celebrator Beer News.

Well, the romance faltered and so, eventually, did the brewery. Last time we heard from Mike, things were in turmoil as he pursued various options. Last week,he checked in with an update:

I sold the brewery to a group in Copenhagen. They even offered me a job, and I'm still thinking about what I want to do next. As of now I'm making beer in Perugia for a brewpub and for Starbess.

The name of the place I'm brewing is La Serra, it is located on via del Ingeneria no 35, Perugia. It is a large restaurant/ brew pub with a 10 hl velo brewery with over 1000hl per year capacity, but they only are at about 250hl per year. Maybe with my help the number will go up. I am brewing for ELisabetta (Starbess) and selling her the kegged beer. So Starbess is still alive and I think better.

Copenhagen, Its still to early to go into the details, but Its what Im shooting for, I need a change. Plus I want to give Scandinavian women a try....

If your ever in Europe,let me know. I may run into you somewhere out there.

As it turns out, I will be in Europe in early April, although nowhere near Italy (more about that in a day or two) and, while this has nothing to do with that trip, I also just finished a story for the next Ale Street News about two brothers, trained here in New Jersey, who will be opening a brewery in Calabria come May. Both they, and Mike, are talking about meeting up. In short, we may have more to report soon.

Hmmmm, I seem to have become the unofficial American chronicler of the Italian brewing scene, don't I? My mother would be so proud and, come to think of it, since Murphy is, y'know, Irish, my old man might have been so as well. Then again, they always wanted me to get a real job...

Final Book & Cook notes: it's not over 'til it's over.
I'd be remiss if I didn't record here that, when I went to the tasting in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology for the two-hour tasting which follows each session of the Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting a week ago Saturday, the three cleanest, crispest, most striking beers I had were at the Homebrew Sweet Homebrew booth and all were brewed by a fellow named John Greer, who was at the same table as I for the Cask Ale Dinner the previous night. "Of course our beers are great," said a proud George Hummel, who said they received many similar compliments during the afternoon, "because we don't have to worry about selling them and can make them right."

I hesitate to tell this story as it suggests an unseemly and thoroughly out-of-character dirty old man turn of mind (no, really). But, what the hell, I find myself amusing sometimes and this was one. Walking back from the Rotunda tasting across the Drexel campus toward the train station, I found myself behind a comely young what-they-used-to-call-a coed, which is to say, a female student, who was clad in sweatpants that were, well, form-fitting. As is the current strange custom, there was a corporate name writ large in orange letter across her buttocks: Abercrombie. As I admired the view before she turned off the path toward a dormitory, a thought suddenly came to mind: if Abercrombie was positioned thusly, what might be the proximate location of Fitch?

Okay, maybe you had to be there, but I chuckled all the way to the station. In a nice fatherly fashion, of course.

The new "Angry Brewer" is a vegan.
There I was, chatting with Tom Baker on the phone the other day (something I've done a lot as of late, because he's part of that Ale Street story mentioned above), when suddenly he went off. Well, "went off" for Tom anyway, ranting excitedly about a couple of issues that will not be revealed here, at least not yet. Wha's up, I asked, nervously, have you suddenly taken to eating red meat or something? Nah, he replied. "With Brandon [Greenwood] gone, I figured somebody had to step up and be the 'Angry Brewer' and it might as well be me." I dunno. A feisty Tom? I don't think Tom can pull it off. Peggy, on the other hand, Peggy could do feisty...

The reason I called Tom this time, by the way, was that I have been more than a little confusered (copyright 1994, Carl Pietrantonio, God knows why) on the issue of exactly what Heavyweight's OTOP beers are all about this year, and I wanted to clear it up. I have now done so, to Guyer's delight, at the Beer Yard site, right here.

[Posted 9:15 am edt]

20 March 2005
Book & Cook IV (Will It Never End?): Eric Tucker Vegan Dinner at Nodding Head.
The 2004 Tucker dinner, first I one attended, was a real revelation to me. This guy can do stuff with things I'd never normally consider eating that make me sit and take notice. This year's meal was not, for me, as impressive as that initial one, but still an intriguing and pleasant break from the usual fare that we carnivores generally consume. And the beers were jsut plain perfect.

Our table, in the room behind the bar, consisted of the inevitable Bryson, the ever-present Hummel and occasional Rigberg, Mid-Atlantic Brewing News New Jersey columnist Gary Monterosso and the lady who makes all those delicious desserts which end most Monk's beer dinners, whose name I scribbled down and now can't read. The really cool table was the little two seater by the window by the bar, where Heavyweight's Tom Baker and Peggy Zwerver, the Official Vegans of the Philadelphia beer community, shared their meal beneath the romantic blinking neon lights from outside. Or maybe not.

We opened with an "Amusement" of white bean and butternut squash spread, crisp chick peas with zahtar (spice blend comprised of sesame seeds mixed with powdered sumac and dried thyme) and rosemary and thyme roasted cashews. It was accompanied by crisp, clean 700 Level Ale, about as drinkable a beer as you'll find in the city.

Next up was a plate featuring seared king trumpet mushroom, a mung bean scallion crepe, a black bean huitilacoche ragu ("huitilacoche" is fungus-infected corn kernels, believe it or not) and grilled "Spanky" grape leaf rolls, each with a sauce or the equivalent. With that we had the very last of George's Fault, a 10.5% abv brew concocted by Hummel out of, among other things, orange blossom honey and Chouffe yeast. This was the final brew done by Brandon Greenwood, together with is creator. Very, very nice and easy drinking, which accounts for the story behind its name:

"Hey," the guy complains, "why is my date so drunk?" (Do guys really complain about this?) "Well," says the bartender, "it's George's fault."
The salad course which, as it did in 2004, marks the annual occasion on which I condescend to eating asparagus, the world's worst vegetable, was cumin-scented asparagus tempura, baby spinach, red lentil et al with a curry citrus aioli, was accompanied by the big, bold 3C Extreme, a beer geek favorite.

Two entrees, a choice of Winter Mushroom Stroganoff or Seared Rissotto Cake (I had the latter but traded Bryson for a sample of his stroganoff, which I think was the better choice, though the rissotto was certainly very good), and a pair of brews, the Gold Medal winning Grog (which all of us thought had been ramped up in flavor somewhat--to its benefit--but which brewer Gordon Grubb assured us was not the case) and the alway welcome 60 Shilling Ale.

Dessert? Here's the menu description:

Sasha's often rumored but rarely seen tiramisu torte with Rudy's Kung Fu caramel with fresh blood oranges.
I have to say that last year's non-dairy chocolate cake was a superior finish, but it's hard to complain about a dessert that comes hand-in-hand with 11% abv Rudy's Kung Fu Grip, innit?

And thus ended my Book & Cook ventures for the year.

Fergie. If he wasn't real, we'd probably want to invent him.
Fergus Carey, he of Fergie's Pub and Monk's and Grace and Other Matters Beyond the Ken of Normal Men, has been writing "Ask Fergie," an offbeat (to put it mildly) advice column for Philadelphia Weekly for some months now, and I periodically rag him about taking the bread out of the mouths of starving writers, by which I mean, of course, me. He has since announced that he will donate all of the money that he is paid for the column to "Lew Bryson's favorite charity," by which he also means, of course, me, so I was prepared to change my stance because that would be good for, say it all together now, me.

Then he revealed that he gets paid nothing for "Ask Fergie."


It's worth a lot more than that, actually. Here's the link to the latest column and the opening sentences to whet your interest:

I migrated to the City of Brotherly Love via the Lone Star State. At 24, I moved to Houston to seek my fortune in the new world. I wasn't far from being a pauper, with just a few hundred pounds I'd borrowed from me da. I had no green card, no self-esteem and definitely no clue...
Fergie and Mrs. Fergie recently produced their first offspring, by the way, and below, courtesy of Rogue's Sebbie Buhler, who has laid claim to all royalties, is one of those picture-in-picture things people are always talking about, a photograph of the proud father posing with a photo of his son and heir which portends a problematic future for the wee one, does it not?

All that other stuff I keep promising?
In due time, friends, in due time. It's March Madness time and I needs must get me in front of the TV.

[Posted 1:20 pm edt]

19 March 2005
Book & Cook III: Stephen Beaumont Dinner at Monk's Café.
Okay it's another beer dinner and...hey, where's Michael Jackson? Are we allowed to do one of these things without him? Well, yes we are, even though this, the fifth Stephen Beaumont-hosted Monk's dinner, was one MJ surely would have enjoyed, so too bad for him.

The theme this year was vintage American beers, a lineup which included draft 2002 Brooklyn Saison, a Gold Medal winner at GABF and the best beer I tasted in Denver that year; bottles of 1997 and 2003 Alaskan Smoked Porter, which is unavailable hereabouts but our clever Canadian host scored some for the evening; a 2001 keg of Neversink Orion Ale (!) found deep in the shadows of Monk's cellar, presumably brewed by Jon Zangwill back in his wilder days and, unfortunately, a bit past its peak; 2001 Rogue Chocolate Stout, from Sebbie Buhler's private stash kept in her mother's cellar somewhere around here and I gotta find out where, and draft 1996 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine Ale, whoa, wow and yesiree bob.

These were matched, in order, with Snapper Soup, Smoked Seafood Custard (lobster, shrimp & scallops), Duck & Pheasant Stew, Bread Pudding (with whiskey hard sauce) and Chocolate Truffle. Good matches all, with the Rogue/Bread Pudding combination being downright spectacular. Once again, I found the Brooklyn Saison tops, an opinion shared and voiced during the evening by both Beaumont and affable host Tom Peters.

But the night, as hinted at in my last posting, was mostly about a neophyte at these grand gatherings, a retired minister named Tom Byron who is now working, if I recall correctly, as a counselor in the private sector.

Tom showed up alone and without much grasp of what was going to unfold and was seated originally at the bar, arguably the best seats in the house 'cause the beer keeps flowing there but probably not the ideal situation for a newcomer. Recognizing this, Tom Peters brought him over to our table, the long rectangular one in the front window which is, I guess, Table #2, adjacent to the round table across from the entrance, definitely #1, which usually accommodates the evening's guest host. The two of them are where you'll generally find the press and other guests.

Tom was seated across from me and as soon as we started chatting and I discovered how new all of this was for him, I realized it was going to be great fun giving him the scoop. Over the next hour or so, amidst talk about the food and beer, I laid all this on him...

The guy sitting to my right here is Eddie Friedland, the distributor most responsible for Philadelphia's selection of local and national microbrews and quality imports...On the other side of Eddie is Andy Whose Last Name I Always Forget, from New York's Brewery Ommegang...Two seats to your left is James Fernandes, managing partner of Grace...Notice that the lady seated to your immediate left is actually pictured on the bottle of Rogue Chocolate Stout that you're enjoying...

That's Stephen Beaumont right over your shoulder at the round table, of course, and the guy to his left is Lew Bryson, author of that brewery and pub guide book you've enjoyed so much--the pretty lady with him is his wife, and no, we don't understand it either...That's George Hummel and Nancy Rigberg to the left of the Brysons, genial owners of Home Sweet Homebrew, the city's best homebrew shop and they finally got married last year, can you believe it?...

The fella who came in fashionably late and disrupted everything? That's Don "Joe Sixpack" Russell of the Philadelphia Daily News, who used to win all the beer writing awards there were until the Guild of North American Beer Writers finally gave up the ghost because it was too damned expensive to make all those trophies for him year after year...

By the way, did I mention that you're sitting in the best Belgian bar in America and, arguably, the whole damned world, pardon my French? Or that Tom Peters, the guy who brought you over here so I could babble on at you all this time, is, probably without argument, the single individual most responsible for the emergence and dominance of Belgian beers in the U.S. craft beer market?

You gotta admit, folks, when you look around and start noting things like that instead of just taking it as a given, it's pretty impressive. As Byron emailed me the next day
I had a great time sharing your table last night at Monk's. What a great time! Thanks for providing me with the wisdom of your counsel. Everything was over the top!
Okay, that "wisdom of your counsel" stuff? The man's a former minister and just being kind, y'know? I'll take it, lord knows, but I know how I do rattle on. Chalk it up to senescence.

The Nodding Head report and all the other stuff I keep promising, including such crucial issues as "There's Abercrombie, where's Fitch?" and Tom Baker, stepping in to fill the role of the "angry brewer" (talk about a stretch), not to mention thoughts about The Dude and the fine beers of a Guy Named John and, last and definitely least, a Monday Tasting report. I do it all for you...plus, it keeps me from, y'know, actually working for money, which is just so crass.

[Posted 2:35 pm edt]

18 March 2005
Book & Cook II: Jackson Tasting.
The theme for this year's 15th Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting in the Upper Egyptian Gallery at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was "Golden Treasures" and eight GABF Gold Medal winning beers were presented. I went to the middle session (of three) and thought it was one of the better tastings in the series, both because of the beers we had and Michael's controlled, relatively concise presentation. Heck, he was only one beer behind us most of the time, likely a tasting record. The "food pairing," however, was a cup of saltines. At the price (granted, I didn't pay so I have no real room to complain), Museum Catering has got to be able to do better than that.

The two best beers of the day, in my opinion, were Old Dominion Tupper's Hop Pocket Pilsner, which was superbly crisp and clean and a marvelous example of the Pils style, and Iron Hill's Russian Imperial Stout, which was big and bold and led Jackson to acknowledge that he'd misjudged Iron Hill a few years back but now had new-found respect for their beers. This one was brewed by Larry Horwitz (North Wales), based upon Bob Barrar's (Media) Gold Medal winning recipe (2003).

Those were my favorites but there wasn't a bad beer in the bunch, of course. The others, in no particular order, were Triumph Kellerbier, Elysian The Wise ESB, Avery India Pale Ale, Nodding Head Grog, Stewart Barleywine and Pizza Port Solano Beach Cuvee de Tomme. I will note, however, that the Triumph beer was poorly served by the order of presentation. It came second, after the Tupper Hop Pocket, and its smoother, unfiltered body was somewhat overwhelmed by the aggressive hop bitterness of the first beer. Interestingly, Home Sweet Homebrew's George Hummel, who set up the initial order of presentation, had it first but Michael reversed that. Some days, even the mighty falter.

Book & Cook (Not): Jackson Belgian Ale Dinner at Monk's Café.
Yep, it was All Jackson, All The Time for the weekend and this one, as it usually is, was the piece de resistance. It's not officially a B&C event and usually comes on the last Sunday of the ten-day celebration, as piece de resistances should, but a scheduling conflict put all the Jackson events on the opening weekend for 2005.

This was the seventh of these dinners, which have included such historic moments as an all-lambic dinner ("never done before and probably never to be repeated," said Jackson at the time) which featured over a dozen Cantillon lambics on draft and a dinner at which beers from all six Trappist breweries were poured (made possible only because Tom and Fergie flew to Belgium and brought back mini-kegs of Achel, which was not yet available in the U.S.--shhh, don't tell anybody). The 2005 theme was "cellared ales paired with new versions of the same." Neatly, it included one beer I'd never had, nor even heard of.

Jackson concluded a weekend of stellar performances with yet another one, speaking before each course about the beers to be poured. In his opening remarks, he acknowledged Philadelphia's "two great beer bars, Monk's, of course, and The Standard Tap," and I was pleased to see the latter get its props from the Master.

Both 1996 and 2004 Cantillon Gueuze were served with the opening course, Tuna Wrapped in Oysters (which included a small shrimp served atop an oyster shell) in a saffron/tomato broth. A wonderful beginning and, as you'd predict, the older beer was the better. It was, indeed, the favorite of the night for many people I talked to.

The second course was smashing, the best of the night and my entire 2005 B&C experience, perfectly rare Smoked Duck Breast with arugula, accompanied by two tiny pickled onions and cherry tomatoes. 2002 and 2004 Dupont Avec le Bon Veoux were poured with it and, oh my, did that work.

That was followed by two nicely braised Scallops with Duvel burre blanc, accompanied by--what else?--2001 and 2005 Duvel, the former poured from jeraboams (3 liter bottles). Unfortunately the bottle served at our table was clearly corked, but it was quickly replaced with a clean fresh bottle when Lew Bryson brought the problem to Tom Peters' attention. It's for moments like this that we keep Lew around, truth be told.

Not done yet. I don't eat veal as a general rule but will when it's served to me and Veal Medallions with wild mushroom and Chimay sauce, accompanied by zucchini au gratin and polenta, was indeed brought out next. With that came 1999 and 2005 Chimay Grand Reserve. A lot of beer geeks these days kind of turn up their noses at Chimay; too bad for them. This was great match.

With dessert, a fine Belgian Chocolate Torte, we had that beer which was new to me, Hemel Nieuw Ligt Grand Cru, 2003, from The Netherlands. The menu didn't bear the "grand cru" designation as I recall, but it did claim 12% abv which would make it that and not the regular 10% abv version. A really fine beer and I rank it, the 1996 Cantillon and 2002 Dupont as my favorites of the night.

Afterwards, we repaired to the back bar where Michael held court for a half hour or so for a group including a contingent headed by the Beer Yard's Matt Guyer. which had been seated at the bar for the dinner. One of this bunch was a particularly annoying New Yorker who, at his "finest" moment challenged Jackson's statement that the United States is by far the world's best beer nation with a disbelieving "Do you really believe that?" This drew a mild "Well, I just said it" from MJ, who moved on. I was chomping at the bit to get to the guy afterwards and ask him exactly what country he had in mind to challenge the assertion, but he abruptly left early to catch a train home. So just bitched about him to the Beer Yard web guru, Pete Ruckelshaus, with whom I rode in, on the way home.

We did the no-traffic-cluttering-up-the-expressway return trip in something like 20 minutes, maybe less, which seemingly shattered my personal record of 27 minutes last year. That was from the Standard Tap, though, so I'm not ready to concede entirely.

Coming this weekend.
Imagine this: you're a relative novice at this beer thing, though you've come to appreciate good brews ever since your wife gave you a beer club membership a couple of years back. You've hit a brewpub here and there along the way and when she finds this beer dinner downtown being promoted on the local PBS station's website, you figure you just might give it a try...

The story of Tom Byron and his evening at Monk's for the Steven Beaumont Dinner will be recounted here next, along with a report on the Eric Tucker Vegan Dinner at Nodding Head, a Mike Murphy in Italy update and some thoughts about whatever else I can make sense of from the scribbled on pieces of paper and tattered menus atop my desk.

[Posted 1:35 pm edt]

16 March 2005
Since last we met....
On Wednesday, March 2, I went to the anniversary party at Iron Hill North Wales and confirmed my suspicions that, while Tom Kehoe of Yard's is, and always will be, the happiest brewer in captivity, Larry Horwitz is a damned close second. I remember him bubbling over on the phone with joy when I interviewed him a few days after he left Manayunk Brewing for the North Wales job and thinking that he'd eventually settle down. Not a bit. The boy's still deliriously pleased. And, hey, that's a good thing.

Larry told me he'll be bottling some beers for sale and consumption at the pub, another sign of how Iron Hill is becoming more aggressive and adventuresome and that too is a good thing. And head brewing guy Mark Edelson revealed that Iron Hill will have a homebrewing event with Brewer's Association honcho Charlie Papazian on Thursday, April 14. I get details of that up here as soon as he gets them to me. As for the party, it was low key and very nice. Glad I made it, even if it did mean weaving through the pot-holed maze of Rt. 309, which has to be the worst-kept thoroughfare in this entire region.

Speaking of Yards and Tom Kehoe, I spent some time at the brewery two days later, interviewing Tom and partners Bill and Nancy Barton for a short piece which will appear in the next issue of Ale Street News. Afterwards, I drove the ten blocks or so to Johnny Brenda's and caught up with William Reed to get a look at the progress being made toward JB's expansion into its second floor. Oh, the plans they have for that....a story I'm not yet free to report.

The next day was the annual Main Line Brew Fest, where attendance was decidedly down (probably due in large part to the $40 price tag) and the vibes were not good. The folks in charge at the Desmond have been drifting along doing essentially the same old same old since the first Main Line fest back in 1999, and I do mean drifting. If you happened across their promotional literature this year, for example, you saw that it featured a brewery list with Red Bell, Ortlieb's and other non-players still displayed.

I only stayed a little over an hour, but long enough to see Sly Fox's Brian O'Reilly almost come to blows with an arrogant DJ who objected to O'Reilly's unplugging his speakers so we could hear ourselves think and to convince myself, through extensive research (i.e., sampling) to switch from Stoudt's Fat Dog Stout to their Double IPA as the beer I recommended as one of ten local brews to see out during the forthcoming Craft Brewers Conference (that and other suggestions will appear in a feature in the next Celebrator Beer News).

Book & Cook I: Jackson Museum Dinner.
This was, best I can recall, the finest Michael Jackson hosted beer dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology of the four or five I've attended. Both Jackson and Museum Catering Company were pretty much at the top of their games and the line-up of seven cask beers was downright spectacular aside from one experiment that might better have been left untried. Then again, if nobody tried anything, we'd all still be drinking big bland swill, wouldn't we? And all those folks who burn off their excessive energy homebrewing might instead be...well, I hesitate to speculate. That way lies madness.

The opening reception featured Sly Fox Pikeland Pils and the aforementioned Stoudt's Double IPA. Both were superb, although casking brought out the sweetness in the IPA to a degree that left me thinking I probably prefer it in its bottle or draft form. No such concerns about casked Victory Storm King Stout, which went down oh-so-easily with a Caraway fish soup as the appetizer course. I'm pretty much ready to drink Storm King in whatever fashion anyone wants to provide it.

An entree of slow roasted pork loin shoulder with garlic and thyme, served over cabbage and noodle gratin with roast yellow turnips, was well matched by casked Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter, which brought out the flavors of the roast, and Troegs Hopback Amber Ale, which proved a surprisingly fit accompaniment for the turnips.

Dessert was a brown sugar Créeme Bruléee (the one weak link on the menu, being neither crisp on top nor warm beneath, although still quite tasty) which was accompanied by two beers. One, casked Dogfish Head Immort Ale, was probably my favorite beer of the night. The other was seriously weird, that experiment gone awry that I mentioned: Bethlehem Brew Works Remedy, a stout made with roasted barley chocolate and black patent malts to which 10oz of chocolate and three pounds of peanut butter had been added. Yikes!

Afterwards, many of us wandered across the South Street Bridge to Grace, where a large number of those benighted folks who want to fend off Philadelphia's proposed "smoke free" initiative were apparently gathered to protest in a great and pervasive cloud of smoke. Not to worry, I'm pretty sure I'll be able to bring the clothes I wore in off the line any day now.

I would be remiss if I did not note that all of this was, if not made possible, certainly made easier, by Lew Bryson, who telephoned early that morning and allowed as how he'd be in Reading during the day and passing within a mile of my digs and so offered a ride...and then one back out again. This is one Fine Human Being and you should all go buy his books immediately.

Even if you already have a copy.


Coming Friday.
Reports on further Book & Cook events: Michael Jackson's Tutored Tasting at the Museum, Michael Jackson's Cellared Belgian Ales Dinner at Monk's Cafe (anybody seeing a pattern here?), Stephen Beaumont Vintage American Beer Dinner at Monk's (a second pattern?) and tonight's Eric Tucker Vegan Beer Dinner at Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant.

Then....dieting tips.

[Posted 3:45 pm edt]

2 March 2005
It's No Work Tuesday.
I was all primed to write about Sunday night's fine Belgian Beer Dinner at Ortino's Northside this morning, but others have already done the work for me. I like that.

Peter Cherpack was the evening's speaker and here's his report. And over here, some guy named Bryson chimes in with more.

This job gets easier every day.

You might want read this.
Rodenbach Red is returning to our shores. Here is the story I put up at the Beer Yard site this morning, but--as the link in the story makes clear--the scoop is the work of the Alstrom boys over at BeerAdvocate.com.

[Posted 10:00 am edt]

1 March 2005
Damn. And they already gave out the Oscars.
Go here. Click where it says, you know, Click here. Trust me.

[Posted 5:00 pm edt]

The complete February 2005 postings have been archived here.

[Posted 10:40 am edt]

Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

--A. E. Houseman


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