I stopped into Brasserie Beck early on Saturday evening, and the bar area was packed although I was lucky to snare a seat after about five minutes.
The beer list at Beck is daunting to say the least, but I happily started off with a draft of Pater 6 ($8.50). As I sat there, nursing my beer and unwinding during the NCAAs, Thor Cheston saw me and came over to chat. I commented on how much I enjoyed the Pater 6, and he sort-of kind-of not-really nodded his head, and said something to the tune of ‘we can do a bit better.’
“Pick something,” I said, gleefully.
As great a beer sommelier as Churchkey’s Greg Engert is, Thor seems to have a direct line to my personal palate – he has never chosen me a beer that I haven’t loved. And this time? He outdid himself.
About five minutes later, he reappeared with a large, 25.4 ounce bottle, and said he’d pour this by the glass because it’s expensive. So he poured me a glass, and I put it to my nose.
What I had just taken a whiff of was not beer; it was wine. Not just wine, but Pinot Noir. Not just Pinot Noir, but Red Burgundy. Not just Red Burgundy, but Vosne-RomanÃ©e. And, dare I say it? Not just Vosne-RomanÃ©e, but DRC.
The English wine writer Michael Broadbent describes DRC (Domaine de la RomanÃ©e-Conti) as having a “boiled beetroot” characteristic in the nose. I’ve been fortunate enough to have tried more than my share of these outrageously expensive wines, so I know them well, and my jaw dropped when I took one snootful of this beer.
“How much is the bottle?” I asked.
He looked sheepish, and said, “It’s $38.”
This was a Swiss beer, a 2008 BFM (Brasserie des Franches-Montagnes) Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien, and since I know you’re already rolling your eyes from the DRC comparison, go ahead and keep them up there because I thought this was the greatest beer I’d ever tasted.
(Then again I suppose you can’t keep them up there or you’d have trouble reading this.)
Obviously the palate itself was not vinous, but the nose? Wow! Unbelievable, and like nothing I thought existed.Â It was brewed in 2007, aged in oak casks, bottled in 2009, and weighed in at 11% ABV. If you think of it as a bottle of wine, it’s really not that expensive at all, and I quickly started thinking in those terms.
“I’ll take the bottle,” I said.
I also had a Living Social coupon which emboldened me, so when chef John Bull Engle came out to say hello, I asked him if there were any must-haves on the menu.
“We just started serving soft shells,” he said.
In about fifteen minutes, an off-menu special arrived with three (3!) huge pan-fried soft shell crabs served with crispy pork belly, wilted local dandelion greens, and citrus brown butter. I took one look at it, and said, “Toto, this ain’t gonna be cheap.” It was $36! But boy were these crabs good – perfectly fried and paired with their accompaniments – the last time I’d seen John, he was chef de cuisine at Marcel’s, and it shows, too.
I was going to get an appetizer-entree combination, but after this? Cheese course. A Three Piece Tasting Portion ($15) is expensive, but it was a large plate, with bread and various chutneys, and a goodly cut of all three cheeses.
And all the while, the Abbaye de Bon Chien kept getting better and better. What a nose!
How much did I like this beer? Enough to come back a week later and try it again to see whether or not I was insane.
Again, Beck was packed, and this time I had to wait about twenty minutes for a bar stool. I ordered another bottle, and this time it was served in a BFM glass which I actually thought was to the beer’s detriment, believe it or not. And because my expectations were so inordinately high, I’d say the beer only thrilled me 90% as much as it did before.
Okay, so it’s still the best beer a wine drinker could ever hope for. It’s unbelievable, and you have got to try it!
I also got a half order of Mussels with Pipe Dreams Farm Goat Cheese, Preserved Lemon, and Fennel ($13), a wonderfully acidic dish that calls for the goat cheese to be mixed in with the broth. It’s important to note that half orders of mussels here do not come with frites – a full order would have been $20, and that’s the way to go, especially if two people are dining. Still, with four hearty pieces of bread soaking up the broth, a half order was more than enough for me.
I also ordered a Slow Roasted Beet Salad ($13) to go, made with whipped Pipe Dreams Farm goat cheese, caramelized walnuts, and mixed greens, and had it for lunch the next day. I tend to eat smaller lunches and larger dinners, and this was a very large portion for me – it was also a great salad.
So am I crazy? Try the beer and see for yourself.