Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Still catching up, with some nuggets to share

While getting through a bunch of dirty laundry (literally) from our Great European Trip last month, I've not surprisingly continued to accumulate beer material that I feel compelled to share with you. And, while still working at getting around to writing and sharing all about the Beers on the Rhine (seriously, I am), I'm compelled to get this recent week's worth of activity out for you rather than queuing it up behind everything else. For starters, no sooner had we been back on terra firma for a couple of time zone readjustment days, we were headed off to sit down as guests of The Drafting Room for their Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Dinner Party. At the risk of doing this dinner a disservice, I'm not sure there's much different to say from the last TDR/Sierra dinner that we attended in November '09. (Or, maybe you think I'm in a rush to get through, now.) Let's see, how did I describe it back in November '09?
  • "50-55 guests...Slightly raucous..." This time around? 60-ish guests, definitely raucous. We debated the concept of courtesy and rudeness at beer dinners such as these.
  • I discussed a "liberal, free-pouring" approach at beer dinners hosted by restaurants. At this dinner, it was not necessary as all beers were above 8% ABV, except for the first course which came in just merely a tick or two under 7% ABV.
  • Last year, I mentioned a surprise, that of "the baby brother of Limb & Life". The only real surprise this time around was the unfortunate absence of the originally-planned Anniversary #4 beer, the Sierra blended and oak-aged beer which was not ready from the brewery in time for this dinner.
  • Of course, I also described the "grand-daddy of the dinner---the dessert course". This year was no exception as the Belgian Chocolate Flourless Torte paired with the Fritz & Ken Imperial Stout (anniversary beer #1) shone brightly. Fortunately, the lights were not so bright as to draw attention to this beer guy dunking forkfuls of his chocolate dessert in the stout. Sheesh, you can't take some people anywhere, eh?
  • Finally, last year I wondered if TDR could "continue to pull off strings of $70 beer dinners and pack the house each time". The house was still packed for this year's dinner, though at a lower price, $59, than for last year's. Somehow, I don't think price really matters when it comes to a beer dinner of this caliber.
  • (Click here for a full gallery of pictures from The Drafting Room's Sierra Nevada Beer Dinner on 10/28)
    The very next night (obviously, making up for 17 MIA days around here), we made our way to Swift Half Pub in Philly's Northern Liberties neighborhood for the first of a two-night 32nd birthday celebration for Flying Fish's brewer Casey Hughes. The event was called SuperFriends Beer Extravaganza and concluded the following night crosstown at Varga Bar. Casey was able to wrangle four sixtels of SuperFriends IPA away from his New York state brewing brethern. Earlier this year, you may recall me proclaiming this brett-laced IPA as one of my favorite of Ommegang's annual Belgium Comes To Cooperstown event. This was a beer that was brewed for New York City Beer Week by Hughes, Scott Vaccaro (Captain Lawrence), Jeff O'Neil & Eric Kugeman (Ithaca), Phil Leinhart (Ommegang), Phil Markowski (Southampton), and Steve Altimari (free agent, formerly of Valley Brewing in northern California). They took a portion of this batch and further aged it in French Oak (Chardonnay) barrels. Apparently, most has been dispersed and digested, save for a few bottles and sixtels here and there. In a remarkable feat of strength, Casey coerced these four sixtels (2 of each variety for each bar) into Pennsylvania for what will likely be the only ones of this initial batch of beer to make it to Pennsylvania for sale by legal means. (I say "initial"--not because I know anything, but--because we all know how these successful batches of beer tend to come around again somewhere down the road. In a side-by-side comparison, while I thought the additional barrel-aging added more flavors than was necessary, the original Superfriends was just as fabulously tasty as I'd remembered.
    (Click here for a full gallery of pictures from The SuperFriends event at Swift Half Pub on 10/29)
    The night at Swift Half was pleasantly attended and pleasantly enjoyed. From all unpublished accounts, the following night at Varga Bar was anything but tame. In keeping with my standards here, I will not name names simply for the sake of incrimination or embarrassment. If anyone else would like to, have at it :) Rounding out our first week back in the States, we had reservations at the famed Talula's Table in Kennett Square, Pa. While not necessarily a beer event, per se, it was a highly-anticipated dinner at this BYOB that is often called the toughest reservation in America. However, when dining with beer friends like Patrick & Tracy and Scott and Vickie, the night quickly becomes an event and the dinner, a beer dinner. The stash of beer we all supplied was impressive, of course not expecting to drink it all. So, while I won't turn this into a foodie review of Talula's with a course-by-course breakdown (zoom in on the picture at the gallery link below if you care to see each of the eight courses described in print), I will comment on the restaurant's reputation. Ever since this dining experience, I've been fond of saying to anyone that will listen something to the extent of "If you think customer service is dead or dying, then Talula's Table didn't get the notice." (Actually, I've also been saying that of the service aboard our riverboat cruise in Germany.) From the warm and easy welcome that we received, to the casual drinks and hors d'hoervres before dinner, to the friendly dinner banter between the restaurant staff and our table while we were dining in their kitchen, to the constant but unobtrusive plate and glassware service, to the unrushed farewell at the end of the evening, I can not imagine a more comfortable dining experience that I've had in recent memory. The dinner costs roughly $130 per person after all taxes and gratuities are added and it's not a stretch to say that dollar-for-course-for-service-for-dollar, this is a most reasonably-priced dining experience. The reservations must be made a year in advance. If you should.
    (Click here for a full gallery of pictures from Talula's Table in Kennett Square)
    This last note almost did not make the cut. However, as my keen eye looks for little nuggets of beery goodness to share from almost every facet of life, I'm hard-pressed not to pass along this seemingly trivial piece of information. Almost everywhere I go these days, even if the restaurant/bar is not an acclaimed better beer bar, it seems that most everyone is catching on to the endless and wondrous sensory experience that beer can provide. Mercato was one of these places last Friday evening. It's a BYOB, but the staff took quite a liking interest in the beer that we brought. Though, when you realize that this Italian BYOB is a sister restaurant to Varga Bar just a couple of blocks down the street, it may lessen the surprise. That's it for now. Caught up? Not really, but more so than when I began this column.

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