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New York’s Best Beers

September 10th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 5 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Brooklyn Brewery, Brewer: Ommegang, Brewer: Southern Tier, Lists

Sure, it’s easy to heed the refrain “Buy local!” when you’re an elitist living in an awesome major city enclave that has awesome food and drink.  But what if you live in a real shithole?  I’ve lived in places where buying “local” would mean picking up a pack of franks and a Sno-cone at the corner gas station.  Luckily, I live in a place now where I could probably solely exist by eating and drinking local (if only it wasn’t for my pesky love of camel burgers, d’oh!).  New York state is one of top five craft beer states in the nation, and even though Southern Tier in Lakewood is further from me than Richmond, Virginia and Ommegang in Cooperstown further than Philadelphia, they are still part of my state and them’s the rules.  So, with that, and with NYC Craft Beer Week beginning today, I give you…

New York’s Best Beers

Note:  I’ve only included yearly releases.  I don’t care whether they are seasonal or even ultra-rare, so long as they are released each year, I have considered them in the rankings.  This, unfortunately, eliminates one-off experimental stuff like Brooklyn’s great Brewmasters Reserve series.  Additionally, in the fine print at the bottom I list some notable NY beers I’ve unfortunately never tried.

1.  Brooklyn Black Ops (bottled and available here)

For better or worse, the best beer in New York state is also probably the most expensive.  If you can still find it.  Black Ops sold for around $25 a bottle–in a gorgeous bowling pin of an engraved corked-and-caged 750 mL–when it was released last winter, and it completely lived up to the hype.  Now, no longer able to be found in stores, your finer local groggeries still have some jacked-up-priced bottles hanging around in the back room and indeed I’ve since had it several more times.  Aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat (no clue what that means), and re-fermented with champagne yeast.  A filthy black pour that instantly stains the sides of your glass.  A deliciously boozy aroma of chocolate, vanilla, and much roasted coffee.  The oaked bourbon sensations absolutely pummels my tongue.  I half-expect to piss stout ever time I finish a bottle.

2.  Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (bottled and tap)

Surely one of the most economical great beers in all of America as a six-pack–seriously, what 10% beer comes in a six-pack?!–usually only runs around $12.  That thriftiness could surely factor into one’s rankings, but it in no way factors into mine here.  Here we’re only talking about taste and, luckily, Black Chocolate Stout packs a ton.  Six varieties of chocolate, black, and roasted malts, complex and perfectly balanced, smooth and drinkable with no alcoholic bite whatsoever.  I slightly prefer Black Ops, but I drink Black Chocolate Stout by a degree of ten more.  Recently, I’ve started seeing vintage kegs of this–ones as old as 2006–at the city’s more respectable watering holes such as Blind Tiger and Downtown Bar & Grill.

3.  Southampton Grand Cru (bottled)

When I made the trek out to the Southampton Publick House just over a month ago, never did I think I would fall in love, but I did, with this masterpiece of a beer.  Absolutely packed with flavor and complexity, tastes of dried orange peel, coriander, star anise, pineapple, mangoes, a touch of sweet malts, and a slight delicious mustiness, the Grand Cru is about as tasty as beer gets.  Not to mention, for the ABV (9.8%) this is as drinkable as lemonade and I had to slow myself down so I could actually properly savor it.  I’d really like to have a bottle of this in my apartment at all times as it is perhaps the best American “Belgian” beer around.

4.  Ithaca Brute (bottled)

My #5 beer gets all the buzz in the New York state wild ale game, which is weird considering this is a Beer Advocate Top 100 beer…and it’s actually better than the Cuvee de Castleton.  Brute, from Ithaca’s Excelsior! line, is fermented in oak with three champagne yeasts rendering it sparkly, carbonated, and effervescent.  The nice sweet citron tastes of it makes Brute almost like a beer mimosa.  Of course it has a subtle sourness and maybe lacks a little complexity but this still remains one of the most balanced yet flavorful wild ales I’ve ever had.

5.  Captain Lawrence Cuvee de Castleton

Perhaps New York state’s most annually anticipated beer–one has to stand in a long line in a parking lot with enormous nerds in order to score a rare and highly coveted bottle–this limited release lives up to its hype.  On its label it is enticingly described as a “…combination of Belgian style ale which has been re-fermented with hand picked Muscat grapes & aged in wine barrels. As the beer ages in the oak it undergoes a secondary fermentation using the wild yeast known as Brettanomyces.”  Very carbonated and with some great bite, it smells and tastes of white grapes and spices too, lemons and green sour apples. You’d have a hard time convincing a lot of people that this is actually beer, but that’s a great thing in this case.

6.  Southern Tier Unearthly/Oaked Unearthly (bottled and tap)

Southern Tier’s “regular” DIPA, Unearthly, is arguably the best of its style on the East Coast.  It tastes so fresh and so clean, with a malty booziness that almost makes it into a barley wine.  Oaked Unearthly is even better.  Sweeter and even maltier with strong vanilla flavors from the oak, though some zesty citrus and pine comes through.  Both of these are “state-of-the-art” pushing the envelope outside the box IPAs from the always-inventive Southern Tier.  But the best compliment I can give them is that–despite the fact I am a man that is always looking to try something new–if I enter a bar with either of these on tap, there’s no fucking way I can neglect to order a glass.

7.  Ommegang Hennepin (bottled and tap)

Probably New York’s most purely drinkable beer, I usually order this 7.7% saison for my macro-beer drinking friends after “forcing” them to go to my nerdy beer bars.  Sweet and fruity with just the slightest and most subtle spicy funk, this one drinks like a bottle of Gatorade.  Another great Belgianized beer from New York, I honestly think this might be the best saison on planet earth nowadays.  I’m always happy to have a glass.

8.  Captain Lawrence Captain’s Reserve Double IPA (bottled and tap)

The other beer in the debate for New York’s best DIPA, the Captain’s Reserve is much hoppier in taste than the Unearthlies and smells like a sack of fresh weed.  The fact that it was, until very very recently, only available on tap, meant that it was as fresh-tastingly hoppy as can be, having been “born”–as those charlatans at Anheuser Busch might say–at the source just days earlier.

9.  Captain Lawrence Nor’easter (bottled)

With a third beer on my top ten list, Captain Lawrence could most certainly reign supreme as the king of New York breweries.  Nor’Easter is their special winter release, a sui generis Belgian dark ale brewed with elderberries (whatever the fuck those are) and aged in bourbon barrels.  This is a beer that as you’re drinking it you aren’t unequivocally wowed, but once you’re done, you can’t stop thinking about how goddamn impressive it was.  You’re also silly drunk.

10.  Brooklyn Local 1 (bottled)

Both the third Brooklyn Brewery beer on my list and the third American “Belgian” as well.  I never particularly loved this beer upon its initial release several years ago but as time has gone on, and with this past year’s release of Local 2, I revisited the Local 1 for comparative purposes…and was floored.  Spicy, yeasty, and candied, brewmaster Garrett Oliver considers this beer his “strong saison.”  I consider it imminently drinkable and delicious and I’m thinking that perhaps its awesome tastes were just too subtle for my immature palette back when I first slugged it.

Notables:

Brooklyn Intensified Coffee Stout (tap)
Ithaca White Gold
(bottled)
Middle Ages Wailing Wench (bottled)
Ommegang Rouge (tap)
Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Sout (bottled)
Southern Tier Pumking (bottled and tap)

The Top Highly-Accessible Beers

Solid brews that can be located at pretty much every bar, restaurant, bodega, deli, gas station, and massage parlor in this fair town.  These are also lower ABV beers you can drink dozens of in a night.

1.  Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold (tap)

If and when Captain Lawrence ever starts bottling and distributing its full line, I am almost certain this beer will become an iconic session beer in America, akin to, say, a Dogfish Head 60 Minute.  Belgian pale ale Liquid Gold is so damn tasty and so unbelievably drinkable, I am always excited when a bar I’m drinking at “just” has this on tap.  Why thank you very much and keep ‘em coming!

2.  Brooklyn Lager (bottled, canned, and tap)

This was the beer I always ordered “way back when,” nearly a decade ago, when I didn’t know shit about beer and kinda just cared about getting drunk.  It seemed to taste good enough back then.  Nowadays, every time I’m “forced” to get this at a bar with the most meager of tap lists, I’m certain my sophisticated–nay, pretentious–tongue will no longer enjoy this.  But, boy, am I always wrong and my eyes are always opened again and again by what must be the tastiest pure lager on the east coast.  This could easily be called the official beer of New York City.

3.  Sixpoint Bengali IPA (tap)

Why order a single IPA when you can order an asskicking double instead?  Because Bengali exists!  Incredibly balanced in both hops and malts, this tap-only selection from straight outta Brooklyn is as fine as they come.

4.  Blue Point Blueberry (bottled and tap)

I remember the first time a girl told me to try this on tap.  I wanted to fornicate with her so I placated her and ordered one.  And my eyes popped out of my head.  I couldn’t believe how refreshing, flavorful, and subtly fruity this was.  Like a liquid Eggo waffle!  I must have drank 500 pints of this back in the summer of 2006 and though I eventually got burned out on it a bit, I still greatly enjoy it from time to time.

5.  Brooklyn Weiss (bottled and tap)

I don’t particularly love wheat beers, but damn if this one isn’t tasty.  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 potency. This ain’t no watered-down hefeweizen.  Simply delicious.

Others of note:  Blue Point Hoptical Illusion, Blue Point Toasted Lager, Brooklyn Brown, Ommegang Witte, Saranac Pomegranate Wheat, Sixpoint Sweet Action, Southampton Double White Ale, Southampton IPA.

This was a fun little exercise.  I’d greatly encourage my readers and other beer bloggers to do the same.  I’d love to hear other’s thoughts on their fine states’ Top Ten brews (California?  Pennsylvania?  Colorado?  Michigan?  Minnesota?).  So have at it!

Cheers and happy drinking!

Aaron Goldfarb

*Notable beers I have yet to try (ie. please find them for me and send them to me too!):

Blue Point Old Howling Bastard, Brooklyn Blue Apron Ale, Captain Lawrence Little Linda’s Liquid, Captain Lawrence Rosso E Marrone, Captain Lawrence Smoke from the Oak (any and all), Ithaca Alphapha, Ithaca ELEVEN, Southampton Imperial Russian Stout, Southampton Saison Deluxe.

A Tale of Two Cherry Beers

August 3rd, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 7 Comments | Filed in Brewer: New Glarus, Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: A-, Grade: F regular, Style: Fruit Beer, Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale

Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison

8% ABV from a bomber

Let’s touch on a few seemingly unrelated points just to begin:

1.  Southern Tier is one of the finest breweries in America.

2.  I have been accused of being a beer grade inflater.

3.  I always finish beers.

4.  I detest beer snobs and their liberal claims of “drain pours.”

Now let’s tie all these points together, starting with the last.

Few things in the beer community anger me more than the snobbiest of beer snobs and their frequent claims of “drain pours.”  To the uninitiated, to those people wise enough to avoid the pedantic and utterly nerdy embarrassment of the Beer Advocate forums–sample thread subject:  “What is the correct hand to use when drinking a dopplebock?  Left or right?”–there are attention seeking beer geeks that I have seen claim to have drain poured, that is, walked to the sink with a barely touched beer and dumped it down the pipes, some of the most glorious brews on the planet.  Now sure, it’s fine to not love a great, highly-regarded beer, but to detest it so much you dump it?

I’ve thought that was ridiculous for countless reasons.  Being a Jewish cheapskate of course I don’t want to squander the $7 or whatever I paid for the bomber and being an alcoholic I don’t want to squander those ounces of ecstacy either.

On the second issue, I don’t consider myself a grade inflater, I consider myself a lover of beer.  My A through F grades are not a perfect bell curve because I intentionally try to avoid shitty beer–unless it’ll make for a good video–and accomplished craft beer is almost always gonna be above average.

So with that, I am remiss to reveal that I drain poured the Imperial Cherry Saison.  Only the third beer I’ve EVER done that for.  (Bud Light Chelada & Crazy Ed’s Cave Creek Chili Beer would be the other two.)  Also, that in a few paragraphs it is going to get the lowest grade I have ever given a craft beer (and I’m even including the vile Leinenkugel as “craft!”)

This is shocking news.  Southern Tier is one of my favorite breweries on the planet, a fringe top-ten brewery in America if you ask me.  Furthermore, I’d hail them as second to only Dogfish Head in the experimental “mad scientist” brewing category as they put out some of the more adventurous beers around.

Well, unfortunately, when you push the envelope, sometimes the envelope is going to end up tasting like absolute shit.  Such was the case here.  Oh, I had such high expectations for the Imperial Cherry Saison.  But it is truly vile.  The smell of a dank macro lager with a really unpleasant tartness and a horrendous aftertaste.  Tastes like, say, original Coors with some cheap cherry syrup poorly mixed into it, which is amazing considering the time and effort Southern Tier usually puts into beers.  And probably put into this very beer as they claim it to be infused with real cherries and aged with French oak staves.

My drinking companion likewise hated it and suggested perhaps we were drinking it too warm.  Fair enough, I am known to prefer most all beers at room temperature and a nice, refreshing saison should probably have a little chill to it.  We threw it into the freezer, took it out a few minutes later, still vile.  Threw it in for longer, took it out, colder but still vile.  Threw it in one final time, totally forgot about it, pulled it out an hour later to now find the worst tasting slushy in the history of the world.  Even absolute zero would not be cold enough to enjoy this beer.

It is an utter disaster and I’m baffled how it has a Beer Advocate average of a B.  Is that simply the “respected brewery” curve?!  I highly suggest you avoid this at all costs.  I hate to hammer the great Southern Tier from my home state, but this beer was a golden sombrero of awfulness in smell, taste, price, and drinkability.

Will absolutely make my year end bottom 10.

F

New Glarus Wisconsin Belgian Red

5.1% ABV bottled

You know how when a little kid throws up, they are now unable, for a very, very long time, to both mentally and physically ingest that food or drink that intentionally or unintentionally caused said upchucking?  For me, two of my first ever youthful vomitings happened after eating watermelon and enchiladas and thus I had to avoid those delicious items well into my teens.  Such was the case with the Imperial Cherry Saison.  I think it has made me disgusted with cherries, a fruit and flavor I used to love.

Testing out this theory, I had on hand to drink next, in comparison, a brew made by the American fruit beer makers par excellence, New Glarus, their Wisconsin Belgian Red, a Montmorency cherry-infused beer, currently rated the best fruit beer on the planet.

The Captain has been quite kind in securing me these great treasures from out of the Badger State, and the previous fruit beer I’d had from New Glarus, their Raspberry Tart, was indeed a huge hit.  This beer was splendid too.  If I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t even know I was drinking beer.  You could serve this at the Passover seder to the youngsters.  A gorgeous maroon color, truly one of the best looking beers I’ve ever examined.  Highly carbonated, I drank from the one champagne flute in the house as recommended on the label.  (That’s a recommendation of drinking the Belgian Red from a flute, not a recommendation of ONLY having one flute in the house.)  Very silky and I actually found this quite complex with the taste of Hallertau hops and barley melding nicely with the oak and fresh cherries.

Usually, when you compare a great beer to a terrible beer that is a similar style, you tend to overrate the greatness of the better beer.  But, in this case, a part of me thinks that the Imperial Cherry Saison so disgusted me–see my vomitous theory a few paragraphs above–that I actually didn’t unequivocally love this beer as much as I should have.  Whatever the case, find yourself some Belgian Red.  It delivers.  And may the only cherry I drink for the next six months be floating at the bottom of my Manhattans!

(One minor gripe to New Glarus:  your wax dippings are god-awful.  The wax is thin and runny and not attractive at all.  It’s even hard to crack open your bottles due to the wax which furthermore just makes the neck look dusty and dirty.  I would either get a thicker wax or ditch the gimmick.  A gimmick I love by the way.  But your rustic labels are swell looking.  Props to that!)

A-

Southern Tier Choklat Imperial Stout

January 12th, 2009 by Aaron Goldfarb | 23 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Stout

11% ABV from a bomber

The Great Sports Trivia Quiz

Oh, the silly games men play.

It started with some casual shit-talking over e-mail on Friday.

Sal goofed on Graig for having lost to him in the recent College Bowl Mania challenge on ESPN.com.  He noted that Graig was lucky the contest had been so close, quote:

“I have sharted more sports knowledge than [Graig] has in that goofy head of his.”

Graig responded promptly:

“Any time, any place…sports trivia challenge.  I would MURDER you and you know it.”

And, since I am an classic goader, egger on, and rabble rouser, I responded:

“If you wish, I will compose an all-sports trivia challenge for you two, to be competed over in the afternoon on Saturday.”

I knew Graig, a fiery competitor and prolific gambler, would relish the challenge, would put his money where his mouth is, but I wasn’t so sure about Sal.  As Sal waffled for a few minutes, I continued trying to get this deal arranged.  Why you might ask?  Because few things are as interesting as watching two friends fight hard in a competition.  Sal and Graig are since-college best friends, former roommates, and currently coworkers, so a gambling competition between the two all but guaranteed fireworks.

Perhaps worried that Sal would pass, Graig told Sal he’d pay his apartment mortgage for February if Sal beat him.  Finally, after about an hour of deliberations, Sal and Graig agreed on the deal.  One-hundred all-sports trivia questions, $20 per correct answer, questions to be approximately split up into these categorical proportions.:

Obscure sports………………..2 questions
UFC……………………………..2
Women’s hoops………………..2
Autoracing……………………..2
Lacrosse………………………..2
Horseracing…………………….2
Soccer………………………….2
Boxing…………………………..4
Winter Olympics……………….4
Summer Olympics……………..4
Tennis………………………….4
Golf……………………………..4
Hockey………………………….6
College basketball……………12
NBA…………………………….12
College football……………….12
NFL……………………………..12

Now came the tough part. Composing the quiz. It was only 2 in the afternoon, but I put aside all my work and plans for the day–seriously–because I knew how hard it is to make a trivia quiz. Oh, sure, you think can just quickly google “sports trivia” and cut and paste together a 100 question challenge. But that would neither be fair to Graig nor Sal. And, most online sports trivia is insultingly easy.

First, I quickly formed an ad hoc trivia team, shot out a cc’ed e-mail to a half dozen of my most sports-savvy friends, asking them to send me some of their favorite questions related to sports arcana. Soon, the questions were flying in–and they were good.

Meanwhile, I began writing out some of my all-time favorites questions that I’ve gathered from three decades of being a sports nerds (”Who was the first European to win the Masters?,” “Who was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento?,” “This man, nicknamed “The Bayonne Bleeder,” was purportedly the inspiration for Rocky Balboa?,” etc).

After an hour, I realized this was going to be even tougher than I had imagined. I had only written and assimilated a dozen questions or so. Twelve quality questions to actually ask my friends. With such high-stakes involved, I couldn’t give them any garbage. I was shooting to write a quiz that neither had questions so hard that only the Schwab could get them, nor questions so easy that everyone’s mom could get them. In the past, I’d composed some trivia quizzes for friends, but never more than 10 or 20 questions. 100 was downright unwieldy, this was clearly going to be a Herculean task.

I had dinner plans with a girl that night but was forced to cancel them to give me more time. Time I would certainly need. And, no I did not tell the girl I was choosing to compose a nerdy sports trivia quiz instead of dining and drinking with her. To keep me company I popped a bottle of Southern Tier’s Choklat, an asskicking imperial stout. Terrificly smooth while still being quite potent, this was perhaps the most chocolatey beer I’ve ever had. Certainly right up there with Ommegang’s Chocolate Indulgence, Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout, and Samuel Adam’s Chocolate Bock. I enjoyed the hell out of it, though its hidden booziness had me quite toasted just halfway through the bomber, giving me all sorts of drunken, wacky ideas for what sorts of questions to ask my friends (”Hmmmm…I wonder if, ‘Who was Webster’s father?‘ would be a good trivia question?”)

By midnight, I had completed the 100 question quiz. I was absolutely drained. Sadly, this was some of the most grueling work of my life. I should work for the Elias Sports Bureau. Of the 100 questions, I was quite proud of at least 80 of them, and was pumped to see how my friends would fare.

I got to my Graig’s apartment in Jersey City before noon the next day. We all had plans to attend the Syracuse/Rutgers basketball tilt in New Brunswick that evening to root on our alma mater, so we had no time to spare. I figured it would take about two hours to get through all one-hundred questions. Countless other friends of mine were quite intrigued by the challenge. Many of these people don’t even know Graig or Sal but they couldn’t wait to hear the results. Most were curious how each man would behave. Graig is quiet and humble, a huge competitor that takes losses hard. If he lost I could see him locking himself in the bathroom and crying, perhaps walking into a semi truck, maybe even skipping the basketball game altogether so as to grieve. Sal on the other hand is like the Incredible Hulk when he is angry, which is quite often for the hulking man. I was almost certain he would break something if he lost. He quite possibly would start some fisticuffs with Graig. Or me! I made sure my questions were well-vetted as I didn’t want any ambiguity in my answers to cause Sal to lose and thus lead to him pummeling me.

I couldn’t set a gambling line on the battle for several reasons. Both men know sports trivia quite well, but their knowledge is spread over different subjects. Likewise, Graig is well-known for getting jittery and, dare say, choking during competition. In fact, as I arrived at his apartment, he was literally quivering. Antsy, nervous, jumping around, like some fourteen-year-old kid who had been brought by his libidinous father to a brothel in order to lose his virginity. I’d never seen someone so freaked out about something so borderline futile. On the other hand, Sal was cool as an unbrined pickle, laughing, joking around, mocking Graig’s nerves, and even using some gamesmanship trash-talking to make his buddy even more scared.

Graig had no choice but to calm his nerves via drink. We had twenty-four beers on hand and by the end of the quiz, the three of us had blown through them all. A good decision I’m not so sure, but it was certainly a fun one. Graig got the first question right, but that was one of his few successes for the day. Sal charged out in front early and at one point was seven questions and $140 ahead, laughing, giggling, and clowning on Graig like Gary Payton smacked on the countless lesser NBA points that couldn’t guard him.

Three and a half hours later, all three of us were wasted and absolutely drained, too tired to even be that celebratory in victory or that demoralized in defeat. No one cried, nothing was broken, friendships were maintained, and your Vice Blogging moderator was not punched.

Sal prevailed by a score of 32 total corrects to 30 for Graig, netting the big guy a cool $40. Clearly, I had made the questions too hard by an order of magnitude. We all agreed that next time, they would write 100 questions and I would be forced under the sports trivial heat lamp to see how I fare. Can’t wait.

A-

(To view the full quiz, click here.  Highlight under each question to see the correct answer.  And, if any of you fools out there actually take the entire quiz, I’d love to hear your scores.  Please post in the comments.)

Southern Tier Harvest Ale

November 11th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: B plus, Style: ESB

5.2% ABV on draught

Drink Your Way to Happiness!!!

I have a generally happy, positive disposition. I am rarely down, my demeanor is always at an even keel, celebrating the great pleasures in life, while ignoring the agony, most of which is pretty minor, truth be told. As my idol Marcus Aurelius said, something can only hurt you if you let it: “If you do not think you are hurt, you are not hurt.” I subscribe to this belief–the mind is an awesomely powerful thing–and though, yes, I was lucky enough to be naturally born with a happy demeanor, years of experience and stoic study have allowed me to become near-fully incapable of sadness. Save for a bad Syracuse basketball loss.

However, though I would like to build myself into a completely unfeeling robot, I am not one, yet, and sometimes random agony is able to penetrate my system and get me down. A few weeks ago I was hit with a perfect storm of wretchedness in a mere matter of afternoon hours: a potentially lucrative deal fell through, girl problems unexpectedly bubbled to the surface, I was dead lonely and lacking in companionship or friendship for the evening, and, even worse, there was nothing decent on television.

Lying in bed was not going to extinguish my doom, so I was forced to try other things. I ate one of my favorite comfort meals, an epically large chicken salad hero. It was good, but, nope, I still felt like shit. I threw a film on the DVD player. A huge movie buff, cinema can almost always cheer me up. An old classic revisited, or a new masterpiece as yet unseen which pulls me into its own domain, making me forget my real-world troubles. However, after a few false starts, a couple of DVD switcheroos, I flung a Netflix of “The Orphanage” across the room like a frisbee, movies would not be my antidote for the evening either.

I tried to do my beloved writing. Like a goth, emo fifteen-year-old Sylvia Plath-loving schoolgirl who is only happy when “journaling,” writing too can salve my mental wounds. But, alas, that didn’t work either and I just wrote the first few pages of a dumb and never unusable movie script about baby snatchers, the lame plot of which I will not lay out for you here.

Trying to change my clearly negative body chemistry, I set off for a long run. Jogs are usually the place I meditate, examine my life, strategize, create ideas, stare at hot scantily and spandex-clad women, and before you know it, seven miles have been trotted and both the body and mind are healthier. But on this occasion, the dark silence as I ran through a deserted Riverside Park just gave me more time to stew in anguish. And wonder if I was about to get bum raped.

At home and showered, I realized I had only two choices*: to go to bed right then and there at 8:00 PM or head to a bar and drink my way to happiness. Hating to waste time sleeping and loving to waste away my bank account, I opted for the latter.

It may be surprising that a guy who has a vice blog does not condone or usually partake in drinking for the pure outcome of becoming happier. But it is indeed true, I only use alcohol as a mood-alterer in case of emergencies. They call alcohol a depressant, but goddamn it is great at rescuing me from mild depression a few times a year. Would it be so were I to sip at home drinking by myself? Not hardly. I need to head to a packed bar.

There, I’m not looking to do anything but anonymously solo tipple. I only mumble the necessary formalities to the bartender, I don’t chat up any fellow drinkers nearby, I don’t hit on any girls, I barely even watch the NHL and NBA games on the TV, I just sit and drink. And think.

This time I sat polishing off one Harvest Ale after another. Actually, polish might be the wrong word. I drank slowly, casually, relaxed. The kindly dope of a bartender had told me this was Southern Tier’s Oktoberfest style but from the first sip I could tell he was quite wrong. It’s clearly an Extra Special Bitter and a very good one at that. A fragrant, clean and hoppy smell. The taste is nice and crisp, tons of citrus flavors, sweet malts, a good amount of carbonation. An incredibly drinkable brew which I think suffers from such a bland if not awful name. This was a great session beer, fella.

After one or two I was already feeling better and by four or five my depression was gone and I could head home. On the walk back to my apartment, with a smile on my face, I came to realize that it wasn’t the drinking that cheered me up, it was simply being around people. More specifically happy, social people. Couples fraternizing, men raucously cheering on the Knickerbockers and Rangers, a co-ed softball team celebrating after a win, two fat slobs throwing back chicken wings with blatant disregard for the bones. I would be one of those people again, probably by the next day and in 99% of the following ones. I was happy now.  Being around people and life was the cure, not the beer.

B+

*OK, actually three, but after a few minutes of NSFW web-surfing I learned another outlet that would not be my salvation for the night.

Southern Tier Pumking

September 4th, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | 8 Comments | Filed in Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Pumpkin Ale

9% ABV from a bomber

John Jay was America’s first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one of the founding fathers of this country, and a man who was strongly anti-slavery.

John Jay College is a dump of a school in my neighborhood whose beginning of fall classes and its perpetually sidewalk-lingering students always are one of the worst signs of the start of Fall.

Look, there’s plenty to bash about NYU and Columbia both university-wise and student-makeup-wise, but I don’t live across the street from those schools so I don’t have to deal with their riff-raff every fucking day.  On the other hand, those institutions are so formidable that they don’t only exist in one single building like John Jay seemingly does.

Having said that, I know nothing about John Jay as an academic institution since they don’t play high-level football or men’s basketball which is they only reason I am aware of any college.  Also, I’m too lazy to look up online how reputable the school is. Thus, all I can base my hatred of John Jay on is what its stupid “scholars” look and act like as they steal a little enjoyment from my life daily.

Firstly, as mentioned John Jay clearly has no high-level athletics, but they must have the top cigarette-smoking team in the nation.  I don’t know if they offer scholarships for tobacco-inhalation or if they just happen to attract the best of the best due to reputation alone.  Fuck, even their “walk-ons” are prodigious puffers as literally every single person in the school must smoke, clogging up the sidewalks of Tenth Avenue near 59th street all evening long.  The ACS should get off MJ’s back and instead focus their attention on John Jay kids.  Actually, scratch that, something tells me that John Jay doesn’t offer a lecture course in self-inflicted eugenics so the problem will handle itself.

For visitors to John Jay, the first thing you’ll notice are the female students.  You’ll no doubt remark, “Huh, I didn’t think Manhattan had a red light district any more.  I guess Giuliani drove them all from Times Square to Tenth.”  Sad to report, though, those aren’t hookers.  Hell’s Kitchen’s prostitutes don’t look and dress so similar to Miss Piggy.  A little similar sure, that’s to be expected, but not all-out adorned in skin tight dresses struggling to remain pulled over their giant shelf of a rump, totally-inappropriate-for-the-classroom boas and costume jewelry, with massive bouffant wigs.

Also, hookers typically don’t have backpacks slung over their humps which they got for free by amassing 1000 Kool points.  Likewise, while streetwalkers enjoy street “meat,” John Jay co-eds like literal street meat, gorging themselves on hot dogs and cheap beef on a skewer while waiting for their next class.  These co-eds make one almost wish the 19th Amendment had a special rider on it that banned despicable pigs from getting the same treatment as the general female population was soon to receive.  I’m pretty sure even Susan B. wouldn’t want these women learnin’.

The men of John Jay are another story, a parade in creative facial hair.  Prince and the artist formerly known as rich and famous AJ McLean would be quite envious of these males’ topiary mug styles.  These gents are paradigms in multitasking.  Booming iPod ear buds loosely hanging from both ears while similtaneously utilizing a not-even-cool-back-in-’05 Bluetooth piece. With such aural inundation, you’d think these men would travel alone.  Nope, in fact, they hang in large circular groups, fronting a guise of friendship and rapport with their classmates when, in fact, no one is talking to anybody else in person as each listens to their music while loudly yakking in their headsets while smoking butts more briskly than Andrew Dice Clay.

I always ponder where all the professors are as I never see any clear-cut adult around the premises nor entering or exiting the academic building.  I assume the profs are brought to and fro the “campus” via reinforced armored vehicle and escorted into the building courtesy of several state troopers.  Then again, I can’t imagine any aloof John Jay student cares about his or her grade enough to threaten a teacher.

Now actual educators may never be seen but a lot of fucking children sure are.  Every day at John Jay is apparently bring-your-toddler-to-class day.  And besides those few students lucky enough to have accidentally stumbled upon correct rhythm method usage, most of the non-parent student variety seem to be “expecting.”  A typical John Jay lecture must easily be confused for Lamaze class.

The school bookstore is right across the street from my pad.  I popped in once to get a new copy of Aurelius’s Meditations as I’d misplaced my previous one and figured a large bookstore at an institute of higher learning would surely have at least one edition of maybe the most significant written work in the history of words.  But, of course, they did not.  However, based on what the bookstore did have in stock, I’m guessing most John Jay class syllabi call for plenty of Tasty Kakes, Cheetos, and copies of JET.  Boy, I’d love to audit one of those classes, but I’m worried that the value of my legitimate tier one university degree would plummet.

In the founding father eponymous standings, Sam Adams got a great microbrewery, John Hancock got the ubiquitous idiom for one’s signature, and John Jay got a safety school of all safety schools chock full of students that make me always dance over to Ninth Avenue when I’m forced to head north.

Luckily, Fall also signals some good things. I’ve already discussed my love for Oktoberfest beers and I love pumpkin ales even more so. Pumking is often regarded as the best of the yearly bunch and this was to be my first time to try it.  Bummed out and feeling a tad self-loathing on a Labor Day Monday night, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up and Southern Tier had just the cure.

I can’t believe how much Pumking smells like fresh pumpkin. I can even taste the crumbly crust. Very complex for a pumpkin beer with tons of spices and subtle little notes.  Like most of Southern Tier’s oddball line of chocolate, coffee, and creme brulee beers to name just a few, Pumpking is of the highest quality.  No artificial flavors and ingredients are used here like in your typical pumpkin beers.

The first glass I had was perhaps a little too warm but the next two were at a perfect cool temperature to enjoy the beauty of Pumking.  Very good, very smooth, and imminently drinkable.  And “paired” with some of the phenomenal new Kraft Mac & Cheese crackers (white cheddar) by evening’s end I was feelin’ fine.  I think I’m going to be drinking this beer a lot this season.  I may even go as Pumking for Halloween.

A-

Vice Blog Reading Group Guide: Questions for Further Discussion:

1. Did you find Aaron’s Pumking entry to reek of racism?  Or perhaps you are the racist one for calling Aaron racist when he didn’t ever mention race once yet purely on the basis of reading his completely matter-of-fact observations you thought of particular races of people, you racist.  But, but, but you say, he did reference JET and Kool cigarettes.  Sure, like only a certain race of people read and smoke those.  If you’re claiming that’s a black thing, then I wouldn’t know, I’m not racist like you.  And neither is Aaron.  Aaron also mentioned Miss Piggy, and as far as I can tell…she’s Asian.

2.  Aaron frequently discusses his love for cigars while bemoaning the nanny state this country is becoming as the pansy-ass government continues impinging on our rights to enjoy so-called vices in public.  Do you think Aaron is a hypocrite for chastising the cancer-stick smoking ninnies that pollute John Jay?  Or do you accept his borderline hypocrisy because cigarette smoking is disgusting while stogy smoking is a totemistic explosion of fragrance and awesomeness?

3. Do you find it amusing that some of the worst high schools and universities are named after some of the most successful men and women of our time, people that these schools’ students could never dream of accomplishing even a quarter as much as?  Would it perhaps be more apt for these schools to be named after, say, a very good manager at the local AMC who figured out a way to consistantly upsell moviegoers from Goobers to Raisinets?

Southern Tier Backburner Barley wine

June 3rd, 2008 by Aaron Goldfarb | No Comments | Filed in Brewer: Southern Tier, Country: America, Grade: A-, Style: Barley wine

10% ABV from a bomber

After an Oliva cigar, a light Italian dinner, and two Peronis, I stumbled over to the Bowery Beer Room, New York’s Valhalla for beer drinkers. There, I picked up two big sacks worth of brews. Suffice to say, my “ladyfriend” was not thrilled when I arrived at her UWS pad stinking like a cigar and carrying enough beer to give five beer nerds alcohol poisoning.

Barley wines are probably my favorite style of beer, so I’m always excited to try ones I haven’t had before cause, quite frankly, there just aren’t that many in existence. My all-time favorite barley wine is still Stone’s Old Guardian which might actually be my #1 favorite beer overall.

The Backburner immediately hits you with a sweet taste like a classic barley wine. Very fruity, hints of candy. Not as potent of smell as I like in a good barley wine. Not too alcoholic tasting (which is a debit in my book but might be a credit in yours). Not too much bite, quite drinkable. Thus, I was surprised how much of a whallop this one packed. I was pretty shit-faced by the time I finished.

All in all, one of the better barley wines I’ve ever had.

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