Posts Tagged ‘brewpub’

The Monday Hangover: Mar 17-18

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Yeah, this took awhile to complete. Sue me.

Friday FINALLY came after another looooong (but warm) week. By the end of it, I was just crawling towards Friday night cocktails, and Rule 37. A large double whiskey sour followed soon thereafter, and things start to get hazy after that.

Saturday, however, was the main event. Yes, of course it was St. Paddy’s Day, but that just meant it was going to be amateur day no matter where we went. The Lady Friend was rather insistent about being out and in the world, whereas I wanted to avoid the city like the drunken plague it was sure to be. At least there are signs to watch for: anyone drinking green beer is a total rookie, for example. And they were everywhere. So we strategically set a plan in motion that would allow for a full day of spirited imbibing, while avoiding the clowntards from the I-495 belt who invade the city on such occasions. I’m looking at you, Lowell. You too, Amesbury.

The goal was to unlock Untappd’s East Coast Brew Crawl badge. Here’s the deal: you go to the Ladies of Craft Beer website, and find your city on their list. There are five bars listed for each city; check in a beer at three of the five, and you earn the badge. The five Boston options are:

Cambridge Common
Deep Ellum
Boston Beer Works (doesn’t specify, but I’m assuming the Fenway location)
John Harvard’s

We figured if we stopped off in Harvard Sq, we could hit John Harvard’s, walk over to Cambridge Common, then hop the T up to Redbones to score the badge. It managed to avoid most of the holiday lunatics and still fill us with tasty tasty beers. Sounds like a plan.

Sounds like another T ride up to Communist Cambridge.

After making the Lady Friend take a shot of the good stuff, we headed to our first destination: John Harvard’s Brew House in (naturally) Harvard Square. I’d been here many times in the past, and their beers are all quite tasty. Now that my palate has expanded, the variety of brews doesn’t startle me the way it used to, but I still find them all to be very drinkable.

Oh she’s a brick… dun dun DUUUN dun… brewpub?

John Harvard’s Brew House is named for John Harvard. Yeah. Here’s the deal with that. Johnny was from England, and when he was 18, his dad died of the plague (seriously… the PLAGUE) leaving him some cash. Then his mom died; more cash. He became a Puritan minister, and decided to bail out of Limey-land for the Colonies, taking his wife and brother. On the way, his brother died too, leaving Johnny even more cash. Well, he got to America around 1637, settled down in Charlestown, and about a year later, got tuberculosis and, yup, died. At age 30. Dying was a pretty popular hobby back in the 1600s. On his deathbed, he requested that his money be split: half goes to the wife, and the other half towards founding a new college (which was called “New College”… seriously?). Also, he gave them a bunch of books, which was probably a pretty big score for a new school in the 1630s. He wasn’t the founder of the college, but since he gave them a bunch of monies and books, they named the college after him. Maybe you’ve heard of it. Especially since now they have an endowment of $32 BILLION. That’s BILLION with a ‘B.’

This is why I leave a “present” in Harvard Yard every time I visit.

Also, they made a statue of him that isn’t really him.

Anyway, we headed for the brewpub, which is down a flight of stairs, and appropriately dark. It could be Sunday morning or Tuesday night in there and you wouldn’t know the difference. After much deliberation (the Lady Friend can never make up her mind about where she wants to sit. “I dunno… a table would be nice, but maybe just a seat at the bar, but I don’t want to sit over THERE, although there’s a slight breeze HERE, and I don’t like the way the Earth’s magnetic field pulls in that OTHER spot…”) we hunkered down at the end of the bar. Sampler time: five pours of 4-5oz, pre-determined. Here’s the lineup:

Tasty beersies.

Harvard Square Helles Helles Lager
4.4% abv, 29 IBU
Nose: Light lager aroma with a slight stale noble hop in the background.
Taste: Cheerios! Very cereal grain and a touch of sourness in the finish.

Summer Session Ale Hoppy Ale
4.1% abv, 44 IBU
Nose: Hoppy – a piney hop, hippity-hoppier than expected. I’ve noticed a lot of summer ales heading in this direction, like Newport Storm. A welcome change from the light, lemony offerings from Sam and Harpoon.
Taste: Well balanced. Tart, piney hop, but a cereal malt sweetness evens it out. VERY nice and balanced.

John Harvard Pale Ale Pale Ale
This was offered instead of the Pilgrims Porter on the menu, so I didn’t get the abv or ibu info.
Nose: Mild sweet pine aroma, but very mild. Hard to discern, even with a vigorous stir.
Taste: Tastes stronger than it smells. Piney hop, but sweetish, almost a touch of vinegar sour.

Brother Walfrid’s Irish Red Ale Irish Red Ale (Nitro)
5.2% abv, 22 IBU
Nose: Malty toasty. Biscuity.
Taste: SMOOTH. CREAMY. That would be the nitrogen carbonation. Smaller bubbles than carbon dioxide which make a creamier brew. Toasty malt, somewhat watery, with a weak copper metallic in the finish. Very drinkable.

Black Watch Stout Stout
5.8% abv, 31 IBU
Nose: Skunky, stale coffee aroma. Like a pot that’s been sitting around all day.
Taste: Stale coffee bitter. Weak, watery middle. Finishes with a roasted bitter snap, which saves this from being a total disappointment. My least favorite of the bunch.


In general, I enjoyed the sampler, except for the stout, which was the weakest link by far. All the brews appear to be unfiltered, and have a cloudy appearance. There’s a cereal sweet grain taste prevalent in all the beers, which is not a bad thing at all. This is why I like to do samplers: you can taste the variety, but also the common threads between a brewery’s various products. First rendezvous reached, on to the next waypoint.


Given the 8.5% abv homebrew, then the shot of whiskey, then the sampler I had consumed, without any sort of breakfast or lunch to speak of, I blissfully entered the happy land of Mild Buzz-ville. We struck out across Harvard Yard and along Mass Ave to stop number two, Cambridge Common. I don’t really know much about Cambridge Common, since I didn’t think I’d ever been there before. Turns out I had been there once, but didn’t remember until I walked past the exact table and something in my brain clicked. Anyway, they have a great craft beer selection, and also offer a “build your own” sampler of four, 5oz glasses. So that’s what we did. Well, the Lady Friend chose her own, but I went with the suggested sampler with one substitution.

Happy paddle.

Lagunitas Doppel Weizen Weizenbock
8.5% abv
Nose: Oh Jeebus. Bubblegum sweet wheat. The Lady Friend said it smelled like “Unibroue, but American.”
Taste: Wheat sweet, but with a bitter, sour hit in the finish.

Slumbrew’s My Better Half Cream Ale
7.2% abv
Nose: Fruity, strawberry. Total fruit. The Lady Friend suggested “strawberry shortcake.”
Taste: Big League Chew, not Bubble Tape, strawberry flavor. Ugh. I really wish they would call this one a fruit-flavored beer, as this isn’t what I expect from a cream ale. Much like the Flagraiser IPA we tasted, there’s a lot of fruit in this. Untappd recommended a raspberry cream ale after tasting this one, so I’m not the only one who thinks this is a fruity beer.

Tröegs Nugget Nectar Imperial Amber Ale
7.5% abv
I believe there was a cider listed on the sampler, but I figured I’d get the Nugget Nectar instead while the gettin’ was good.
Nose: Heavenly sweet resin hop AMBROSIA.
Taste: SAVE ME FROM THE WHEAT!!! SO GOOD, I NEED NEW PANTS. (That’s what I wrote.)

Smithwick’s Irish Red Irish Red Ale
4.5% abv
Hey, it’s St. Paddy’s. Had to have an Irish brew in there SOMEwhere.
Nose: Malty. Light adjunct aroma.
Taste: Meh. Slight adjuncty malt cereal. Nothing great, but perfectly pleasant. You could drink a thousand of these.

Sometime after finishing our samplers, we (she) decided it would be a good idea to order another beer. The Lady Friend gets very cocky when she’s had a few beers, and thinks she’s immune to the effects of alcohol. Until you add a full pint on top of a sampler or two, and she goes from the top of Olympus to the bowels of Hades real quick. It’s a long sharp fall from “pleasantly buzzed” to “oh NOOO… I don’t want to be THIS drunk.” Fortunately, that wasn’t the case this time, but I’ve seen this pattern emerging in her drinking habits. I was still in “pleasantly buzzed” mode, and we ordered a full Nugget Nectar, which is simply top notch. If you haven’t had this beer, go get it while you still can. We split the 12oz pour and had some more happy walking up to Porter Square, where we hopped the T up to Davis, and Redbones.

I’ve written about Redbones before, so I won’t go into it again here, except to say that yes, it’s still awesome. The Lady Friend scored a Groupon a couple months ago, so we tucked into some solid BBQ. Unfortunately, because MA is alcotarded, the Groupon can’t be used towards booze, but we each ordered a beer to complete our Brew Crawl trifecta. For me, it was the Watch City Rescue 1 Kölsch, a beer brewed in tribute of a fallen Worcester firefighter. It had a soapy lager aroma, and tasted very lightly of cereal grain, with a mild lager bitter. Very light and refreshing. It certainly didn’t hold up against some Redbones sauce, but it was refreshing after a day of boozing. Plus…

This is why I like Untappd. It gives my drinking focus, purpose, and a general sense of accomplishment.

Mission completed.

While we were finishing up our meals the Irish Lad and Wifey joined us, followed later on by the Engineer’s Wife, who was at the Lakefront tasting the previous weekend. The five of us headed over to the nearby Five Horses Tavern, which allegedly had some good beers available.

They did.

There were indeed several intriguing choices available, but I soiled myself when I saw one particular item: Bear Republic Mach 10 dIPA. I’ve had many of Bear Republic’s offerings, but they didn’t have this when we visited Bear Republic back in November. So, I had to have it. All I can find from my tasting notes are “SWEET BABY JEEBUS IN THE MANGER” so apparently I enjoyed it. I don’t think there’s much that Bear Republic makes that I DON’T like.

Of course, I have no idea what everyone else was drinking, even though the Engineer’s Wife asked for my input to help her choose a beer she’d enjoy. Not a clue what we decided on. The Lady Friend and I finished our drinkies and headed out, though the Irish Lad was getting apprehensive about the growing bar crowd as well. We made a stop over at Downtown Wine & Spirits, and scored some Schenkerla beers. This is the brewery that makes the famous Rauchbier Marzen, though since then we’ve tasted there Helles as well. Downtown had three other varieties from the brewery that I didn’t know existed, so we scored those to taste another time. The other three went back to their homestead, and the Lady Friend and I boarded the 100-year-old Red Line once again. Back to SFHQ, my little cocktail cavern.

The Pub at Cape Ann Brewing Company

Hot on the heels of our visit to Ryan & Wood Distillery, the Lady Friend and I headed into downtown Gloucester to check another well-known North Shore location off our list. No, we didn’t see that statue of the fisherman guy.
We went drinking.
Of course.

Cape Ann Brewpub. Welcome to Gloustah.

Well, apparently it’s simply called “The Pub” at Cape Ann Brewing Company. Cape Ann is a family-owned microbrewery that makes locally-distributed brews such as Fisherman’s Ale, Fisherman’s Brew, and Fisherman’s IPA (notice a pattern here?). The Lady Friend and I popped in for a snack and a sampler, though why we didn’t take the tour, I can’t remember. Maybe they weren’t running that day, or we got there too late, but there was some sort of reason. The Pub itself is clad in a lighter, orangy-oak-colored wood, with heavy picnic-style tables and benches throughout, creating a very New Englandy nautical feel. The wood paneling gives a definite feeling of being in or on a ship, aided by the outdoor deck’s views of Gloucester Harbor. Overall, it’s a great look for a brewpub; it doesn’t seem overly-styled, though there was certainly some thought that went into the design of this place.


While I’m sure this place is a touristy nightmare in the summer, during the darker months it was distinctly filled with locals. There was a mix of blue-collar men, most of whom were bearded, and donned hoodies, faded baseball caps, or both. The other variety of client was of the older Yankee couple category, chewing slowly and glaring at everyone around them. Most of the patrons stared distractedly at the Bruins game on one of the many TVs, erupting into cheers and slapping the bar with every Bruins goal, or amused themselves with pub games. One in particular involved a wall-mounted hook, and a metal ring hanging from a length of rope. The object was to swing the ring in a pendulum arc so that it catches on the hook. A ridiculously simple task, yet maddeningly difficult to achieve. There also appears to be some sort of “mug club” for this place, as a couple hundred thick ceramic mugs dangled above the bar, no doubt awaiting the return of their owners. Doing our best to shut out the racket of the hockey fans, and avoid the icy stares of the memento mori Yankee geezers, we delved into a beer sampler. Cape Ann pours a paddle of six beers in the standard 4-5oz size. There were about 11 house brews offered in the menu, so we made our choices and set to work.

Hard work.

Fisherman’s Brew American Amber Lager
5.5% abv, 30 IBU
Nose: Malty, with some cereal.
Taste: Slightly nutty, again with some cereal-sweet malt. A typical mild brew.

Fisherman’s Ale German Kölsch
5% abv, 24 IBU
Nose: Little to no aroma. Straw yellow color.
Taste: Slightly bitter, stale flavor of Nobel hops. Cereal grain sweetness, but a little chewy.

Fisherman’s 70/Shilling Scotch Ale
4.3% abv, 10 IBU
From the menu: “Shilling categories were based on price charged per hogshead (54 Imperial gallons) during the 19th century in Scotland.”
Nose: Malty, slight roast and toasty. Almost a stout-like roast, but mild.
Taste: Malty, but with a lot of carbonation that lifts it. Some buttery diacetyl.

Fisherman’s Eclipse German Schwarzbier
4.5% abv, 24 IBU
Schwarzbier is a dark lager: schwarz = black, bier = beer.
Nose: Bitter roast, with a vegetable stink underneath. PEAS. Canned peas. The Lady Friend confirmed.
Taste: Roast, then pea-ness. Finishes with a pleasant roast bitter. Not sure where that errant pea flavor comes from.

Fisherman’s IPA American IPA
5.5% abv, 64 IBU
Two-row barley, Chinook and Sorachi Ace hops
Nose: Almost no aroma. Disappointing for an IPA.
Taste: Slight pine hop bitter with a savory/ meatiness behind it. Smooth malt finish. The Sorachi Ace sausage-y-ness strikes again.

Fisherman’s Dead Eye dIPA American Double IPA
9% abv, 130! IBU
Again from the menu, apparently a deadeye is “a wooden block used to adjust tension in the standard rigging of large sailing vessels.” Simcoe, Chinook, Nugget, and Citra (yay!) hops.
Nose: Bold. Sweet West-Coast tree/stone fruit. Sweet pint, and MINT.
Taste: Syrupy. Stone fruit. Wet, watery. Very nice. A touch of bitter/unripe hop cuts the sweetness. Awesome.

Apparently all my choices came from the first page of the menu. All the seasonal/weird stuff that the Lady Friend likes to try was on the second page, and I didn’t make it over there. There was a “tea party” barleywine and a pumpkin stout that she got, neither of which I was particularly interested in. I managed to make an impressive mess of myself chowing down on some BBQ wings (the picnic tables thankfully come complete with paper towel racks) before we finished our beers and headed on the worst possible route to dinner on Revere Beach. Thankfully, the guidos were largely in hibernation, so the frustrations were mainly due to our dyslexic GPS trying to direct us down one-way streets against the flow of traffic. This is why we drive HER car.

“Turn left, into harbor”

Basically, The Pub was tasty, but nothing mind-blowing. It’s worth a stop for some decent beers if you’re in Gloucester, but only the dIPA did it for me. Maybe it’s because my palate’s just gotten to that point where it takes a flavor bomb to budge it, but I just don’t really care much for weaker beers. Not that any of the Cape Ann brews were bad… all were good examples of their style, except for the scotch ale, which had an alarmingly buttery diacetyl flavor. Still, even that proved to be a good educational tool for the Lady Friend to taste a popcorny beer. The pea-ness of the schwarzbier was also very strange, as I hadn’t run across that flavor in a beer before. I’m not sure if the brew was off, but since we’re AT the brewpub, I have to assume that it’s a deliberate move. The deck is probably awesome in the summertime, and you might even get to punch a seagull or two, but I tend to avoid tourists and crowds as much as possible. Again, worth visiting, but nothing I would personally seek out again.

You down with CBC? Yeah, you know me

Ugh. Cambridge, The People’s Republic of. For those of you not familiar with the area, it’s called that due to the extreme liberal-hippie-happy-friendly-environmental-more bike lanes-fewer cars-save the whales, bunnies and tsetse flies-hipster-aged college professor-drive a Prius-shop at Whole Foods-mentality. It’s like an east coast mini-San Francisco, and one of the most densely-populated cities in the country, so there’s a lot of those douchebags. However, there are also a lot of bars worth visiting, despite the rather dubious beliefs held by the patrons. So, the Lady Friend and I gritted our teeth and boarded the wondrous Red Line T train on a grey December day that was as bleak as the Soviet communistic views held by the Cambridgians. It’s no coincidence that the Red Line travels to the Red Squares of Kendall, Central, Harvard, Porter, and Davis. If we were going to visit the Bloc neighborhoods on the other side of the Berlin Wall Charles River, then this was the gloomy weather appropriate enough to set the mood.

My point is, it wasn’t a warm sunny day. Also, Cambridge = Communists.

I’m not really Conservative, but I have little tolerance for the preposterously leftist views of Cambridge. They think everybody should feel good all the time, and are willing to use my tax money to that end, for things like college tuition for illegal immigrants and banning smoking on outdoor public benches. Guess what: happiness isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. It’s up to the individual to find ways to make themselves happy, not by legislation. The Constitution assures the PURSUIT of happiness, not guaranteeing happiness itself.

Personally, I recommend drinking.

It works.

So we went drinking.

A good place to pursue happiness.

Destination: Cambridge Brewing Company. These guys are local legends, and started way back in 1989. They’ve got a brewpub right in Kendall Square in an old mill building of sorts (if anyone knows what that building was originally, I’d love to find out). The brewpub itself is mostly solid-looking wood furniture and brick walls, as a proper pub should be. Quirky art pieces accent the bar and dining area: bold murals, wire sculptured hands grasping giant brews, and stained glass depictions of foaming pints. They brew a wide range of styles and influences, and I can’t think of a bad one I’ve ever had. The outdoor seating option in the summer is nice, but on this day, we were glad for the shelter and heat inside. It was a pretty mellow afternoon, and after originally being seated at a small side table, we abandoned it and sidled up to the bar. We snagged several samples; they don’t offer an official sampler or flight, but you can put together your own with 4oz samples for $2 each. The Lady Friend and I chose five apiece, and between the two of us, covered most of the menu. Here’s the lowdown:

Tall Tale Pale Ale
Nose: Mild, sweetish hop.
Taste: Sharp, bitter hop. Malt cereal fades in, but stinging pine lingers. A bitter English style hop.

Charles River Porter
Nose: Roasted dark aroma, but weak.
Taste: Roasted sweetness immediately goes to a sharp coffee bitter. Smooth, but bitter.

Big Man IPA
Nose: Weak aroma. Hop floral with some sweetness
Taste: Bitter start, but a citrus sweetness helps cut through it. A complexity; almost a layered taste with the bitter on top and a citrus flavor lurking underneath.

Valley Girl IPA
Nose: Nice hop citrus with a maltiness underneath.
Taste: Savory start, a little grease. A bit of spice, like a sausage snap. Pine sap.

YouEnjoyMyStout An 11% abv Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Nose: Sickly sweet nose, almost grape-like. Syrup in the nose, if that’s possible.
Taste: Slight syrup, but a wine-like quality. Sweet fruit flavor. Mouthcoating. A hint of roast hidden beneath the viscous goo. The Lady Friend just denounced it as “cough syrup” and struggled to find the will to finish it.

Also, they have Radioactive Man hanging out.
Not Homer, Radioactive Man.

So, as we tasted our tasters and munched some lunch, I attempted to avoid getting sucked into the slew of Will Ferrell movies on the large flickering screen. I practiced one of my favorite activities, bar eavesdropping. Well, if you’re sitting at the bar speaking loud enough for me to hear, it’s not really eavesdropping. Even if I’m leaning towards you and straining to hear what you’re saying over the general din of the room. However, it was a lazy Saturday afternoon at CBC, so I didn’t have to strain at all to overhear the conversation between the bartender and one of the stool inhabitants. They were discussing plans for later that night, about how Person A would text Persons B and C to tell them where to meet Persons A and D and where to find parking even though it’s right down the street because they want to drive in case the party is lame and want to have travel options besides the T which stops running too early and it’s cold out tonight. Or something like that.

She also happened to mention how, at a recent social event, she was recreationally drinking a particular CBC beer, the Tripel Threat, and got destroyed. She noticed me paying more attention to her conversation than my own (bartenders see and hear all. If you don’t think they see you, it’s because they’re ignoring you, and usually for a good reason) and came over once her friend left to ask if I’d like a sample of the beer in questions. Absolutely.

Tripel Threat 10% abv Belgian Strong Ale
Nose: Belgian wheat. Bubblegum.
Taste: Light and tasty. Again, bubblegum. Sweet with a slight banana.

Whoa. This does NOT taste like a 10% beer. And that’s the threatening part. The bartender, Emily, says it’s like drinking water. Which leads to a full day of recovery needed. Can’t party with the Tripel Threat. She also shared an amusing anecdote about their brewmaster. He was down in the cellar, and “tasting” quite a lot of the brew, since it didn’t feel like it was that strong. Then he stood up, and promptly fell over. Awesome.

So, lunch was excellent. More importantly, the beers were excellent, and enough to elicit a mild buzz, preparation enough for the cold that lurked outside. We finished up our remaining samples, and, at Emily’s suggestion, took a quick peek around the back room where some brewing equipment lurked, and headed out into the chill, which didn’t feel that bad, thanks to our liquid jackets. We had other stops to make. Hopefully the KGB wouldn’t demand our travel papers en route.

The Monday Hangover: Dec 17-18

The Monday Hangover:
Other drink adventures of note from the weekend.

Why is the sun setting before 4pm?

Ugh. It’s about time for the days to start getting longer. I’m tired of driving home in the dark.

Friday night was, as per the usual, Rule 37 Cocktail night. The Lady Friend made up her own, the Maurad, and I had an Angel’s Tit. And a cocktail. Zing. From there, we had several other drinks… I’m pretty sure she switched over to tequila, and I had myself a Double-term Presidente, using some tasty Roaring Dan’s Maple Rum from Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee. I brought it back after a trip out there last year. It’s pretty damn tasty. We did a tour and tasting at the distillery, while I nursed one of the worst hangovers I’ve had in a long long time. Spirit tasting was rough, but I was impressed enough with the rum to buy a bottle. They named it after “Roaring” Dan Seavey, because every rum needs a pirate.

And every trip to Milwaukee needs a horrible hangover.

I felt like we should get something accomplished on Saturday, so we hopped the T up to Kendall Square in Cambridge for lunch at Cambridge Brewing Company. It had been awhile since I went to CBC, but it was as tasty as always. There was a large tv up in the corner, which I really wish bars would stop putting in. It’s insanely distracting. At least for me… it doesn’t matter what’s on the tv; I can’t ignore the flickering siren song. In this case, Elf was finishing up as we sat at the bar, which went into The Land of the Lost. The bartender changed the channel and it went to Anchorman. Apparently Will Ferrell is the king of weekend afternoon movies. Following our CBC tastings and lunch, we headed over to the recently-opened (well, April) Meadhall, which boasts 110+ taps. Whoa. After a couple more brews there, it was back to SFHQ and then out to a holiday party in Weymouth. I had a glass of the cranberry champagne cocktail (vurry tastilly tart) and helped myself to an Otter Creek Wolaver’s IPA. Not bad, but nothing mindblowing, a decent, solid hoppy ale.

Sunday’s main event was the return of Sissy to the East Coast for the holidays. We snagged her from Logan and immediately absconded to Sunset Grill and Tap in Allston. Like Redbones, the Lady Friend had never been here before, so it was a visit long past due. They’ve got 100+ taps and I have notoriously bad luck choosing a beer. I’ve gotten into the habit of choosing three beers at a time, since they’re inevitably out of my first two choices. This time was different. I ordered a Boulder Beer Mojo IPA, which was strangely in the Double IPA section (Mojo Risin’ is their dIPA). I was assured that they had it, yet when the glass came, it was oddly dark. Mojo IPA is a nice orangey amber; this was deep nut brown. It smelled malty, without the citrus hop I was expecting. Again, I was assured that it was Boulder’s Mojo. Tasted it… nope. Way too malty. Not bad, but not Mojo. I asked the waitress again if she could find out exactly what “Mojo” it was. She came back with a blank face saying it was “Killer.” That’s all the information she could gather. Turns out, it’s Boulder’s Killer Penguin barleywine, which is a tasty beer, but not at all what I wanted. Ugh. I love Sunset, but it’s always a battle there. I don’t understand why I can’t just get the beer I want.

I followed up with Dogfish Head’s 120 Minute IPA. Because it was on tap, and there wasn’t any available last year. And it’s 120 IBUs. And 18% abv. Yes, eighteen.

After Sunset (the Lady Friend drove us… I was in Happyville, USA after the Dogfish) we returned to home base, the SquirrelFarts Cocktail Cave. Sissy finally got the full drink experience, having never made it to a cocktail night at SFHQ before. I started the two of them off with a round of Rum Stone Sours using the very vanilla tasty Sailor Jerry spiced rum. This drink is like chick crack… fruity, sweet, and full of 92 proof spiced navy rum. I started off with a Jack Rose for myself. By then, they were demanding something different, having happily slurped down round one, so I went with a Flamingo: 1.5 oz white rum, 1.5 oz pineapple juice, .25 oz lime juice, .25 oz grenadine, .25 oz simple syrup. I whipped out the Bully Boy for this one, and with all that juice and sugar, it was a big hit.

From there we had quite a variety, throwing whatever I could think of into the mix. While the femmes had a Paloma (one of the Lady Friend’s tequila cocktails) I had a nice little Old Overholt Whiskey Sour, followed up by an Income Tax, or, Bronx with Bitters. There are cocktails named for all the New York boroughs (the most famous is likely the Manhattan) and the Bronx is a decently easy-going tipple. However, it really picks up some flavors with a couple dashes of bitters, and becomes much more interesting. This version is from Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails:

The Income Tax (Bronx with Bitters)

– 1 1/2 oz gin
– 3/4 oz dry vermouth
– 3/4 oz sweet vermouth
– 1/2 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
– 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters

Shake/strain/serve. It’s ok on its own, but really nice with the bitters.

From Ted:
“It was the Bronx Cocktail to which the Income Tax merely added a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters. In fact, if you wanted to feel particularly film noir, you’d lean over the dark bar you found yourself in and growl, ‘Bronx with bitters, and make it snappy!'”

Also, be sure to make this one with FRESH-squeezed orange juice. It makes all the difference.

Somewhere in there we ordered a pizza, but I couldn’t tell you at what point. I think Sissy had a Tom Collins, complete with Old Tom gin but the timeline started to get loose. The Lady Friend had made some potato skins, which were doing a wonderful job of soaking up the booze, giving us more mixing playtime. Up next for the sisters were a double Sidecar for Sissy, and a Kamikaze for the Lady Friend. I had her try to guess what it was, but since I rarely use vodka, she couldn’t even pin down the base spirit. It’s essentially a Margarita with vodka switched out for the tequila. At any rate, it was amusing (for me) to watch her guess liquor after liquor trying to figure it out.

As a nightcap, they switched over to a couple of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPAs that the Lady Friend had purchased earlier, and I finished off with a lovely Negroni, showing Sissy the fun of flaming an orange peel. We chatted about who knows what, though Sissy did share her thoughts about the Squirrel Farts Drink Blog. Apparently she doesn’t necessarily read it, but squealed “I skim for my name… there’s a lot of words in your blog!” making sure to defend herself by noting “I look at the pictures!”

So as long as her name is in here, and there’s pretty pictures to look at, I’ve got another satisfied reader.

Soused in SanFran – Part 7: Bear Republic Brewhouse. Oh yes.

This here is Part Seven of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Oh Jeebus.

With the wine day finally vanquished, it was time for some BEER. And not just any beer, but a favorite of mine: BEAR FREAKIN REPUBLIC. It’s readily available on the East Coast and includes some heavy hitters as Racer 5 IPA, Hop Rod Rye Ale, Red Rocket Red Ale, and Big Bear Stout. Yowza. And here I was, where these beers were BORN.

It almost made up for stopping at six wineries earlier that day.

Sidenote: This fits in very nicely with another set of edicts for the proud dipsomaniacal lifestyle. I’ve already mentioned the source of Rule 37 as Modern Drunkard Magazine, and this list comes from their inebriated writings as well: 40 Things Every Drunkard Must Do Before He Dies. This one was Number 18: Visit the source of your favorite beer, wine or liquor.

“Make a pilgrimage to the headwaters.
Follow the river that’s fed you joy to its source.
Stand amongst the vats and barrels and absorb the knowledge
that this is the spring from which the good times flow.
Drink as many free samples as they’ll give you.
It might mean a trip to Dublin or Tennessee,
but from that moment on you can gaze into your glass and think,
‘Lad, I met your mother.'”

While Bear Republic isn’t my MOST favorite (I don’t think I have a most favorite) it’s certainly high on the list. The Lady Friend can keep her silly vineyards… for me it’s the distilleries and breweries where magic happens.

So, we put our names in as there was a bit of a wait for a table. I busied myself with snapping some shots, which worked well as BR has a lot of crazy crap on the walls. Bits of race cars (they sponsor some racecars), signs, snowboards and murals hung all over the place, boldly emblazoned with various BR logos and beers. The Lady Friend and Sissy snagged beers at the bar, and shortly after our table was ready. Sampler time! There are two flights of beers to choose from… the house ales and the specialty brews. The house sampler contains six of the well-known beers, like Racer 5, Big Bear, etc. I’d had all those before, so it was the nine-beer specialty sampler for me. Whoa. They don’t even fit on the serving paddle. THIS is going to be FUN.

Bring it.

Cher Ami Belgian Single
Nose: Nice malty grain aroma, slight yeasty fruit.
Taste: Tastes like malt extract. Some wheatiness, but NOT typical banana-clove. Clean, wet finish.

El Oso Mexican style lager
Nose: No discernible aroma
Taste: Water fountain (or “bubblah” if you’re in New England) water. Slight metallic taste, but not in a bad way. Not the copper sting of some red ales. Chewy. Finishes with a cereal sweetness.

Late Harvest Lager Octoberfest
Nose: Fruit! Cranberry! Cereal malt.
Taste: Nice sweet cereal malt. Not much to it, but finishes fruit sweet. Bitterness comes in later, fading in after the initial tastes have diminished.

Lucha Libre Lager Lager
Nose: No aroma. Darker copper color, unusual for a lager.
Taste: Sweet malt, slight bitter, but finishes with a cereal grain taste.

Jack London ESB Extra Special Bitter Ale
Nose: None. Well, a very slight malt.
Taste: Clean, watery and malty. Refreshing. Slight fruitiness from the malt.

Rebellion SMASH brew
Ok, this was a SMASH (Single Malt And Single Hop) brew. They made two batches and changed only the hop. This version used Palisade hops.
Nose: Slight citrus, but weak.
Taste: A nice bitter grapefruit citrus, with some slight pine. Nice. A bit of a roasted flavor from the malt as well.

Rebellion SMASH brew
See above. This was the Calypso hop version.
Nose: Very light. Citrus?
Taste: Sour start. Mouthwatering. Sour citrus. Watermelon. Really gets your saliva glands going. Very cool.

Café Racer 15 Golden Double IPA
! ! ! SWEET! Racer 5 is tasty, but I had a hankering for BR’s Apex dIPA which I tried at a craft beer fest earlier in the year. They didn’t have Apex around, but they DID have Racer 15 in the sampler. 100+ IBUs and ooooooooh so tasty.
Nose: Fantastic. Delicious hop citrus wonder. (That’s what I wrote)
Taste: Slight syrup mouthfeel. Bittersweet hop. Malty finish. Wonderful balance. A+ If only I could find it in MA.

Extra Delux Tripels Alley Belgian Tripel
Nose: Belgian wheaty. Slight banana.
Taste: Banana. Belgian wit. Clove, but eases away leaving banana sweet taste.

At some point during all this craziness, we were joined by my buddy, Murs, who was living in Healdsburg and working as a harvest intern (grape slave) for two local wineries, one of which was Mauritson, which we had visited that afternoon. I first met Murs a couple years ago for a surprise going-away party for the infamous Trevtastic, who lived in Boston at the time. We met again in the magical metropolis of Milwaukee, where he was roommates with ‘Tastic, complete with a doormat reading “Bust a Move.” Earlier this year, he scooted off on a wine adventure throughout France with Bybee and Ke$hia Ho (read about it here. Bybee’s version is over here. And don’t forget Ke$hia Ho’s). Returning to US soil, the three of them made their way to SFO/Sonoma to work in the wine industry, and see what it’s all about. Murs and Bybee went to work as grape slaves, while Ke$hia Ho became a cocktail slinger at Blu Restaurant.

So we caught up and he told his tales of grape slavery. Basically, it’s cleaning. Lots and lots and lots of cleaning. Cleaning everything the grapes could possibly come in contact with, then cleaning it again. Then three more times. With heavy duty corrosive, caustic, scorch-the-Earth-so-nothing-may-grow chemicals. Yikes. It seems one of the least important things about making wine is actually making the wine.

Somewhere in there some food was served (the Lady Friend had prime rib, and apparently it was excellent), but I was more concerned about getting a full pour of the Racer 15. OMFG. Heavenly. Just fantastic. Sweet, West Coast citrus hoppy, but not too malty, something I’m shying away from these days. I don’t remember what anyone else was drinking… I was in boozy oblivion. Pretty sure Murs had a pour of El Oso. All I recall is that my food was tasty (and made an awesome mini-meal when we got back to the hotel room) and my belly, and brain, were full of happy beer.

When I die, bury me at Bear Republic.

Soused in SanFran – Part 3: SFO D2 Magnolia

This here is Part Three of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

I’ll try to break these up a bit more for readability and sanity. Mostly my sanity.

Also, we’ve just gotten to Friday morning, so Sissy, you’re going to have to hold tight.
We’ll get to your part.


Friday’s first booze stop and lunch destination was the Magnolia Pub and Brewery, which, from the reviews I’d read, was highly recommended for both their food and beers. We hoofed it through the little “Panhandle” park and uphill to the corner of Haight and Masonic, dangerously close to Hippieville. However, it was around 11 or so, and the flower children weren’t out in full force yet, though a couple street urchins lounged about on the sidewalks nearby.

Once inside, we found refuge from the great unwashed hordes lurking on the streets, and discovered a rather aged decorating scheme to the pub. Antique patina-ed mirrors, a mosaic tiled floor, dubiously murky ceiling stains, chalkboard menus and lots of dark, heavy wood create an old-timey steampunk vibe that was a refreshing change from the shiny new brewpubs that lack the charm of their time-ravaged brethren.

Pictured: character.

Two things immediately hit us in the face when we walked in: steam, and the overpowering smell of barley malt. The temperature in the place had to be at least 75°, which felt tropical compared to the crisp autumn climate outside and entirely fogging the windows. If there were any doubts about this place being the real deal, the boiling wort under the floor made a persuasive argument. We sat at the bar and ordered a couple beer samplers from the bartender, Sal, who was extremely friendly, and looked like he was Zach Braff’s cousin. There were nine house-brewed beers on draft that day, so the Lady Friend and I split the list to get a taste of each. The flight includes six beers of your choice, which come in a unique, triangular-shaped, wooden tray of sorts, and your selections are thoughtfully written down on a little postcard. There were some interesting brews here, outside of the standard pale ale/ IPA/ stout offerings of most brewers.

Plus, they’ve won some medals. BEER medals.

Rosebud Belgian Ale
Nose: Similar to my bottle of Meletti Amaro. Sweet, with some eucalyptus and menthol.
Taste: Fizzy, carbonic bite. Mild, soothing flavor. A little cinnamon, a little wheat. Sweet.

Barking Pumpkin Pumpkin Ale
Poured VERY dark, almost like a stout. Very dark ale.
Nose: Pumpkin spicy with a roast quality. A sickly sweet roast that the Lady Friend pegged as “pecan pie.” Molasses.
Taste: Pumpkin spice start, eases to a bitter roasted bite in the middle.

Proving Ground IPA
100 IBU! Hopped with Simcoe, Stirling, Cascade and Washington.
Nose: Lovely hop! Citrusy sweetness.
Taste: Bitter, then sweet, then bitter, then sweet. A hectic jumbled start, eases to a resinous grapefruit bitter that lingers. Frenzied and awesome.

Dark Star Mild
Nose: English style malty bitter, like an English bitter ale. Roasted with some slight chocolate underneath.
Taste: BITTER roast on tongue. A strange sweetness I couldn’t put my finger on. Not milky, but some vanilla, with a mocha coffee finish. Couldn’t quite pin down that sweetness though. Intriguing.

Weekapaug Gruit
Had to ask about this one… a gruit is an herbal mixture for bittering beer without using hops. This one contained yarrow, rosemary, chamomile and anise.
Nose: Herbal. Eye-opening. Again, eucalyptus and cough medicine, as in an amaro. Roasted malt underneath.
Taste: Sweet. Herbal succulent. Lady Friend got potpourri, while I went with amaro, and Sal agreed with me on this. Very strange, and would be a good digestif. Don’t know that I would enjoy a whole pint, but very glad I tasted this one.

Blue Bell Bitter
Nose: No discernible nose. SLIGHT cereal sweet, though there was quite a bit of barley aroma in the air which made our nosing rather difficult. The tall highball style glasses helped funnel some scent out of the beers, but even with a good swirl, I couldn’t get anything out of this one.
Taste: Nice hop bitter start. Eases to a watery malt wash. Nice and mild. Very drinkable.

There was a bit of overlap in the lists, and we both had the Rosebud, Barking Pumpkin and Proving Ground IPA. These are the other three that were in the Lady Friend’s flight.

Long Break Bitter
Nose: Nice citrus hop. Lady Friend got some apple. Poured with a nice yellow straw color.
Taste: Mild hop bite. Carbonic. Clean. Light and refreshing with a hint of lemon.

New Speedway Bitter
Nose: Sweet. Light barley – not like a heavy malt aroma. Cereal grain, fruit.
Taste: Cereal sweet. None of the heavy malt syrup.

Kalifornia Kölsch
Nose: Cereal sweet. Typical Kölsch, with a slight pils staleness.
Taste: Slight sharp bitter, but otherwise light and clean.

Somewhere in the midst of our tasting, we perused the menu, which was very artfully designed and crafted. Seriously, it was really nice, without being over the top. Totally fit with the rest of the aesthetic of the pub… an elegant vintage style with a patina of dust and years of service. The menu fare itself was apparently brand new, as they had recently changed their food offerings. I delighted in a fried chicken sandwich, which was moist, lightly fried and tasty, served on a soft, fresh baguette (we literally saw the bread guy carrying in bags of baguettes) with gooey melted cheese and salty fries. It really was excellent. Fresh and delicious. They Lady Friend decided to test out the gastropub leanings of the place, ordering a grilled cheese made with goat cheese, mushrooms and kale.

We both immensely enjoyed our meals, and eavesdropped on the bar staff’s conversations involving one of the customers across the room. Apparently, the customer had ordered a Snakebite, which is a half-and-half concoction of lager and cider. There was a mild debate amongst the staff as to how to make it, with one of the servers arguing that it specifically had to be half pilsner. It was a moot point, as the bar won’t even serve it. They will give you two beers and let you mix it yourself, but for reasons that weren’t quite clear, they won’t make it for you. It probably has been shown to cause cancer and birth defects, just like everything else in California. These stupid signs were in every bar, and I was surprised the next day when there wasn’t a placard in the shower telling me that water increases the risk of drowning.

Silly regulations aside, Magnolia was fantastic. Of course, we were there for an early lunch, so I have no idea what the usual scene is like, on a Friday night for example. They really did live up to their gastropub claims, without being douchy about it. Our bartender Sal was very friendly and helpful, and unless they’re pumping in fake steam and barley smell, it’s a true brewpub. Go there.

Sidenote: For New Englanders, you CAN get a Snakebite at the Coat of Arms pub in downtown Portsmouth, NH. After you’ve had a few, go across the street to the infamous Gilley’s and get some wonderfully greasy diner food served in an old dining cart.

Soused in SanFran – Part 2: SFO D1

This here is Part Two of the Grand Caliventure of November 2011.
For Part 1, make the clicking to here.

Hold on to your butts, this is going to be a long one.

The dawn did done diddly dawned Thursday morning as JJ and her husband scurried about the apartment and left for work and classes, respectively. The Lady Friend and I eventually changed out of sleepy pants and rallied for the day’s adventures. The one certainty on the schedule was a lunchtime visit to 21st Amendment Brewpub, but after that we were open until tentative happy hour plans with JJ. We decided to walk, since it was a couple miles away, and I like to wander and do some street shooting. Went down by the water to see the Bay Bridge on the way, and then were plenty ready for lunch and beer.

Slightly bigger than Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth, NH. Slightly.

21st Amendment Brewery is a brewpub in the South Park area of SFO, and is apparently near AT&T Park, a baseball stadium that is a whopping 11 years old. How cute. Fenway is almost 100 years old, so suck it California. 21st is, of course, named after the Twenty-first amendment to the Constitution which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment of nation-wide prohibition. I’ve had several of their canned offerings including the Brew Free or Die IPA, Hop Crisis ImpIPA, and Hell or High Watermelon (of which I believe there’s still a can in the Lady Friend’s fridge.) While they don’t have an official sampler of their beers, you can order a sample of each, which we did. However, the normal canned beers (which apparently are canned in Cold Spring, MN) were not on the list. They might have been on tap, but we were at a table instead of the bar, and didn’t get a look. Here’s what we got:

We tasted right to left.

Ninkasi Total Domination IPA (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple fruit. Slight malt. Very light and airy aroma.
Taste: Green, unripe tree/ stone fruit. Tart, apple.

Rammstein Bavarian Wheat
Nose: Banana clove. Sweet and aromatic. The Lady Friend described it as “circus peanuts” that marshmallowy orange candy.
Taste: Initial spiciness, eases off to a banana/ bubblegum wheat flavor.

Roasted American Amber Ale
Nose: Roasted malt/ barley. Not a coffee roast, but a TOASTED aroma.
Taste: Burnt toffee. Not syrupy. Not quite toast-like, but essence of golden brown crust, like fresh baked bread. Slight copper metallic, but very slight. We both really liked this one.

Fireside Chat Dark English Ale
Apparently they’re canning this one, but I haven’t seen here yet.
Nose: Very weak aroma. A stir with a fork yielded some slight fresh-baked cinnamon bread aroma.
Taste: Cinnamon raisin bread. Gives way to a slight syrup maltiness with a touch of roasted bitter.

Schooner’s Oatmeal Stout (Guest Brew)
Nose: Roasted oats. Yep.
Taste: Bitter coffee, but eases off. Very smooth. Finishes with a roast bitterness lingering. Nice.

Two Rivers Granny Smith Apple Cider (Guest Brew)
Nose: Apple juice. Tart and sweet.
Taste: Tart start. Mouth puckering. Not too sweet, but finishes nice and apple-y. I’m not generally a cider fan, but this one was really nice, and not too acidic.

It was very lumber-y inside.

Following our sumptuous repast, we started wandering around with thoughts of heading down to a beer store where I planned to do some purchasing. However, though it began as a brisk, sunny day, by mid-afternoon it started to rain. Then pour. Plans for walking several blocks were aborted, and we about-faced to head towards Union Square. I had gotten in touch with a friend of mine from my former company, Qwadd Grafficks, who I met by chance on a tour of a printing plant in Wis-cahn-sin. She also turned up on one of our ski/snowboard house trips to Killington/Pico in Vermont (SnoHaus 2010). She left Qwadd to travel to France earlier in the year, and was now working as a bar manager in SFO. She traveled with two other Qwadd ex-pats, who, following the trip, became wine harvest interns in Sonoma County. Ke$hia Ho is a plucky little Asian girl with dance moves that demoralize any white boy within a seven-block radius, except perhaps Trevtastic. She rocks a New York fashion-sense, despite her Minnesota upbringing, and since I saw her last has developed quite an appreciation for, and knowledge of, cocktails. She had Thursday off, and agreed to meet us in Union Square, then hang out for the afternoon.

The Lady Friend and I ducked into a dark Irish sports bar to dry ourselves, just off of Union called Lefty O’Doul’s, who is apparently some former baseball player. It was appropriately dark, dank and bar-like, so we grabbed a couple stools at the end of the bar and ordered up two Anchor Porters. When in Rome. Sidebar: it also happened to be International Stout Day. A porter may or may not technically be a stout, depending on who you ask, but I had the oatmeal stout sample at lunch so THAT TOTALLY COUNTS. Louie, apparently a regular, was having a grand old time a few seats down slurping Heineken’s and hitting on the female waitstaff, who are plainly used to his advances. Ke$hia Ho strode in after a short time, and we departed for a bar called Top of the Mark, a hotel bar with commanding panoramic views of the city. Though the rain had stopped, this unfortunately meant hiking, and I do mean HIKING, up several of the steepest hills mountains I had ever encountered in a city setting. It’s not even funny.

The view was pretty nice.

So, Top of the Mark is a ritzy little cocktail and piano bar, and we flipped through the extensive drink menu looking for a tasty tipple. However, something quite alarming caught my eye: the Top of the Mark Negroni, made with Ketel One Citron, sweet vermouth, and Campari. Wait… what? A Negroni made with VODKA?? Guess what tardclowns, THAT’S NOT A NEGRONI. I should NEVER have to specify that I want GIN in a Negroni. Ugh. They lost all credibility for that one. Unbelievable.

Despite the waiter’s near unintelligible accent, we managed to place our drink orders, with Ke$hia Ho sipping on a French 75 (she had some champagne earlier in the day and wanted to keep the theme going) and the Lady Friend trying what she thought was a Tequila Sunrise, until something tasted a bit off. Turned out, she got a Tequila SunSET, which was Stoli, 1800, Grand Marnier and Grenadine. Take a tequila drink and dump in some vodka. What is the matter with this place? Anyway, the cocktails were pricey, the waiter unsuccessfully attempted claw his way through the English language, they massacre classic drinks, and we spent our time there next to a group of business types drinking Bud Light. In a cocktail bar. The only reason to go here is to see the views, which were very nice, but after you’ve seen it, there’s no excuse to go back. Also, the bathroom, while elegantly decorated, had the distinct bouquet of a thousand haunted farts, with strong overtones of wet dog. Time to leave.

So, leave we did, thankfully taking the bus instead of walking, to a bar called Harry’s to meet JJ for happy hour. Yes, SquirrelFarts, there is a Happy Hour. We’re not in Boston anymore. Nothing too special about Harry’s… casual, but nice, and dark. There were $3 drafts, including Lagunitas IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Awesome. The Irish Lad isn’t a fan of Lagunitas IPA, though I’m still not quite sure why. I think it’s slightly pine bitter, but delicious.

As we were chatting, a girl came up to our table calling Ke$hia by some other name… I forget what. After some confusion, we figured out that apparently Ke$hia is this other girl’s doppelganger. When the other girl turned up, it was a pretty close match, and mild chuckling ensued. We had a few munchies until JJ arrived, looking rather drawn and haggard. A nice pint of Sierra Nevada revived her, and we all headed to a Peruvian restaurant for dinner, though some of us would have much preferred a slice of pizza.

The place was named Fresca The roasted chicken looked tasty, and that happened to be the one thing on the menu that the kitchen was out of. Super. So, I said I didn’t want anything else, and started doing some tasting notes on my Cuzqueña Peruvian lager (no nose whatsoever, a slight skunky “green glass” lager taste with some cereal grain sweetness. Also of note: it’s allegedly the only South American beer that adheres to the Reinheitsgebot; the German purity law that says beer must be made only from water, barley and hops.) I’m not sure if the notebook did it, (although I have had strange things like this happen before) but all of a sudden the waiter came back saying there was magically ONE more chicken in the kitchen, and would I like it? Um, sure. Maybe they thought I was some sort of reviewer or critic, but whatever the reason, I got my chicken. And it was tasty. As were the accompanying french fries I very nearly inhaled.

After that we called it an evening (since it was a work night for JJ). Ke$hia hopped a bus with plans to meet up with us again the next day, and the remaining three of us stumbled back down Fillmore to the apartment for another night of futon slumber. This was just day one: more drinking adventures to come!

‘CuseQuest! Part 3: Beer Day Cont’d – EMPIRE

Whew. Way too much in the last post to try to squeeze in Empire, which deserves a little space. Empire Brewing Company is down on Walton Street in Armory Square, a historical part of downtown Syracuse. The armory (now the Museum of Science and Technology, or M.O.S.T.) was built in 1859 and was part of the industrial bustle of old Syracuse. Its proximity to the Erie Canal, and subsequent railroads, created an economic boom in the area, and large hotels and businesses flourished until the 1930s when the railroads were removed from Syracuse city streets and the area gradually declined. Which is a nice way of saying it fell apart. It joined the rest of Syracuse in the condition of “urban renewal” without the “renewal,” a motif which lingers throughout the city to this day. However, in the 1970s, bunches of yuppies and artists started buying and fixing up the old buildings, and now Armory Square (there is no actual “square” unlike Clinton Square) has a lot of the trendier places in town and is on the National Register of Historic Places. As a student, I never really ventured into the city, as most of us stayed in our university bubble on top of The Hill. I had always heard about it, but only went down there maybe once or twice. This was another area of the city I’d have liked to explore further, but just didn’t have time on this trip. We did, however, manage to get to Empire, the exterior of which is reminiscent of a subway entrance, as you descend the covered stairs into the depths of the brewpub.

The belly of the beast.

We sweatily plunked down at the bar, grateful for it’s dark, subterranean climate, embellished greatly by the steady air conditioning, one of America’s greatest inventions, and the namesake of the Carrier Dome. See how I tied that up all nice and neat? Yeah, I was proud of that too. Anyway, the point is, it was as hot as hornets on a hound dog, and I was in desperate need of cold air and colder beer. The bartender, Cinthia, (all “i’s” as she was quick to point out, though the “y” or “i” question was on the tip of my tongue) set to work pouring our six-beer flights, though she glanced warily when we requested a flight for each of us, not to share. “It’s two and a half pints of beer,” she added in her Rah-chester styled upstate accent, a dialect that almost sounds Chicagoan in influence. I let it slide, though my internal arrogance wanted to boast “Silly hu-man female! No mortal pint can drown the likes of SquirrelFarts McAwesome! Now fetch my flagons of ale, post haste!” Instead, I set to tasting.

Flagon fetching!

Skinny Atlas Light
The name plays on “Skaneateles Lake,” the nearby finger lake that is Syracuse’s water supply, and is so pure and clean, the city uses the water unfiltered. Not to be confused with Lake Onondaga, one of the most polluted lakes in the country. Apparently this beer won a gold medal in 1999 at the Great American Beer Fest. There are other such medals framed around the brewpub, so these beers come with some credentials.
Nose: “Beer.” Light, not much to smell.
Taste: Apricot-like fruit. Apparently everything was tasting of apricots to me… I was getting a lot of it at Middle Ages. Plenty of flavor for a light beer. Nice and refreshing. I could drink it all day and enjoy it.

Empire Amber Ale 5.2% abv

Nose: Weak aroma. Hint of malt.

Taste: Buttery. Popcorn. Malty with cereal grain. Sweet and tasty. I know a buttery flavor can be the result of some renegade yeast, (UPDATE: It’s called diacetyl) so I’m not sure if this is how the batch was SUPPOSED to taste, but either way it was delicious. Sweet, but not in a sickly sugary manner. Yum.

Black Magic Stout
This used a nitrogen backing instead of carbon dioxide, as does Guinness.
Nose: Coffee. Roast. Some sweetness. Smells excellent.
Taste: Creamy. Milky. Lactose? I asked Cinthia, and she said it wasn’t a milk stout; it was just the nitrogen (smaller bubbles) that gave it a smoother mouthfeel. She gave us a bonus taste of their nitrogen-backed blonde ale as well to see another example of the creamy smoothness. The stout also tasted with a chocolate finish, but of a high-cacao dark chocolate. Semi-sweet chocolate chips or other bitter cocoa. Very nice. Black magic indeed.

Downtown Brown (seasonal)
Anyone else immediately think Downtown Julie Brown? No? Just me? I’m old. This seasonal was described by Cinthia as an English style brown ale but with American hops. She didn’t know specifically which hops. I asked.
Nose: Roasted barley, much like a stout.
Taste: Syrup mouthfeel, though not too overwhelming. Flavors of roast coffee (from the roasted malt) and maltiness. Very tasty. Four out of four have been good so far, Empire.

Empire State Pale Ale IPA 6.8% abv
This was served to us as the pale ale, but later on Cinthia decided we were the real deal, since I was taking pictures and writing tasting notes, so she came back over to chat a bit and let us know that they were out of the pale ale, so this was actually the IPA instead. I had initially thought it was quite hoppy for a pale ale, so it’s good to know that I’m not crazy. Well. Debatable.
Nose: Excellent fruity hop, floral. Lady Friend described it as “Cat pee?” quickly adding “…but not in a bad way.” Um. Ok then.
Taste: Citrus. Nectarine/ peach/ tree fruit, as a Citra hop, but not quite to that level of flavor. Similar however. YUM. Lady Friend described it as tasting of Sauvignon Blanc, but I have no idea what that means.

Empire Summer Ale (seasonal) (duh)

Nose: Weak, but with a hint of lemon. Summery in color and aroma.

Taste: Grain sweet. Lemon/ citrus. A slight stale finish, but light and refreshing. Tasty, with lots of flavor, almost in defiance of its pale aroma and color. Nice.

That takes care of my six samples. However, two of the spots are reserved for seasonals, and they had a number of rotating brews available. I had the summer and brown while Lady Friend got two others. Somewhere along the way with our beer tastings we figured out that to cover the whole range, we should each order as many different ones as possible and then share. We didn’t specifically set out to do it this time, but it happened to work out nicely, thanks to Cinthia’s proficient pouring prowess.

White Aphro (seasonal)
This was a Belgian-style white ale. Not my chosen style, but I give everything a fair chance. However…
Nose: Spice. Winter ale-like. Wheaty/ banana aromas typical of a Belgian white. Hint of orange peel?
Taste: Urinal cake. Yup. That’s exactly it. It tastes the way a urinal cake smells. Fake “citrus” chemical grossness. Ewwww. Big swing and a miss on THAT one.

Deep Purple (seasonal) 8% abv!
Apparently this fruity beer is made from organic Concord grape concentrate sourced from Geneva (Geneva, NY, I’m assuming.) Deceptively sweet, clocking in at eight percent alcohol by volume.
Nose: Sour wine. Grapey. Grape off the vine, not “grape flavor.”
Taste: Um, grapey. Winey. Juice-box. Too much flavor to want to finish it. Meh. Couldn’t imagine an entire pint of this. Yowza.

Blonde Cream Ale

This was the nitrogen cream ale that Cinthia and I were discussing earlier along with the nitro stout. I’ve found that in bars/ breweries/ brewpubs, if you simply talk the talk, bartenders recognize that you know what you’re doing and will often slip you something extra to try or discuss. It’s not my intention to score free tastes, but a) bartending can be very boring, especially an afternoon shift b) product is cheap. Sure, everything has a cost associated with it, but for a manufacturer, product is worthless until someone is willing to pay for it. Not that a 5oz pour from the tap will bankrupt anybody, but it’s always appreciated on my end. The best tasting booze is FREE booze.
Nose: Slight hop, but it was a struggle to get any aroma off of it.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. A nice, mild hop. Very tasty. Lady Friend’s take: “You could drink a LOT of that.” The nitrogen really does make for a very smooth drink.

Off and on, I had been wandering around the place taking some pics. It was a quiet, Saturday afternoon, so it was pretty empty and didn’t get many stares. Yes, I take pictures of bars people. I’m not trying to take a picture of YOU, so quit staring at me like I’m a stalker. I love the look of this place. It may not have the “proper” pub atmosphere of dark wood, but the brick walls make a nice alternative. Low ambient light (as it should be) with plenty of accents highlighting various art pieces and awards. Around the corner, next to the bathroom, I stumbled upon a cool piece: a mixed-media mural (hey, I’m an art kid. I get to use terms like “mixed-media”) of the Empire “e” logo in copper, with the “e” composed of bottle caps. The background? A star stylized with, of all things, Genesee beer labels.

Genesee Brewing, or “Genny” as it is known, is famous for making an, um, economically-priced, cream ale. The brewery began way way back in the early 1800s as the first brewery in Rochester, NY. They started making their creme ale in the 1960s, and it is both revered and reviled throughout the Northeast, particularly in NY State. Seriously, ask any baby-boomer who grew up in the Northeast if they remember Genny and you’ll get either a grin or a gag. Maybe both. Currently, Genny is part of a corporation called simply “North American Breweries” that includes Magic Hat, Dundee (they make a Honey Brown beer), and Labatt’s USA division. Whether the Empire poster was created as homage or satire, I don’t know. Empire is all about local, fresh ingredients, so my guess is that it’s more of a reaction to the mass-produced Genny gems.

So, Empire was great. A lot of tasty beers. Well above average. After Empire, we made a stop at Liquor World in Dewitt, right next to Wegmans. They boasted low prices and delivered on that promise: I scored a 1 litre-sized bottle of Campari to replenish my dwindling supply for about $26, at least $4 less than the smaller 750ml counterpart costs in MA. Same for a bottle of Old Overholt Rye… the 1 litre size was cheaper than the 750ml equivalent. Score. The Lady Friend bought a couple of bottles of wine as a thank you to funcle and his female companion for letting us crash with them, and the whole family clan converged at his home for a cookout that evening, some of which I hadn’t seen since my graduation from SU. I helped myself to some Saranac in funcle’s fridge; a black and tan, and a vanilla stout, both of which were tasty, unlike most of Saranac’s offerings which I find uninspiring. Lady Friend and I cracked the Stone IPA bomber to sip with dinner, and after the family left, she and I relaxed on the porch with the Peak Organic Hop Noir black IPA, though I was sleepy at that point. Time to rest up: Sunday was *shudder* WINE DAY.

<- Click that picture!
This is it! We're down to the wire!
The last day of voting for me is Sept 9th, so DO IT.

Don’t make me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.


Upta Potlind, Paht 7: Bray’s Brew Pub

This is Part Seven of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.


Following a day of tours and tastings including Gritty McDuff’s, Allagash, The Maine Beer Company, the Great Lost Bear, Sebago Brewpub, and Novare Res, I awoke rather reluctantly Saturday morning with a case of the beer flu. Bacchus’s revenge. Morning fog, cropsick, crapulence. Suffering from intemperance. Not eager to start the day.

Eventually, I rallied enough to gingerly coax some Hatorade, that Lady Friend had graciously procured from the nearby Shaw’s, into the depths of my gullet. Baby steps, baby steps. But, we had an itinerary to keep, and after passing a rather interesting sign proclaiming an imminent invasion of little people, the first stop of the day was Bray’s Brew Pub in Naples, up Route 302, next to Sebago Lake (apparently there is a “Lake Sebago” in New York State).

Sebago looks like this.

Bray’s Brew Pub claims to be only about 30 minutes from Portland, but if you’re heading up Rt 302 in the summah be aware that it’s the ONE road to the lakes region, and every yahoo in Cumberland County is going boating. Bray’s is located at the intersection where Rt 35 forks off of Roosevelt Trail/Rt 302/Rt 35/Rt 11. Seriously, Maine? Anyway, if you’re goin’ up dere from Potlind, it’ll be on the left, and it looks nothing like a brewpub. It looks like an old farmhouse, mostly because it IS an old farmhouse.

Not pictured: helpful exterior shot.
I wasn’t really functioning at peak efficiency at the time.

This place was pretty cool. Seriously… picture an old-timey farmhouse, and put a bar in it.

Little Alehouse on the Prairie.

We sat down to lunch, and ordered a flight of beers to share. I was able to keep down some Pepsi (gotta get that caffeine and sugar boost going), water, and a taste of each beer. Lady Friend took up the duty of finishing off the wounded soldiers. I managed to eat one (1) french fry, and that was enough. When I get hungover, the LAST thing in the world I want is food. Others go the opposite way, like my Milwaukee mate ‘Tastic, who demolished a breakfast burrito the size of a terrier after a night of drinking, along with a Bloody Mary that was more garnish than drink.

Seriously. It’s not a “drink” if it’s mostly solid foods.

When I’m hungover, my stomach and I need some time apart. We go our separate ways and meet up after about 10 hours when my appetite returns, and we reacquaint, stronger than before. Sometimes in a relationship, you have to know when to just back off, and spend some quality time away from each other. As such, I have never been able to follow the “hair of the dog” technique, but was able to do some mild tastings of the brews that Bray’s produced. They had five pours of roughly 4-5oz, and we started sipping, one of us with much less enthusiasm than usual (this guy).

Taste order was right-to-left.

Irish Red Ale
Nose: Malty, slight copper.
Taste: Smooth & creamy. Malty, grain. Slight bitter finish, but not metallic. Very nice.

440 Blues Brew (blueberry)
Nose: Slight farmy aroma, with fruit.
Taste: Fruity, then malt, then slight bitter. Fine, but not a ton of flavor.

Old Church Pale Ale
Nose: Hoppy floral.
Taste: Hop start with malty sweetness. Well-balance. Nice.

Baa Baa Black Wheat (stout?)
Nose: Bitter coffee roast
Taste: Bitter coffee roast. Not much sweetness.

Muddy River Bog Brown (brown ale)
Nose: Weak, malt aroma
Taste: Malty, but cereal sweet.

Nothing was bad, but nothing jumped out at me. I suspect my palate was also not entirely up to snuff, but there really weren’t any surprises in this batch. However, they also do offer a 50+ bottle list, which was very nice. Sadly, the family behind us (apparently from central NH, as overheard from the patriarch’s vociferous boasting of the infinite differences between the superior glory of the NH lakes region versus the squalor of ME) did not partake of the wonders offered, choosing a Bud Light and a Michelob. At a brewpub. Sigh.

Hmm… bring me your finest, coldest, low-calorie, pasteurized, cut-with-30% rice,
St. Louis pale lager, and be quick about it, my good man.

Yes, Budweiser is brewed with up to 30% rice, taking the place of things like barley. You know, to get rid of that pesky “beer” flavor. Ick.

Bray’s also has an outdoor Bier Garden section, with tented seating, an outdoor bar, and a stage, which was put to use shortly after we arrived. A large group of bikers began walking in, including a number of police bike units. Their department patches gave away their origins, with several from Portland, Lewiston and one from Old Orchard Beach, some 50 miles away. As near as I can tell, it was some sort of memorial ride, and the bikers mostly wandered out to the bier garden where a classic rock band had started dishing out the best ear poison from BÖC, BTO and REO (Speedwagon, in case there was some confusion). It was time to go.

Don’t fear the Reaper.

This was our last beer stop in Maine. The next destination was a winery called Blacksmith’s, where Lady Friend did a tasting, and was quite impressed. I tried some local cream soda (lovely) and a very nice hard cider, made in the British style: not too sweet. We were the only ones in the place, and chatted with the bartender, Brandon (Brendon?). He sympathized with my plight, and offered his own remedy: chug a bottle of chocolate milk. He insisted that the milk gives your stomach a nice, creamy coating and helps you feel better. I retorted that everything in a radius around me would be quickly and violently coated with said milk if I attempted that cure. But it was another interesting tidbit to file away.

We had intended to drive up to Lewiston and tour Baxter Brewing Company, a canned craft brewery, (apparently New England’s first all-canned), but the distance and the enthusiasm level led us to abandon that plan and head south to visit friends in North Berwick for dinner. On the way, we pulled off at a small beach on the lake to dip our feet. Brandon had suggested diving in to help clear my head, but given the lack of appropriate swim attire, and the long car ride home, wading would have to do. It was quite nice, and was another checkmark on our Maine-approved activities, followed up by blueberry picking with the Maine friends, a lovely dinner of grilled chicken, corn on the cob and potatos (my appetite had returned by then), and a post-meal walk with Casey Sage, the golden retriever. Back into the car as night fell for the drive back to Boston, my own lovely bed, and a refrigerator now stocked with a plethora of souvenir brews, waiting to be tasted.

Upta Potlind, Paht 5: Sebago Brewpub

This is Part Five of an ongoing series chronicling the Maine Beercation of late July, 2011. To start at Part One, click here.

I say See-bay-go, you say See-bah-go

I had stopped by Sebago Brewpub a couple years ago while interviewing for a job in Portland. It was on the corner of Market and Middle streets right in the middle of downtown/Old Port, and looked the way a brewpub should… dark wood, a proper bar, fermenting tanks lurking behind glass along the side of the dining area. However, as Lady Friend and I discovered, they had moved to a new location, on Fore Street, several months ago. This… was a bit disappointing.

Um. Not very brewpubby.

Their new location is all shiny and new, with lighter wood, brightly painted walls, and silly track lighting. The dining sections take up the majority of the space, but there is a decently long bar. I’m guessing they were doing well enough to abandon the old location in favor of this space. Good for them. I’m not saying more business is bad; I’m just of the opinion that the old location had a lot more character, and this one looks too new and manufactured, like a Boston Beer Works. I know that Sebago has several locations, but this new space LOOKS like it’s part of a chain.

Is there a bar back there somewhere?

This was a bit disappointing, but I’ll get over it. At least it means that business is good, and people are buying decent, local, craft beers, so I’ll let it slide. We asked the hostess for a table for two, and she said it’d be an hour wait. Yikes. I mean, it was Friday night, and the place was hopping, as evidenced by the interior photos above. We put our names in and headed to the bar with the idea of having at least one beer, and bouncing to another place for food if we didn’t feel like waiting. I spotted a breech in the wall of bodies at the bar and sent Lady Friend scooting over to secure a beachhead. I was staring at the taps, trying to decide what to order, when someone tapped me on the shoulder: it was Rob, the brewer from Gritty’s I had met at lunchtime. We chatted a bit about who works where, and how everybody has worked for Shipyard Brewing at some point, and I ordered a Citra Hop IPA that was on tap, not part of the normal lineup. Lady Friend snagged a blueberry ale, and as we were paying for the drinks, the hostess came up and said a table was ready. It had been about five minutes of the original hour wait estimate. Cool. We hadn’t understood why the wait was an hour in the first place, when we could see several empty tables.

We sat and started to taste our drinks. My Citra Hop IPA nosed with floral hop and a citrus aroma. The taste smacked of apple/tree fruit, a bit more sharp and/or tart than Irish Lad’s homebrew version, and drier. There was a smooth, malty undertone that didn’t so much counteract the hop, but added a counter-melody, playing along with the predominately fruit/hop flavor. It was good. Her blueberry was tasty, without being too sweet. A lot of fruit-flavored beers tend to wind up tasting like a mild ale with fruit syrup flavoring dumped in. Sebago’s version didn’t seem to have that problem. Lady Friend really enjoyed it, saying it was her favorite blueberry beer that she’s encountered so far.

We ordered dinner, and it was perfectly tasty. More importantly, we had to get a flight of beers for a tasting. There were five in a flight, decently sized at about 4 oz, and 10 varieties to choose from. Ours consisted of the five standard offerings: ale, IPA, brown ale, red ale and stout.

Saddleback Ale
Nose: Faint fruit/wheat. Faint.
Taste: Malt. Cereal grain with a touch of bitter.

Boathouse Brown Ale
Nose: Roasted and malty
Taste: Roasted and malty. (I know, very original). Sweet. Slight copper tang, but then finishes malt sweet.

Lake Trout Stout
Nose: Roast. Coffee beans.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. Bitter roast, but not unpleasant. Hint of vanilla sweetness. VERY good.

Runabout Red Ale
Nose: Very faint. Slight fruity malt, but hard to tell.
Taste: Starts fruity sweet, changes over to copper/metallic. Finishes copper bitter, but there is an interesting point in the middle of the taste when the sweetness starts to mix with the copper bitter. Unfortunately, the copper keeps going and leaves a sour taste after a nice transition.

Frye’s Leap IPA
Nose: Floral hop with a sweetness behind it
Taste: Syrupy mouthfeel. Starts with hop bitter, finishes medicinal. Alcohol. Middle has tart apple, and a bit of earthy flavor. Terrible finish. Too harsh. Like the red ale, there’s a lot of interest in the middle transitional flavors, but then gets ruined by a bad finish.

So, Sebago was a mixed bag. I miss the character of the old location, but if they’re doing business well enough to open this new space, good for them. The food was good, standard burgers-and-fries type pub grub. The beers were tasty overall, with a few disappointing finishes. However, the Lake Trout Stout stood out as the clear winner in the batch we had… a nice roast, smooth mouthfeel and pleasant experience start to finish. Lady Friend saved half for an after dinner treat. I was horrified to see a table of four behind us with only one member drinking beer. There was actually some dbag drinking a martini. In a brewpub. I bet it was vodka.

Next up: Novare Res Bier Cafe

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