Posing for the traditional post-party photo outside Monk's front window are noted British tourist Michael Jackson, perennial master of ceremonies George Hummel, cheerful chef Adam Glickman & co-owner Tom Peters. Philadelphians may recognize noted local columnist "Joe Sixpack" foraging for leftover food and beer behind the window sign.

By Jack Curtin

(This story was published in CELEBRATOR BEER NEWS, June-July 2001)

One of the sure harbingers of spring here in Philadelphia is the annual The Book & The Cook Festival, a 10-day celebration during which famous chefs and authors descend upon the city in droves to conduct a vast array of food and drink presentations. For beer lovers, this year's event was spiced up with the usual healthy dose of Michael Jackson, yet another historic Sunday night beer dinner (one of a set, collect them all) at the city's fabulous Monk's Café and the national launching of a centuries-old beer (or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof).

Events on the 2001 schedule which I missed due to scheduling or personal reasons included "Cooking and Eating with Beer" at Cutter's Grand Café, featuring beer and wine journalist Peter LaFrance; the gourmet vegetarian lunch and dinner at Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, with Eric Tucker, executive chef at San Francisco's Millennium and author of the Millennium Cookbook; and all three of the trio of dinners created during B&C each year by author and chef Ruth Van Waerebeek and owner-chef Michel Notredame at Cuvee Notredame. Actually, the first of those feasts featured Chilean wines rather than beer (Van Waerebeek's newest cookbook, joining Everybody Eats Well in Belgium, is The Chilean Kitchen).

I also did not attend the two Jackson-hosted dinners at the University of Pennsylvania Museum: the traditional Friday night meal, which was built around single malt scotches rather than beers this year, and a special recreation of the Funerary Feast of King Midas held in 900 BC. This latter event was the centerpiece for the introduction of Midas Touch, a new beer created by Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, based upon chemical analysis of beverage residues found in the tomb of King Midas.

The story behind Midas Touch is a fascinating one, too long to go into here (it can be found in great detail in Gregg Wiggins' "East Coast Brewer Has the Midas Touch" in the December 2000/January 2001 issue of Celebrator Beer News). It was originally brewed last fall by Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione to be served as "Origin Ale" during the initial Midas feast recreation at the Museum. It was first tasted, however, at a small gathering in the back bar at Monk's shortly before that official debut. At the time, the beer was not considered a potential commercial product, especially given the cost of producing it. However, the interest generated by the beer's unique history and genesis convinced Calagione to press on, with the Museum's support, and bring a renamed and somewhat different version to market.

Midas Touch was formally introduced at a press conference the afternoon of the Funerary Feast. It will be sold in corked, 750 ml clear bottles and, based on that afternoon's sampling, appears to have a commercial potential. "Perilously drinkable" was Jackson's dead-on description during brief remarks to the gathering. Somewhat more carbonated than the first version, the beer is brewed with barley, honey, white muscat grapes and saffron (which gives it an appropriate Midas-like golden color). With its nice air of mystery, part beer and part wine, Midas Touch could be an ideal aperitif to serve at a garden party or outdoor summer meal, though at 9% abv it might dramatically reduce the number who make it to the table.

But I digress….

For me, this year's Book & Cook adventure began with the 7th annual Real Ale Rendezvous at the Dock Street Brewpub at Reading Terminal. Host and organizer Jim (Beer Philadelphia) Anderson says this is "America's oldest gathering for the appreciation of cask-conditioned beers" and more than 250 beer fanciers showed up to sample the wares of 15 breweries. Among the more interesting entries was one of the only two kegs produced (according to brewer Jim Pericles, in for the event from Boston) of Samuel Adams St. Sepiol, a sour brown Belgian-style ale. A batch of relatively new beers which have created buzz in the local beer community-Victory 1009 Anniversary Ale, Yards Trubbel de Yards, Nodding Head Whiplash IPA and Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA-were all popular with the crowd and Jim Brennan's Manayunk Kellerbier received some of the strongest word-of-mouth acclaim I can recall hearing at a Philadelphia beer event since the first-ever cask of Yards ESA invigorated the local micro scene back in 1995. When all was done, however, the Best of Show vote by attendees went to Lunacy, a strong golden ale from the small-sized but Big Beer-oriented Heavyweight Brewery of New Jersey.

A few nights later came a Stephen Beaumont-hosted four-course dinner at Monk's. Tying in to his recently released Premium Beer Drinker's Guide, Beaumont selected two beers for each course, one a classic Belgian and the other a "new world" beer, and asked diners to compare and contrast. An opening mussels salad was paired with Hoegaarden and Unibroue's Blanche de Chambly. A Charcuterie platter was accompanied by Duvel and the aforementioned Heavyweight Lunacy. The main entrée of braised bison was matched with Val Dieu Brown and New York's Ommegang and a dessert course called Chocolate & Chocolate (which actually involved three extraordinary chocolate offerings) brought things to a smash conclusion when consumed together with goblets of Rochefort 8 and North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. Somewhat unexpectedly, at least to me, there were those who felt that the Old Rasputin matched the chocolate even better than the classic Rochefort. Several of us who had saved the Val Dieu (which was, as it turned out, too "big" for the bison) found that it also nicely complemented the final course.

I attended the final Jackson tutored tasting in the museum's Upper Egyptian Gallery on Saturday afternoon and found the Great Man in fine form, especially given that he was into the third go-round of a ten-beer sampling on what is, he has said, his most arduous day every year. With 300-plus attendees to each session, Jackson entertains and informs well over 1000 folks at these gatherings. Hard work that, but then again, as the Beer Bard announced with satisfaction at Monk's the following night, he also sold over $4000 worth of books during signings between the tastings.

This year's tutored session focused on local breweries and the beers involved were, in order, New Road Perkiomen Pils, Stoudt Gold, Iron Hill Pig Iron Porter, Heavyweight Perkuno's Hammer Imperial Porter, Weyerbacher Raspberry Stout, Yards Love Stout, Victory 1009 Anniversary Ale, Nodding Head Old Willy's Ghost Barleywine, Triumph Gothic Ale and Dogfish Head Midas Touch. This is a great event, with each tutored session followed by a two-hour general tasting of 100-plus beers in the museum's majestic Chinese Rotunda.

And then, as beer journeys in Philadelphia so often do, things wrapped up at Monk's, where history was made and improbable beers were sipped.

Last year's Jackson-hosted Sunday dinner at Monk's was an all-lambic affair, presumably the first such ever held, but that turns out to have been mere prologue. This year's gathering was, by all estimations, the first dinner anywhere to be accompanied by beers from all six of the Trappist breweries. And that wasn't easy, folks, because….well, let Michael Jackson tell the tale.

Greeting the crowd by holding up a glass of the beer they had just been served to open the festivities, Jackson explained that "this is rather a small beer you've been given because there is only tiny amount of it here tonight. The beer that you have in your hands has never ever been available in America. This beer has never been consumed in America, has never been seen in America, has never ever been seen anywhere outside of Belgium. In fact, it has never been seen and consumed before anywhere outside of the brewery where it is made, the newest Trappist monastery brewery anywhere in the world." The brew, of course, was Achel, and Jackson wasn't exaggerating the difficulty in obtaining it. But Monk's co-owner Tom Peters and his chef Adam Glickman were up to the challenge. On a visit to Belgium a few weeks earlier, they visited the monastery and somehow convinced the monks to allow them to fill up two small kegs they'd brought along.

Achel was definitely a shocker, but it wasn't the only "first ever" beer of the evening. The opening course of braised rabbit and chicken was served with Westvleteren Blonde, poured in this country for the first time ever and, suggested Jackson, "maybe for the first time outside Belgium." That was followed by chilled white asparagus served with Chimay White and Rochefort 8, hop-poached turbot with Westmalle Triple, an absolutely amazing roast wild boar accompanied by Orval and Rochefort 10, all finished off with Belgian chocolate cake and Westvleteren 12.

Ah, wretched excess. There's so much to recommend it.

Copyright (c) 2001 Jack Curtin

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