A COUPLE OF Philly beer guys are now members of one of Europe’s oldest trade guilds.
At least that’s what bar owner Tom Peters and beer distributor Eddie Friedland assume happened earlier this month during much pomp and circumstance on Brussels’ Grand Place.
The whole event was in French and Flemish – not these homeboys’ first languages. There were hours of solemn talk from bearded men in flowing robes and funny hats. There was a parade through the ornate square with a keg of beer held on a long pole. They marched into a Gothic room in City Hall, then to a nearby church. They bowed as a blessing was said to St. Arnold, the patron saint of beer. They bowed while one of the leaders put a medal around their necks. They bowed again when they were knighted with a giant mash fork. Then they were awarded diplomas hand-inscribed in something that looks like Latin.
It was official: They were now among the few American members of the 400-year-old Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs. That’s the Knighthood of Brewers Mashstaffs for youse guys on Passyunk Avenue.
No, you don’t have to call ’em “Sir. ” Mostly, it seems the honor meant they could drink for free at a beer festival following the induction.
Friedland observed upon returning to his family’s Edward I. Friedland distributorship in North Philadelphia, “I had influence for exactly one day. The next day I showed them my medal, and they told me now I had to pay for my beer. “
Peters nonetheless added, “It’s an incredible honor. “
Their induction was recognition of their contribution to promoting Belgian ales and culture in America. Or, as Friedland quipped, “We’ve been shamelessly huckstering this stuff for 20 years now! “
Indeed, Peters and Friedland are among a small handful of beer industry people who’ve created an entire Belgian beer renaissance on this side of the Atlantic, and especially in Philadelphia. (Randy Thiel, brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang, in Cooperstown, N.Y., and Joe Lipa of Washington’s Merchant du Vin importers were also inducted this year. )
In 1995, Peters – then manager of Copa Too! (15th and Spruce streets, Center City) – was the first barman to pour a Belgian (Kwak) on tap in America. Now a co-owner of Monk’s Cafe (16th and Spruce streets, Center City), Peters has hosted dozens of other Belgian “firsts,” including America’s first taste of draft lambic, the quirky sour ale with the funky locker-room aroma. Moreover, his Belgian-influenced dinners have helped awaken the whole notion of beer cuisine in this town.
And Friedland has been there every step of the way, tracking down obscure ales and – except for the kegs Peters manages to hoard for himself – distributing them to scores of bars around town.
Peters may not have been the first to surf the Belgian wave here. (If memory serves me correctly, that honor goes to Michel Notredame, the long-absent bar owner who ran Bridgid’s, then the now-defunct Cuvee Notredame. ) But since Monk’s opened, this town has evolved into Flanders-delphia, U.S.A.
In addition to Bridgid’s, at least two other bars – Abbaye, (3rd and Fairmount, Northern Liberties) and Eulogy (136 Chestnut St., Old City) – specialize in Belgian ales. Dozens of other pubs carry extensive lists of entirely obscure brews from Belgian micros and monasteries.
Our love affair with Belgian ales has spread to the local microbrewers. Victory, Stoudt’s, Yards, Weyerbacher, Flying Fish, Troegs – they all make at least one Belgian-style brew. Bethlehem Brew Works has an entire basement lounge, the Steelgaarden, devoted to Belgian ales.
It’s no exaggeration that some Belgian-made labels, like Cantillon the lambic producer, sell more bottles in downtown Philly than in Brussels itself.
Think about Chimay, the Trappist ale.
Here’s a Belgian beer made by monks at Abbey of Notre-Dame de Scourmont.
For decades, it was available only in bottles – the large ones corked and then cellared till fully matured.
Until 15 years ago, it was almost impossible to find anywhere in this country.
Peters, who travels to Belgium at least once a year, said he had been wheedling the monks for years, trying to persuade them to keg their beer. Philly, after all, is a draft town.
The answer was always “No, Americans don’t appreciate good beer. “
Friedland joined in with a few arm-twists.
Eventually, they persuaded the monks, then they pulled strings to make sure the shipment detoured past New York and headed to Philadelphia instead.
Two years later, Chimay is on tap at dozens of Center City bars, even at neighborhood joints.
The monks send hundreds of barrels to America every year, and Yuengling drinkers willingly pay seven bucks for maybe 10 ounces of the stuff.
It’s no wonder Belgium honored these Philly guys.
Tomorrow: Beer historian Rich Wagner will speak on “The Breweries of Brewerytown” at Yards Brewing (2439 Amber St., Kensington). 2 p.m. Free. 215-634-2600.
Sept. 25: Oktoberfest at Ludwig’s Garten (1315 Sansom St.). The German restaurant’s fall fest is a brew-filled, daylong block party. Noon-9 p.m. No cover. 215-985-1525.
Joe Sixpack, by Staff Writer Don Russell, was written this week with a bottle of Delirium Tremens.