When I visit a new city my routine is to ask the bartender ‘whats the local beer?’. Especially in the US, my most frequent international destination, its also an excellent way to avoid watery, flavourless mass-produced beers and get a little of the local flavour. Bartenders know stuff you see. So in preparation for a conference trip to Philadelphia, I’d asked my good mate and conference co-convenor that same question. Not only did Bob introduce us to the Coopers of Philly – a perfectly respectable lager called Yuengling - he took us to Eulogy Belgian Tavern, a charmingly ramshackle place only a local could know about.
We were lucky to get a table, perhaps the waiter noticed the excited glow on our faces as he whipped away a ‘reserved’ sign and led us to a chrome and formica table wedged next to the second bar on the upper level. After welcoming us warmly and providing us with thick spiral bound beer lists/menus we were left awestruck to ponder our preference from a list of over 400 different beers. Its still got me beat how they accommodate so many different beers in such a pocket hankerchief sized place, but they do. Nothing was too much trouble and even our most obscure selections were available.
Philadelphia and the surrounding area have a strong German heritage, which perhaps explains the profusion of small breweries in the area. We started out with some great US craft brewers such as Founders (Michigan), DogFish Head (Delaware) and Victory Brewing Company (Pennsylvania) along with some more widely known Belgian beers from Duvel and Chimay. This gargantuan list was arranged alphabetically by brewery name with notes on style, location and alcohol volume. Our waiter was extremely knowledgable and helped some of the less adventurous and more overwhelmed members of our party find something to suit their taste. The beers arrived perfectly chilled, poured at the table into glassware to suit each selection.
So with a beer in hand, we turned our attention to the menu which offers an excellent range of dishes from the usual Belgian favourites of mussels and frites to innovative mains like lavender roasted chicken with roast vegetables, to a selection of burgers from US hotel standard to the gourmet. Two of us ordered the house made sausage plate with pork, venison and wild boar and two of us ordered mussels and frites, available four ways. After much vascilating I went with the lavender roasted chicken. Good choice. Mussels and frites were also fantastic. The presentation of the meals wasn’t fancy, served on household sized flatware best suited to the cosy quarters, however it is clear the chefs know their stuff. And they deftly deliver a beer friendly menu with something to suit everyone.
My beer drinking highlight was the Hitachino Nest Classic IPA, brewed in Japan and matured in cedar sake casks with packaging to die for. This was a really unusual beer. The cedar flavours were noticeable but nicely balanced with creamy malt and and some spiciness. It was a nice match for the fragrant lavender roasted chicken maryland.
Due to our somewhat grueling conference schedule (seven days straight in a dimly lit room, death by powerpoint, with added jetlag anyone?) we didn’t get through anywhere near as much as the list of 400 as I would have liked. If you are visiting Philly, and I highly recommend you do, then Eulogy should be on your ‘must dine’ list. And for Aussies feeling homesick, you’ll find Coopers Sparkling Ale and Coopers Vintage Ale at a bargain $5 a glass. The owners were excited to hear that craft brewing in Australia is producing some great brews and were keen for suggestions on what they could add to their list.
A fantastic night, and gratitude to Bob Penland for introducing us to Eulogy.