Thursday, September 17, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 6: "The 1995 Project"

[Click the picture for access to a 26-page PDF version of the 6-part series, The 1995 Project (including comments)]

Fitting that this 6th entry in my Jack Curtin-In Memoriam series is a 6-part series of Curtin's — The 1995 Project. Actually, it was part of my decision to run this series. On Facebook, Don Russell (aka Joe Sixpack) made passing reference to Curtin's writing during this era. Turned out I had printed copy of all 6 installments of The 1995 Project that had been used during his retirement party last year.

Unlike other tribute pieces I've put up here for Jack, there's no way that I'm retyping 26 pages of his words. However, if you click the picture above, just as with the other re-postings of his past work I've done here, you can download your own entire PDF version of the original if you prefer. I'll lead off below with his verbatim Introduction and then will type out a few significant bits and bytes from each of the Project's parts. Also, you should read my comments after Part 6; they're quite excellent, if I do say so!

Really, there is great stuff in these 6 parts of The 1995 Project. It's both informational, historical, a great reference document, and at the same time entertaining. When I first introduced this project a couple weeks ago, just days after his death, that last attribute was a hallmark of Jack's that I pointed out as somewhat rare. If I could've weaved in that missing element of entertainment to my reality/fact-based writing, I might've made something of myself and my own writing.

This was exclusively blog content, best I'm aware, and not published in any of the typical beer rags.

As mentioned before, please feel free to comment your own memories and share around your social networks. Enjoy and Cheers!

The 1995 Project: Introduction
"1995 is a six-part Liquid Diet special report which harkens back 15 years to the dawning of Philadelphia's craft beer culture. I asked an array of local beer luminaries to recount for us what they were doing in December 1995 and the story is told in their own words."

"You will hear from the near-legendary Jim Anderson again for the first time, I believe, in over seven years. You will be reminded, as I was, of a long forgotten small sandwich shop/delicatessen chain which might have been the first true "good beer" retail outlet in the region. You will learn of a publican who was once a brewer created the first ever Philadelphia sour/wild yeast beer in a long-gone brewpub...and that some of it might still exist. You will read about the astonishing list of nearly 70 beers that Don Russell consumed in California in the summer of '95 as part of his plan to make his editors allow him to become "Joe Sixpack". You will discover how, when why and where the famous Monk's Cafe Duck Salad was born. You will, I hope learn things you never knew before and, if you're old enough, perhaps remember something long forgotten. Both those things happened to me."

"I have edited the reminiscences minimally, mostly to make them conform to the overall editorial approach. There are some overlaps, there will sure be those who have differing memories about the times and the facts. I invite corrections, additional information, and discussion from readers. There is a larger purpose to all this and Getting It Right is as much my aim as providing what I hope is some fascinating commentary on our shared past."
from Part 1, the Promoter: "Being a Better Beer fan in Philadelphia December 1995 was as exciting as things get. We were on the verge of this great positive shift, microcosmic of what must be going on in Russian and China now, fifteen years later. It was all happening very quickly. To those of us on the ground, it meant that the things we wanted were finally coming to us. Carefully planned trips to Old Bay and Stoudts were turning into impromptu gatherings at Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant or Samuel Adams Brew House." (Jim Anderson)

from Part 2, the Publicans: "It was nice to have Sundays off. Many Sundays were spent over in Tom's house in Collingswood It was usually Aimmee Prozan (who bartends at Nodding Head still), James Fernandes (now our managing partner at Grace Tavern), and me, visiting Tom & Barbara. I was such a city rat back then I thought that Tom lived in the country. He had a fridge paced with brewed goodies in his garage and it was very educational, although I will admit that I would forget most of what I learned until the next time. We explored many different Belgians and also a fair amount of American craft beers, especially from the West coast. I do remember trying beers from Anderson Valley, North Coast Brewery, Anchor beers, and much more. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in bottle was our 'Budweiser' back then. One Sunday, late in the evening we all were famished (read that as you will). Tom has some duck breasts in the fridge. I thought we were going to fry them and eat them on Kaiser rolls. No, Tom worked his magic and cooked the duck perfectly, served it on a salad with goat cheese, spiced walnuts, and raisins with a vinaigrette. This was the first appearance of the famous Monk's Cafe Duck Salad." (Fergie Carey)

from Part 3, the Founders: "1995 was my first winter in Manayunk. Back then I was driving a Nissan 300z, I almost killed myself trying to navigate the Polish Alps of Philadelphia. Within a week, I was driving a Isuzu Trooper. The window of the brewery and the door was always steamed up from the boil kettle so it always seemed really cold outside. I worked on Thanksgiving after an early dinner so I could have off Black Friday. Jon and I were invited to the Dawson Street Pub Christmas party/dinner seemed like a good fit. We came out with our first Christmas beer, a dark mild, in one liter flip-top bottles and it had a red and green label, and we gave it out to bar owners, friends, and the press." (Tom Kehoe)

from Part 4, the Brewers: "I was racking a Bock beer out of a grundy under the tutelage of Phil Markowski at the Brewer Bier House in Merrimack NH. When I unhooked the hose improperly, I was thrown across the cellar by spraying bock beer. It took me an hour to clean up the mess, all the time under the assumption that when Phil found out I would be let go. He never came by during that hour. After all was put away, and I had washed half my body and my hair in the bathroom sink, I found Phil and told him the news. He laughed and simply said, "I bet you won't do that again." I worked extra hard for the next few weeks thankful that he had given me a free pass." (Brian O'Reilly)

from Part 5, the Ladies: She and husband George Hummel were perhaps the ultimate enablers of dreamers hoping to create a new beer culture via their Home Sweet Homebrew shop. "I remember that 1995 good beer was almost like a secret society—a small interconnected polygot of those of us with an esoteric appreciation of these weird hard-to-get beers that defied any real classification, and like the burgeoning appreciation for interesting foods and cuisines, set us all apart from the mass approach of even the hard to obtain, yet often unexciting, imports. The willingness to try something that hadn't been attempted before (draft Belgians, anyone?) germinated in the late 90s, and the idea that anything was possible. Startling to think that the ensuing generations, those that have never known a world without craft beer, were barely entering their teens then, and really don't have an appreciation of how this current bounty came about." (Nancy Rigberg)

from Part 6, the Enablers: "I'm usually a bit reticent about discussing events 15 years past, as beer memories tend to get a bit fuzzy (as in, nobody really 'defected' to Sugar Mom's, but several friends worked at both bars). I really just have a mathematical formula, thus - "Jesus Lizard + Old Crustacean + Guided By Voices + Fullness (1/2 Fuller's ESB, 1/2 Guinness) + fascinating co-workers and friends/customers = Khyber Pass Pub." (Chris Morris)

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 2010.

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

Thursday, September 10, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 5: "Stockbrokers Gone Wild" or "IPO guys turned loose in the world of IPAs"

[Click the picture for access to a 6-page PDF version of the article]

Alrighty, this is where things really get good in this look back on the life of Jack Curtin as seen through his beer writing. The '90s were mostly a mess, a confusing mess. As I came of (legal) drinking age in the early '90s, I searched out different and great-tasting beer, particularly that of the local nature. Dock Street Bohemian Pilsner was one of the first I'd find along the way. Drank plenty of Red Bell and Independence as well, and not so much from the Ortlieb's brewery.

I was simple-minded in those days; I wanted to find it and drink it. I didn't care so much about the business aspects. Here in Philly, there was plenty of business relationships and dealings and it was downright confusing. It wasn't until the 2000s when I began digging deeper into was happening behind the brewhouse and the front-of-the-house facade, eventually beginning my own writing/blogging in 2005. The people, the places, the relationships, and of course the beer all inspired and informed my own writing. Curtin was a good example for me to watch.

That's why this article was so important to me (and, hence, some of the highlighting you'll see in my scanned PDF version of the article above). Jack, as clearly as could be expected of anyone...even on the inside!, lays out the people, the brands, the places, and the maniacal business dealings that enveloped much of the local beer scene in the 1990s of Philadelphia proper. It helped give me perspective and background into my own understanding of the local scene.

If you weren't around back then, you should find this extremely useful in understanding some of the mess, but you'll also find some names that you'll recognize as still part of today's beer scene. That's enough from me, now it's your turn. Have it at. It'll take you some time to consume it all. It's only six pages, but it's chock full of people and information that is so fascinating to me and, I'm trusting, to at least a few of you as well.

So this article was written for the Summer 2006 edition of American Brewer, which specializes in the reporting the "business of beer". Again, my primary M.O. here with this series comes in two flavors—to honor Jack's work and to create a place where key articles can be found in the great wilds of the internet for future readers. I don't know that this type of detailed article that I'm sharing with you today can be found elsewhere. But, I don't claim to be all-knowing (though, Google should be, right?!), so please correct me if I'm wrong.

As mentioned before, please feel free to comment your own memories and share around your social networks. Enjoy and Cheers!

Stockbrokers Gone Wild

The improbable tale of Mr. Grape Juicy Juice and Mr. Enjoy It While You Can and how they nearly destroyed Philadelphia craft brewing as they blundered through the 90s.

The second dumbest thing Jim Bell, CEO of the Red Bell Brewing Company, ever said to a reporter, he said to me during an interview in 1995, as he explained his initial conversation with his brewer, Jim Cancro, when they were setting up the brewery: "I suggested that he come up with something like Budweiser, because that sells so well." The dumbest thing Jim Bell ever said? A year or so later, he famously told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he preferred drinking Grape Juicy Juice to his own beer.

Neither of those memorable quotes take the grand prize for Stupidest Thing Said By A Brewery CEO in the early days of Philadelphia's craft brewing renaissance, however. That honor was garnered by Bob Connor of Independence Brewing Company, who at least got points for style. He gave this profound advice to the world in two-foot high letters during a half million dollar billboard advertising campaign: "Independence-enjoy it while it lasts."

Bell and Connor were the poster boys for a stretch of beer madness which almost destroyed Philadelphia's incipient craft brewing industry in the '90s. Seriously, these guys screwed things up so royally that I once suggested to Tom Kehoe and his then partner, who were struggling to keep tiny Yards Brewing afloat amidst the madness, that they ought to quit brewing to become brokers and go foul up the stock market just as a "sauce for the gander" gesture.

To be fair, though, at least an honorable mention for that unholy era needs must be given Henry Ortlieb, scion of a famous local brewing family, who arrived late, came up fast on the outside, and was a prime player at the end when everybody ran right off the cliff like cartoon characters, hung in the air momentarily and then went crashing down. It was one helluva grand finish, admittedly, an everybody-gets-into-the-act implosion which might most accurately be described as an epic...well, we don't use that sort of language around here but, it begins with "cluster".

1995 until early 2002 in Philadelphia was a time of phantom brewpubs, debt-buying-debt financial maneuvering, outlandish (and often pure fantasy) news releases dutifully printed in their entirety by unquestioning local business pages and millions of dollars tossed to the winds, leading eventually to hapless innocents getting caught up in the web of the guilty during the great comic fiasco that ended it all, the saga of what came to be known as the "Your Name Here" Brewpub.

There's a great book begging to be written telling the whole story (hint, hint, should any publishers be reading), but there aren't enough pages to do the deed here. best I can offer is a freeform riff about a pair of clueless IPO guys turned loose in the world of IPAs, stockbrokers gone wild who grabbed onto what they thought would be a cash cow and proceeded to mindlessly slaughter it before the can-you-believe-this? eyes of unhappy investors and bemused competitors.

When the dauntless duo arrived on the scene, craft brewing in Philadelphia was represented by two brewpubs, the Samuel Adams Brewhouse, an extract brewery which had opened in late 1989, and Dock Street Brewery & Restaurant, which opened in 1990, building on the success of the contract-brewed ale it had been selling in the region since 1987. Red Bell came along in 1993, after Cancro, a civil engineer and homebrewer, approached Bell, whom he'd met when both were lifeguards, about developing a brewpub. When that proved to be unworkable, they formed the brewing company and began contract brewing their first beers, Red Bell Blonde and Red Bell Amber, at The Lion in Wilkes-Barre. They were a disaster-much of the problem, it should be noted, the result of dreadful quality control in the packaging rather than the nature of the beers themselves. The brewery also launched a dreadful ad campaign for the Blonde label which featured some long-forgotten and offensive sexual innuendos, offending a good segment of population, certainly the female half. Red Bell was forced to withdraw from the market for several months to get its act together.

Independence was launched when Connor saw what Bell was doing and decided to emulate his former cohort. He hired award-winning brewer Bill Moore away from Stoudts and they too began by trying to secure various downtown locations for a brewpub. When that failed, Independence opened a production brewery in Northeast Philadelphia in February 1995, releasing their first beers, Independence Ale and Independence Golden Lager, that spring, at just the time as Yards was coming to market with its soon-to-be cult favorite cask-conditioned Extra Special Ale.

Early on, prospects for both newcomers seemed favorable enough, since both had decent plants and quality brewers. Indeed, Moore was a brewing superstar: during a run of slightly more than five years at Stoudts, he had a hand in producing 14 GABF medal beers. His position as the founding brewer paid early dividends for Independence (where he was working with 40 barrel JVN brewhouse, high speed bottling line, automated kegging line, and the tankage to support its 25,000 barrel annual capacity) as he garnered GABF Gold for his Franklinfest and Bronze for his Golden Ale in 1996 and another Bronze for Franklinfest in 1998. He also got World Beer Cup Medals for the same beers in those years, a Gold and two Bronzes. It was in the afterglow of the 1996 medals that Connor took the company public with a $6 million offering, an achievement that the frustrated Bell never managed to match.

Cancro began earning props too, as his brewing skills matured once Red Bell acquired the former P.A. Poth Brewery in Philadelphia's old Brewerytown section and got a 40bbl system up and running in the spring of1996. Plus, while Moore was a one-man show, Cancro had some impressive backup. He was assisted in the early going by Brandon Greenwood, fresh out of the famed Herriot-Watt brewing program in Scotland (before he left, Greenwood formulated Red Bell Wee Heavy, which might well be the most fondly remembered beer from those days), and Bob Barrar, who is today a virtual "medal machine" for Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant at both GABF and World Beer Cup, first plied his trade at Red Bell, staying until the bitter end.

Connor's plan for Independence was to build the largest plant he could and then "grow into it". As a result, while Moore's first run of beers were impressive — I can remember being blown away by my first pint of Independence Ale — most of them were immediately dumbed down to try to appeal to the mass market such growth plans demanded. Contract brewing was also part of the original concept. Independence opened with a contract to produce a house beer for Dave & Buster's a big local sports and entertainment bar, and later did "gimmick" beers for a few accounts, among them Nittany Ale, a beer for Penn State fans packaged in an extremely expensive and hard-to-get blue bottle, and Blue Hen Lager, targeted for Delaware consumers. The brewery later bought both brands outright. They made beers for Reading's short lived Pretzel City and, in a missed opportunity, had conversations with nearby Stoudts, who wanted to leave The Lion (Maryland's Frederick Brewing won that contract).

Then a new general manager brought in from the West Coast shut down contract brewing, saying that the brewery wasn't big enough to handle outside brands because of all the business they were now going to develop. A 1997 newspaper story reported in due course that Independence was about "to purchase three breweries: a regional, a local, and a nationally known brand out of the Pacific Northwest." None of it happened, unless you count the purchase of Gravity Ale, an extract beer that enjoyed some brief popularity, from the failed American U-Brew on-premises operations in Philadelphia, as the "local" purchase. I refuse to, if only because, according to reports, Connor bought it primarily because he admired its advertising campaign. Not surprisingly, the new GM was gone rather quickly.

On the other hand, Red Bell looking to be on the move in 1996-97 — if you weren't looking too closely. They created the first ever brewery and pub in a professional indoor arena at the First Union Center, home to the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers. They formed a partnership with a venture capital company to create a downtown brewpub at the Reading Terminal Market, right across from a new Convention Center. Unreported and unnoted at the time was that both those facilities had only 10,000bbl [sic] brewhouses, which meant that copious amounts of beer would have to be produced somewhere else, presumably the Brewerytown plant. Those sorts of details, and other pertinent information, were not always available from Red Bell, which was unhindered by all those pesky reporting requirements that Independence labored under as a public company. Not that "information" wasn't proffered; Jim Bell periodically announced soon-to-be-forthcoming new Red Bell brewpubs in news releases that were dutifully printed verbatim. The centerpiece for his mostly-fantasy business blueprint, which quickly became a standing joke among beer cognoscenti, was the never-fulfilled promise of a pub to be built in State College, home of Penn State, "any day now," or the corporate-speak equivalent.

Henry Ortlieb joined the developing circus when Poor Henry's brewpub and brewery opened in the former bottling house of his family's historic brewery in 1997. With the backing of private investors, he installed both a 60,000bbl [sic] brewhouse and small pub system and was counting on his family name (which he couldn't use at that point because Stroh's owned it) to make him a player. But Poor Henry's quickly proved to be of the same ilk as the stockbroker-created companies, an entity spending other people's money at a rate that would give a congressman pause.

In 1988, Independence announce that it would merge with Pittsburgh Brewing Company (who wanted the public shell that Independence provided) and later that it would partner with Capitol City Brewing to create a center city brewpub. Red Bell's pub at the Reading Terminal Market was ready but the brewery was tied up in a serious dispute over cost overruns with its financial partner, GS Capital, a conflict which left the pub standing unused for months and would eventually get Red Bell tossed out of the whole deal by a bankruptcy court. Undaunted, Jim Bell announced that he'd open a downtown brewpub at the same site where Independence and Cap City efforts had already collapsed and, what the heck, maybe merge with Pittsburgh since that Independence deal had also fallen through. Oh yeah, they were also going to acquire The Lion in a hostile takeover. None of those things ever happened.

That same year, Dock Street founder Jeffrey Ware decided to sell his company, a move which turned out to be the tipping point. A group of Ware's original backers took over the pub and changed the name to Dock Street Brasserie. Licensing rights for the contract brews were, according to one inside source, Independence's for the taking, on a handshake agreement, until Connor went to the pub one night, imbibed a bit too much, and started talking about how he'd do things differently. Whether that happened or not, the fact is that Henry Ortlieb ended up with the rights, something nobody saw coming. He started brewing specialty draft versions at his own plant and continued making the flagship Amber Ale at F.X. Matt. That lasted about a year before he ran out of money.

As a new century dawned, GS Capital, now the owner of a functioning brewpub with no knowledge of the business and reduced to selling beers from other local micros and even some mass market brews, contacted those new owners of Dock Street (the pub), some of whom formed a separate group and took over running the pub. Down came the Red Bell sign and up went Dock Street, giving the city three distinct entities simultaneously bearing that name: the original pub, the new pub, and the bottled product. In fact, there were actually four Dock Streets, if you count a "brewpub" at the airport which was part of the Terminal operation and also changed its name. That was three too many as far as Jeffrey Ware was concerned, since he only sold licensing rights to the name only for a single pub, his original one, and because Ortlieb, on the fast track to Chapter 11, was no longer producing beer. Ware took the former to court for copyright infringement and regained the Dock Street brand rights at a sheriff's sale.

Independence had been delisted by Nasdaq in 1999 and its brewhouse sold at auction in 2000, but, by golly, Bob Connor still owned the name and he licensed it to the Terminal owners. Here's the deep thinking behind that deal: "The Independence logo is the same shape as the Dock Street signs," pub sales director Suzanne O'Brien told Philadelphia Daily News beer columnist Don Russell when it was announced. At this point, by the way, Connor and Ortlieb had formed some sort of partnership to contract brew their beers (apparently they did at least one batch of Nittany Ale at Jones in Pittsburgh) and they were telling us that there would be both Red Bell and (original) Independence taps at the pub. Never happened.

Have I mentioned that, in its death throes, Independence attempted to save itself by offering to buy Catamount for $900,000? That the original Dock Street re-renamed itself, cleverly enough, Dock Street-The Original and that it began morphing into a dance club called The Mermaid at nights during that incarnation before the ignominy ended with its demise a few months later? That, with an $11.5 million loss on the books, Jim Bell resigned from Red Bell in 2002 right after the State shut down the brewery because of an $80,000 tax debt? That once new management paid off that tax debt, one of those oft-promised Red Bell brewpubs did finally open in the city's Manayunk section, fumbled along for a while without making any beer, then finally made its only batch of wort and closed two weeks later?

Maybe next time. For now, here's how it all turned out...

The Independence Brewpub (in one last blast from the past, or maybe just out of habit, they announced they were going to change their name yet again to the Reading Chop House in May 2002, but that never happened) is an established center city watering hole and tourist attraction, selling all the beers brewer Tim Roberts can make and buying the rest from outside. There is still a Red Bell Brewpub at what is now called the Wachovia Center, but in name only. It is essentially run by the food concessionaire, Aramark, and the majority of the beers are brewed at F.X. Matt, while a few specialty ones are brewed on premises by whichever local brewer or assistant brewer is willing to do the job (for what is reportedly a quite decent fee). The beer is not well cared for (to put it politely) and the location may soon become just another arena bar. Cases of Red Bell Philadelphia Lager still appear on shelves now and then, though it's not clear who actually owns the brand (perhaps F.X. Matt is slowly working down the massive debt it was left with when Ortlieb's went under). A company formed by Rosemarie Certo, Jeff Ware's wife, has resumed contract brewing Dock Street Amber and Dock Street Bohemian Pilsner and is rumored to be looking for space for a small production brewery in the city.

Jim Bell and Bob Connor are gone from the scene. Henry Ortlieb died in a tragic boating accident in Costa Rica on July 4, 2004 and his second brewing venture, Ortlieb's Brewery & Grille in Pottstown, shuttered a few weeks later. Bill Moore, following stops at Sly Fox and Ortlieb's, has resurfaced as brewmaster at Lancaster Brewing Company. Jim Cancro has returned to his engineering career. Brandon Greenwood (after helping found Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant in center city and a brief stint at The Lion) is now at High Falls Brewery in Rochester, holding the title of Technical Brewer. Bob Barrar, as noted earlier, is with Iron Hill, serving as head brewer at the chain's Media, Pa. pub.

And Yards, the tiny little brewery without high powered investors and public offerings and grandiose schemes to take over the world? Yards will celebrate is 11th anniversary this year, a respected and almost beloved institution which proudly claims the honor that both Red Bell and Independence craved but never earned: Philadelphia's brewery.

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 2006.


© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 4: "Celebrating Michael Jackson, again"

[Click the picture for access to a 2-page PDF version of the article]

This unofficial memorial continued yesterday with a look back on the life of Jack Curtin as seen through his beer writing in an article he'd written about Michael Jackson in Philly in 2000. Today Jack takes us forward to summer 2007 with an article he wrote, again for Celebrator Beer News and again about Michael Jackson in Philly.

This time, however, it was during a transitional period between The Book & The Cook and the dawning of Philly Beer Week in 2008. It was simply entitled "Michael Jackson in Philadelphia.". When he re-posted it in 2016 on his Liquid Diet blog, in his setup he referred to the motivation for re-publishing it as only Jack could -- "an Internet search turned up a source I can get".

As mentioned before, please feel free to comment your own memories and share around your social networks. Enjoy and Cheers!

Michael Jackson in Philadelphia

17 years on, Michael Jackson's annual March visit marked both an ending and a new beginning for the Philadelphia craft brewing community

Call it the beginning of the beginning.

Michael Jackson was back in Philadelphia for his annual visit March 9-11 to host his 15th straight beer dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology that Friday night, his 17th straight tutored beer tasting at the same venue on Saturday and his ninth straight Belgian beer dinner at Monk's Cafe Sunday night. For the first time, however, Jackson's appearances were not under the aegis of the long-running The Book & The Cook, a ten-day celebration of food and drink which has been a local staple since 1985. The loss of the venue for the culinary fair which helped pay most of the bills led B&C to postpone its events until this fall, and maybe longer.

Interestingly, it is the beer community, which was for all too long the ugly stepchild of the event in the eyes of the organizers (despite Jackson's tutored tastings being the largest draw year in and year out), which shrugged off the loss and kept right on keepin' on. Not only did Museum Catering Company and Monk's do the same events they'd always done, Bruce Nichols of the former and Tom Peters of the latter are part of a group of beer industry movers and shakers who've announced that March 2008 will see the advent of Philly Beer Week, a ten-day extravaganza based in the city and spread across the entire region from Rehoboth, Delaware to Princeton, New Jersey and into central and northeastern Pennsylvania to Harrisburg, Adamstown, Easton, and beyond. When Jackson returns next year, his events will be part of the kick-off weekend for this major sanctification of beer's place at the table and in the culture.

The Friday night dinner at the Museum may have been the last since it might not be carried over into Philly Beer Week, Nichols said. If this was the swan song, it was a good one. A three-course meal of mixed green salad, beef filet with a shallot demi glace and saffron risotto and Expresso semifredo was accompanied by a dozen beers, four of them at the opening reception and the others served with dinner. The eclectic nature of the brews poured was represented by the presence of Hoptimus Prime, a double IPA brewed for the local Union Jack's chain of pubs by Reading's Legacy Brewing, to the hard-to-find Brasserie Artisanale Dieu du Ciel from Montreal to O'Callaghan's Irish Breakfast Stout, a creation of local homebrewing guru George Hummel. These were accompanied by familiar labels from locals Dogfish Head, Nodding Head, Stoudts, and Victory and from Arcadia, Avery/Russian River, Blue Point (NY), and Port Brewing.

A new wrinkle at the Saturday Tasting (once again, a 1500 seat sell-out for the three session) was Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione acting as an interlocutor of sorts for Jackson's presentation and helping to keep things moving along. The theme for the day was Extreme Beers; the first of eight beers poured was Allagash White, which, while a grand brew, doesn't quite for that category. No matter how the definition of what is and what is not extreme is bended and twisted these days to try and match various agendas, there's just no way to come up with one that matches Allagash White. End of sermon. You can decide about the "extremeness" of the other beers on the docket yourselves: George's Fault (Nodding Head), Peche Mortel (Brasserie Artesinale Dieu du Ciel), Cassis (Iron Hill), Hop 15 Double IPA (Port Brewing), Old Horizontal (Victory), Red & White (Dogfish Head), and Collaboration, Not Litigation (Avery/Russian River).

A fun moment came when Sam asked Michael for his opinion of the trend toward excessively hopped IPAs and received an answer he probably didn't want. "I never thought they could make a beer which was too hoppy for me," quoth the Bard, "but they're getting close." Another came at the end of the two-hour beerfest which follows each session in the Museum's Chinese Rotunda. I got to clang the gong ending the first of these, an honor which felt both wrong and right, hating to end everybody's fun but enjoying the hell out of the great booming clang I'd created. Does enjoying these sorts of things make me evil?

Sunday night at Monk's was special. You got The Man, you got The Venue, you got The Beer. It was all good. THe theme this year was saisons and farmhouse ales and the beers poured were Ommegang Ommegeddon, Vapeur Saison de Pipaix, Fantome Bis Bon Bon, De Ranke XX Bitter, Saison Dupont (shocker!), Blaugies La Moneusse, and Moinette Bruin. Chef Adam Glickman and his staff were up to the task as usual, whipped up an appropriate feast which was highlighted by Belgian Endive wrapped in Ardennes Ham, an extraordinary County Pate, and an incredible pan-seared Red Snapper with watercress sauce. Michael was in full-digression mode, telling stories of his early days as a teen-age reporter, recounting trying to answer the unique question once posed by a gaggle of Glasgow soccer hooligans ("Are you a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew?") and quoting Dylan Thomas and Woody Allen along the way.

Hey, I love that stuff. I can figure out the beers on my own, but the stories...? Priceless.

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 2007.

YES, JACK! The stories that come with the beers are indeed priceless.

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 3: "Celebrating Michael Jackson"

[Click the picture for access to a 2-page PDF version of the article]

This unofficial memorial that looks back on the life of Jack Curtin as seen through his beer writing got off to a great start last week. Thanks to the many of you that have followed along thus far, sharing and commenting on the first couple pieces that I put up. Follow this link where you'll find more about my motivation for this series, which quite honestly still continues to evolve as I work through this largely on the fly. (I know Jack, no doubt, would be impressed, ha!)

In today's entry, I take you back to an article he wrote for the April/May 2000 issue of Celebrator Beer News. It was entitled "The Book and The Cook 2000: Roasting Michael Jackson in Philadelphia. Baste Gently, Do Not Stir, Do Not Bruise". When he re-posted it in 2015 on his Liquid Diet blog, he referred to it as his "first Celebrator Beer News story ever" and one that he "decided was worthy of second-time-around treatment".

As mentioned before, please feel free to comment your own memories and share around your social networks. Enjoy and Cheers!

The Book & The Cook 2000

Baste Gently, Do Not Stir, Do Not Bruise

They came to praise Caesar, not to bury him. About as impressive a list of beer industry luminaries as you're ever likely to see except inside any Denver bar during GABF gathered in Philadelphia March 3 to ostensibly "roast" Michael Jackson, but more pointed remarks have been expressed at a typical Quaker meeting than were hurled at the world's most foremost beer writer during a three-hour banquet at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology.

Oh, there were the expected jokes about excessive beer consumption and the sometimes less than perfect mental state that such admirable activity can result in at the end of a long workday, plus a bit of gentle chiding about a wardrobe that even he acknowledges is somewhat eccentric, but most roasters understandable inclinations to express their affection and appreciation for all that Jackson has done for the brewing industry around the world turned the evening into a lovefest rather than a full-scale ribbing. "I expected this to be more of an ordeal than it turned out to be," said the Great Man with characteristic understatement at evening's end.

The Michael Jackson Roast marked the tenth anniversary of Jackson's participation in The Book & The Cook, Philadelphia's annual celebration of food and drink. Jackson hosts a Friday night dinner at the Museum and a day-long series of tutored tastings there the following day during the final weekend of B&C each year. Recently, he's also added a Sunday evening dinner at the city's best beer bar, Monk's Cafe, to his schedule and this year's event was an historic all-lambic feast. The Museum, an extraordinary setting for a celebration of extraordinary beers, holds some of the oldest references to beer in the world, written in Sumerian on cuneiform tablets (proceeds from the Friday dinner benefit the Museum's Sumerian Dictionary Project), and houses a variety of beer-related artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia.

Celebrator Beer News publisher/editor Tom Dalldorf served as master of ceremonies for the event and got in some of the evening's best shots, at both the guest of honor ("We have carefully chosen the order of speakers according to who works best sober, slightly buzzed, or totally blotto. Michael, of course, will speak last.") and the roasters themselves (American Brewer publisher Bill Owens was introduced as "The Andy Warhol of beer."). He also obligingly wore a kilt, thus making himself the, you should excuse the expression, butt of as many jokes as was Jackson.

Most speakers' comments centered around a first meeting with Jackson or his impact on their brewing lives. Anchor Brewing's Fritz Maytag recalled the early days "when I thought my brewery was the only interesting small brewery in the country and how wonderful it was I found out Michael thought that as well." And All About Beer's Dan Bradford noted that "beer writers can only follow Michael Jackson, there is no other model. He created the vocabulary and the content of what we do."

Oliver Hughes of Dublin's Porter House Brewing Company, Ireland's first brewpub, remembered how local journalists, no matter what they were told, regularly reported that his Oyster Stout "made you good between the sheets" and how he and his staff groaned one afternoon when told a journalist was on the line, until informed "he says his name is Michael Jackson." I have never seen our brewer move so fast before or since," laughed Hughes. Ale Street News' Tony Forder remembered when Jackson's Great Beers of Belgium was blessed by a Cardinal in New York and "Michael suddenly became less digressional, more coherent, even remembered names," before presenting him with a pair of Saint Michael undershorts flown in from England.

The highlight of the evening was the presentation by Sam Calagione of Delaware's Dogfish Head Brewery, who offered a short story in the style of Raymond Carver ("Michael told me last year that Carver was his favorite American writer") about Jackson's life in an alternate universe wherein he passes a sobriety test in very impressive and very funny fashion.

Other roasters included freelance beer writer Stephen Beaumont; Vanburg and Dewulf's Don Feinberg; Merchant du Vin's Charlie Finkel; Anthony Fuller of Fuller, Smith, and Turner brewery in London; Malt Advocate's John Hansell; Brooklyn Brewery's Steve Hindy; Beers International's Richie Stolarz; Dr. F.G. Hoepfner of Germany's Privatbrauerei Hoepfner; Carol Stoudt of Stoudt's Brewery; and the aforementioned Owens.

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 2000.

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

Friday, September 04, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 2: "Belgium in Philadelphia, the early years"

[Click the picture for access to a 3-page PDF version of the article]

Jack liked to tell stories, right? But Jack also had a thing for facts. As in, get 'em straight. He never hesitated to point out or question something he knew or believed to be incorrect in my writing. Made me a better writer, particularly from a research perspective. He wouldn't just slough it off like too many others that might say something like "eh, close enough" or "what does it really matter?"

As time goes by and at unfortunately increasing frequency, I'm coming across partial truths and sometimes just outright guesses as to what might be considered basic Philly Beer 101. Lazy research or indifference to fact. Just a little research can help uncover a better understanding from those that were there and it's yet another reason why I think to keep writing like Jack's alive is important.

Case in point here with today's article regarding the roots of the Belgian beer scene in Philadelphia.

We got off to a great start here yesterday with the first part in the series that looks back on Jack Curtin as seen through his beer writing. Follow this link where you'll find more about my motivation for this series, which is quite honestly still under development.

In today's entry, I present to you Jack's article he wrote for the August/September 1998 issue of Barleycorn. It was entitled "Brussels On The Schuylkill: Two Guys, Two Countries, One Great Belgian Scene". 22 years ago, amazing! Below, I've included some important snippets from the article, since re-typing all three pages is pushing my limits. If you want your own copy, be sure to click the picture above for a full PDF version of it.

That'll be it for this week. I'll be back after the holiday weekend with more for your memory lane traversing pleasure.

Enjoy! And, as mentioned before, please feel free to comment your own memories and share around your social networks. Cheers!

"These days, you're as likely to find Rodenbach Red as Pete's Wicked on draft at local bars with pride in their taps, or see more and more diners enjoying a Chimay Reserve with dinner rather than wine. And that's true not just in the city itself, but out into the suburbs and beyond. People want Belgians and Belgians are more and more often there for the drinking. Desire. Availability. That's what this whole Belgian explosion is about. And let's be honest, it may have something to do with the efforts of Tom Peters and Michael Notredame."

"When he came home, he went to his boss at the old Cafe Nola on South Street, where he was a bartender, and suggested ordering Chimay for the beer list. "He said it was too expensive, that we'd never sell it, but I promised to buy the case myself if that turned out to be true. I think it took less than an hour to sell the whole thing", he laughs now. In 1987, Peters moved on to become manager at Copa Too! and dove headfirst into serious beers, including whatever Belgians he could lay his hands on. He managed to acquire 14 kegs of Kwak in the summer of 1995, marking the first time a Belgian was offered on draft in the U.S."

"Notredame demurs politely to the suggestion that he and Peters played any significant role in Philadelphia's fascination with Belgians ("I wouldn't say that but you can, of course"), and has some further thoughts on the matter. "I believe that the great interest in homebrewing in this country in recent years contributed greatly to the demand. When you start homebrewing, you quite naturally begin to read more and more about beer and the person to read, obviously, is Michael Jackson, who is a great Belgian beer fan. Someone reads what Jackson has to say and he wants to try his hand at making the style. In order to copy the original, you must taste the original, so those people began searching out Belgian beers." Like Peters, Notredame believes that his selection of anywhere from 60 to 120 Belgian brews is probably greater than that found in most bars in Belgium. "We have beers here regularly that they hardly ever sell back home", he says. "In fact, we probably sell more Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus at Cuvee than they sell in all of Belgium."

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 1998.

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

Thursday, September 03, 2020

In Memory of Jack Curtin, part 1: "The Long and Sordid History"

Here we go, off and running with the first part in the series that looks back on Jack Curtin as seen through his beer writing. Figured starting off with basically what was his About page on his blog would be the best place to begin. Earlier today I introduced my motivation for this series, which is still under development.

In this first entry, long-timers can fondly reminisce about Jack's past beer writing endeavors and newcomers can learn about the role he played in the craft beer segment's journey to where it is today.

On the page, it indicates it was "last modified on 6 September 2002". While he may not have updated it since then, we do know of course that he returned to MABN and set down roots as its Eastern PA correspondent for quite some time and worked with Sly Fox, Beer Yard, and numerous other freelance relationships.

This was short enough to re-type (incl. his original formatting), so I took that on myself. Don't get used to it for future postings because, based on some of their lengths, Jack would've told me that was a foolish waste of my time for which I wouldn't be paid! 

The Long and Sordid History of Liquid Diet: The Column

I added writing about beer to my portfolio as a freelance writer with this article {no link available}, which was the cover featured article in the July 12, 1995 Philadelphia Weekly.

Shortly thereafter, I became the Philadelphia regional editor and primary local writer for a tabloid beermag called Beer & Tavern Chronicle and also began selling stories to American Brewer Magazine {no link available}. This article {no link available} appeared in AmBrew and won second place in the History category in the 1998 Gold Quill Awards given by the North American Guild of Beer Writers.

When the Chronicle died and ignominious death, I signed on with Barleycorn, a much better beermag, writing and served [sic] as nominal editor of Keystone Tap, a regional insert in each issue which covered Philadelphia and its environs. However, within two years that magazine also died. Homeless again, I accepted an assignment as Eastern Pennsylvania columnist for the newly-launched Mid-Atlantic Brewing News {no link available} for a year or so before deciding it was too much work for too little money.

Somewhere during all that, I began writing my own column, Liquid Diet, which ran in the Main Line Times (though not under that title) and a short-lived and easily forgotten SEPTA weekly (the bastards never did pay me) before finding a permanent home for three-plus years in the weekly entertainment supplement to Suburban and Wayne Times and its two sister papers. When a new editorial policy at the chain which owned those papers turned into an offer I could most definitely refuse, that gig ended as well.

In 2000, I began -- and continue -- writing regularly for Celebrator Beer News {no link available}, by far the best beermag with which I've been associated. Its only weakness is that it is not circulated very well here in the East so much of my output goes unseen locally (some might say that's a Good Thing).

As partial compensation for that, a Liquid Diet section has been part of this web site since I launched it about three years ago. I post my Celebrator pieces and other, earlier work here to celebrate the Philadelphia beer scene, one of the best in the country.

Liquid Diet Online is the latest, and presumably final, incarnation of the original column. We shall see how it goes.

© Jack Curtin and Liquid Diet Online, 2002

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at

In Memory of Jack Curtin: A Beer Writer and His Work

Jack Curtin passed away on August 30, 2020. Here is a link to his obituary.

John Thompson, coach of the Georgetown Hoyas, passed away one day later on August 31 and I'm sure Jack is needling him endlessly now about the 1985 Villanova championship victory over his team. Coincidentally, esteemed beer writer/journalist Michael Jackson died on August 30 back in 2007. Curtin may be uncomfortable with me putting the two names in the same paragraph, but I think it's fair enough.

Nothing lasts forever and the Internet is not the answer. Often we hear that "it's never gone forever; it can always be found on the internet". Maybe if you have some high-level clearance. Maybe if the media company that hosted your work doesn't obliterate its history and reorganize its publicly available content. Maybe if the pages of content were cached or indexed or whatever it's called in tech speak.

Take my work on the Washington Times website between 2010-2013. (Yeah, in case you're not familiar, I'm that guy Jack referred to as the guy who "parlayed it all in to a job writing for the Moonies, a distinction no other blogger has achieved"; I blush!) I challenge you to find any of the 91 articles I'd written for them. Generally, it was pretty good stuff if I may say so and imagine it played a role in later getting a book deal. Fortunately, for my own pleasure if no one else's, I saved PDF versions of the live web pages when they were active. But, I digress.

Curtin's content may or may not be lost and, if it is, that would be a real shame. I, for my part, will do what I can to help preserve it. His blog content archive is mostly unavailable at this time, work for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News and Celebrator may or may not be-I haven't checked, and earlier work certainly falls under the too-early-in-the-internet days exemption.

I've long contended that Jack's blend of news and fact with comedy and curmudgeon, as well as making sure that the story was as much about beer as a product as it was about the place it was made and the people making it, is what made his writing so compelling and drove many of us back to read his next take on whatever what was happening in his corner of the beer world.

He even wove his beer buddies into the stories (I'm sure you'll recall, if you'd been a regular reader of his, the stories of The Big One, The Other One, The Inevitable One, and other sidekicks along the way to searching out and reporting on great beer, people, and events).

With that as a backdrop, I present to you the kickoff (and maybe a bit of a breath of fresh air into this blog largely neglected here in 2020; thanks Jack!) of a series with a yet-to-be-determined number of posts related to Jack's work. I may not do this exactly properly since I'm kind of making this format up as I go, but in lieu of other electronic preservation of his work, recognition and honor to his work over many years is pretty much my lone objective. I have at least 5 pieces of his work in printed format that I can begin 5 individual postings and we'll see where it goes from there.

I hope you enjoy this look back on Jack's career in beer writing (yeah, when it spans around 20-ish years, it's a career, no matter how many other avenues he pursued, often simultaneously, as well) and hope that you'll chime in with comments and/or share through your own social networks.

© Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge, 2020. All content is owned and uniquely created by Bryan J. Kolesar. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Kolesar is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, images, and links may be used with advance permission granted and only provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan J. Kolesar and The Brew Lounge with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Contact Kolesar at