March 13, 2007

17th Annual Beer Tasting with Michael Jackson

You can’t really tell from this site, but I do enjoy beer. There was a time in my life when I was a serious microbrew disciple. I spent many-a-night in the early ‘90s tilting back bottles of pumpkin beer at the Squirrel Cage in Pittsburgh. Penn Brewery’s Mai Bock was the sweet nectar that nursed me back to health after a seemingly endless and crippling bout with (believe it or not) chicken pox the summer after my first year of law school. And shortly after it made its debut, I preached the virtues of the port-like Sam Adams Triple Bock to anyone who would listen.

I did not make it to make it to the 17th Annual Beer Tasting with Michael Jackson at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology last weekend. However, a good friend and fellow food blogger Mike at TVFoodFan.com did. When he offered to write a post about the event as a guest blogger for PhilaFoodie, I couldn’t refuse.

After the jump, read Mike’s review of the event. When you're finished, check out TVFoodFan.com for the latest news and views about what’s going on in the world of culinary television.


This past weekend saw the 17th Annual Beer Tasting with Michael Jackson at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The event featured a guided tasting with beer expert Michael Jackson, a.k.a. The Beer Hunter, followed by a two-hour general tasting that offers beer from the Philadelphia area as well as from breweries around the world. This was my second year at the event, and this year's theme, Extreme Beer, provided a stronger roster of beers than last year's collection of beers brewed from various grains.

The presence of Michael Jackson was again the double-edge sword of the event. He is undoubtedly a tremendous draw, and his introduction was smart, funny and insightful. The problem is that his presentation quickly devolves once the tasting starts and he gets into the intricacies of each of the beers. They tried to combat that this year, with the presence of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery founder and Extreme Brewing author Sam Calagione on the stage with Jackson. Calagione did an admirable job of moving the conversation along and trying to regain the crowd's attention from time to time, but it's almost a hopeless situation. The room is just too large and the sound system can't fill it enough to allow everyone to hear what is going on, and the crosstalk among attendees rises from a chatter to all-out conversation, drowning out the presentation. I was fortunate enough to be able to get a seat about twenty feet from the stage, so I got more out of it than most.

The guided tasting beers were, for the most part, very good. The Hop 15 Double IPA from Port Brewing Company in San Marcos, California, was my big winner, while the consensus of those around me was that the Allagash White from the Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine, was tops. It was the first that we tasted, and I must admit that I was a bit stingy with the scoring, and the white beer with a complex spicy flavor of cloves did bring more to the table than most in its variety. Calagione's own Nodding Head's George's Fault, reminding me of a number of hit-or-miss visits to the Center City brewpub.

The roster for the general tasting was promising, and the event moved into the Chinese rotunda. My first stop was to my favorite brewpub, Triumph Brewing Company. The Princeton and New Hope brewpub will be opening a location on Chestnut Street, and their offerings of a Vienna Lager, Bengal Gold IPA and Raspberry Wheat performed well. The Raspberry, with which I was not familiar, was light and fruity without being too sweet. Cherry Hill's Flying Fish, who I don't remember being there last year, had a table and was pouring their 10th Anniversary Imperial Espresso Porter. I had already tried a four-pack of the porter, which features a welcome smokiness, and my enjoyment of it was confirmed. A number of my friends agreed.

The one thing that you can almost always bank upon is the presence of good, flavorful IPAs, a fact that I, a confessed Hop-Head, thoroughly enjoyed. Michael Jackson alluded to the quality of American IPAs (and of the quality of all American craft brewing) during his speech, and his opinion was supported by the selection during the general tasting. Legacy Brewing Company's Hoptimus Prime Double IPA, Triumph's Bengal Gold IPA, Hop Whallop from Victory Brewing Company-- home of my favorite beer, HopDevil -- and the Greer Beer IPA from Philadelphia's Home Sweet Homebrew were memorable examples of the flavorful variety first brewed to survive the trip from the British Isles to the colonials in India.

But the star of the show for my money was the Cocoa Loco Triple Chocolate Stout from Arcadia Brewing Company in Battle Creek, Michigan. Stouts are usually a little too heavy for my liking, but the smoothness and lightness of Arcadia's brew was fantastic. I crossed the crowded room two or three times for the chocolaty, understated stout. Plus, the beer is brewed in Battle Creek, so I could certainly see myself pouring a bottle over my cereal -- what better way to start your day?

Of course, the main problem with the general tasting is that you can really only taste a small portion of the beers available. Fortunately, attendees got good news about next year that will allow them to spread the tasting over a larger period of time: Philly Beer Week.

For more on that, be sure to check out a full preview over at Seen Through a Glass.

4 comments:

~Kevin said...

Sam Adams Triple Bock = Liquid Yeast in Blue Bottle!

I still maintain that after all these years; am glad we never pitched in on a case like we were going to do at one point. Now, that Cranberry Lambic they whip out in small quantities at year's end... that's a beer!

Also - don't forget the wondrous joy and heavy duty kick of Penn Brewery's Oktoberfest (review valid only when consumed at the brewery in front of an oompah band).

~Rupe

French Fries said...

It's so fantastic to find another Squirrel Cage fan transplanted to Philadelphia. I'm trying to squeeze in visits there and to all my other favorite Pittsburgh beer hot-spots as I know I'll be moving to Philly in the next few months. For now, I'm using the fact that D's Dogs & 6-Pacs is just down the road to stage my at-home version of the Washington Post's March Madness Beer Bracket.

PhilaFoodie said...

French Fries: Yeah, I have fond memories of the Cage. Used to live near D's as well not too long ago. In your bracket, I'd have D's going at least to the Sweet Sixteen, if not further.

J said...

I just started reading your blog after hearing the interview with Marty Moss-Coane and I was so happy, as a Philly native/recent Pittsburgh transplant, to see a reference to the Cage! During my nine years in Pittsburgh, I lived within stumbling distance of the Cage and D's Dog's--both are great bars! Looking forward to your future drinking and eating exploits after Italy.