The highlight at last night’s French beer tasting at Chick’s Cafe & Wine Bar wasn’t the beer, though several (notably St. Druon Abbey Ale & Brasserie Thiriez Amber) were exceptional. The highlight was the speaker, Dan Shelton of Shelton Brothers importers.
I’ve had a lot of conversations with Dan and even traveled a bit with him in Belgium. But this was the first time I’d heard him give a full presentation before an audience. His history of French beer was an eye-opener. Among other things I learned, in the early 1900s there were 2,000 breweries in the small Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France. Its brewing tradition was “easily as rich as Belgium’s,” Shelton said, but two world wars wiped it all out.
Of course, this being Dan Shelton at the lecturn, the night was not without its gems. At one point he had some guy in the audience doing a damn good Broadway version of Gavroche, the urchin from Les Mis. Gavroche is also the name of one of the beers Shelton imports from Brasserie St. Sylvestre - a beer that, when it was originally sent to America, Shelton described as “merde.”
Shelton is well known in beer geek circles as a rebel (or worse) because he can’t keep his opinions to himself. Last night he offered:
- There are only 5 or 6 “good breweries” in Belgium. Most of its beer, he said pointing to Delirium Tremens as the prime example, is too sugary.
- There are only three world-class breweries in America: Russian River, Lost Abbey/Pizza Port and Jolly Pumpkin.
- He said lots of nice things about Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Brewing, but when asked if he considered Dogfish Head a great brewery, he grumbled about its high-alcohol ales.
Agree or disagree, his talk was entertaining. And, by the way, Shelton didn’t spare himself when it came to criticism. At least half of the beers we tasted last night, he griped, were oxyidized. “It’s my fault completely,” he said.
As for Chick’s, it was my first time in the place since it morphed into a beer bar earlier this year. It’s a beautiful spot for a drink just off South Street: dark and cozy, paneled with tin ceiling squares. The tap selection last night: St. Druon, Troeg’s Mad Elf, Sly Fox Stout, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, Ramstein Classic Wheat and Sly Fox Saison. Not too shabby.