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Sept. 28, 2007 | As church bells ring, the faithful arrive, in search of the Holy Ale

AT 10:45 IN the morning last Sunday, when most dedicated souls were either in church or in the parking lot at the Linc, Joel Armato and Bryan Beetem were in their bathrobes on Wayne Avenue, waiting for the doors to open at Teresa's Next Door.

"I just had to be here for this, even if it isn't even noon," said Armato, explaining his attire.

"Wouldn't miss it," said Beetem.

The word had been on the street for about a month. The tavern, a new beer joint out on the Main Line in Wayne, was sitting on a keg of the legendary Kentucky Breakfast stout from Founders Brewing in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Aged in oak bourbon barrels, it's a dark, richly flavored ale that has drawn rave reviews from beer freaks lucky enough to grab a taste.

The brewery describes it as "a bit of backwoods pleasure without the banjo." A reader at said its body "resembles motor oil" (that's a good thing), and ranks it as the No. 2 beer made in America (behind the similarly powerful Dark Lord imperial stout from Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing).Beer for breakfast at Teresa's Next Door

Kentucky Breakfast is a classic cult beer, made only once a year and served sparingly in goblets or sold at $20 or more for a four-pack - almost all of it within a few miles of the brewery.

Now, for the first time, a keg of the stuff had made it into Pennsylvania, and Teresa's Next Door would be tapping it for Sunday brunch.

The sun was shining, the chimes from a nearby church were ringing, and those two guys in bathrobes weren't the only ones waiting for the place to open. About 20 others were patiently cooling their heels.

The word had spread from barstool to barstool, on Web sites and blogs. "I had heard they had a keg in the basement," said TC Shillingford, who lives nearby. "I kept bugging the bartenders, 'When are you going to tap?' "

One look told you this was not a big-time party crowd, not the types who guzzle shots as fast as they can. Rather, these folks were knowledgeable connoisseurs who weeks ago circled this day on their calendars.

They're true believers who seek out exceptional varieties, the more obscure the better. They argue over the relative merits of hop varieties. They blog about their favorite styles. They think nothing of traveling half a day for a single pint of something special. They trade inside tips on local breweries and cellar their beers for years and years.

They do not guzzle: They sip.

"I have an adventuresome palate. I'll try anything once . . . or probably twice," said Beetem. "It's all about trying something new."

Indeed, Matt Nolan, who lives up the road in Paoli, observed, "If Victory Brewing [in Downingtown] made this beer and I could get it anytime I wanted, I'm not so sure I'd be here at 11 in the morning. What makes it special is that you just can't get it anywhere."

His friend Ed Godfrey, of Blue Bell, boasted he'd once traveled all the way to Grand Rapids to taste Kentucky Breakfast. For him, driving down to Wayne was a no-brainer.

The chimes rang again.

Mike Ellis, one of the owners, unlocked the front door and peeked out. His jaw dropped. Then he began to smile.

"I don't know anything else in the food business that's like this," he said, laughing. "I mean, nobody reacts like this when I bring out a new bottle of wine."

It was time for breakfast.

Armato and Beetem made their way to a pair of stools directly in front of the taps and got the first glasses. Two sips, and Beetem was already declaring it a classic. "It's unlike any stout I've ever had."

More glasses of the dark ale quickly lined the bar, along with plates of eggs and home fries. Each mouthful swam with flavors of coffee and bourbon and chocolate.

A couple of stools down, Katherine Martin declared, "It won't last till 1 o'clock."

Beer radar

Kicking yourself for missing Kentucky Breakfast? Fear not, beer happenings like this are not unusual around Philly.

On the horizon is the debut of Victory Brewing's new Baltic Thunder, starting at noon Oct. 20 at the Drafting Room Taproom and Grille (635 N. Pottstown Pike, Exton).

Another rich, dark ale, this beer is the rebirth of Perkuno's Hammer, a favorite from South Jersey's now-defunct Heavyweight Brewing. The new version is a collaboration between Victory and Heavyweight's brewer, Tom Baker.

To make things special (actually, spectacular), the Drafting Room will also tap the last-known keg of Perkuno's Hammer, along with other aged Heavyweight kegs. Here's your one and only chance to compare the new beer on the block to the classic original.



© Copyright 2006 Joe Sixpack