Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Monk's Beer Dinner 1/24/06 : Pizza Port & Russian River
The first dinner of the new year at the near legendary Monk's Cafe in Philadelphia, PA brought west coast big boys Pizza Port Brewery (near San Diego) and Russian River Brewery (Santa Rosa, near Napa). These guys (Vinnie from RR and Tomme from PP) have gathered quite a bit of press recently, both in the level of activity, adventure, and curiosity that they have exhibited in brewing new and interesting beers as well as the number of awards that they have garnered on the national stage like the Great American Beer Festival. The weather on this day was beautiful. So, Adam and I packed up a bit early from work and headed into Philadelphia on the train. We arrived early enough to divert to Ludwig's Garten for a pre-dinner dunkelweisse from Franziskaner and small treats like wurst, tart, and "wings." Excellent place to relax and prepare for the rest of the evening. For more details on Ludwig's, please see an earlier posting. We arrived over at Monk's early enough to take some outdoor pictures and make a few introductions to some beer friends not met before in person. We made our way to Monk's back bar for a beer while waiting for the dinner to begin. Adam had the Urthel Samaranth (quadrupel) and I had the St. Feuillien Noel. Mmm, so far so good. The dinner got started shortly after 7pm. At first, we were disappointed to be sat, literally, in the last seats in the house. But, we were in good company in the back room with our friend from Beer Yard and others. Plus, we got equal treatment from the hosts who made their rounds to the back room as well. And, we shuffled ourselves up to the front room a couple of times just to see how everyone else was doing. The saying of "the last shall be first" proved true as we were served most courses first in the room before anyone else. So, finally to the beers. Adam and I were both quite anxious for this dinner because, for both of us, this gave us the opportunity to experience beers that neither of us had sampled in the past. Plus, from our research at their websites and reputation in the industry, we knew that we would be tasting some unusual and experimental brews. That being said, I'm going to cut right to the chase. For starters, by the end of the evening we were both a bit overwhelmed as a result of two breweries being profiled at this dinner. Also, I think that I can speak for both of us when I say that we were a bit disappointed in the limited scope of the beers offered for tastings. From the research we had done ahead of time, we were looking forward to trying some of the award-winning IPAs, stouts, porters, and barleywine....in addition to the sour lambic styles that were predominantly featured instead. This may sound like sour grapes (no pun intended), but in my humble opinion the food stole the show on this night. I've listed below the beers featured from each brewery, but they were all so subtly the same/different that it's really hard for me to describe each one by itself. I will admit that perhaps this is because of my inexperience with this style. My overall assessment would label these brews mostly as extremely sour, Belgian/lambic style with a heavy dosage of brettanomyces. Both Tomme and Vinnie discussed this during their "presentations" and they were not kidding! The last thing to say about the beers is that while I was overwhelmed with them by themselves, the beers were expertly paired with the meal as they complemented each course nicely. The Le Woody and Cuvee de Tomme from Pizza Port and the Supplication from Russian River were excellent when paired with their respective foods. Perhaps if I had geeked out a bit more with my notepad during the dinner, this writeup on the beers would be more comprehensive, but it didn't feel right at the time. 1st Course: RR Beatification with Foie Gras Turchon 2nd Course: RR Temptation & PP Synergy with Clams & Andouille Sausage 3rd Course: RR Deification & PP Le Woody with Barley Tea Smoked Duck Breast 4th Course: RR Supplication & PP Mother Pucker with Tuna Wellington 5th Course: PP Cuvee de Tomme with Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding With all this beer on the table (and, there was quite a bit, yeow!), did I mention food?! Yes, I did. And, the food certainly held up its end of the night. Each course that I listed above was amazingly done, but perhaps none quite as much as the Tuna Wellington. Have you ever had Beef Wellington? Think of it, now replace the meat with a perfectly cut brick of pacific big-eye tuna. Pure heaven on a plate. Though, the table next to us did not appear to appreciate the dish quite as much as we did. Wonder if they noticed my fork in their plate ;-) So, how do I wrap this up neatly now? I'd say that this was a great dinner with good beers, shared in great company with Adam. We had the pleasure of finally meeting in person several people who we had only previously corresponded with through e-mail. We also made some new friends. Plus, keep in mind that a dinner at Monk's, particularly a beer dinner at Monk's, is never bad! The overall beer karma is always off the charts here and provides one of the best venues in the country. But, strictly from a beer point-of-view, this was not my favorite event. While I was disappointed to miss the Urthel dinner in October, my standard for a while I'm sure will continue to be the St. Feuillien dinner of last September. Lastly, we moved on to Nodding Head for a pint of George's Fault while we waited for our train ride home. This, I believe, was a remake of last year's award-winning beer but not quite the original. It seemed to be lacking in the "wow factor." To complete the evening, the walk to the train station through thunder, lightning, rain, sleet, and snow was interesting to say the least.