Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bière de Garde tasting at Chick's Cafe in Philadelphia, PA - 11/26/07

(lovely picture of water, eh?!)

Dan Shelton (don't call me Kevin Healon) appeared at Chick's Cafe to weave stories of France's lesser known Bière de Garde style. It can be one of my more favorite styles and I was certainly looking forward to this event, hoping that my schedule would permit my attendance, ever since I first read of Chick's over at Suzanne's site.

It was nice to see Don's thoughts about the dinner. Because dufus (that's me) left notes and scribblings behind on the table, so it's all up to my memory...which is normally pretty sharp even without notes. But, without a proper dinner and several tastings of beer, weeeelllll let's see how that memory thing goes here. Or, I may take the easy way out and simply defer to Mr. Russell.

The great thing about Don is that he has this (award-winning) way of telling the truth in a tactful way, while letting the reader pass judgment on the subject at hand. Case in point...while I've previously had never sat through a presentation by Dan, his reputation certainly precedes him. I've heard him interviewed on Craft Beer Radio before, quoted in print, and criticized in online forums.

However, he has a business whereby he travels in search of good beer to import for our pleasure. So, I figured this was a chance to check out a new (new, for me) establishment, check out some French beers, and form my own opinion of Shelton.

(Dan Shelton)

Well, Don was right on the money. The evening certainly did have an element of entertainment. I struggled to keep up with the meandering stories full of nuggets which I cannot personally confirm. For example, I do not know if there were really 2,000 French breweries in an area less than the size of Rhode Island. Or, if the land that some of the country folk around some of the breweries live in is really befitting of Dan's "armpit" reference. Or some of the other choice adjectives that he used to describe the people. Or, the beer that he not-so-affectionately refers to as "merde."

What I do know is that I disagree that there are only 3 outstanding breweries in the United States. And, that there are only a couple more than that in Belgium. One that I particularly enjoy, St. Feuillien, he summarily dismissed as garbage. I also disagreed with the tone he seemed to talk down to us with. Whether it was regarding European versus beers of other origins, the pointlessness of aging beers, etc. etc. Anyway, one man's opinions are...

So, amidst the regaling of endless stories and half-answered questions, two other things may have actually upstaged the M.C. First was the Gavroche incident that Don referred to in his write-up. It actually had me looking around for the casting crew of American Idol! Second was the trumpeting of Don's presence as well as the announcement of his upcoming dinner at Jose Pistolas and his tutored tastings of local (PA/DE) GABF 2007 award-winning beers at Tria's Fermentation School. A very nice round of applause was offered up by the crowd.

I haven't really said much about Chick's or the event's beers have I? Shame on me. I got caught up in the sideshow. While this was Chick's first "major" beer event, they seem intent on setting up some competition for Tria's Fermentation School concept. Next month's event is on December 18th, entitled "Noel Beers: From Around The World."

The night started with the Clos Normand cider from Cidrerie Duché De Longueville. The various beers included the Extra and Amber from Brasserie Thiriez, a Framboise from Brasserie La Choulette, Brasserie Duyck's St. Druon Abbey Ale, Brasserie St. Sylvestre's Gavroche, and the La Bavaisienne Blonde from Brasserie Theillier.

My runaway favorite of the night was the dry, tart, slightly musty, low alcohol (4.5%) and pleasantly hop bitter of Thiriez's Extra. In the nicely written tasting notes, it mentioned the use of England's Bramling Cross hop variety and offered the beer description of "farmhouse IPA session." Downright tasty is another way I'd put it.

The night ended with my second favorite, the Gavroche. It tipped the scales as the highest ABV of the evening at 8.5%. This was a nice full bodied malty beer with clean and dry flavors that didn't overwhelm the senses.

It's hard to gripe much about my experience at Chick's. The building's interior has been beautifully renovated with extraordinary attention to architectural and design detail around the bar on the first floor and on up to the coziness of the second floor. The service from Jon, Nicole, and the staff couldn't have been more attentive. The tasting notes and the seating arrangements, also very appropriate and comfortable.

I only wished there were a few more morsels of food to go around. I realize that this was a tasting, advertised with cheese and charcuterie. Obviously, no fault of theirs. They delivered exactly what they advertised. Maybe I'm a bit spoiled by beer dinners. This event started at 7pm and I came directly from work. After leaving work, schlepping home, then train into Philly and taxi to the restaurant, I'd worked up an appetite since having lunch 7 hours earlier. I suppose it's shame on me for not having prepared better, but I sure wish there was a bit more than a few smoked mussels, tiny triangles of cheese, sausage bites, cashews, and berries. Considering the event got started about 20 minutes late, I had a difficult time keeping anything on my plate past the first beer. Eh, this was a beer tasting not a beer dinner...lesson learned.

After a couple of nightcaps at the front bar with Dan, Don, and others, we headed off for our train, anxious to head back to Chick's on some random night to give their decent looking dinner menu a try...and a few more beers. (As you saw on Don's review, tap list spans local to global; enough bottles to satisfy too.)

(What the @#$%, I thought this was a civilized beer tasting?!)

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