8.5% ABV on tap
When I was a prepubescent I wanted to meet my favorites sportsmen, guys like Darryl Strawberry and Charles Barkley and Barry Sanders, and get their autographs on balls and cards. When I became a pubescent I wanted to meet my favorite rock stars and learn why women loved them so. When I was in college I wanted to meet my favorite filmmakers and writers and ask them about their craft, perhaps learn a thing or two. But now that I’m thirty, I simply want to meet my brewing idols to thank them for making the sugary poison that enhances my life. And by “enhances,” I mean gets me drunk and causes me to do funny things.
Luckily, yesterday I would get to meet my two biggest beer idols, Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head and Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery–coincidentally the two most-reviewed breweries here on the Vice Blog–both making appearances at Blind Tiger and Rattle ‘N’ Hum respectively to celebrate New York Craft Beer Week.
I headed to Blind Tiger in the early afternoon to beat the rush but soon the place had become the typical Star Trek Convention-esque scene like most big beer geek events. Men either incredibly lithe or incredibly burly, no one weighing anywhere in between (i.e. “normal”), all hirsute of face, in vintage t-shirts and Rivers Cuomo spectacles. I came alone and, with no one to whisper mocking barbs to, was lucky enough to quickly find a compadre, the only girl at the event who didn’t have a look on her face of “I can’t believe my boyfriend dragged me to this nerdfest/I can’t believe he gets this excited for beer/I can’t believe I fuck this loser/Hey, is that the Vice Blogger over there?!” She had shockingly come under her own cognizance.
With a full slate of Dogfish Head beers on tap, I sipped on some I’d had before, some I hadn’t. I enjoyed:
Raison D’Extra (2008)–This 18% amped up version of Raison D’Etre is maybe the most boozy beer I’ve ever had. But I like that! Dried fruits, spices, strong malts, and an oaky vanilla finish, this brew pummels your throat like a bourbon neat. A-
Black & Blue (2007)–Not nearly as fruity as I expected, nor boozy, especially compared to their great Fort, I found this one light and refreshing. A sure “panty dropper” for the ladies as it’s a surprising 11%. Not sure if aging does much for this one though. B+
120 Minute IPA and World Wide Stout (2007)–Though I’d had both ABV-asskickers (21% and 18% respectively) bottled numerous times, I’d had neither of these on tap before and was most excited. 120 Minute is a masterpiece any way you slice it, a true Hall of Famer in the beer world, and it was a pleasure to finally try it on tap where the hops come through more and make it far less the de facto barleywine it usually is. As for World Wide Stout, I’ve always liked, but never loved “young” bottles of it. Found them lacking in complexity and far too boozy. But aged for a few years and on tap, this stout becomes a masterpiece that can surely be mentioned in the same breath as the other imperial stout big dogs of America. both A+
Halfway through my World Wide Stout, the beer geeks started squealing like little girls do when a Jonas Brother enters the room, signaling to me that Sam had clearly arrived. Perchance, I happened to be the first person he talked to and the most congenial man chatted it up with me for a good five minutes about his upcoming Life and Life collaboration with Sierra Nevada. He was very excited for its November release, as am I.
(I was also excited to meet a surprise guest–pictured above with me and Sam–Achouffe brewmaster Chris Bauweraerts.)
After Sam moved on to placate some other geeks and avoid getting lice from their unkempt, greasy beards, someone remarked, “Wow, he was really nice.”
Uh, yeah, he makes and drinks beer for a living. I’d be the nicest motherfucker in the world too if that was my life.
By now the scene at Blind Tiger was getting unruly with pencil-necked, raggedy-armed men gushing over Sam and making the line to get a drink at the bar at least a half-dozen deep on all sides, so I left to hotfoot it thirty-some-odd blocks north to Rattle ‘N’ Hum to meet beer legend #2.
After four straight double-digit-ABV Dogfish Head beer, I probably needed a respite, but audentes fortuna iuvat, fortune favors the bold, and any how, low ABV beers kinda suck.
Rattle ‘N’ Hum had a full slate of Brooklyn brews and I was stunned to see one I’d never had before, a DIPA, Brooklyn Blast Pale Ale, available on both cask and tap. I opted to try both. You know, science experiment reasons.
And wow, what a great beer! An intense smell of pine and grapefruit, a wet and juicy hops taste with just a tad more sweetness on cask than tap. Complex with just the right blend of maltiness and bitterness. This might be the most “West Coast”-style IPA I’ve found on the East Coast as most of our DIPAs tend to gravitate more toward the malty sweet barleywine variety (see: Southern Tier Unearthly or Dogfish Head 90 Minute, both divine though, don’t get me wrong).
I ask, how is Blast not more “famous”? It certainly deserves mention in the same breath with not simply the east coast’s best DIPAs, but all of America’s. I sure wish this was a more common find in these here parts for it is truly superb. Either on tap or cask, and I don’t typically love cask IPAs mind you, I could drink it all fucking day long. A
Relaxed and bordering on post-coital after downing two separate Blasts, I was excited to see Garrett in the house and made my way over to shake his hand and cajole him into a “Can we smile big and pretend we like and know each other?” picture. He kindly obliged.
He also gave me the scoop on his new bacon beer (none of us hoi polloi are ever gonna get to try it) and his upcoming $350 pairing dinner at Per Se (none of us hoi polloi could ever possibly afford it) before I had to be escorted away by security so that he could get back to enjoying a slider. (Garrett Oliver eats sliders?!?!?!)
Besides meeting Garrett, though, I had come to Rattle ‘N’ Hum with one other major goal in mind, having one of the world’s first tastes of his new Manhattan Project, a beer still of this second without even a single review on Beer Advocate.
Lately Garrett has become obsessed with using his Brewmasters Reserve series to make experimental beers that taste like other, atypical to beer, things. And, with the Manhattan being his favorite cocktail, he was curious if he could make a beer that tastes like that amazing concoction. It’s by far my favorite cocktail too so this was right in my wheelhouse and I expected to make a mess in my pants over it.
A rye beer aged in Rittenhouse Rye whiskey barrels and then infused with botanicals from sweet vermouth and bitters, this beer smells spot-on like a glorious Manhattan and the taste is right there too. It is a most interesting execution, something maybe only Garrett could come up with. Really boozy, you can feel the rye. A little too sweet in a cough-drop type way, but that’s a minor quibble. A slightly uneven blending, with a tart cherry finish, this isn’t quite as seamlessly smooth as I’d like and I’d probably enjoy a thicker mouthfeel. Or, maybe, I’d just enjoy a straight up 100 proof Manhattan. Naw, this beer is great, a truly sui generis offering. I hope it’s around for a long time to come. It’s a beer I’m gonna remember for a long time.