LAST SATURDAY at the annual KitchenAid the Book and the Cook’s beer tasting at the Penn Museum, Dogfish Head Brewing’s Sam Calagione tapped another one of those over-the-top ales that makes beer-drinking so much fun in Philly. This one, called Shock and Awe 120 Minute IPA – an intensely hopped brew that takes two hours to cook and about six hours to wear off – rang in at a spine-weakening 20 percent alcohol.
Somewhere on his way out of town, Jim Anderson (who never even got a sip of the stuff) was smiling.
Calagione’s experimental brews – and the enthusiasm behind the scores of craft beers and homebrews on display at the Penn fest – are exactly what drove Anderson in his seemingly boundless passion for the city’s beer scene. There are others – bar owners, distributors, importers, brewers – who have had a more direct hand in building the local beer industry. But no single person is more responsible for making Philadelphia the craft beer capital of the East Coast than Jim Anderson.
He co-authored the city’s most complete bar guide, “Philly’s Best Bars.” He published Beer Philadelphia magazine, a highly opinionated review and semi-monthly guide that was required reading for beer freaks. He was always turning up on local radio, with stints on WHYY and elsewhere. He helped organize the city’s first – and, still, largest – Belgian beer blast. He crowned a Beer Geek of the Year. And he promoted, hosted and tapped the kegs at dozens of the city’s best annual beer fests, including Split Thy Skull and the Real Ale Rendezvous.
And now he’s outta here, headed to Scotland to run a hotel with his family.
A lot of beer fans are wringing their mitts, wondering what will happen to the local beer scene.
A disclaimer: Most recently, Anderson worked at the Daily News, selling ads, many of them on the Beer Pages. More personally, Jim is a friend of Joe Sixpack’s – a source of expertise, a supporter of my column and, dammit, a good drinking buddy.
But hell, why should you care who gives me a lift home at the end of long night?
Instead, let’s just say that if you’ve ever enjoyed an honest, cask-conditioned ale in this town, if you’ve ever marveled at the seductive lace on a glass of draft Belgian ale, if you’ve gotten hammered by a 12 percent alcohol barleywine, or finally understood why an imperial stout tastes just perfect with dessert, then Anderson deserves a toast from you.
His Real Ale fest, especially, was a ground-breaker. Consider that 99 percent of American draft beer is served cold as ice and fizzy as Fresca; when the Real Ale Rendevous started in 1995, Philadelphia was the nation’s No. 1 market for Coors Light. Somehow, Anderson managed to attract hundreds of drinkers – many of whom had never tasted anything with more body than Yuengling Lager – to an event where exceedingly hoppy ales are served basically flat at room temperature. The brews are naturally fermented in the keg (the traditional British-style cask-conditioning process) with no added carbon dioxide. Don’t turn up your nose till you’ve tried a cask-conditioned Yards ESA or Victory HopDevil.
“One of my favorites was cask-conditioned Stoudt’s Pils,” Anderson, 46, told me. That’s a lager – a style of beer that is rarely, if ever, cask-conditioned. “I begged them to do that for me, just to have a cask pilsner,” he said. “I really enjoyed that.”
Beer fans loved it, and I think the reaction helped encourage local brewers to experiment even further with iconoclastic beers. The passion spread to dozens of beer bars, where expensive hand-pumps were installed to pull the brew from kegs. When his wife, Beer Girl Anne, ran Bridgid’s (24th and Aspen, Fairmount), Anderson invented a goofy-looking “Down Draft” contraption and installed it in the bar’s ceiling, to pour real ales by gravity alone.
“This stuff was fun,” said Anderson. “It’s why I called us the Fertile Crescent of Craft Brewing.”
The gnawing in my stomach tells me we might’ve peaked. We’re down to 2 1/2 brewpubs and just one full-scale brewery inside the city limits. We’ve got plenty of good beer bars, and more are still coming. But I worry about the future of local beer festivals. In the past, there were up to 10 beer-related dinners and events at the annual KitchenAid the Book and the Cook festival; this year, the Michael Jackson dinner and beer tasting at Penn was the only significant one. Yes, regional breweries (Stoudt’s, Iron Hill, Nodding Head) and bars (Monk’s, 700, Sugar Mom’s) continue to host interesting beer events. But with Anderson’s exit the city no longer has an independent entrepreneur – a civic beer booster – to continue the hard work of hosting events, to tout the best of Philadelphia’s craft beer industry.
Many beer fans are looking around, wondering who will step in, and that troubles Anderson.
“Philadelphia is in danger of losing its reputation, and not because I’m leaving,” he said. “It’s the complacency that goes along with being a Philadelphian. It’s almost a sense of entitlement. But we shouldn’t take great beer for granted.”
Taking beer for granted, of course, is the reason bland-tasting factory-made suds, brewed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, dominate the industry. Craft beer is all about caring about what you drink.
If you don’t care, who will?
About Scotland: Anderson, his wife and son, Laing, are headed to the Highlands, near Loch Ness, where they’ll operate the 170-year-old Royal Hotel. The Andersons, partners with Tom Peters and Fergus Carey of Monk’s Cafe, naturally plan to feature local craft ales and whiskeys at the hotel’s pubs and restaurant. They’re already talking about adding haggis cheesesteak to the menu.
Monk’s Cafe (16th & Spruce streets, Center City) has broken new ground on the Belgian front. The cafe has its own beer, a Flemish sour ale brewed by Van Steenberge in Ertvelde, East Flanders. Modeled on the 219-year-old brewery’s Bios Vlaamse Bourogne, the ale will be served in bottles and on tap at Monk’s, and possibly a few other locations across the country. Co-owner Peters said he had it brewed primarily because he wanted a sour ale as an ingredient for several of the restaurant’s dishes, including mussels, octopus and salad dressing.
“The problem with most Belgian sour ales is they don’t have a high enough Ph level,” Peters said.
Indeed, in recent years many of Belgium’s traditional sour ales (Rodenbach Grand Cru, Goudenband) have been dumbed down to satisfy sweeter palates, or radically changed (Oerbier) because of difficulty obtaining proper yeast strains.
Two weeks ago I wrote that Guinness Stout “uses no adjuncts, like rice, corn or sugar in its brews.” Matt Hahn, head brewer at Rocky Run Brewing in Columbia, Md., says that’s not entirely accurate. He notes, Guinness uses unmalted barley, which supplies protein that helps build that thick, creamy head. He’s right, technically unmalted barley is an adjunct. In Germany, where the beer purity law (Reinheitsgebot) prohibits the use of adjuncts, Guinness apparently gets around the restrictions by using something called “chit” malt, which is just barely malted barley.
Tonight – Belgian Madness, Iron Hill Brewery (30 E. State St., Media). The brewpub steps out with its version of Belgium’s quirky, mouth-puckering lambics, crafted by head brewer Bob Barrar. These beers, including Framboise (raspberry), Kriek (cherry), Cassis (black currant) and the traditionally sour Gueuze were aged for two years in French oak barrels. Starts: 8 p.m. No cover. Info: 610-627-9000.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a glass of Bosco Stout.