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Beer Week 2008: Michael Jackson Tutored Tasting

As a newcomer to beer, I basically learned who Michael Jackson was when he died last year. He started the Tutored Tastings series at Penn almost twenty years ago, and it looks as if the event will continue without him indefinitely. Judging by the number of heartfelt tributes I heard this week, it’s a shame I never got to hear him speak. I believe he would wish us all to stop moping around, have a good time and drink up, so let’s get on with it. Cheers, Mr. Jackson!

The tutored tasting consists of three sessions each with seating for about 400 people in the Upper Egyptian Gallery of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I went to the first one at 1:00 PM. Because I was one of the last people in the room, I ended up near the end of a long table and basically had my own set of beer samples arrayed before me, the envy of all who surrounded me. But believe me, I shared. This stuff doesn’t drink itself, you know; I needed help.

I believe there were four panelists on the dais, Don Russell (he’s everywhere! he’s everywhere!), Tom Dalldorf (editor of Celebrator Beer News), Sam Calagione (Dogfish Head), and somebody else? They were far away, although the sound system was decent.

Presenting the beers:

This was my first tasting with an actual scorecard. We were supposed to rate each beer on appearance, bouquet, balance, mouthfeel (whatever that is), aftertaste, and overall impression. Even though I didn’t have a clue, I played along and filled out my card. According to my scorecard, I’m one heck of a golfer! Oh, wait, I forgot what I was doing. Since we’re talking uniformly good beer here, it’s no surprise that my scores for all of them were very much the same. The lowest score went to Old Companion, and the highest to Palo Santo Marron. This beer was deep—rich in complex flavor and balanced, the kind of beer you could proudly serve to shut up a wine snob who looks down on the whole beer-appreciation scene. It was a little intense for a daily drinker, but it would be outstanding for a special occasion. My overall favorite was Saison Dupont, however, which I could drink all the time if it wasn’t so expensive. A sentimental favorite would have to be the Oatmeal Stout. It was an oatmeal stout (from the late Independence Brew Pub, if you must know) that sucked me into this whole beer thing a couple of years ago.

With each tasting, the crowd grew noisier and noisier, but we ran out of beer before things got totally out of control and with that, the mob was turned loose on the Chinese Rotunda for a free-for-all tasting. Yes, yet another list of what I tried from the 150 available:

  • Rogue Santas Private Reserve (a double-hopped Saint Rogue Red)
  • Brasserie des Géants Goliath Tripel
  • Sly Fox Saison Vos (it really is like champagne)
  • Radeberger Pilsner (exceptionally light and crisp)
  • Allagash White (one of my favorite Belgian wheats)
  • Great Divide Titan IPA
  • Victory Hop Wallop (you know, maybe a leetle too hoppy for me)
  • Climax Porter (nice, not too heavy)
  • Climax ESB
  • Legacy Hoptimus Prime (I have had this before and I love it)
  • Samuel Smith Organic Lager
  • Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA
  • Arcadia London Porter
  • Bell’s Best Brown Ale (I’m a Bell’s fan, but this was kind of disappointing, actually)
  • Bell’s Pale Ale
  • Bell’s Hop Slam (a lot of good things going on in this IPA)
  • Erie Railbender
  • Weyerbacher Merry Monks Belgian-style Abby trippel Ale (really good!)

And that was the end of Beer Week for me. To Michael Jackson, may you rest in peace! As for the rest of you still earthbound, hope to see you next year.


It sounds funny to hear you say that you're a newcomer to beer. As long as I've been reading your blog, you've been into beer! Even stranger, I think I've been a beer snob for longer than you have, despite being much younger....

The Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout is one of my personal favorites, too, as is the Allagash White.

Yeah, you’re right, but I still feel like a newcomer because it seems that everywhere I go I find many beers that I have never even heard of. I date my interest in beer to early 2005 and that oatmeal stout I used to drink at Independence Brew Pub during blogger meetups. It was a while before I would try anything else. What’s oddest is that for decades I wouldn’t touch beer at all. No explanation for the transformation, except that I finally realized what I had been missing. Now I guess I’m making up for lost time ;-)

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