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VSK

November 19th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 4 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Birra del Borgo, Brewer: Dogfish Head, Brewer: Kuhnhenn, Brewer: North Coast, Brewer: Sixpoint, Country: America, Country: Italy

I began preparing for Blind Tiger’s VSK–their annual Very Special Keg event in which they roll out some of the oldest and rarest beer they have hiding in their cellar–a full week in advance in just four easy steps:

1.  I began growing some bad facial, a prerequisite for admittance into any hardcore beer geek event.  I considered a burly unkempt hockey play-off beard, perhaps some mutton chops, but ultimately settled on a patchy goatee.

2.  Tried to find a friend to accompany me.  With a 4:00 PM start time, a surefire paucity of women, and a most definite sweaty stinky crowd, no one agreed to join me.  Obviously.

3.  Began examining the VSK beer list to make a batting order.  With so many sought-after beers to try, I needed a game plan.

I first eliminated the need to try certain beers for a variety of reasons.

Allagash Interlude ‘07 (delicious, but have had numerous times)
Bear Republic Apex ‘08
Blue Point 10th Anniversary IPA
(readily available)
Brooklyn Backbreaker (cask)
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout ‘04
Brouwerij De Regenboog Wostyntje ‘08
(never heard of–too lazy to look up on BA)
Captain Lawrence Nor’Easter (delicious, but have had numerous times)
Chelsea Bourbon Aged Imperial Mild
Del Borgo/Dogfish Head My Antonia
Dogfish 120 ‘08 (via Randall)
(never had on Randall, but have 120 countless times)
Dogfish Pangea (never really enjoyed it)
Goose Island Demolition (had before)
JW Lees Harvest Ale aged in a Calvados Cask (Wooden Pin) (delicious, but had before)
Kuhnhenn All Hallows
Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barleywine
Lagunitas Barrel Aged Ruben and the Jets
(didn’t really dig the non-barrel-aged)
North Coast Old Rasputin 10th Anniversary
Rockies Fresh Trak
(ain’t never heard of it)
Rogue Chatoe Rogue Wet Hop

Sierra Nevada Limb and Life
(can’t wait to try, but readily available)
Sixpoint Gorilla Porter
Smuttynose Big A IPA ‘07
(readily available)
Southampton Saison
Stone Vertical Epic ‘06

Next, I tried to make a batting order:

MUSTS

1.  Southampton Saison
2.  Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine (long on my Most Wanted List)
3.  My Antonia
4.  Old Rasputin X
5.  Sixpoint Gorilla Porter

MAYBES, ASSUMING I WASN’T TOO WASTED

6.  Brooklyn Backbreaker (intrigued, but thought I could roll the dice that other bars would eventually get this new release)
7.  Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2004 (have had delicious aged BCS countless times, but it never hurts to have again–still, not a priority)
8.  Bear Republic Apex

I arrived early, but still not early enough to get a seat as many geeks appeared to have camped out there overnight.  Wise to have grown my facial hair, my patchy goatee allowed to me to move with relative ease amongst these people, sliding like an eel in between beer guts aplenty, the geeks never the wiser about a non-nerd being on the premises.  If an outsider had poked his head in the door, he would have thought a bad beard convention was having a weekly meeting.  Of course, there was one, perhaps two, females in the house, save the bartenders, and luckily I was able to use my masculine wiles to seduce one for her barstool.

Savvily ordering half-pints, I was able to sample a ton more beers than I expected too.  And, here are my rankings in order*:

1.  Dogfish Head 120 Minute (via Randall)–I hadn’t even expected to order this one but, luckily, eventually a friend joined me and when he ordered one, I had to sneak a sip.  Good lord!  So glad I did as this was far and away the best beer of the night.  I’d long considered 120 a masterpiece, but Randall makes it even better.  Silky and boozy like a liqueur, about as packed with flavor as a beer can possibly get.  After loving 90 Minute via Randall as well, I’m beginning to think that crazy Randall machine could even turn Bud Light Lime into a masterpiece.  (A+)

2.  Kuhnhenn Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine–This was the beer I most coveted and it didn’t disappoint.  Absolutely delicious, packed with sweet caramel and hints of vanilla, nice and syrupy on the mouth, but, quite frankly a tad hot.  Could use a little age to smooth it out.  Whatever the case, Kuhnhenn has quickly become one of my favorite breweries, because they make beers the way I like them:  boozy.  (A)

3.  Sixpoint Gorilla Warfare Porter–A local beer I’d unfortunately never gotten to try, it was delicious.  Packed with rich coffee but not too roasted in taste, nice chocolate sweetness.  (A)

4.  Old Rasputin X–I’d, of course, long enjoyed the “regular” Old Rasputin.  And, I’d had the fortune to try their 12th Anniversary Rasputin earlier this year, but this two-year old keg of X beat them both.  Bourbon-barreled, and on nitro tap, this was quite creamy with sweet tastes of whiskey and vanilla, almost like a Jack and Coke.  The smell was world-class, better than the taste, and I have to give a minor debit for being a little thin on the mouth.  (A)

5.  My Antonia**–I’d honestly never heard of this collaboration between Dogfish Head and the Italian brewery Birra del Borgo, and even though I don’t really dig pilsners, I was informed this one was exceedingly rare, so, you know..sign me up!  A hoppy aroma but with a bready taste, this one went down quite nice and easily.  (A-)

6.  Brooklyn Backbreaker–I never miss a new Brooklyn release, and this cask offering mightily excited me.  I’d heard nothing about it and, heck, there still isn’t even a BA entry for it!  So I’m not quite sure what style it’s ‘posed to be, but I’d have to guess it’s a…an…English IPA maybe????  I don’t know, but it was quite nice.  Smooth and hoppy, with a great little sweetness.  Perfect for a cask offering.  (A-)

7.  Kuhnhenn All Hallows–Maybe our palates were all screwy by the time we had this one, but both my friend and I agreed that it tasted more like a slice of apple pie than the slice of pumpkin pie you’d expect from a pumpkin beer.  Not a bad thing though.  Cinnamony, but not overspiced like many pumpkin ales, the fruitiness of it was sweet with just a hint of sourness, again, more akin to a golden apple than a pumpkin.  Alas.  (A-)

8.  Bear Republic Apex–By this portion of the evening I was well into my “maybes, assuming I wasn’t too wasted portion of the evening.”  I was probably too wasted, but a Bear Republic IPA has NEVER steered me wrong.  And this is another splendid one.  Piney and bitter, fragrant as hell, but nicely-balanced, definitely deserves a place alongside Hop Rod Rye and Racer X.  (A-)

9.  Magic Hat Sour Notion–Probably the only beer I didn’t love during the evening, this fairly lame attempt at a wild ale, was still quite quaffable, just not particularly sour.  (B)

Afterwards, wasted on some high-ABV shit, my friend and I ventured over to the Times Square Toys ‘r’ Us to freak out tourist youngsters, admire McFarlane sports action figures, and purchase “Modern Warfare 2.”  I’m as shitty at shooter games drunk as I am sober.

*Unfortunately, Southampton Saison was not available.

**INT. BLIND TIGER — NIGHT

The bar is loud.

ME:  I’ll have a My Antonia.

BARKEEP:  Huh?

ME:  MY ANTONIA!

BARKEEP:  WHAT?!

ME:  LIKE THE BOOK!  MY!  ANTONIA!!!!!

BARKEEP:  There’s a book?

Stay in school, kiddos.  Or, actually don’t.  I wish I’d dropped out of school, didn’t know about Willa Cather, and was bartending at Blind Tiger.

Old Rasputin XII

July 28th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 9 Comments | Filed in Brewer: North Coast, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: Stout

Craft Beer Benders

It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile. Nat, it’s the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.
–Ray Milland, “The Lost Weekend”

When I own a brewery we’ll make a beer called Methadone-ale.  A clean and near-flavorless low ABV session beer packed with healing nutrients which will help ween a man off the shit coursing through his body from a lost day, a lost weekend, a lost week of aggressive imbibing.

I’m finally free after what ultimately ended up being an eleven-day craft beer bender.  Through a confluence of events, parties, friends visiting, friends to visit, dates, meetings, and just general ennui, I was forced, forced I say!, to drink heavily for all these days.  Beginning in Philadelphia two weeks ago at the legendary Monk’s, ending just yesterday at Union Hall in Brooklyn, and knocking off along the way several states, cities, many famous watering holes, and many more famous beers, I finally have a respite right now.  My body is in pain though.  My mind is putty.  I must have lost five to ten IQ points in the time.  I am in full detox mode and it hurts.

We craft beer drinkers like to pretend we aren’t alcoholics, and most of us aren’t, technically, but many of us would be lying to say we aren’t at least drunkards.  Whether intentionally or accidentally.  Luckily, most of the macro drinking world isn’t aware of these facts.

They see a man getting wasted on the cheapest beer in the house, the thriftiest rotgut vodka around, and the sensors go off:  ALCOHOLIC.

They see a man like me slowly sipping a dark and viscous beer out of a chalice, a snifter, and they think: “What a classy young gent.”

If they only knew!

So the alcoholic is absolutely pummeling his body with Bud Lites and Popov vodka and Wild Turkey shots, seeing how fast he can get these into his system, the carcasses of label-peeled beer bottles and sticky shot glasses in his wake, and I’m slowly sipping an Old Rasputin XII.  Taking a good hour at least.  Probably more.  But, naw, he’s no alcoholic they say when they see me.  He’s a “connoisseur.”  I was psyched to locate the what-I-assumed-was-very-rare 12th Anniversary bottling of North Coast’s flagship stout Old Rasputin and I paid mightily for it.  The most expensive bottle of beer I’ve ever bought quite frankly.  Was it worth it?  Eh, perhaps.  Is fermented liquid ever “worth” it?

From what I understand, simply the “normal” and very good Old Rasputin aged in bourbon barrels, this is one delicious stout. However, it simply lacks a little “oomph.”  An ineffable je ne sais quoi to make it an unequivocal classic.  I like really, really boozy, bourbony, bourbon-barreled beers–Goose Island Bourbon County and Brooklyn Black Ops to name two–and this one doesn’t quite have that potency.  But it’s still good and very well made.  Incredibly smooth and silky, chocolately malts with more hints of vanilla than a full-out assault of bourbon and oak, and a nice, tingly little carbonation.  A thinner, less syrupy mouthfeel than I would expect and desire too.  So was it worth it?  Yes.  But only one time I would say.  I would never pay what I paid for it again, unlike other prohibitively highly priced stouts like the aforementioned Black Ops which I’m always happy to make it rain for.*

So how can that man drinking an Old Rasputin XII–a beer we’ve never heard of!–be an alcoholic or a drunkard?!  That man’s refined!

But he probably is one.  Just not one like all the other ones.  Like youse guys.

Differences between a craft beer drunk and a normal drunk:

1.  Price — Even in uneconomical Manhattan, a drunkard can belly up to a barstool at a classic dive like Rudy’s, Desmond’s, Doc Holiday’s, and drink the night away with $6 pitchers, $2 cans, $3 shots.  Even soak the beer up with gratis hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, and the like.  And if he’s friendly with the bartender, which he will be since the bartenders are likewise drunks and drunks are friendly to drunks, quid pro quo–usually–he’ll get out for under a single Andrew Jackson.  Meanwhile, us craft beer alcoholics are cavalierly ordering $50 rare bottles from the back room, “sessioning” with $10 barleywine snifters, and nightcapping with a $12 stout pour at 3 AM.  And for us, the bartenders never seem to knock on the bar, turn over an empty shot glass, and “Next round’s on me!” when you’re throwing back Ommegong Rouge at the Ginger Man.

2.  Speed — Low-brow alcoholics crack me up.  Striving for “nirvana,” drunkenness, yet throwing down cans of low-ABV macro-crap.  As Clay Davis would say, “Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet,” that’s going to take you all night to get buzzed.  Meanwhile, us craft beer drunkards can enter a bar at 5:05 and be wasted by 5:30, well before the happy hour rush, after having only had a pint of Oaked Unearthly and a snifter of Chimay.

3.  The people — You’re a standard alcoholic, you’re hanging with the unsavory hoi polloi of the vomit-soaked dive bar scene.  Fellow belching beerbellies too lit up and full of carbonation to possibly have a clever conversation.  But us beer snobs are in fine wood-panneled establishments, soft jazz playing, interesting chatter, real swank scenes, when we get our drunk on.  A buncha prententious a-holes you might even say.  Surroundings paint a false picture of realities.  A false picture of non-drunkardness.  But, honestly, some “established” craft beer bars have been the sites of the rowdiest nights I’ve ever seen.

4.  Lack of care — If I were to polish off ten pitchers of Miller High Life, a friend, a drinking buddy, the fucking bartender would probably say, “Why don’t you go home buddy, you’ve probably had enough for tonight.”  But no one’s EVER going to say that to me:  “You’ve had enough, pal.  Call a cab.”  Enough?!  Why I’ve only had three beers all night!  Admittedly a 120 Minute, a bomber of Stone Old Guardian, and a Goose Island Nightstalker.  But still, that’s just three beers!  No one ever has a weepy intervention** with a craft beer “addict.”  “I think you drink too much, pops.”  Too much?!  I only had one beer on Saturday night!  Yes, technically true, but wasn’t it a bomber of Serpent’s Stout?

5.  Hangover — I unfortunately don’t (usually) get that hungover from craft beer.  I say unfortunately because it doesn’t teach me any lessons.  And one is supposed to learn lessons when they do harmful things to themselves. Frank Sinatra would probably feel sorry for me, but I feel sorry for these drunkards waking up with pulsating headaches, the adjunct cheap ingredients acting like a tornado inside their skulls.  Better ingredients, better hangovers, your desire to get drunk again not muted whatsoever by any worries.

6.  Productiveness — I’ve been perpetually drunk the last few weeks.  If I was just a measly alcoholic I would only have to show for that a protruded gut, a bulbous W.C. Fields nose and bloated face, and a pickled liver.  And while I may have a few of those things myself, as a craft beer drinker, my rampant alcoholism also allowed me to knock off twelve, count ‘em, twelve Beer Advocate Top 100 beers, nearly one per day, during this recent binge.  Why, that’s a major accomplishment!

I’m no alcoholic, I’m an ambitious overachiever!

A

*On a somewhat deplorable note about North Coast’s bottling of Old Rasputin XII.  It appears to be in a 750 mL bottle, and goddamn it’s certainly heavy enough to be a standard 750 mL bottle, but it’s got the thickest Harry Carey glasses bottom you’ve ever seen in your life, making it deceptively large and heavy when it fact it only holds a paltry 500 mL.  You’ll be sipping a glass thinking, “Swell, and I got at least another full glass to go.”  But, no, no you don’t.  The bottle is completely empty despite it’s great heft.  You’ll be stunned.  Dump it upside down searching for liquid.  But it ain’t there.  And all you’re left with is a heavy trophy of a bottle to shoot BBs at.

**Best reality show on TV and #2 ain’t even close!

North Coast Old Stock Ale (2008)

March 26th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: North Coast, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Old Ale

My Super Sweet Sixteen (Not Featuring Annoying Little Twats*), Part II

Part I

If this was 1982, the Columbia Broadcasting System’s coverage of the NCAA Tournament might be considered state of the art, but now, in an era in which I can watch Paula Dean and her many chins cook artery clogging yet surely delicious fried foods on numerous high-definition channels (not advised), it is unacceptably bad.

Let me run down all of CBS’s crimes against sports viewers, starting first with the misdemeanors:

Studio show patter –  Amongst the unintelligentsia of sports studio shows, CBS’s troika of the fatter, kinder Gumbel, solid Greg Anthony, and smarmy Seth Davis is actually somewhat tolerable.  But it’s still unnecessary.  With so many things going on at once, us fans want to actually watch games, or at least highlights, not three guys analyze the most obvious shit we just spent the last hour watching ourselves.  At least CBS’s show isn’t a straight drunken giggle-fest like all the detestable NFL shows.  Seth Davis’s prognostications this year have been an abomination though.  Some “expert.”  Who will be the first network, what will be the first major sporting event, to eliminate the studio?  I think it could work.  Surprisingly, I’ve yet to have a complaint with any of this year’s announcers, all who seem to be doing steady, quality work.

Bland home courts — If it’s not bad enough that this year’s first round sites were either in cities that couldn’t give a shit about college hoops (see: Miami) or completely biased home team venues (see: Greensboro and Philadelphia), all of this year’s courts are exactly the same, bare bones parquet floors with nothing more than the off-centered (why?**) NCAA logo decal affixed at center court.  I’d like to see the typical, all-year floor markings for the school, the arena, whatever.  It’s what makes each place unique.  The NCAA doesn’t like uniqueness though, they just like everyone bowing down to their “greatness.”

Commercials –  This isn’t exactly CBS’s crime, they’re just selling the spots, but seriously, businesses, companies, etc., if you’re going to buy hundreds of hours of commercial air time for the three weeks of the tournament, at least produce a variety of different spots.  Or at least interesting ones.  Novel concept, huh? Take what is clearly the most ubiquitous commercial of this year, the Buffalo Wild Wings spot where loser beer-bellies hate their at-home lives so much–and I guess enjoy chain restaurants to such an astounding degree–that they beg the world’s most connected and powerful bartender to assure the current game they watch on the big screen goes into overtime so they may eke out just a little more besotted fun that evening.  I have nothing against BWW, and in fact the one time I found myself in a location I actually really enjoyed the food and ludicrously cheap steins of macro-beer, but I have been so deluged with this commercial that I now have a guttural, Pavlovian hatred for the joint that were I to find myself in Omaha or Cheyenne with a hankering for some mango habanero boneless chicken wings and frosty mug of Coors Lite, I would probably just skip the joint.  It seems that companies think “raising brand awareness” even while annoying potential customers and wasting millions on a campaign is a good thing. Think again.

And onto the felonies…

Channel coverage — A few months ago, my Time Warner cable actually exceeded 1000 channels.  As recent as the turn of the century I remember having only double-digits.  I now have channels numbering into the 1900s.  1900s!  Yet the NCAA Tournament–perhaps the greatest multi-game sporting event in America–is only available on one channel at one time.  How fucking silly is it that fans have to spend all week trying to figure out what game their market is going to get?  Whether or not they’ll have to sprint to a sports bar at noon to watch their team compete.  (I pity my Syracuse friends now living in California who had to find a bar open at 9 AM on Friday in order to watch our opening round trouncing of Stephen F. Austin.)  How ludicrous is it that I can watch every single NIT game from the comfort of my home yet can’t do the same for the more important tournament?   ESPN fucking sucks in a multitude of ways, but at least the “Worldwide Leader” utilizes all of their channels–the Deuce, U, Classic, Espanol–to broadcast important and overlapping stuff.

Come on CBS, get with the times and use your own assets–the CW, CBS College Sports, even fucking Showtime–so that we can see all the games at once.

DirecTV package — Ah, but you say, “Aaron, you can see all the games at once, just don’t be a cheapskate and purchase the DirecTV package.”  Yes, I may be a cheapskate but I have friends that are not and do purchase the package (and then I invite myself over to their house to watch the games, drink their beers, and eat their food.)  Now this is an idea I’m perfect satisfied with and at $70 for the entire tournament that’s a perfect reasonable rate to assure you can watch every game.  Except…you don’t get to watch every fucking game!  Er, at least, you don’t get to watch every fucking minute of every fucking game.  And that’s because you don’t just get committed feeds of each game, something that would make sense, but rather the straight regional coverage of each which are still afflicted by the greatest demon of them all…

Cutaways — The anonymous, nameless, and faceless God-like entity–picture Ed Harris in “The Truman Show”–who decides when games should be cut from to go to other games deserves to be strung up by his hairless balls.  Last Friday late night I coincidentally found myself at a Union Square sports bar which was serving as the shared NCAA “headquarters” for both Ohio St. and Florida St. fans.  Amazingly, both teams were playing at the same time and, even more amazingly, both were in tight affairs, the Buckeyes heading into double OT with spunky Sienna, the ‘Noles going into OT with frisky Wisconsin.  And despite the dozens of televisions occupying all four walls in the bar, fans never knew which screen to glare at to follow their team’s game.

If I actually cared about these teams I would be infuriated–as all these fans indeed were–but instead it was simply comical to watch both schools’ alumni meatheads spinning around and swiveling and craning their necks every few seconds like cats watching a racquetball match and “It’s now on that screen!” as dopey CBS was constantly and frequently cutting back in forth between each game depending on region and market and the current timeout and commercial situation.  Once, even shockingly cutting away as a potential Ohio St. game-winning shot was IN THE AIR.  Unacceptable.  I thought there was going to be a riot in the bar, and this was before both games ended in the higher seeded, bar-rooting teams losing.  (I privately pumped my fist and give a subtle wink to the sole dude in a Sienna t-shirt; I had picked both the Saints and Badgers in my now-in-1st bracket pool.)

Look CBS, just commit to the feed of single games and eliminate the Goddamn cutaways.  This is 2009, we don’t need cutaways, we don’t need “live look ins,” we don’t need split screens and quad screens, we just need singular feeds of each ongoing game, each on a different channel–charge us if you want, that’s fine–and the relaxed luxury of turning that channel on and enjoying the game we want to watch from tip until the final horn.

Maybe one day you’ll get it right.  Morons.  At least your theme song is still awesome and gives me chills every fucking time a day of games opens.

What are your NCAA tournament, CBS, or sports coverage pet peeves?

Now my breakdown for the Friday/Sunday games:

MIDWEST

Much like Pitt, Louisville was another #1 seed that looked quite lackluster in rounds one and two.  I’m less concerned if I’m a Cards fan, though, because I guarantee Rick Pitino has gotten his boys back in line this week.  It also helps that they have the easiest remaining route to the Final Four of any #1.  Their tilt with faux-Cinderella (Pretenderella?) Arizona should offer a minor challenge early as they actually have the athletes and NBA bodies to compete with Louisville, but Louisville has the superior coaching and basketball players.  Louisville’s offense isn’t great but Arizona has the worst defense left in the tournament and thus the #1 seed’s superior depth and pressure defense will make this one a second half laugher.

Meanwhile, in a matchup from earlier this year won easily by the Spartans, Michigan State will yet again take on Kansas.  The defenses will be stout–and the offenses inept–in this game and you could see the winning team garnering only 55 total points (which would actually make for a blow-out in the Big 10).  Goofy Cole Aldrich will be the best player on the floor and may have 30 of those.  I can’t believe I’m saying this for as recent as the start of the New Year I thought they were fo’ sho’ NIT bound, but Kansas will indeed ascend to the Elite 8 (despite a huge coaching disparity between Izzo and Self).  An amazing achievement coming off a title and the loss of countless NBA-bound starters.  Nevertheless, the fun ends in the next round as Louisville will absolutely humiliate them.

LOUISVILLE

SOUTH

UNC/Gonzaga is every square’s upset special of the weekend and you’ve no doubt been hearing a lot of, “You know, I think the Zags can actually give the Tarheels a run.”  Well, I’m a huge hater of the Spokane, Washington program–not cause of anything they do, but rather because the national media continues to act year after year like they are one of the big dogs on the college hoops landscape.  Little secret:  they ain’t.  It was over a decade ago that they had that singular, “magical” run to the Elite 8 and ever since then it’s been a ton of overseeded, crying-on-the-court flameouts–but I mildly concur.  Gonzaga’s defense is good but somewhat overrated, while UNC’s offense is great but somewhat overrated, especially with Ty Lawson still banged up.  UNC would have lost to any truly decent team last Saturday, but they will be more focused this week and should prevail by 10 or so.

I refuse to make a prediction on my alma mater versus the Sooners, but I will offer some analysis.  I’ve been unable to sleep all week for reasons two-fold:  1) due to a gluttonous opening rounds weekend I’ve decided to detox on booze til this game on Friday (falling asleep sober is tough!  Luckily there’s Jimmy Fallon!) and 2) I can’t get out of my mind the thought of the now stellar Cuse 2-3 zone forcing OU into bad shot after bad shot which leads to miss after miss…which leads to Blake Griffin rebound after Blake Griffin rebound for gorilla dunk after gorilla dunk.  However, were I an OU fan I’d be also up all night this week wondering how the hell the mediocre Oklahoma D can possibly stop the guard triumvirate of Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, and Andy Rautins.  This will be the highest scoring game of the Sweet Sixteen–much different than the 2003 Elite 8 waxing won 63-47 by the good guys–and if I wasn’t an atheist I’d be praying the Hall of Fame legend James Arthur Boeheim will prevail for career win #800.

The potential regional finals will almost certainly feature a one-on-one matchup I’ve been begging to see all year:  either Griffin versus Tyler Hansborough or Flynn versus Lawson.  Both UNC guys are biasedly more ballyhooed, but Griffin will absolutely massacre Psycho T and make him wish he was already riding the NBA pine, while Flynn should finally prove that he is the best point in the game.  Teamwise, I don’t think OU has the supporting cast to offensively hang with North Carolina, while UNC/SU could be a high-flying, high-scoring, All-Star game defense shootout for the ages.

????

(Have I mentioned that if Syracuse wins the title this year I have to get on my own body all the same tattoos Devendorf already has on his?  I’d do it with pleasure though having the name of another man’s child on the back of my neck could be a little odd.)

There you have it, UCONN, NOVA, LOUISVILLE, and ????, my Big East-biased Final Four.  I’ll be back next week to gloat about my awesome picks, or to make excuses for my prognostication failures in the same way smarmy Seth Davis do.  And to offer my Championship thoughts.

North Coast Old Stock Ale

11.7% ABV bottled

Stumbling upon this in the store, I’d mistakenly thought I’d made a splendid score.  I was mistakenly recalling their highly touted Old Stock Cellar Reserve, I presume the normal Old Stock bourbon barreled.  Nevertheless, this “normal” beer was still quite good.  A great strong ale smell and taste.  Caramel malts and a little hops, a thickness and richness like a weak cognac.  Flavor not quite as complex as I’d like but still quite good as most North Coast product is.

A-

*Save Greg Paulus.

**Hat tip:  KOIII

Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

October 13th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 2 Comments | Filed in Brewer: North Coast, Country: America, Grade: A regular, Style: Stout
9% ABV from a squat bottle

Grigori Rasputin was one of the coolest guys in the history of the world.  If I was living in the early-1900’s I’d probably have a poster of him hanging in my room.  For those three people that don’t know about Rasputin, he was a mystic, a healer, a debaucherer (he’d have a much better Vice Blog than me!), and the controversial counsel to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra.  But what continues to remain the most interesting thing about Rasputin is the way he died.

A lot of people hated Rasputin, many fearing the man’s powers, both real and imagined, and thus many wanted him dead.  But he was nearly impossible to kill.  An attacker in 1914 stabbed Rasputin so viciously that his entrails fell out, but he was able to put them back in and get sewn up in time to survive.  On December 16, 1916, a group of noblemen, tired of Rasputin’s influence over the tsars, conspired to murder him.  Prince Felix lured Rasputin to his palace for a feast where the mad monk was served cake and red wine laced with toxic levels of cyanide.  Can you imagine the scene as a half dozen or so noblemen sat around the dining table, anxiously waiting with baited breath for their hated Rasputin to keel over, and though he’d consumed enough poison to kill five men, he remained lucid and alive, completely unfazed by the poisoning.  Was he truly magical?!

Felix began to get concerned about the failing plot and decided to speed up the process, pulling a revolver and shooting Rasputin in the back.  The noblemen left for a bit but returned to find Rasputin still alive in the living room.  They unloaded bullet fire on him some more, even hitting him square in the forehead, surely enough to kill him, then wrapped the man in a sheet and dropped him in the icy Neva River.

When Rasputin was recovered from the water three days later, he was found wrapped in the sheet with his arms in an upright position and his fingernails worn to the nub.  He had survived the poisoning and the gunshots and was trying to claw his way from the sheet and the frozen river when he finally succumbed to drowning as his lungs filled with water.

Further rumors claim that when Rasputin’s body was taken from the river people, were so scared that they decided to obliterate his remains through cremation.  As his body burned, though, Rasputin sat up in the fire, still alive, still fighting for his life.  I hope I die in such a cool way.  But I’m convinced–convinced!–that my death will come one day as I jaywalk in Manhattan, listening to my ipod, not paying attention to the traffic one iota as I ogle one of the countless beauties on the street passing me by.  Boom!  Hit by a DHL truck.

Back circa 2001-2 when I first got into craft beer, I was not the coolest guy in the world.  Hard to believe, but true.  In fact, I was a meticulous nerd in all my worldly pursuits.  Even beer study.  Thus, I printed out Beer Advocate’s top 100 brews in the world list, tucked it into my wallet, and would carry it around with me when I went beer shopping.  I didn’t find many of the top 100 beers, but one day I was elated to locate Old Rasputin.  It had to be the first Russian imperial stout I’d ever had.  And I enjoyed it quite a bit.  Yet, I probably haven’t had a Old Rasputin since.  I recalled my early craft beer days while at the store over the weekend and decided to see what I thought of Old Rasputin in the present.

It pours dark like prune juice. Maybe the best smelling beer I’ve ever encountered.  A somewhat sweet smell for a stout.  Pretty interesting.  So many stouts smell so roasted and burnt with unpleasing aromas of bad coffee and cheap dark chocolate.  But this beer is so sweet and fragrant.  Just to let you know how powerful it is, I went to wash the glass I used some 36 hours or so after drinking the Old Rasputin, and the laced remnants were still mindblowingly fragrant!  Wow.

Taste isn’t quite as good as the smell but it’s still damn fine.  Most notably smooth chocolate and espresso.  Very malty.  Finishes with a tingly alcoholicness that I love.  And it’s stunningly drinkable too for such a big boy.

Russian imperial stouts were initially created in the 1800s to win over the tsars, most notably at the time Catherine II.  Maybe Rasputin wouldn’t have been so reviled if he had won Nicholas and Alexandra’s favor by simply giving them an awesome beer like his namesake.  Cause it is surely one of the best stouts around.  You need to definitely treat yourself to this one on occasion.

A

VB recommended reading:  “The Rasputin File” by Edvard Radzinsky (2000)

PranQster

September 2nd, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 1 Comment | Filed in Brewer: North Coast, Country: America, Grade: B plus, Style: Belgian Strong Pale Ale

7.6% ABV

86ed.  The ol’ heave-ho.  Booted.  Tossed.  Ejected.  Whatever you call it, Saturday night was the first time in a while I have been thrown out of a bar.  I thought I was getting too old for this shit, but sadly, apparently not.  I’m no stranger to the great indignity of being forcibly dragged from numerous drinking establishments by some steroid-fueled missing link and thrown out onto my tush.  I’ve been bounced from bars, pubs, discos, restaurants, peel joints, classrooms, sporting stadiums, weddings, Bar/t Mitzvahs, golf course clubhouses, and once even a booze cruise (a tad hypocritical I contend).  But, my favorite 86ing happened on an airplane.

It was back four years ago.  I was returning to New York after having visited my sister at college down in Miami.  I was seated next to an older-than-Esther stereotypical Florida Jewish lady.  A curly afro of dyed charcoal black hair ala Linda Richman, dressed to the nines with pearls and gold jewelry, and a dousing of No. 5.  No big whoop, I don’t like to talk to my seatmates unless they are gorgeous women.  And I have never once been seated next to a gorgeous woman on a flight.  But I am constantly sat next to crying babies, BO-reeking fatties, and people that consider the Sky Mall catalog fine literature.

Nevertheless, we all know old people are very chatty.  And Jews are even more chatty.  And oldass Jews are about as chatty as they come.  Estelle asked me why I had been down in Florida.  I answered whatever was the exact sanitized opposite of “getting wasted on cheap drinks at college bars and trying to hook up with my sister’s classmates.”  91-year-old Estelle told me she always went down to Miami in the winter because she was still an avid golfer, walking a course several times a week.  In fact, while on this trip she had just broken her age, carding a 90!  What a woman.  I was blown away and told her so.  She then hit me with the downside.  After her most recent round of golf, the other player in her twosome, coincidentally her identical twin sister, had passed away.

Estelle began to cry.  I don’t deal well with crying no matter if the person is age 0, 25, or 91.  I tried to console her.  “Fuck it!” she snapped back up and wiped her tears away.  “She lived a good life.  Have a drink with me, Aaron.”  With pleasure.

I don’t typically drink on flights both because they have an abhorrent selection, I don’t want to have a broken seal and have to piss for an entire flight, and also I’m delusional enough to think that if the plane were to crash I could probably save myself while the other dopes aboard perished–that is so long as I were sober.  However, when a 91-year-old Jew with no doubt fantastic stories pulls a wad of twenties from her gigantic handbag and forces you to slug drinks with her in order to reach nirvana, well, no gentleman could turn that down.  She wanted to drink red wine and that was cool with me.  If you’ve never ordered wine on a flight, it comes in a tiny little bottle that has about a glass’s worth and is usually some mediocre bottling from the Gallos.  We had one glass, then quickly another.  Estelle could drink and I was actually struggling to keep pace.

After four glasses the air waitresses began to ignore us as admittedly we were getting rowdy, other passengers staring at the combined 116 years of drunken belligerence.  Estelle wouldn’t stand for this.  Next time the drink cart came by, pushed by an aloof and dismissive flight attendant, Estelle simply speared her varicose-veined arms into the cabinet at the bottom and, with the suppleness of a Bourbon Street pickpocket, filched two more bottles for me and her.  Nice.  Who says you can’t learn things from your elders?

After our free bottle number five, Estelle again tried to use the standard method for ordering as often employed by assholes, signaling for drinks by holding two fingers aloft ala Churchill or Nixon.  Those gents meant “V for Victory” however when drinking the V becomes the universal sign for “Two more, please, chop chop.”

“Hey!  Where’d you two get another bottle of wine?”  The bitch flight attendant who had de facto cut us off sprinted over.  She was clearly onto our scheme.

“The other stewardess served us,” I slurred.  Whoops.  I forgot that “stewardess” is the n-word in the flight attendant game.  Nevertheless, still such a more elegant term that the unwieldy politically correct nomenclature.

“I explicitly told that flight attendant NOT to serve you two again.”

“We’re fine and still temperate,” Estelle piped up, using a term for sobriety that hadn’t been heard since the speakeasy days when the old lady was no doubt flapping around with F. Scott.  “Now hurry up and get us another drink, sweetheart.”

“You two are cut off and if you bother me any more about it I’ll have authorities waiting for you guys at the gate.”

Estelle rolled her eyes at me and let out a “bitch” under her breath as the flight attendant waddled her fat ass back to the jump seat.

The great Estelle had one final trick up her sleeve though.  With a shit-eating grin full of false teeth, she pulled a makeup kit out of her hand bag.  Subtly unzipping that she removed a minibar-sized bottle of Grand Marnier.  She took a slug then handed the orange cordial over to me to finish off just as the flight began its descent.

By the time we had taxied to the gate, Estelle was shitfaced, but still savvy enough to pull off a move that would guarantee her lifetime enshrinement in the Vice Blog Hall of Fame.  Though a vigorous women perfectly capable of walking eighteen holes, Estelle quickly realized that the countless bottles of wine had made her incapable of hoofing it upright.

“Could someone get a crippled old lady a wheelchair!” she hollered.

And as everyone else on the airplane got out of her way, a crew rushed a fold-up wheelchair onto the airplane where they retrieved a drunk Estelle and wheeled her back down the aisle like a modern day Cleopatra, a VIP ride to the baggage claim.  As she exited she gave me a wink as an ever-so-slight smile came on her face for just a millisecond.

Now back to the present and Saturday, where like any red-blooded American male I spent the day watching college football and drinking beer.  The beer of the day was my first ever tippling of PranQster, a surprisingly effective American version of a Belgian strong pale ale.  Nice, refreshing, and imminently drinkable, but perhaps not that complex.  However, a few of those bad boys are probably not the best final beers before heading out to an evening bar.

Then again, if the bar is a piece-of-shit Murray Hill hellhole like Bar Twelve, then you should hope you drink enough to forget your time there.  You should also probably consider a disguise lest someone sees you entering such a dump like some trench-coated perv entering an 8th Avenue peep show establishment.  The place was admittedly decent before the midnight hour with reasonably priced drinks, reasonably attractive young women, and not much reason to leave.  Then at the witching hour, the lights darkened, the TVs were turned off, the place changed its name to the Ski Bar lounge (seriously), the dress code apparently began to require Pac-Man Jones jerseys and do-rags, and impromptu dance offs began.  I thought nightclub dance-offs only happen in movies made by stuffy white Hollywood executives in an attempt to appeal to a quote-unquote urban demographic, but no shit, these things are fo’ real.  I actually saw two men wager on one such dance-off though I have no idea how odds are generated and pay-offs occur.

Trying to avoid the sweatiest dance circle I’ve been near since the last time I hora’ed, I moved to a corner with some women I’d met during the more normal portion of the evening and thought I’d made some inroads with.  As I began my end game ala Kasparov some meaty paws encircled my shoulders.

Three-quarters of the time when you get 86ed from a bar you have no idea why.  That’s expected.  You’re wasted while the bouncers aren’t (though they are debatably retarded).  You think you’re swaggering around the joint like Dean Martin, regaling women and turning men’s heads in awe, always ready with a quick bon mot or a blush-inducing line of seduction, and next thing you know some goon in a Rochester Big & Tall sales rack suit has lifted you by the scruff of your neck and thrown you into a newspaper box outside (hopefully a rubber The Onion one as opposed to a sharp metal USA Today one).

That’s exactly what happened to me.

And then, let’s just assume I walked across the street to a “safe zone” and began yelling obscenities at the bouncer, telling anybody that was considering entering Bar Twelve blatant lies about the place.  Lies such as the fact that the antisemitic bouncers called me a Hook-nosed Heeb or that they are only playing Afroman and Baja Men music inside.  The truth would be enough to turn off most normal people but the lies were funnier to me at the time.  And the homeless people on Second Avenue laughed at my beer-addled wit, but they were drunk on fortified wine and probably thought if they sycophantically chortled I might give them some money.  Little did they realize I needed that to flag a cab home to pass out.

Then the next day I woke up hungover and admittedly ashamed, but not ashamed enough to recount the whole evening right here, topped off with one final point I’d like to add, in an effort to optimize this entry to hopefully become Bar Twelve’s number one returned google search:

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

BAR TWELVE NYC SUCKS!

B+