“I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for the events of the night of the 23rd. I’m not accustomed to drinking alcohol.” –Max Fischer, “Rushmore”
I woke up near noon, still completely dressed in what I’d worn the previous evening. Jacket, shoes, jeans with wallet, cell phone, keys still in it, everything. My head pulsated in pain. Not surprising considered I’d celebrated my birthday the previous night at Rattle ‘n’ Hum, chasing pints of 13% Bourbon County Stout with shots of Irish whiskey in a perpetual Mobius strip of aggressive drinking. But even worse than the pain in my head, was the pain in my gut. What exactly had happened twelve hours previous? Had I scarfed down too many orders of fried calamari and Buffalo wings? Yeah, probably, but that wouldn’t cause this kind of pain. A pain so intense it hurt for me to sit upright and killed when I tried to piss.
Oh right, I’d entered myself in an impromptu gut-punching contest Friday night.
Seems that after drinking steadily from happy hour til midnight, after all the women and responsible men had left my party and the bar, leaving only a quintet of degenerates remaining, someone, probably me, had gotten the wise idea to start a quasi-Fight Club in our little corner and we began exchanging a series of gut punches with each other. I’d never done something like this before, never even had such a desire to do something like this before, but I’ve never been accused of not having strokes of genius when too lit up to remember them the next day. And, this gut-punching stroke, did I only barely recall engaging in.
I have a long history of alienating friends, ruining relationships, losing my dignity, and flat out humiliating myself on my birthday. It’s an annual tradition. But in this case it seemed like none of the above had occurred. I spent the day writhing in pain, staying supine, and texting with my friends to recount the night.
How many gut punches had we exchanged I wondered? About fifteen, recalled Tony.
How hard were we hitting each other? About 75% our maximum punching power, thought Graig.
And why the fuck weren’t we getting tossed out of the bar for such childish shenanigans? Because Rattle ‘n’ Hum is the most awesome bar in the world, thought I. Though, honestly, because my friends were probably racking up a combined grand in drinking tab. Never let any one tell you that money can’t buy you happiness. Or the ability to have an impromptu gut-punching contest in a heretofore civilized establishment.
But apparently the night wasn’t completely peaches ‘n’ cream at Rattle ‘n’ Hum. Sal chipped in that eventually, after about a half hour of gut-punching, some guy, en route to smoke a butt outside, had told us to cut it out. And apparently, I had told said guy where to stick it.
Oh God! Who was this man? A bartender? A manager? Hopefully not…the owner!
Typically, I wouldn’t care. Wealthy Charles Foster Kane wasn’t worried that his beloved newspaper was losing him one million dollars a year because, as he noted, “at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place…in 60 years.” And I’ve long realized that I can get 86ed from a New York bar this week, and one next week, and one the week after that, and at the rate of fifty-two 86ings per year, I’d have to move to a new drinking town…in 60 years. But the circumstances were different here because Rattle ‘n’ Hum is my favorite bar in the world.
Now normally I’d just lay low for awhile til my statute of drunken limitations had expired. But, in this case, that simply wouldn’t work. You see, just three days later, Rattle ‘n’ Hum was having one of the greatest beer-drinking events in recent memory as the esteemed Tampa brewery Cigar City was coming to town to unleash more than their full lineup of beers. There’s no fucking way I was going to miss this event.
I consulted with my friends. Who exactly had I mouthed off to and exactly how mouthy had I gotten? Was I truly 86ed? Would I be recognized if and when I returned to the bar?
“You’re not exactly the kind of guy that people forget, Aaron,” noted Graig. I don’t think that was a compliment.
After fretting all day, I had no choice. I would have to attend the Cigar City event incognito.
In preparation, I shaved an uneven goatee into my scruff, wore some particularly shabby clothing (which is saying something for me, I normally dress like a hobo), put on a Syracuse cap pulled low as possible over my eyes and sharp eyebrows (my most prominent and memorable features), and even wore my nerdy reading glasses that never leave the house, just to have another thing blocking my face. Of course, I had to fly solo, I couldn’t risk returning to the scene of the crime with any accomplices.
I felt nervous when I entered the fairly empty bar, especially when I saw the afternoon’s bartender was the very same kind Irish lass we’d had at my birthday. I couldn’t recall if I’d been offensive to her as well. I walked with an intentionally unconfident slouch, my head meekly drooping to hide myself further. I looked down at the bar, never making eye contact, feigning intense nervousness as the bartender approached and slid a menu in front of me.
“What can I getcha, hon?”
My ruse had seemed to work. She didn’t recognize me from Adam. (If Adam was the name of one of the countless beer nerds that would be infestating the bar soon enough. Damn, perhaps I should have stuffed a pillow under my shirt to create a faux-beer gut. I didn’t need my flat belly giving me away.)
I decided to open my drinking with probably the manliest, not to mention priciest, flight of beers ever assembled, pictured above. A straight boozy stout quartet of Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout, Hunahpu’s imperial Stout, and their bourbon-barreled counterparts.
Marshall Zhukov’s Imperial Stout
This 11% ABV brew is bursting with distinct flavors of coffee, chocolate, toffee, and molasses. A rich syrupy mouthfeel and great carbonation, this is an awesome effort. (A)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Marshall Zhukov’s
I can’t believe I’m saying this, and I’m not sure I’ve ever said this in my entire life as I’ve long stood by the reasoning that awesome beer + bourbon barrel aging = awesomer beer but in this case I thought the incredible booziness here overwhelmed the subtler flavors. Or maybe I’m just becoming a little pussy in my old age. I’d love to try this one with a little age on it but even hot and young it’s quite good. (A-)
Hunahpu’s Mayan Chocolate Imperial Stout
Currently resting at #38 on Beer Advocate’s Top 100 beers on earth after an amazingly meteoric rise, this 11% beer takes a base of Marshall Zhukov’s and ages it on pasillo and ancho peppers as well as vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa nibs, giving it a nice little spiciness with a surprisingly sweet finish, and making it taste truly like no other imperial stout around. As a huge fan of Latin spices, I absolutely adored this effort, and, for me, it was my clear stout winner of the day. (A)
Bourbon Barrel Aged Hunahpu’s
Just like the bourbon-barrel Marshall Zhukov’s I think the intense bourbonness of this effort blocks out the awesome spices and makes it a less complex and enjoyable beer. Having said that, it’s still quite good. (A-)
After my first flight, I thought, let’s see, twenty-four total Cigar City beers available, if I keep flighting in out, I could knocked off the full lineup in only six total plate appearances. Flight #2 coming up!
This sounded like an intriguing premise, an IPA that tastes just like a Creamsicle, but I doubted the execution was possible. I was so wrong. This straight out tastes like a bitter IPA backed by the orange creamy goodness of a popsicle. Amazingly drinkable and quaffable. (A-)
This standard IPA with cedar and lavender added smells like a sack of weed and tastes like a flower garden. And that’s a compliment. Absolutely delicious and unique. (A)
Humider Series Juniper IPA
I’d been floored by Cigar City’s Jai Alai IPA aged on cedar so I was excited to try yet another IPA from their exciting Humidor Series, and this was just as good. Like drinking a box of wood. (A)
Brandy Barrel Winter Warmer
I honestly ordered this one just to fill out the foursome, but it absolutely floored me. The normal Warmer Winter Winter Warmer–an old ale I still hadn’t had at this point so I can’t compare–aged on Laird’s apple brandy, this would end up being my favorite beer of the evening and one of the best beers I’ve had year to date. Silky, syrupy, and sweet but not cloying, this reminded me of J.W. Lee’s delicious Harvest Ale Calvados, but even boozier and more delicious. A huge winner. (A+)
At this point I was getting pretty drunk and began fretting I would soon break into Leonard-Duran gut-punching numero dos. I really had to focus and say “No mas” as there is surely some demon inside of me that now likes me to get punched in the gut. I had brought a paperback and had planned to quickly drink my beers with my head ducked into the book, but, ironically, I kept finding myself talking to people over the two hours I was there and even made two new friends.
I now realized that having all six flights was probably out, but I figured I could squeeze in two more. Unfortunately, their pricey cask selections, of which they had several, were not available in flight form so I had to go with full pours. The remaining beers I slugged:
Double Cream (cask)
When I prepared my drinking order the night before I’d flagged this 9% strong cream ale as one I was particularly excited to try, but its corn and honey sweetness simply didn’t fully deliver for me and it would go down as the worst (relative term) beer I had for the day. (B+)
Mango IPA (cask)
This IPA loaded with dry hops, mango acai tea, and a hint of lavender was my third favorite effort of the day. As it warms the intense mango flavors come through nicely. Flawless mouthfeel and drinkability. Amazing. One of my favorite IPAs of the year. (A)
Maduro Oatmeal Raisin Cookie
After the mild failure of Brooklyn’s far more ballyhooed attempt at making a straight-up cookie tasting beer I didn’t expect any one could execute in that regard. I was wrong. This brown ale does taste just like an oatmeal cookie as the tart raisiness comes through nicely. (A-/B+)
Cuban Espresso Maduro
Wow, just like the previous beer, this 5.5% brown ale aged on Naviera Coffee Mills #3 Espresso blend with chicory tastes like a flat out iced coffee. Intense and smoky, simply delicious if you’re a coffee nut. (A-)
At this point, the major-league beer nerds starting filing in, wielding their note-taking pens like rapiers and setting up their cameras on tripods (tripods!) to take pictures and videos of the scene…and I knew I had to make my exit, stage left, before I caught anything.
I had twelve of the beers, coupled with three others I’d had in the past, meaning I’d tried fifteen of the twenty-four available. A 0.625 batting average. Not bad and I hope to some how, some day, try the ones I missed, especially their Peach and Papaya IPAs which just sound phenomenal as well as the standard Warmer Winter.
Oh, and I’m putting myself on a self-imposed one month ban from Rattle ‘n’ Hum.