PHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday, April 10 at 5 p.m. Tom Peters – the “Godfather of Belgian Beer” and owner of America’s most iconic beer bar, Monk’s Café — will debut his namesake beer: Major Tom, the first collaboration beer brewed between an independent bar and Belgium’s famed Brasserie de la Senne. Major Tom is a Double Saison that is bottle-conditioned with a strain of Brettanomyces (the wild, bacteria-eating yeast) that was cultivated by Brasserie de la Senne. Major Tom will be available exclusively at Monk’s Café from April through June, in 11.2 oz. bottles, before additional cases arrive at the venerable Shelton Brothers importers for broader distribution across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.
Peters and his 22-year-old daughter, Isabel Thomas-Peters, traveled to Belgium in October 2017 to brew Major Tom with Brasserie de la Senne co-owner and master brewer Yvan de Baets during an all-day brewing marathon that included everything from formulating the recipe and choosing the malt bill to selecting hops and grinding grains. Brewed with Beechwood smoked malt – another first for Brasserie de la Senne – they made Major Tom a refreshing, flavorful beer with a super-dry finish, accented by hints of subtle smoke and delicately hopped with Aurora and Perle.
This special double saison spent two weeks fermenting in Brasserie de la Senne’s signature wide, oval tanks, custom designed to minimize hydrostatic pressure stress on the hardworking yeast. Unlike typical tall, narrow fermenters that dramatically increase stress on the yeast, de Baets’ shallow fermenting vessels preserve the beer’s integrity throughout the brewing process. The finished beer has an ABV of 7.2%, which is not staggering by American standards, but makes it one of the strongest beers de Baets has ever brewed.
“Monk’s was one of the first bars in the United States to serve Brasserie de la Senne, and that was before Yvan had his own facility and had to take his recipes to brew elsewhere in Belgium – and to be the first bar in the United States to collaborate with him is quite an honor,” says Peters. “Yvan is one of the finest brewers in the world, and Major Tom is a passion project for both of us. This beer is doubly special to me because it is a collaboration with my daughter, Isabel, and brings my love for craft brewing into the second generation of my family while adding another strong young woman to the flourishing craft beer conversation.”
The bottle’s label carries extra significance – and a bit of tongue-in-cheek pride – for Peters: aside from the nod to the hero in David Bowie’s classic hit Space Oddity, he brought his trademark boldness in the face of politics to bear by suggesting the design depict him exiting a space ship and breaking free of President Donald Trump’s unwanted advances.
“That’s me stepping on Trump’s head,” says a smiling Peters. “We probably won’t be raising a glass of Major Tom together any time soon; after all, it’s an ‘immigrant’ beer!”
About Tom Peters
Tom Peters has been serving Belgian beer in Philadelphia since 1984, clocking twelve years as a bartender and manager before co-founding Monk’s Cafe in 1997 with Fergus Carey. Peters earned his reputation as the “Godfather of Belgian Beer” early in his career, even offering to pay for then-unknown beers like Chimay and Orval out of his pocket if guests didn’t like them. His expansive knowledge predates and helped usher in the contemporary craft beer movement, and is powered by a deep curiosity to meet the brewers and families behind the world’s greatest beer. Peters still travels to Belgium many times a year to research beer, and meet with the world-class brewers he is proud to call friends. For his pioneering of Belgian beer in the United States, Peters was named Sir Thomas of Monk’s, knight of the Chevalerie du Fourquet de Brasseurs; the first person not a professional brewer to be inducted into Knights of the Belgian Mashstaff. Monk’s Cafe has been designated an official Ambassadeur Orval for 10 consecutive years; in 2017, Monk’s was one of just seven U.S. bars and restaurants to earn that distinction. In 2007, he and longtime friend Bruce Nichols co-created Philly Beer Week, a 10-day celebration of beer culture in Philadelphia, and helped establish the city as a beer destination, spawning more than 100 similar festivals nationwide.