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Archive for September, 2008

He’Brew Bittersweet Lenny’s R.I.P.A.

September 30th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Shmaltz, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: IPA

10% ABV from a bomber

I’m not gonna lie, I bought this beer because it was cheap. I wasn’t in the mood to shell out for a Thursday night buzz and at $3.99 for a 10% bomber, well…wow. The PPAP was off the charts! We’re talking in the malt liquor/fortified wine price point. And though this beer wasn’t anywhere on my “on-deck circle” of brews I was interested in trying in the immediate future–also known as a nerdy little cheat sheet list I keep in my wallet–I have had and enjoyed Shmaltz offerings in the past. This was supposed to be their masterpiece. Also, I thought it befitting that a stereotypically cheap Jew would get a cheap Jew brew. Ha!

Named in honor of famous Hebe Lenny Bruce, this rye IPA has an “obscenely” (har har) potent smell. Me like. In fact, it’d be easy to think you were having a barley wine based on pour, smell, and taste.

Tons of hops and rye malts, hints of caramel and citrus, and a liqueur-like thickness and alcoholic heat to it. I loved this one at first, but like Shmaltz’s Rejewvenator, I liked it less and less the more I had it. It’s just so much!

Shmaltz is legitimately making a claim to be the king of “extreme” beers. And by that I mean, beers that nearly cause you to OD. It’s amusing to me that Jewish boys are often considered to be frail, nerdy, and neurotic little pussies, yet the Chosen People’s unofficial brewery is making beers that could upend Andre Rene Roussimoff. Seriously, split a bomber of this with a friend and you’ll enjoy it far more than if you attempt it onanistically. The Vice Blogger is not ashamed to admit it absolutely kicked my toosh and I was even a little off for the entirety of the next day like I was coming down from an acid trip.

Simply put:  it’s a very, very good beer in small doses.

A-

Harlem Sugar Hill Golden Ale

September 30th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Harlem Brewing Co., Country: America, Grade: C-, Style: Blonde Ale

4% ABV from a sixer

Who knew Harlem had a brewery?  I sure didn’t, and I live only 70 blocks from it.  Though it’s hardly a brewery as this is the lone beer they make.  Seems more like a homebrewer just had the gumption to get some slick labels printed up at Mail Boxes Etc. and then secured some minor local distribution.  And though the beer’s name is cool, and the labels are indeed cool, the beer is unfortunately marginal.

Harlem’s aforementioned brewmaster is Celeste Beatty, an African-American woman.  And being that I only know of one other black brewmaster (Brooklyn’s Garrett Oliver) and zero female brewmasters, I’m assuming Ms. Beatty is the only black female brewmaster in America.

I wanted to have some homtown pride, I wanted to support the little gal, and I’m notorious–like most white folks–for overrating Harlem stuff as Cotton Club, Apollo Theatre, Malcolm X-type cool, but unfortunately Sugar Hill has some problems.

It smells fine.  Mild hints of malt and grain.  I thought it might actually be good.  The taste is fine too, a decent little sweetness.  The problem is that it’s just so damn thin.  Amp these exact flavors up and produce a 6% beer and now we’d be talking, but as it stands now this is just beer-flavored water.  Why would a brewery make their one beer so meager?  I finished an entire six-pack in about 45 minutes and wasn’t anywhere close to drunk.  Though, I was already hungover.  Figure that one out.

Suggested motto:  “Harlem Brewing Company:  Beers that skip the most cherished step in drinking — getting drunk!”

C-

Brooklyn Grand Cru

September 29th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 11 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: Belgian White

8.4% ABV on draught

I got into a friendly argument with my friend The Captain the other day, and it really wasn’t even an argument cause he was just regurgitating what he had heard others say. So I guess I was really getting into an argument with faceless and nameless people I don’t even know. Or, better put, I was just arguing in my head with myself and my “voices.” That’s why I need to drink, the drinking turns the multiple personalities into one. One asshole personality, but still.

Any how, The Captain had finally gotten to enjoy some lower-level Brooklyn Brewery beers (their solid IPA and their bleh Pennant Ale) and though he had generally enjoyed them, he had not been blown away by either. Nor should he have been by the ones he’d had. He noted on his blog that Brooklyn was like the east coast’s version of Leinenkugel, “not undrinkable, but not great.” Being an unabashed hater of Leinenkugel–my lawyer advises me not to further discuss them, pending the outcome of our poisoning case–and a shameless homer toward Brooklyn, I had to quickly take umbrage without even further considering what he had said. I am a knee-jerk reactionary, no doubt about it.

Later, I started thinking about the reasons Brooklyn Brewery is not hailed in the upper echelon of craft breweries even though they probably deserve to be. And, what I’ve concluded is that this is because Brooklyn makes a lot of “pay-the-bills” beers. You know, B-grade stuff that every one likes: lagers, pilsners, the boring shit. You’re never gonna get a masterpiece of a lager or a pilsner, and not surprisingly, the bigger boys in the craft brewing game–Stone, Russian River, Lost Abbey, et al–don’t even make them. And I would wager it is because they don’t wish to besmirch their fine names with such mainstream styles. It would be like Daniel Day Lewis appearing in a sitcom.  You would think him appearing on “Two and a Half Men” wouldn’t make his work as Daniel Plainview any less “good,” but yeah, it would to most.  That’s just how people are.

Brooklyn, just like Sam Adams, makes “accessible beers” that non-beer geeks can understand and enjoy. And while I’m not saying they should be honored for this, they shouldn’t get demerits for this charity work either. I think we need to consider Brooklyn Brewery as being two breweries: their Joe Sixpack brewery and their actual craft brewery. Conveniently enough, that is almost literally the case as Brooklyn’s so-called boring beers are actually bottled–prepare for a quasi-dirty little secret–at the Matt Brewing Company up in Utica, while their interesting releases, of which I will discuss in a second, are presided over by the legendary brewmaster Garrett Oliver at their Williamsburg, Brooklyn plant*.

I don’t even think a lot of beerdrinking New Yorkers realize that Brooklyn makes stuff beside their bottled products, most specifically their ubiquitous and solid Lager. But it is their draught stuff–and these only come on limited draught save the Local 1**–that is by far their best stuff, stuff that puts them in the majors with the big swingin’ dicks of beer. Called the Brewmasters Reserve, every few months Garrett Oliver releases them to select bars in the city. And very few bars at that.

These beers are always really interesting, unique, and ambitious stuff: abbey beers and imperial IPAs and helles and saisons and a lip-smacking dopplebock I had last year that I would have given an A+ to if I’d had my blog at the time.  It absolutely floored me.

Their most recent release is their Grand Cru, an always cocky designation for any beer, put perhaps especially for a witbier. But goddamn it’s a good one. Wheat yeast comes through strong on the nose with a very fragrant orange smell.  In addition to those, potent tastes of spicy coriander and a nice honey sugarness too.  It’s also has an uncharacteristically high ABV for a witbier which truly makes this one a minor classic.

It kind pisses me off that Brooklyn doesn’t bottle its beers like the Grand Cru and make them more accessible. I can find their Lager, Brown Ale, etc. on bottle in even the crappiest deli and on tap at even the crappiest bar here in Manhattan. Yet even being a huge beer geek with a lot of time on my hands and a lot of drinking hours to fill in my week, I’m lucky to have even a single pint of each new Brewmasters release. Makes no sense to me.  Why can’t I get these beers bottled to enjoy in the comfort of my uncomfortable tiny apartment?  To exchange with my friends that live in more boring cities and states?  This needs to happen.

Back-tracking a bit, if it sounded like I am ripping on the Lager and the other “normal” Brooklyn beers, I’m not. Those are certainly not bad beers, and I frequently get loaded on all of them.  And am happy to. In fact, Brooklyn–and Sam Adams–are damn near heroic for guaranteeing that the absolute worst beers you should ever have to drink in an east coast bar are from one of their breweries.  But because of their prevalence, the bottled Brooklyns and mainstream Sams are the general public standard bearers for the breweries when they certainly shouldn’t be.  Sam Adams should be judged for their Utopias while Brooklyn should be judged for their always winning Brewmasters Reserve beers. If that was the case, then both breweries would be considered greater in esteem than they generally are.

Just make the Brewmasters Reserves more accessible, Garrett!

A

*Which amusingly enough used to be a matzo ball factory. Only in New York, kids.

**Brooklyn  Brewery’s website is annoying to no end.  Why do people continue to make flash websites?  Look, I’m just going to your website–like I go to all websites that aren’t re: nekkid ladies–to cull information. And when I have to pass through all sorts of slow-moving bells and whistles just to learn minor things, it really fucking pisses me off.

La Gloria Cubana Tainos

September 28th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Cigars

I like that 1950s-esque tradition of passing out cigars and lighting them up when your wife gives birth.  Then again, I never need an excuse to vice on something.  I’m not sure if people do that any more, but I kinda doubt it being that the world is becoming more and more sanitized, less and less…well, fun.  In fact, when one of my friends’ wife recently gave birth to their son, he passed out candy cigars.  Uh…thanks, I’ll try to enjoy your Mazel Tov moment with this giant spiral chunk of crappy baby blue gum.  Shit, back in 1979, when I was born, the fucking moyel was no doubt chomping on a fat-ass stogy as he sliced off a piece of my manhood.

Now, I’ve never created a child that came to term–nor do I intend on doing so at least until Barry’s eight years in office are up–so I’ve never gotten an opportunity to restart this new-daddy-cigar-distributing trend.  But, with a little help from my sister, I have just given birth to the newest incarnation of The Vice Blog.

And after a hard weekend of labor, I went out to find a cigar to puff on in celebration.  Unfortunately, it was late on Sunday and even in the real city that never sleeps, I could only locate a worthless bodega with a “Smoke Shoppe” in the back.  I picked up a poorly stored and overpriced La Gloria Cubana, a typically adequate PASSING cigar, and indeed it was again this time.  You got to be damn careful about counterfeit cigars when you are buying from shady sellers, but I think this one was the real deal.

Smoking on it as the sun began to go down over the horizon, getting a tad stoned, I reflected on the future of the Vice Blog, excited where it might be headed.  I hope you will enjoy The Vice Blog 2.0 too.

Surly Bender

September 28th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Surly, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Brown Ale

5.1% ABV from a one-pint can

Criticizing the blue collar never wins you friends, but screw it:

Why are New York construction workers so fucking noisy?

You say, because they’re drilling, soldering, hammering, nailing, building and destroying. No, believe me, I understand that. What I mean is why are construction workers so fucking loud when they aren’t doing work? So loud while they are simply talking? While they are simply existing?

I sit in my room right now behind a closed door. Travel further down a long lag putt distance of hallway to my thick metal front door. Down the steps two full flights where you would find a crew of men currently doing some seemingly minor work to my shitty building this weekend. Quite a ways away from me and my god can I barely focus on watching bad football as these motherfuckers are so loud. It seems like they actually work only about one minute out of every hour, and that is sadly the most peaceful minute! I can handle the repetitive mundane sounds of nailing or drilling, but when these three gents aren’t working they are insufferable.

It’s an occupational prerequisite I’ve come to notice and not just something atypical coming from this troika. All construction workers in New York are obscenely noisy. Firstly, they talk so loud. Telling boring anecdotes about “banging” some girl or last night’s sports action or whether they are gonna get peppers or not on their Italian hero at lunch. Are they hard of hearing from a lifetime of being outside and working near loud power-tools? Possibly. So I’ll excuse the talking element and instead focus on their other aural annoyances.

Moments of “Walden”-esque quiet solitude don’t exist in the life of a New York City construction worker:

When they eat, they loudly chomp on their meal, spittle and foodstuff flying everywhere.

When they are alone they can’t just sit and think.  Or read.  Or just be.  They are always in motion.  Loudly tapping their empty water bottles on walls or the ground, wannabe Keith Moons in coveralls.  And the whistling, oh the whistling.  Why do construction workers love to whistle so much?  Is there are more annoying sound than a poorly whistled ditty?  I could handle it if they were Axl at the beginning of “Patience” but believe me they aren’t.

The chronic whooping coughs aren’t pleasant to the ears either.  Constant hacking and phlegmy noises and eruptions create a cacophony of sounds that rock my ears.

How bout their Nextels?  Of course the most annoying men in the city must have the most annoying communications device since A.G. Bell.  Despite the fact that they are only a few feet away from their cohorts, these men must use the walkie-talkies at all times, a never-ending whirl of chirps permeating my brain.

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“Yo, did you wan’ peppahs on your sangwich?”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“Yeah.  Lotta dem.  Oh, and get me a’ sugah free Red Bull too, wouldja?”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“Yo, you ain’t gonna believe dis hot piece of ass in fronta me in line.”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“No shit?  Ax her for her numbah.”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“Already did, bro.”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“Nice job faggot!”

*CHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRP!*

“I’ll be bangin’ her by tonight.  You won’t believe da tits on dis bitch.”

And don’t forget about the cat-calling. Any being with presumably a vagina that comes within fifty feet of a construction worker gets yelled at no matter how unattractive they are. When I see this I just want to sprint up to the crew and shake the shit out of them, explaining how they ruin it for us civilized men when they cat-call every single woman willy-nilly. Cat-calling an ugly woman just buoys her spirits and gives her a healthy boost of undeserved self-confidence. Now the ugly woman thinks she can act all haughty and supercilious toward her suitors, while the average and truly attractive women think they are goddesses. Message to cat-calling construction workers: please be more discriminating as you’re fucking shit up for all of us.  Oh, but please go ahead and hit on the hotties that vamp in front of my building.

I didn’t want to start drinking during the day, but with the weather grim outside and no friends available to rescue me from the construction crew (they’re talking about “Law & Order” right now, arguing whether that “fag” from “Sex and the City” was ever on the original show:  “Swear ta’ gawd, he once was, bro.”), I’m forced to.

Bender has a Coca-Cola brown pour with a hot chocolate foam head. Smells fantastic and potent, like a strong ale.  The taste is pretty unique. It’s considered a brown ale and while I’m not sure if it is the best I’ve ever had, it’s certainly the most complex. Tastes of oatmeal, roasted coffee, and with a creamy finish. I’d like it to be perhaps a little more carbonated, but it’s damn fine.  A very nice brew indeed.

I’m liking you Surly–you deserve to be a national beer.

A-

Scott’s Selection Royal Brackla 1976

September 28th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Grade: A plus, Scotch

61.8% ABV

The first thing I noticed were the eggs. A cascading pyramidal wire rack of them set in the middle of the bar. Not nuts or pretzels or peanuts or even popcorn, but hard-boiled eggs are the gratis bar snack at Keens Steakhouse on W. 36th Street, quickly alerting you to the fact that this ain’t your normal watering hole. And when my night started, I certainly hadn’t planned on ending up there.

Kevin used to be one of my top drinkin’ and chasin’ skirts buddies, but success in marriage and business has led to us going out less and less. His success that is, certainly not mine. He is my friend with the prodigious Scotch cabinet and so when he proposed meeting for happy hour, there was no way I could turn him down. He suggested The Ginger Man, thinking it would be a perfect place for us to do a little “research.” Not getting down to the dreadful Penn Station/Herald Square area that often–believe me, it is nowadays worse than even Times Square–I quickly jumped at the chance to visit a favorite old haunt.

The beer list at The Ginger Man was as stellar as ever, but the scene was rough, packed with happy hour heroes and bridge and tunnelers waiting for the next train out who wouldn’t know the difference between an Orval and a Duvel, between a dubbel and a tripel. I quickly knew I wasn’t going to enjoy the night when I followed two suited chaps into the bar, one remarking to the other, “This place has become so much better since they outlawed cigar and pipe smoke here.”

The Ginger Man is a large elegant space with fluffy sofas and comfortable leather chairs with ottomons. An aged wood aesthetic gives it a librarial feel meant to act as a gentleman’s (or gentlelady’s) relaxed locale for enjoying a drink, a bite, and, yes, a smoke amidst contemplative conversation, bon mottery, or even reading. Unfortunately, the continual nanny-stating and emasculation of New York has put an end to even smoking in places originally meant for the act. Despicable.

No, sir, the Ginger Man has not become so much better since smoke was outlawed–in fact, it’s become quite a bit worse. At least on weekday happy hours. By politically putting an end to cigar clubs, a place like The Ginger Man has gone from being a refined site where men could “have a few” in an adult manner to just your standard issue bar where bozos get loaded.

The Ginger Man used to never be packed–save a few beer geeks cozying up to the bar to sample all the draughts like a fat girl tests out the newest concoctions at Cold Stone–but on Wednesday at 6:00 it was like a mosh pit. I slowly inched toward the bar, trying to make it through a swarm of people like I was at some Jersey Shore club where MTV might film an episode of “True Life: I’ve Never Read a Book.” I found myself behind an unremarkable idiot. The bartender gave him the you-can-order-now look.

UNREMARKABLE IDIOT: Two Coronas.

Mind you, Ginger Man has the best beer list in Manhattan with countless taps (including cask beer) and hundreds upon hundreds of carefully selected bottles, even some vintage stuff.

BARTENDER: We don’t have that.

UNREMARKABLE IDIOT: OK, Two Heinys then. [He actually said "Heinys" (!!!)]

BARTENDER: Don’t have that either.

The unremarkable idiot’s face dropped in absolute anguish and disgust. He turned around to his buddy, rolling his eyes with a look that said, “Can you believe this shithole doesn’t have those great beers?!”

Kevin finally arrived and we shared Brooklyn Brewery’s new Grand Cru and a Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence before realizing that it was going to take us another half-hour to order a second round. The bartenders were too busy holding hands with the amateurs wanting to know which of the “oddball” beers on the menu were the “lightest.” A question that always boggles my mind. An epicurean like me wants to know which of the brews that I’ve never had before is the most flavorful, interesting, sui generis, complex, mind-boggling, orgasm-inducing, and life-changing. But, your average schmo simply cares about which is the lightest (i.e. easiest to throw down without wincing) and the cheapest. Pathetic.

We had to get out of there quickly before I said something I meant, and Kevin suggested a place down the street that would no doubt be a little less busy and a lot more refined, Keens. I quickly agreed to depart, depressed at what had become of my once-cherished Ginger Man.

Look, I still love The Ginger Man and certainly don’t begrudge them for making some bank–heck, it’s not like they are doing anything wrong. They still don’t have any beer worse than, say, Guinness and it’s not even like they’re offering absurdly cheap macro deals to attract the thirsty moron element. I guess the issue is the fact that that part of town really has very few decent bars for an after-work tipple. Nevertheless, I will only go there again at off-hours when I can lounge at the bar, getting the full attention of the knowledgeable bartenders while having a chance to carefully peruse the menus and discuss my current and future beer selections with them. Damn shame, really. Oh well. At least I didn’t see any one doing shots and “Woohoo-ing.” But it’s only a matter of time I’m afraid as drinking culture continues to devolve.

On the one block walk over to Keens I was a bit nervous about my first visit there. I’m the kind of guy that wears a black t-shirt, jeans, and Nike Shox literally every single time I go out. In my mind I pictured Keens an upscale place full of fat cats in expensive suits sitting on maroon poly-foam-backed barstools, young tarts bouncing on one of their knees as they sipped on three-finger pours of Scotch more expensive than my monthly cable bill. I love that kinda old-school, 21 Club, “Sweet Smell of Success” New York City when men truly were men, not simply allowed to act that way, but expected to. Best exhibited currently by “Mad Men”’s Don Draper. Of course, I’m only admiring and romanticizing the good of the era while completely ignoring the bad–the blatant misogyny, the latent alcoholism and lurking emphysema, the lack of quality television options, and being forced into always doing masculine handiwork as opposed to just hiring blue-collar help–but it’s my fantasy and I’m not a nice person any how.

Keens, a New York institution since 1885, is famous for at least three major things, of which I will address in this order: their pipe collection, massive Scotch menu, and muttonchops.

First, the pipes. Back in the olden days, Keens was a members-only establishment where both Average Joes and celebrities alike would go to smoke pipes, churchwardens specifically. The men were allowed to store their pipes at Keens much like rich duffers keep their golf sticks at the country club nowadays. To this day, Keens keeps on display some 50,000 former members’ pipes, a prominent place held for the personal ones of the celebrities that once smoked there. I spied the churchwardens of such Vice Blog favorites as George Herman Ruth, Albert Einstein, and Will Rogers.

And, of course, to continue the strange prank being played on our liberties, you are no longer allowed to smoke pipes in Keens! (I truly look forward to the day in a few decades when we will go to “bars” to drink iced tea, alcohol no longer allowed; and go to steakhouses to eat tofu tenders, meat long since outlawed. It’s coming folks, don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

We sat down at the bar amongst a few dozen men that were certainly nailing the first part of the “fat cat” term correctly, though the ubiquity of worn and wrinkled JoS. A. Bank suits told me that the overall term wasn’t quite accurate. I began to study the biblical-in-size Scotch menu. I may know my beer and even my bourbon, but my Scotch knowledge isn’t that sharp. Kevin went with a Bunnahabhain from the Islay region and he seemed pleased. I, being a huge “Lost in Translation” fan and wanting to have a relaxing time, decided to make it a Suntory time, 12 year to be exact. Unfortunately, Bob Harris (as portrayed by the great Bill Murray) steered me wrong as I didn’t enjoy the Japano-Scotch much at all. A wincing bite to it I thought, and carelessly crafted.

For dinner, I went with the cheeseburger, a half-pound softball that has been criticized in many channels for being too large to eat, but I found it just swell. Flawless melted cheddar with a nice soft bun and quality onions. Kevin smartly went with the signature muttonchops, a 26-ounce hunk of lamb (not sheep) served with a delicious mint jelly to compliment the gaminess a bit. Absolutely phenomenal and about as manly of meal as they come, both visually and gastronomically.

Kevin had to get home early to tuck his wife and Cornish Rex cats into bed so we didn’t have time for a second Scotch. Or at least we didn’t think we did. The bartender, a surprisingly young chap resplendent in his mixologist’s apron and starched white tuxedo shirt, began speaking with us about glorious Scotch. At first, I wondered why a surely snobby bartender dispensing liquid at an average of $15 per ounce would talk to two schlubs like us. Though with a quick glance around the bar it became apparent. Sadly, though we were the youngest and perhaps poorest guys in the joint by twenty years and hundreds of thousands of dollars of net worth, we surely knew the most about Scotch in the place. For you see, we were the only ones in Keens drinking it!

I looked around the bar at the men sipping watery rum and cokes, vodka martinis, Jacks with “a lotta ice,” and even 3.5% ABV Amstel Light bottles and I was repulsed! First, people going to The Ginger Man to attempt to drink Coronas and now so-called men sucking on sweet little rum drinks I’d barely consider having on a cruise ship! Shit, the only people that should drink Captain and Diet are the underage, the female, the poor, and those that don’t like and understand the taste of quality alcohol. And this was occuring at the best Scotch bar this side of…well, fucking Scotland probably, and I would dare wager most Scotch bars in Scotland don’t even have as good of selections, each no-doubt fiercely loyal to its own region’s libations, refusing to carry such a wide, cross-regional selection.

These men at Keens would probably go to Mexico and pass on the fine aged anejo tequila to order a Pina Colada. Would go to a sushi joint and pooh-pooh some sharp sake to order a Coors Light. Would get invited to Churchill’s house and turn down his pour of dry gin, inquiring, “Uh…Winston, by any chance do you know how to make a Chocolatini?” Disgraceful. It’s no wonder the only two fillies in the joint were making eyes with me and Kevin.

The bartender asked us what our favorites were and, as admittedly non-experts like our inquisitor, Kevin mentioned our love for Blue Label, a trite answer but a fantastic blended nonetheless, one we’ve both been lucky enough to have had several bottles worth over our lifetime. The bartender thought for a second, a light bulb went off in his noggin, and he left toward the other end of the bar looking through the ten-rows deep of Scotches–there has to be millions of dollars worth of booze in the joint–to find something special for us.

Let me interrupt to muse for a second about free rounds in New York City. Like Cal Ripken in Baltimore or Tony Gwynn in San Diego, I’ve spent my entire career–of drinking that is–in New York. So though I may learn a thing or two about the ways of other cities while on the road there, my views are coming from afar, from the visitors’ dugout, and I can’t 100% confirm that these rules are national and universal. But I do know the ways of New York drinking. A few years ago a friend moved here from Houston. As I began to show him the ropes I explained the standard de facto unwritten rules of free rounds: in New York, every fourth round is free. He didn’t believe me but soon saw that was most certainly the case. Sure if you’re in a crowded bar or you’re a dick to the bartender or bounce back in forth between different drink-slingers that won’t always work, but it does for the most part.

Now we weren’t on our fourth drink by any means but we’d already spent a lot of money, had shown some nice rapport with the bartender, proven we knew our way around a glass of Scotch, and, well, fuck, it ain’t like he owns the booze.

He returned with a bottle of Scott’s Selection’s Royal Brackla 1976. 1976 as in the year it was bottled. I’d never heard of it but he explained that it was one of the more prominent single malts that is combined with other singles to make the blended Blue Label. Sounded good to me, and the price on the menu for the Highlands region whiskey was something north of $40.

He gave us a one-ounce pour but with such potency that was more than enough to last for a solid half-hour of sipping, just barely touching your lips to the liquor and allowing it sizzle them as it entered your face and shooshed down your gullet with an explosion of warming flavors. Oakiness and cherry are immediately evident, with a sweet maltiness, and perhaps even some vanilla and melon. I wouldn’t dare call it “drinkable,” but for something so complex and potent, goddamn was it smooth. Went down nice and easy and I’ve got to say I enjoyed it more than any glass of Blue I’ve ever had. The bartender confirmed that most people feel the same way. The more single malts I drink, the less I enjoy the softer blendeds.

The Scotch was older than me and much better too. With a firm handshake we thanked the bartender for the free round, left him a hefty tip, and then stole the sissy sixty-year-olds’ jobs and trophy wives.

No, that’s not true, but it would have been a great end to the story. Instead I went home and probably drunkenly updated my facebook page or something stupid like that.

A+

Port Old Viscosity

September 24th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Port, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: Strong Ale

10.5% ABV from a bomber

Much like Da Vinci had the Medicis and Samuel Johnson had Lord Chesterfield, I too have patrons that provide me with the necessary supplies to carry out my artistry. Recently, a few of my patrons–a married couple–were up in Seattle for a brief vacation and to catch the Oklahoma/Washington football tilt.

I was elated when they returned home with numerous Port and Lost Abbey offerings and quickly asked if they had plans for the weekend. Seeing that they didn’t I all but forced them to invite me over for some hifalutin beer samplings. And I use the term “samplings” in the same loose way that a chain restaurant calls a four feet in diameter plate covered in greasy foods a “sampler.”

Arriving over at their place* I was overwhelmed by all the goods they had brought back to New York. I had to contemplate long and hard the batting order for the night’s drinking. I was most intrigued by the Old Viscosity, a bourbon-barrel aged supposed-strong ale. My friends were most frightened by this brew so we all had to warm up with a few batting practice beers first (final baseball metaphor I swear!). Two of which were the new Budweiser American Ale which I had picked up for a combined $6.29 across the street. I chuckled to see the pricing label from the Pike Place Market store still on the Old Viscosity: $5.99. And why do people continue to drink macro shit?!

The Port beer poured a ton darker and (no shit) viscous than I had expected, more like a stout than a strong ale, even a Herculean-in-strength strong ale. And the taste was stylistically perplexing as well. No wonder, even Port admits they’re trying to trick us! From their grammatically-fucked-up website:

“Not your Dad’s Wimpy 30 Weight” is how our original label used to describe this massive chewy and thick beer. Code named by our brewers-”The Big Black Nasty,” this is monstrous dark ale is brewed to no particular style. Thick and sludgy like oil from the crankcase of a wheat threshing combine, Old Viscosity blurs the boundaries of Porter, Stout, Old Ale and Barleywines.

At first I mostly tasted coffee, wood, and a bit of chocolate, much like a good Russian imperial stout. Being such a bourbon freak I was a bit miffed that it wasn’t as initially prominent as I had hoped for. This beer is very alcoholic in taste which is something I love but which I’m afraid many won’t. As the Old Viscosity warmed due to my drinking partners’ fear and neglect, the bourbon started to shine through quite a bit and I began to really love this one. It’s an asskicker for sure, and polishing off a bomber by yourself might be considered an act of personal euthanasia in some cities (please check your local municipality’s ordinances), but goddamn is this a fine beer. Highly recommended–a home run (OK, I lied).

A

*For you many Vice Blogger stalkers out there that blow up pictures of the beers, trying to see what is behind them in order to create an idea of the apartment I live in to aid in your perverted slash fiction fantasies about you and me, know that I was not in my home for this drink-a-thon. Believe me, my home has nothing nice in it.

Schell Stout

September 23rd, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: August Schell, Country: America, Grade: C regular, Style: Stout

5% from a bomber

FROM THE READERS’ MAILBAG:
(in response to the pictures in yesterday’s Brooklyner Weisse review)

Question: When you go out in public are you undercover? Like Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent? Or do people know you are the World Famous Vice Blogger? I ask because you are always taking pics of the beers you drink. I am sure people see you and inquire WTF are you doing? What is your answer to them? Do you tell the truth? Or make up a story? And do they think you are weird for taking the pics? Do bartenders think you are taking pics of them? And did the people at the party think? If I saw some kid I didnt know at my party taking pics of beers in my fridge I would punt his ass out the window. Why? Because I wouldnt understand what he was doing, and when you dont understand others or they are different from you, then you are supposed to turn violent toward them. Intolerance is in the Bible so you know it is the right thing to do.

Anyway maybe this question is better answered in a beer review.

First of all, I have taken pics of the inside of your fridge before, Sal. And soon enough I will be posting on this very blog all those images I snuck of the Ziploc-ed severed body parts you are hiding in there. But I do agree with your theories on intolerance, good looking out.

When I began this blog, I used to be nervous about taking pictures of my beers while in public and would try to do it quickly, surreptitiously, and inconspicuously. Being that I am not a skilled photographer, I’m often drinking in dark places, oh, and drunk too, it sometimes was tough to quickly pull off an acceptable, publishable photo. Not to mention, I refuse to lug a camera around to the bars so I have to use my phone’s camera, which, if you’ve noticed, is not the most high-definition. Especially in dark places where I’m forced to put on the “night” switch and then hold the camera completely still for literally like 10 seconds to get a clear photograph. I feel like I’m using a Daguerreotype camera it’s so goddamn slow.

Occasionally, bartenders or other customers, party goers, or even my dates would catch me and brusquely wonder in confusion, “What are you doing?”

Initially, I tried to blow it off with a chuckle and a mumbled “Oh, nothing, don’t worry. I just have a stupid website where I write about beers…”

I wouldn’t even have a chance to finish my blow-off explanation before I’d hear “Cooooool!!!” Everyone loved it! The first bartender to “catch” me was so impressed he immediately started bringing me free glasses of Scotch, bourbon, and “secret” bottles of beer his bar had stored that I just had to try and then write about. Fellow customers with boring lives of their own immediately had something interesting to discuss with me. As did my dates. In fact, the only place that has ever reacted negatively to me taking a picture of a beer was once when I tried to do it while in Whole Foods, which inexplicably has a no-photography policy (”But how ‘r’ ma’ friends back home in Tupelo, gonna’ believe I actually went to one a’ dem fancy ore-gan-ick supermarkets?!”)

So now when I need to take a snap of my beer in public, I pretty much just proudly announce to any one in ear shot, “Excuse me, I need to take a picture of my beer for my blog.” And, usually, those around me stop everything, wanting to assist in the composition, lighting, and set-up for my beer shots.

Such was the case at the infamous party where the Brooklyner pic was taken as a fellow guest thought an in-the-fridge photo would be a unique composition. He was right.

Nevertheless, a good majority of pics, such as the one that kicks of this review, are taken in my home where no one can make fun of me except for the ghost that lives under my bed.

Of my first two career Schell beers, one was a solid success and one was a marginal success. This would be my third to try and the one I was most leery about. You see, stouts are always a risky proposition to me. When it comes to IPAs or pale ales or even barley wines, I still feel like I can enjoy a lackluster one. Of course I want a masterpiece every time, but I have no probably quaffing mediocre to bad ones and even finding a thing or two nice to say about them. That is not true with stouts. For whatever reason with stouts, if I don’t get a masterpiece or a near-masterpiece, I all but hate the beer. Thus, I always drinks stouts with tons of trepidation.

The 5% ABV worried me immediately. The stouts I’ve grown to love are American-style “imperial” asskickers, often so potent they make bourbons blush. This English stout was one of the least alcoholic stouts I can ever recall having, aside from, you know, Guinness.

Nevertheless, the pour was promising. Black and milky with the ever so smallest hint of a head. Smells of dark coffee, roastedness, and burntness. Everything seemed to be in order so far.

I’d like to claim that I tasted even the faintest hints of coffee, but I didn’t. It simply tasted smoky and borderline meaty to me, and, I must admit, a bit like inhaling some flatulence. Not much flavor, complexity, or kick to it. No carbonation or hops feel either, as to be expected. A slight creamy finish redeems the beer somewhat and it is indeed very drinkable. When I have them, I usually make stouts my last brew of the evening and only drink them on a somewhat empty stomach, but this one could be handled any time.

There’s not much else to say. I didn’t particularly love this one. However, admittedly, the more I drank it the more palatable it became and the more I like it. But I never loved it and wouldn’t have it again.

C

Shiner 99 Munich Style Helles Lager

September 23rd, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Spoetzl, Country: America, Grade: B plus, Style: Helles

5% ABV bottled

Believe it or not (DAD!) there are quite a few 50- and 60-somethings that like my blog. One is my friend’s father, a venerable fermented and distilled beverages connoisseur in his own right. And, when my friend was down visiting him in Texas recently, he made sure to send her back to NYC with one of his favorite local beers as a reviewable gift for the Vice Blogger. Thanks! Most appreciated.

Just like Boulevard in Kansas, Abita in Louisiana, Yuengling in PA, and Corona in latently homosexual frat houses, Shiner is an overrated local favorite. None of those are bad breweries producing bad beers (except for Corona of course), don’t get me wrong, but they are not as good of beers as the locals seem to think they are. And proud Texans are the worst when it comes to Shiner. Much like drawing a picture of Muhammad, saying God’s Hebrew name aloud, or taking your kid to a doctor if you’re a Xenu worshipper, not LOVING Shiner is akin to blasphemy in the Republic.

I’ve had most of the regular Shiner releases–admittedly several years ago–and I recall liking all of them, hating none, while likewise adoring none. Nevertheless, I was excited to try this special release, commemorating Spoetzl’s 99th anniversary (congrats!). A gorgeous label, very slick.

A malty smell dominates and indeed the tastes are of a crisp, light maltiness, some citrus flavors, and a slightly bitter finish. Very drinkable and refreshing. A good summer beer I probably shouldn’t have waited til a brisk September night to drink. Spoetzl has produced a great attempt of the famed Munich helles lager style and it is probably just my bias against this type of beer that hurts my personal grading of it. But helles fans will no doubt love this one, the second best American version I’ve had aside from Brooklyn’s Brewmasters Reserve effort of last year.

B+

Brooklyner Weisse

September 23rd, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Wheat (Hefeweizen)

5.1% ABV bottled

The other day I went on a date with a girl named Cecilia. She didn’t break my heart, she didn’t shake my confidence (daily!), nor did we make love in the afternoon up in my bedroom (more like 3 AM in her living room.)

This got me to realizing that I’ve dated quite a bit of girls named after famous songs.

There was Desiree who was not very sweet and a diehard feminist. She stormed out of a restaurant mid-meal when I told her that I didn’t like any female musicians. Once she was gone I remembered that I’m a huge Debbie Harry fan. How could I have forgotten my “Sunday Girl”?

Rita wasn’t a meter maid (she worked in securities I believe) nor was she lovely. She kicked me out of an all-Indian Halloween bash she was hosting in her midtown high-rise when I got drunk on some “witches brew” punch and threw an hors d’oeuvre tray out the window and into her courtyard.

Allison never let any of my friends take off her party dress–so far as I know–but she didn’t have a problem with my pals constantly goofing on her. She wasn’t very bright and I don’t think she got their sarcastic jokes.  She’s married now and has two kids last I heard.

And when I finally got to live my lame dream of dating a girl with the last name of Brown, I never got the chance to meet her mother and subtly say in a heavily accented British accent, “Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a luv-ly daughter.” It didn’t make a bloke feel so proud.

There was Eleanor who I met just last week. Gee, I thought she was swell but she thought I was…drunk. Fair enough. She missed out on getting to be my pride and joy, et cetera.

And finally Michelle, who was decidedly not ma belle, but rather one big fucking cunt. McCartney would have struggled to write fawning lyrics about her, I’m certain of it.

If you ever go out with a girl with the same name as a song, especially a super famous one written by Paul & Art, best not to ever bring that up. She’s heard it plenty of times and doesn’t find it amusing. But you can still snicker in your head about it. And, your relationship is going to be nowhere close to as interesting, ideal, and romantic as the eponymous song. Perhaps that’s why there doesn’t seem to be any good songs of recent vintage named after women.  Life’s just more complex now than it was in the 1960s.

Cecilia took me to a party her friends were throwing. People might think it weird that I’d go to a party full of strangers for a first date but I kinda agree with wise Costanza.

GEORGE: I’m going out with her tomorrow, she said she had some errands to run.

JERRY: That’s a date?

GEORGE: What’s the difference?

She’s quite a bit younger than me, as are her friends, so I didn’t think for a second there would be anything decent to drink at the bash. I was quite wrong, and a tear fell from my ear when I saw Brooklyner fully stocked in the fridge.

I’ve never been a huge wheat beer fan as I think they are generally uninteresting, simplistic, and boring, but I’ve always loved this one. And when I see it on tap at NYC bars, I can’t help but grab a few dozen of them. This was my first time to drink it bottled and it was just as swell.

A great smell with a refreshing yeasty taste. Slight banana flavor, citrus esters, and even hints of bubble gum. And, of course, some full-bodied wheat. A slight sour finish but incredibly drinkable though that doesn’t mean it is lacking in potency or complexity. This ain’t no watered-down hefeweizen. I absolutely adore this beer. Have been drinking it for years and will continue to indefinitely.

So in summation…

Jubilation, I loved this beer again.  (I wanted to finish this entry by again paying homage to “Cecilia” by bastardizing its lyrics.  Eh.  That’s the best I could do.)

A-

WORKS CITED:

*”Cecilia,” Simon & Garfunkel from “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” Columbia Records 1970
*”Desiree,” Neil Diamond, 1977
*”Lovely Rita,” The Beatles from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” Capitol 1967
*”Allison,” Elvis Costello from “My Aim is True,” Columbia Records 1977
*”Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” Herman’s Hermits, 1965
*”Elenore,” The Turtles from “The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands,” White Whale Records 1968
*”Michelle,” The Beatles from “Rubber Soul,” EMI 1965