Another gem from Yogi

September 29, 1999

By Kurt Epps

You meet the nicest folks at beer dinners. Maybe it’s because beer is -- and always has been --such a people-oriented drink. It is after all, far cheaper to go to your liquor store and buy beer to drink at home than it is to purchase it in a pub, bar or restaurant. But beyond the occasional pleasure of a solitary back porch brew at sunset, people who like beer usually enjoy each other’s company.

Especially when that company is assembled by a man who some have called The Yogi Berra of Beer (Yogi Beera, maybe?) -- Richie Stolarz. The affable president of Beers International, an organization dedicated to the enjoyment and appreciation of good beer, is a big teddy bear whose love of beer is matched only by his love of people. It’s hardly surprising that people reciprocate.

That’s probably why close to ninety people packed into Tim Schafer’s Cuisine in Morristown in late September. True, world-reknowned beer guru Michael Jackson’s presence may have had something to do with it, along with the culinary artistry of Tim Schafer, better known as the Brew Chef, but both are solid Stolarz supporters.

Certainly the presence of some outstanding Belgian beers like Duvel, Rodenbach Red, Saison DuPont, Boon Framboise and Scaldis enhanced the camaraderie, as did their American-made counterparts, Hennepin and Ommegang.

But Stolarz is the tie that binds. Michael Jackson can go to any beer gathering in the world, but he always seems to attend Stolarz’s events with regularity. So do Ommegang owners Wendy and Don Feinberg who provided some of their fabulous beers to complement Schafer’s culinary wizardry, though they were not in attendance this night. Working closely with Stolarz , Schafer offered an astounding array of items that were prepared with beer. Meatball appetizers made with stout, superb mussels steamed in Hennepin,and a BeeRisotto made with Saison DuPont (and fresh peaches!) all preceded a main course and were accompanied by selected beers.

A double cut Boneless pork chop the size of Rhode Island and marinated in Ommegang sat atop an astounding Smoked Sausage new potato hash enhanced with ale. "Beer is friendly." says the Brew Chef, "Beer appetites are big and call for comfort food." Indeed. After finishing what Schafer offered, comfort nearly gave way to immobility.

But there was still room for Elsie Steinman’s Double Chocolate Stout Brownies. For a moment, the moans, groans, oohs and aahs made the restaurant sound like -- well, not a restaurant. Elsie, a longtime neighbor of Stolarz at his summer retreat in Greenwood Lake, runs a little deli called Mountain Jug. It was Stolarz (surprise, surprise!) who turned her on to preparing food with beer, and her incredible brownies, made with Brooklyn Imperial Stout, are now a feature on the Beers International site.

Anyone with net access can order these delights (termed ‘orgasmic’ by Wilma Mende seated next to me) for just under twenty bucks, which includes shipping and handling. They won’t come served with Boon Framboise as they did this night, but you’ll be happy you ordered them. Stolarz, whose ample frame indicates a sweet tooth, confesses that "I used to be 135 pounds before I started eating Elsie’s brownies."

Michael Jackson, was his usual entertaining, knowledgeable and informative self, providing fascinating tidbits about all the beers on hand while meandering through a host of "digressions" to everyone’s delight, which increased in direct proportion to the amount of beer being poured. These ranged from the history of beer in Mesopotamia to his girlfriend’s request to go out for a night of drinking upon his return from a lengthy, world-covering tour of beer dinners, brewery openings and tasting appearances. Hmmph. No sympathy here for a the guy with the world’s best job (not to mention the world’s most educated palate.)

A witty, often droll, but ever-sharp Jackson concluded his comments after we’d been served a few rounds of the spectacular Scaldis, which is 12% alcohol. Few recalled what he said about it. At night’s end, I mentioned to Stolarz that more dinners like this could kill a guy before his time.

"That’s the good thing about old age -- you didn’t die young," he said. Quintessential Yogi Beera, I’d say.

®Kurt E. Epps 1999 All Rights Reserved

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Kurt Epps