I'd have to agree that proximity to one's house is very important for "a local." I'm at the age where I don't fit in at the college hang-outs (which in general do have a better beer selection) and at Callahan's I'm ten to fifteen years younger than the rest of the pub-goers (well, most of them). One reason for this age difference is that most folks my age have kids at home, so hanging out at the pub is difficult to fit in when you have to shuttle your kid from swimming lessons to soccer practice to a birthday part, etc. then help them with their homework while simultaneously making sure they maintain some acceptable level of personal hygiene. It's no wonder the thirty- and forty-somethings aren't showing up at the pub.
Despite the fact that New York has a reputation for being a liberal place, Long Island (especially the part I live in) is actually the conservative part of New York. There's still enough liberals to win the elections, but the conservatives are catching up. And I'm starting to think that most of the clientele at Callahan's is on the conservative side of the political fence.
I was in Callahan's the other day for a pint of Blue Point Toasted Lager (what else?) and one of the guys was sharing his conservative view of the world with everyone. Billy, the bartender, was loving it. Billy did a tour and Iraq and has an American flag tattooed to his right biceps. I've found the best way to handle these situations is to smile and nod and not say a thing.
Also, another way I'm different from most of the other Callahan's regulars is that I don't gamble. There's a couple of screens up in Callahan's with a bunch of numbers on a blue background. This is the state run "Quickdraw" lottery. The bartenders at Callahan's are constantly running betting forms (remember those scan-tron testing forms we filled out in high school?) through a machine in the corner. Billy told me the other day that a guy dropped $800 on the Quickdraw in an afternoon (and I think I'm splurging when I order a $15 shot of single malt whiskey).
All this makes me wonder why I'm going to a pub to hang out with people that are different from me and pay twice to three times as much for a pint of beer than I would if I stayed home? I'll tackle that question in the next installment of this series on the meaning of beer and drinking in one place.
Two of my favorite eleven a side squads - IPA and AFC
Springtime is here. For me this is the perfect season for those American green, weedy IPAs that taste like liquid salad with gasoline for dressing. Autumn cries out for stouts and porters while winter needs a slow-sipped tripel or the malt bombs, whether doppelbocks or barley wines. In summer, the lighter beers reign: nothing bigger than a pale ale is right and better still a hefe-weizen, a Belgian white or even light lager. Except perhaps for an earthy dubbel, spring is about the stuff that smells and tastes like you it just started popping up in the garden's herb patch.
In this batch we go from mere strong US take on the IPA to the double, the triple, the imperial on to the 120 minute, all selected from eight different US states. I expect that I will find once again that most if not all of these are bigger than anything you would expect to see out of the UK or Canada. I have only had a couple of these before and what I am really hoping to find is a new take on the hop - something more than mere excess that makes the beer stand out.
- Snapperhead IPA: The new third offering from central New York's Butternuts Beer and Ale, makers of Porkslap and Heinnieweisse. Snapperhead's yellow can pours out a really attractive orange amber ale that holds up a fine white head that resolves to active foam and rim. A perfectly fine IPA with plenty of roughish but green weedy hop in the middle and even a bit of a burn as it goes down. Chewy malt sits in the second chair with plenty of light raisin, apple and apricot to take notice of. All twelve BAers that review it approve. Selling for $5.99 a six like the others in the range, this beer is one of the best values in craft beer going.
- Hop Ottin' India Pale Ale: from California's Anderson Valley, their second appearance this week. Seville marmalade nose, bitter and cirtus. Another orange-amber ale with a little more depth of colour. The head is thick, rich, orangy cream and leaves a lot of lacing. An interesting comparison as this beer's hop frames your mouth - the quality of the sensation and where the hop hits you, at least to me, is one of the particular qualities of these IPAs. Only one percent BAer disapproval, with complaints of too much bittering hops. Sure, that's there but there is plenty more and I suspect, at 7% this will end up being in the middle ground of this crew. I like it but I like arugula, too. Think white pepper with baby spinach in a lighter cream sauce. A fine measure of heat in the end like one of those hot cinnamon candies without the sweet.
- Sierra Nevada IPA 2007: honey-amber ale under off-white foam and rim. No pronounced aroma. Grapefruit hop with sweet raisin in the malt initially makes for more of a ruby red than white grapefruit juicy effect. Then the hops move more to a twiggy thing and the moment is lost. Some cream behind that hop acid and twig. Mineral finish. Quite good and balanced and no pronounced heat at 6.8% but not really complex enough up against this sort of field. Yet only 5% of BAers turn up their nose as they turn down their thumbs.
- Southampton IPA: a distinct lemon herb aroma. Golden amber ale under a very fine white cream head. A finer, softer effect than the Sierra Nevada. The hops are citrus but are more of a lemon kumquat thing than grapefruit. Some honey in the malt, too. Very likable and, again, a very well hidden 6.5%. A civilized touch of relative restraint within the US style. The brewer claims five hops were involved and I have no reason to doubt it. All the BAers love it.
- Hi.P.A: from Vermont's Magic Hat. Quite a strong floral aroma (sweet freesia and rose) from this smoked amber ale under a big and lasting white rocky head. Softer than most IPAs and also a bit of a drier take on the style. Some graininess. Recessed fruit, a bit of peach and a bit of date with grapefruit, lemon and, more in the end, a good measure of twiggy bittering hopping. Quite still without the finishing burn the bigger acidic bombs leave. A bit of the 6.8% heat sticks out. Reasonable in all respects and likely a good steak and/or ribs brew from this level of bittering astringency. The BAers give it all but 2% approval but with a lower average.
- Eleven: from Weyerbacher of Pennsylvania. Called a Triple IPA, I split with with a couple of pals during Friday evening beer club (you have started a beer club, too, right?). The beer poured a massive and sustained rocky tan head over butterscotch coloured ale. Big body, orange marmalade and booze which is what you would expect for a beer of this strength - 11.7%!. Loads of green herbal hops but they buckle up against the wall of creamy sweet malt that fills the core of this brew. The yeast provides a slightly cheesy or yogurty note. Heat in the end but not as much as there might be. A surprisingly high ten percent of BAers say no mainly citing lack of balance and intense boozy heat.
- Maharaja: an Imperial India Pale Ale made by Avery of Colorado. Again, split with pals - this one was preferred to the Eleven above. Maybe it is the almost 2% lighter profile at a mere 9.9%. Another heavy orange-amber ale under a huge rocky tan head that resolves to a sheeting tan rim and foam. Orange marmalade creamy smooth middle to a moderately hot end with apple and white pepper with an odd lightness in the second half. Some mineral water and even salt in the finish from Avery's hard water. Only 2% of BAers do not like this one.
- Big A IPA 2006: this is simply my favorite double IPA. The previous version was my best beer of 2005. What it does that no other massive IPAs I have tried does is it appears to use so, melting like masses of rolled barley as a cooling creamy effect that is as bit as both the hop and the booze - here are the brewers notes and there is no rolled barley . Compared to the notes from 2005, this one is lighter in colour at just a straw with a thick sheeting fine foam head. Whacks of cream, whacks of white pepper, whacks of bitter garden greens in the hops and at 9.2% whacks of that, too. One thin percent of BAers do not like this one. Madness. Rice pudding meets gasoline.
- India Pale Ale: by Arcadia Ales, a new brewer for me from Battle Creek Michigan. The beer pours a cloudy red amber under a rich white rocky, lace-leaving head. The nose is somewhat malty, somewhat lemon zest hops. One BAer calls it "pine and grapefruit with an offputting dishsoap smell." In the mouth the lemon zest explodes with an accompanying second more astringent dry hop characteristic and a definite soapy feel...and a hint of Old Spice in the finish. Oh my. Read the BAer reviews as I introduce this fluid into the city waste water system - oddly only 7% give the thumbs down.
- Flower Power IPA: from the Ithaca Beer Co. Reviewed before, I always find this one fits the bill. An orange-straw brew under a white frothy rim with plenty of lace. On the nose, sweet and orange and a bit of white pepper. In the mouth there is plenty of peppery green and acidic hop combining with apple and pear malt. The water soft, the yeast slightly creamy. A really fine example of the upstate IPA. Even the 2% of BAers who do not love it acknowledge the quality.
- 120 Minute IPA: Please click here.
Greg has reminded us to remind him to remind me that the day of the dubbels is coming a week Friday. I also rooted around in the cellar and found a bottle from a north-east US brewer that I bought a while ago, have never tried and forgot about so that should be an interesting taste.
Still, I am quite aware of my ignorance in this area. Checking out Stan's book Brew Like a Monk, he lists Westmalle Dubbel, New Belgium Abbey, Ommegang, Flying Fish Dubbel, Chimay Red and Maredsous 8 as examples of the style. I popped a Chimay this evening and glad to see that Maredsous 8 is in there, too, as one lurks in the bowels of the stash. You know, I've never been real clear on the whole "6" or "8" or "10" thing and how they differ from the large format Belgian brown ale thing and those Pater or Prior ones. Some days I find myself all a flutter as to what is a dubbel and what isn't. Like what's a Corsendonk anyway?
That is why we need the session. To find out what it's all about.
With the beer gone and no buzz to speak of after leaving the Night of the Barrels, it wasn't a hard decision to agree to head to a beer bar for an impromptu after party. We climbed into a couple of cabs and went over to Brookline to invade The Publick House near Washington Square on Beacon St. (1648 Beacon St.) There I had McChouffe while waiting for a table. The place was jam-packed full of people, all twenty-somethings making my group stick-out as dinosaurs. By 10:45 the place had thinned a little and we were able to get a table. I ordered an Orval cheese platter for my midnight snack and paired it with (what else?) Orval.
Once we seated the place seemed a little less like standing in purgatory. Yes, I had a beer, but I had been standing for almost six hours (aside from the cab ride) and I could see this wonderful beer bar with tables and people eating Belgian fries out of conical paper wraps.
I wasn't hungry at all. I'd stuffed myself at the Night of the Barrels on the food catered by the Sunset Grill (another Boston beer destination). But when I saw that Orval cheese plate, I knew I would have to make some room.
It was well after midnight when I ended the evening with a Gueuze. Or thought I had ended the evening...
We snagged a taxi driven by a cabby with a sense of humor. He pretended not to know where our hotel was. When we did get back, I was ready to turn in, but B. lobbied the rest of us to hit a nearby bar for one more drink. (It's always just one more isn't it?) Bukowski was less than a five minute jog from our hotel so I led the group over there. (Boston is an ID checking town. I had my ID out at every place we went and they checked carefully. Even though I've got grey streaked through my beard, the ID had to be checked. One place the next evening even wanted two forms of ID, so when you drink in Boston go prepared.)
Bukowski isn't a place you want to take someone for a quiet conversation. The punk rock playing in that place will make your ears bleed, but the beer selection is decent. I really wasn't wanting another beer (secretly I was hoping they had a single malt or two), but when I saw the Hitachino Nest Red Rice beer and that they served it up in the proper glass, I couldn't resist. We closed down Bukowski and were tossed out on the street at 2:30 am to find our way back to our hotel.
There's actually two locations for Bukowski. The larger one in Cambridge (1281 Cambridge Street) I've never been to. The smaller one in downtown Boston (50 Dalton Street) is worth the stop if you are thirsty and don't mind the noise and want to read some of Bukowski's beer poetry conveniently copied onto the walls of the bar.
I bought this beer because there is a cute little bear with antlers on the bottle. No surprise in a California beer, but life is better with a little humor, right? I did the smart thing and poured my wife a big glass of her favorite wine, so I wouldn’t have to share. Her comments are helpful, but I want this stuff all to myself.
So, this regular guy¹ pops the cap and pours the ale. You have a nice deep red/amber color and a nice foamy head. It settles, and you have a beer with not too much fizz, nor too little. The first sip gives you a malty look, with almost hidden hops, and I said "aha! a sweet brown ale in disguise!." Full disclosure: I love brown ales, what regular guy doesn't? But it is much more than that, second and further sips make you ask "was that citrus...apricot even??"
I am constantly seeking a favorite all around beer, something like Southern Tier’s Matt and Finn’s Extraordinary Ale, or Ithaca Brewing’s Brown Ale, but this amber ale in the goofy bottle with the antlered bear may be IT. As a matter of fact, this could be the beer I reach for when entertaining my regular guy friends-I don’t care if you’re a snob or have simple beer tastes, this is a fantastic brew, and the Beer Advocate agrees.
¹[Ed.: More about this guy here.]
This is the first beer I have found from this western Pennsylvanian outpost on its north-west Great Lakes coast. The beer pours a lovely clouded orange amber with rich frothy white lace-leaving head. I wondered immediately after I poured it if I was looking at some sort of take off on a Belgian style, especially with the 6.8% strength - but no, as the BAers call it a Scots ale. In the mouth, plenty of very pleasant orange flavours, not something known to my Scots peeps except in marmalade or perhaps wrapped in chocolate. Railbender is the brewery's flagship according to Lew Bryson's Pennsylvania Breweries - not to mention his own favorite of the brewer's line. More confusion as the brewery calls it an English Old Style Ale.
That's all just a problem with being overly concerned with labels as there are too many great flavours to be shoehorned into those limitations. My palate leads me to think of Young's Special London Ale but with a nice creamier texture. There is a good dry line of hop right down the center of the tongue that keeps this rich, soft-water, fruit-juice malty brew in check. A really nice approachable ale which hides its strength very well and a pleasant surprise for someone who opened the bottle expecting perhaps another US amber ale. 17% of BAers like it less than me.
The Globe and Mail, Toronto's national newspaper, has a very lengthy article, entitled "Alcoholics Accelerated" by Margaret Philp, on the social and medical costs of alcohol consumption in Canada. While I am not one of those who challenges every pronouncement against drinking, I do find it strange that no comment is made in the article on the health benefits of moderate consumption. But it is interesting and there is one statement that I find particularly telling:
A bigger surprise is what the survey reveals about the rest of us. In 2004, 79.3 per cent of Canadians confessed to drinking, which, contrary to our growing obsession with fitness and diet, is nearly a 10-per-cent jump from a decade ago. And these numbers tell only part of the story: The level of drinking professed in the survey accounts for just 32 per cent of the bottles actually sold in liquor stores, bars and restaurants. Whether we are deluded or deceptive, Canadians grossly underestimate the number of drinks we quaff.Because of the public nature of this blog as much as anything, I do keep track and measure myself against the national and World Health Organization guidelines for weekly alcohol consumption. And I am also, given my profession, all too aware of the problems of drunk driving - being in Court to watch a guy who blew over 0.400 explain that he needed to drive the three blocks from his house to where he was stopped because he needed a hamburger was chilling enough in itself.
But there is also a problem of one-sidedness in every discussion of the implications that "Alcoholics Accelerated" exemplifies. It is trite to say that there was no problem with drinking and driving before there were cars, but why is there no discussion of the planning restrictions causing the lack of local neighbourhood bars and the bans on selling beer and wine in corner stores? I once lived in a village on Nova Scotia's south shore where an hour's drive east or west was required to buy a six pack of beer. Surely there is a relationship between the cultural reasons for driving to alcohol and drinking and driving. Also, why is there no discussion of healthy drinking, the cardiovascular benefits for example, not to mention the relatively healthier choices people can make like learning about real ales or gentler wines with lower levels of alcohol and higher levels of flavour - compared to, say, going through the biweekly bottle of rye with a handle?
Alcohol is treated as a homogeneous and damaging thing which makes me suspect the purpose of the story and the author's understanding.
The wait is over. But the picture of the package on my doormat is not quite how it went. No, there was a new slip of paper in my mailbox, telling me there was a package to be picked up at the post office. So, what was the tab?
- The alcohol tax was about 100 Norwegian kroner.
- The value added tax (based on an estimated value of 300 Norwegian kroner!) was about 100 kroner.
- The fee for the postal service to process this ended up at 180 kroner, including tax.