Tom and Tomme Together Again
Tomme Arthur of Lost Abbey Brewing and Tom Peters of Monk’s Cafe.
By Warren “BeerSensei” Monteiro, firstname.lastname@example.org
Starting with SAVOR 13 years ago, I’ve been shouting out about beer dinners. All that while, the fabled Tom Peters, owner/creator of Monk’s Café, Philly, has been keeping the beer and cuisine (not “food”) faith. Every year since 2007 he has presented a Monk’s/Lost Abbey pairing event, featuring the beers of Tomme Arthur, pioneer and master brewer of barrel aged and blended confections.
Their 20-year friendship started back in 2000 when Tomme brought a cask of Pizza Port Cuvee de Tomme (11% abv these days) to the Chicago Real Ale Festival, and Tom and everybody else (I was there too) flipped over it. Thus their “special relationship” began and has only deepened over time. Of the seven rare beers he brought to Monk’s, all hailed from the last two years, including a new Hop Concept IPA. Kinda puts their friendship in high relief.
Tom’s executive chef Keith Bellew and his team served up six courses of hearty delights. He took three weeks to prepare the menu. Chef Keith’s greens were pickled that very afternoon. And his team delivered each course as if James Beard were sitting with us, supported by constant refills from brimming pitchers.
We started out with Farmhouse Lager (5.8%) as an aperitif, a lighter crisper variation of Avant Garde; it’s their first 12-oz release. “I’m pumped,” said Tomme, calling it, “one of the best beers I’ve put in a bottle.” We sipped and savored. A smooth intro indeed.
Time to dine, and Time for BeerSensei’s credo: a brief crunch, then a long sip through, hold it for the taste to melt in, and do it again. Peach Afternoon (6%)’s infused peaches and white tea helped melt a pork cheek already floating in a lobster bisque/apple pond. No crunch needed this time.
Tomme’s new Hop Concept IPA release provided a hoppy detour. Mosaic and Idaho 7 hops with a little bit of rye punched up the mahi mahi. Potatoes, marinated fennel and blood orange pieces (absolutely no pith by decree) smiled at the cutting-edge bitterness here. I asked if we were getting into cloudy NEIPA country, and Tomme admitted maybe yes, BUT: he uses absolutely no adjuncts in any of his beers. The smooth bitterness put me in mind of Michelangelo’s block of marble. Out of a block of ingredients everything is chipped away until a masterpiece remains, gleaming. This one is two years Concept to Pour.
Back to the Lost Abbey, bitter greens and lump crab salad were gracefully enhanced by the rare Veritas Raspberry (6.5%) also used to create the salad’s vinaigrette. Instead of taking over the salad, the beer linked everything together, with the crab shouting out every once in a while from the seaside.
Medium rare lamb loin slices were delivered with Devotion, redolent of hop fields phasing into malty ground. Perfect with any strong meat. I Devoted several times.
Why a duck? Why not? Why not next! Especially with the zinfandel wine notes of Zinners and Saints over and beneath it, like a tangy port sauce.
The seventh beer lifted us to seventh heaven. What else could you pair with a “Mozart chocolate & apple mousse tart with Calvados financier and caramel sauce” but Lost Abbey O’Brien’s 25th Anniversary Ale (13.5%). Visitors to O’Brien’s of San Diego will swoon over this weighty concoction. Serious bourbon and rye barrel aged blends create a taste I can try to seriously describe as an Angel’s Share with a deep chocolate background. Wow!
Tomme and Tom circulated throughout the dinner. “I think I’ve hit every table in this room,” Tomme later said, and he did indeed, casually chatting with each little group of devotees. There were 65 covers in all, and the service held it all down to 3-1/2 hours. The audience was of a certain age (grown up) and expertise. A random thought came to us – how do we pass this on to the kids? Or is this our moment as older craft connoisseurs? The warmth of the room’s response made me hopeful.
I’m a great SAVOR fan (a more expensive event), but au fond, SAVOR is phenomenal sampling. This is digging into a beer lifestyle and I heartily commend Tom & Tomme for keeping this tradition right on target. This could be the best seven beer/six course meal I’ve ever sipped and savored (or is it gulped and devoured?) and I’m not done yet. I’ll emulate variations on this meal at home and invite friends. While I wonder what they’ll be up to next year at Monk’s.