In late-1800’s New York City, the top spectator sport at bars was dog versus rat fights. This replaced the previously most popular sport, a man in heavy work boots trying to stomp out one-hundred rats as fast as he could. Which, replaced the previously most enjoyed sport: bear wrestling. Yeah, the New York bar scene was pretty goddamn badass a way back when I have learned from reading Luc Sante’s essential compendium of New York vice “Low Life.”
Back then, many dive bars–known as “blind tigers” or “blind pigs”–didn’t even have glassware. Men were issued a rubber tube which they then connected to a keg and from which they were allowed to drink as long as they could on one single breath of air for each beer purchase. Predictably, always-savvy New Yorkers developed incredible lung capacities and devised ways to cheat the system.
But it wasn’t all days of wine and roses back then. For one, most dives, usually located on the outskirts of Manhattan island, had actual trap doors in the floors in which deceased customers could be kicked into the East or Hudson Rivers. Besides murder and suicide, frequent in-bar deaths might have been due to the fact that this rubber-tubed-sucked beer was abject swill, laced with all sorts of poisons that quickly got you drunk…and then killed you. Or, at least blinded you. Not exactly good for repeat business.
And the only women hanging at these dives were of the sporting kind. Hookers who would, at best, fuck you full of STDs. At worst, slip you a “Mickey Finn” when you weren’t looking and steal your wallet as you lay prone in an alley. OK, so I guess I’ll quit complaining about the annoyingly shrill JAP habitues and hipster too-cool chicks so often surrounding me at the bar.
Suffice to say, craft beer was nowhere to be had, and, begrudgingly, I guess that means I have to admit that the 2009 New York City bar scene is better than the 1889. Even if all we have to do at bars nowadays is play darts and “Big Buck Hunter.” Not exactly a stomping-on-rats level of in-house excitement, but surely less messy and grizzly.
This past week I had the fortune to drink six beers that could of and would have never existed back in seedy 19th Century New York. Six beers from Boulevard’s esteemed Smokestack line. Three of which I’d had before and three of which added new notches to my brew bedpost.
Double-Wide India Pale Ale
8.5% ABV from a 750 mL (1st in the series)
Double-Wide emits the always popular sack of weed aroma we’ve come to know and love in many West Coast IPAs. A nice bitterness and packed with sour citrus. Boozy yet drinkable, I was very impressed and if I was an east coast elitist man I would add that I was very impressed that this great IPA came out of Kansas City. A part of me, though, wonders if this is an out of date bottle from when the initial Smokestack offerings were first released nearly a year ago. That seems impossible because, damn, this beer was fresh and juicy. Well worth locating.
Long Strange Tripel
9% ABV from a 750 mL (2nd in the series)
This is a very respectable, damn good American tripel. And, tasting it side-by-side with maybe my favorite tripel in the world, La Fin du Monde, Long Strange was outshined (outshone?) sure, but by not that great of magnitude surprisingly. It’s incredibly yeasty with just a hint of nice sweetness. Bubbly, fluffy, and pillowy, I really enjoyed putting this back in the mid-day patio sun, and was shocked at how easily it went down.
Two Jokers Double-Wit
8% ABV from a 750 mL (8th in the series)
Dangerously, shockingly, drinkable for such a high ABV beer, but then again, witbiers are so fucking lame, maybe I was just trying to get it down, slurping it down like flat apple juice, so I could move onto something more interesting. You know, Two Jokers ain’t terrible–and I love the label–but it’s just not that interesting. Packed with cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lavender, and the always sexy grains of paradise, I will admit this was a great beer to begin a long day of college football watching with.
I have now had six of the nine Smokestack releases* and here are my current overall rankings:
1. Saison-Brett (an absolutely epic beer well deserving of all its acclaim)
3. The Sixth Glass
4. Long Strange Tripel
6. Two Jokers
*I have still yet to locate bottles of the 5th and 6th Smokestack releases, their Imperial Stout and BBQ (Bourbon Barrel Quad), nor of the newest release, the 9th in the series, the Seeyoulator Doppelbock. I would kill to try any and all of them, especially the BBQ. Hit me up at theviceblog [at] gmail.com if you can make a little Jewish boy’s dreams come true.