By Owen Ogletree
Day Three – October 28, Richmond
Our group of liver-weary beer travelers awakens on Wednesday to sunny morning skies and heads toward downtown Durham to meet Daniel from Tyler’s for breakfast. While enjoying our coffee and eggs, we hit a bit of serendipity and run into Daniel Bradford (who cooks up the idea of this beer roadie blog).
Clear skies, dry roads and colorful fall foliage highlight the drive from Durham to Richmond, and I suggest quick stops at two Richmond brewpubs before checking into our hotel. Legends Brewing’s Rick Uhler provides some beer samples and a quick tour of his compact brewing facilities, after which our group makes its way to Richbau in downtown Richmond for a beer sampler tray and lunch.
Like a good roadie, my eye stays on the clock as I coax Dustin, Chris and The Beer Wench toward our hotel and the setup for our next beer dinner at Richmond’s Mekong Vietnamese restaurant. Hey, I know what you’re thinking—who’s bizarre idea was it to have a craft beer dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant? I think the same thing as we walk into this unassuming Asian eatery located in a drab, suburban strip mall across from a neon-lit adult novelty store.
Trust me; Mekong was the perfect choice for this Terrapin/Left Hand collaborative event. Mekong’s owner An is a maniac for craft beer (especially Belgian ales) and jumped all over the opportunity to host this dinner at his establishment. With draft beer stations set up all around the dining room, almost ten spicy and flavorful Vietnamese dishes served alongside a Terrapin or Left Hand beer, and a free Halloween costume party with live music after dinner, this proved the most unique and eclectic beer dinner in my recent experience.
Colorful food items with names I cannot begin to pronounce appear at a rapid-fire pace while patrons spin their table’s Lazy Susans to share each dish family-style and discuss each food and beer pairing. An runs around the event with a huge grin as he discusses each special dish. As the noise level quickly goes from loud to boisterous, Dustin and Chris find it quite a challenge to keep the audience’s attention while discussing their beers. These patrons are here tonight to party down!
When Dustin begins to buy Chris shots at the bar around midnight, I realize it’s time to pry everyone out of Mekong’s blur of flowing beer taps, saucy Halloween costumes and live classic rock to walk down the street to our hotel beds. We must get an early start in the morning toward Philadelphia and our last beer dinner of the journey.
Day Four – October 29, Philadelphia
Our Terrapin/Left Hand crew hits the road for Philly around 8:00 AM. Not surprisingly, we hit traffic while trying to maneuver through D.C., and everyone’s bladders begin to scream while we are sitting on the highway. In an act of pure desperation, I exit toward Ronald Reagan airport, and the gang jumps out at the passenger-loading zone to run inside for the restrooms. Upon his return, Chris proudly announces, “Wow, I’ve never peed at Reagan airport before.”
We clear D.C. traffic about an hour later with the goal of lunch and beer samplers with our buddy Brian Finn, head brewer at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware. Brian’s malty Oktoberfest, cask IPA and sour blueberry lambic do wonders in firming up our constitution for the final push into Philly.
Upon parking our SUV and checking into our hotel in the city of brotherly love, I attempt to motivate the group toward a quick warm-up beer. They’re not having it; a quick nap seems their only motivation at this point. The Beer Wench and I leave the sleepy pair and enjoy our first beer in Philly at Schmidt Brauhaus – a new German tavern near our hotel.
After rousing Dustin and Chris and gathering our beer dinner materials and giveaways, we walk to the classic Monk’s Café around 5:00 PM for the 6:00 PM beer dinner. Monk’s owners Tom and Fergie quickly let know that the entire restaurant was sold out last week for this Terrapin/Left Hand event, but the impending World Series game that night forced about half the attendees to cancel. Tom and Fergie don’t usually allow cancellations for their popular beer dinners, but hey, we are taking about the Phillies in the World Series here. Tonight’s dinner consists of about 20 die-hard beer aficionados seated in Monk’s back bar.
Dustin and Chris encounter no trouble in mingling and discussing their beers with the intimate crowd tonight. An imaginative range of menu items from grilled baby octopus to smoked seafood & bleu cheese tarts is followed up by a creamy cappuccino caramel flan paired with the star of the beer dinner tour – the Terrapin/Left Hand Depth Charge stout. As always, everyone seems quite impressed and pleased with the warm atmosphere and experience at Monk’s.
After splitting a vintage bottle of Cantillon lambic following the Monk’s dinner, our group departs for Nodding Head brewpub to enjoy the house ales and catch the final minutes of the World Series. Alas, game two does not go well for the Phillies, but the optimistic crowd still dreams of a win in a couple of nights on their home turf.
The Beer Wench and I plan to drive to Victory Brewing tomorrow, while Dustin and Chris fly back to Georgia and Colorado. We bid our fond farewells while we reminisce on the challenges and joys of four fantastic beer dinners in four states over four days. Dustin and Chris, always the consummate “idea-men,” run through notions of making this an expanded, annual event. Sell tickets and bring a group on a bus? Do a beer dinner crawl with appetizer and each course and beer pairing at a different pub in a city? We’ll have to wait and see what next year brings.
One thing seems certain: This spirit of cooperation and collaboration between two personable craft breweries sets the standard for demonstrating how small, artisanal businesses can allow creativity and a love for their products to drive fun, unique marketing strategies. Proud to fill my role as “beer roadie,” I know that I’ll be back for more next time with Terrapin and Left Hand.