Westmalle Trappist Dubbel

July 31, 2008

7% ABV from a bottle

I’ll spoil this review right off the bat and tell you I’m giving this beer an A+.

After giving only two A pluses in my first 100 reviews, this will now be my second A+ in my last nine. I’m starting to feel like a grade-inflating Harvard professor, doling out A pluses to every single student because we all know that every one that goes to an Ivy League institution is a brilliant, exceptional, and hard-working child that deserves nothing but the highest marks. Or, rather, they have rich parents that will make blackmailing claims of withdrawing their monetary contributions should their kid get (gasp!) a B.

Perhaps, I’m being unfair to myself. Look at my grade categories in the right column. Four A pluses, fourteen As, and fourteen A minuses compared to only eleven total Ds and three total Fs. If you plotted my grades out on some graph paper, it certainly wouldn’t be a bell curve, in fact, its “bell” would be very far to the extreme right, more so than even Jim DeMint. It would look like I’m a classic grade inflater. But I’m not. It is just that on a daily basis I am relentlessly searching out what are considered the best beers on the planet. Intentionally avoiding macro shit that I know would get Ds and Fs from me in order to drink quality. I see no reason to tipple Miller High Lives and Natural Lights and Milwaukee’s Bests* with the same frequency I drink quality stuff, just to get an accurate-looking bell curve. That’s life. That’s science. And those are my findings. And you can’t argue with scientific findings. Just like the findings have found men to be smarter than women and Jews to be the best lovers on the planet**.

So fear not, dear reader, that I will ever intentionally overrate or underrate a beer, simply because I “need” a grade. I will always honestly score them and if I keep finding myself drinking A pluses I shouldn’t be upset, I shouldn’t think it “bad” for me and my blog, but of course I should be exuberant–I’m drinking another fucking masterpiece!

Thus, after last week’s brilliant Westmalle Trippel tasting I knew I’d have to try their Dubbel.

I expected it to be great but slightly “worse” than the Tripel, a solid A brew. If you don’t know a lot about beer, you probably think what I used to think, that a dubbel is essentially just a less-alcoholic version of a tripel. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Both smell and taste amazing, no question.

But while tripels are pale in color, dubbels such as Westmalle pour an almost stoutish dark black, with hints of ruby red appearing. While tripels have light, sweet, and citrusy flavors, this dubbel had some serious bite. Dominant tastes of malt, burnt sweetness like coffee, darker rich fruits such as plums and cherries, and caramelized sugar as if full of toffee.

And, most interesting to me, while the Westmalle Tripel was light, almost refreshingly light, on the palate, the dubbel was far more potent, despite it being 2.5% less alcoholic. A paradox!  Being a fan of bold barley wines and strong ales, though, this is just how I like my beer.

The Westmalle Dubbel is imminently drinkable, it tickles your tongue all the way down to your throat. I wish this beer wasn’t so expensive ($5.99 for a 12 ouncer is what I paid at the store) because I could drink these all night, every night. It’s so hard to savor because it is just so delicious and near perfect in every way.

I would even dare say that the Dubbel is better than the Westmalle Tripel.  It is, at least, as good.

I enjoyed this with a friend, a girl who absolutely does not drink beer–ever–and who even hates the smell of it to be near her. I urged my friend, whose drinking standards run the gamut from pear vodkas to peach vodkas with an occasional raspberry vodka when she feels like branching out, to give the Dubbel a try.  I was so impressed with the beer I needed to share it with someone else.

She refused at first, but I urged her on.

Trepidatiously, she took a small sniff. Then a little sip. The look in her eyes showed that even she was shocked she wasn’t revolted.

“This is the first beer that I actually understand how people could like it. I get it!”

What better praise then that? A beer so good even non-beer-drinkers understand its brilliance.

Now I’m only mad that Westmalle doesn’t have any more beers for me to try and award A pluses to!

A+

*Other than the fact that the worst beers seem to produce some of my funniest essays.

**Masters, William H. & Virginia E. Johnson & Robert E. Kolodny, “Human Sexuality,” 2nd edition, 1984, page 784


He’Brew Rejewvenator

July 30, 2008

7.8% ABV from a bomber

I’m a bad estimator of how much I plan to drink in an evening. Luckily, my eyes are bigger than my liver and I always overestimate, often causing a stockpile of beer to…well, stockpile. Pre-barring Friday night I knew I wanted my first two beers to be the pricey and potent Westmalle Dubbel and Hair of the Dog Fred. I thought I might need just a tad more beer before I headed out so I opted for the Rejewvenator. Why? For three reasons:

1. It was only $3.99 for a bomber and after having spent an incredibly pretty penny on 12 ounce bottles of the Dubbel and Fred I needed some bang for my buck.

2. Jewish pride always gets me. Seinfeld, Woody Allen, Hank Greenberg, Ryan Braun, Neil Diamond, Pauly Shore…if you are Jewish I will most certainly overrate you.

3. I’ve never had a fig beer before. Hell, I’ve never heard of a fig beer before. Fuck, I think I’ve only had figs before in Newton form. This could be interesting.

Of course, I was already kinda in the tank after the brilliant Westmalle Dubbel (review later this week), so I decided to pass on the highly acclaimed Fred for another time (review next week), and head straight for the marginally acclaimed Rejewvenator to “get the job done” before heading out on the town.

Rejewvenator came out in a ruby red pour. Does it taste figgy? Eh, not exactly. At least I don’t think. But it has a unique flavor and a good one at that. I taste chocolate, malts, a little hops, and a bit of a sour finish. It was tons better than I thought it would be. Very flavorful, pretty complex, nice bite.

I was really digging this beer early on in the bottle but by bomber’s end I had grown a bit tired of it and wasn’t liking the pronounced alcohol taste.

Having said that, for the most part, I had a really enjoyable time drinking this one, especially considering I bought it as a bit of a goof.  L’chaim.

A-/B+


Nat Sherman Suave

July 29, 2008

This weekend I realized that cigars aren’t just something that makes you look awesome, leads to the onset of cancers, makes others question what you are overcompensating for, gets you shunned from most establishments, and guarantees you won’t be kissed by any girls post-smoke.  They’re also terrific for getting fat-assed tourists to move out of your fucking way.  Let me explain.

I needed to run an errand crosstown on Saturday.  A thirty to forty minute walk with no real mass transit opportunities.  No big deal because I prefer walking anywhere and everywhere anyways.  The only problem with the walk is that it would pass through the most reprehensible part of Manhattan, midtown, home of Times Square and Rock Center, the absolute mecca for tourist rubes looking to get in my fucking way as they take retarded pictures of things that if you google image searched you’d get millions of entries returned, get caricatures sketched of themselves by Pakistan immigrants (are there not caricaturists or Pakistanis in any of the other 49 states?), and intensely study the outside posted menu in front of Bubba Gump’s  (“Mmmmm…the coconut pina colada-battered jumbo shrimp cocktail sounds delightful, honey.”)  I needed a plan.

The afternoon was pleasant so I thought a cigar would be a nice companion for my stroll.  I hopped into the newly redesigned Nat Sherman’s on 42nd.  Of course I got the cold shoulder from the pretentious fucks working there.  Perhaps I deserved it.  I was dressed in my typical slobby weekend attire:  hangover shades, backwards Syracuse cap, dirty t-shirt, dirty khaki shorts, dirty flip flops, dirty smells wafting from me, and dirty words coming from my mouth.  I hate when the old geezers working at high-brow establishments act like I don’t belong there, as if they do.  Bro, you get paid near minimum wage stocking the Hugo Boss suits, you don’t actually fucking own them.  Likewise, these jolly old white fucks at Nat Sherman were behaving like I had dared barge into their own private humidors, bringing my bad vibes and bad smells with me like Pigpen from “Peanuts.”  I’m gonna let you in on a secret, guys, no matter how shabby I look, I can probably scrounge up enough loot to buy an $8 cigar.  Not much of a drop in the bucket for me.

Eventually, a younger chap assisted me out.  As with most vices, I like to go for the hardcore, the extreme.  I like high ABV beers, foods so spicy they’re nuclear, and bourbons and Scotches that singe your throat.  Likewise, I typically enjoy pretty formidable smokes, though not too formidable as I’ve never been a cigarette or weed smoker and don’t have that hardened of lungs just yet.  Having said that, I hadn’t eaten all day and didn’t want to smoke anything too violent on an empty stomach, thinking I should have something light lest the nicotine would cause me to pass out on Broadway and the insatiable tourists to start eating me, vultures ripping my limbs off and chomping on them like they were turkey legs.

I’m always loathe to tell a cigar salesman I want something light cause then they immediately think you a pussy and start recommending pussy shit.  I told the gentleman that was helping me to not give me any pussy shit, and he assured me he wouldn’t.  He also asked that I refrain from loudly saying the neologism “pussy shit” in his classy establishment.  He immediately recommended something from the store’s own line.  He said the Nat Sherman Suave would smoke easily, smoothly, and for the full duration of my gallivant to the east side, the most important selling point for me.  I jokingly told him that if I didn’t like the cigar I’d come back and kick his pussy shit ass.

As I was walking out the store into the humid air and the throngs of pachyderm-sized sightseers cracking my city’s sidewalks, the brilliant idea hit me.  It wasn’t just going to be tasty to smoke the cigar, it was also going to be quite pragmatic as I walked through the slow moving tourist area.  I clipped my cigar with the elan of a moyel circumcising a Jew baby, sparked a taper up and lit my 8 inch torch.

I immediately learned I was right.  Walking through Times Square and then across 59th street exhaling cigar smoke like a fire breathing dragon, this Jew parted the sea of fatsos better than Moses parted the Red.  I used my cigar like a classic Sunset Limited train used its cattle catcher to get cows out of it path.  When the cigar wasn’t in my piehole, it was held out in front of me like a fencing epee.

“Impede my way fanny-packed-dad-from-Omaha and I may just poke you in the eye with my tobacco stick!”

“Plop down in front of me Mormon-family-of-fifteen and I’ll burn you all to the fuckin’ ground!”

“Force me to play Red Rover with you massive-dawdling-church-group-from-Tennessee and there will be casualties!”

Tourists cowered from me in fear, fathers tucking their wives and young children behind them so that they wouldn’t be affected, sullied by the brazen New Yorker marching a swath crosstown toward the East River like Sherman marched to the sea.

However, one southern tourist, clearly showing off for his overly make-upped girlfriend, had the gall to sass me:

“Hey.  Could you watch where you blow that smoke, man?”

“Sir, New York has the 5th worst quality air in America. I ain’t making it any worse, in fact, my fragrant plumes of Dominican flavor are making the air smell better.”

I then I flicked my cherry toward his Teva’d feet.

However, I had lied a bit to the tourist still clad in a frat t-shirt even though he was in his late thirties.  My Suave wasn’t that great of cigar.  True, it did smoke pretty smoothly and indeed lasted the length of my whole walking trek, but the flavor was pretty unexciting.  Indeed it was light, kinda creamy, a little tingle the tongue, but nothing spectacular.  It wasn’t offensive, just not that interesting.  I probably wouldn’t get another one.

And no, I didn’t march back to Nat Sherman’s to kick the salesman’s ass–I neglected to mention that he was a brick shithouse of a 300 pound and ripped African American man, looking like he should probably be Jay-Z’s personal security detail.

As I was nearing the end of my smoke I passed a hansome cab driver leaning against his horse while it shit in the bag strapped to its ass.

“Ain’t nothing finer in life than a good see-gar,” he said.

“Right you are, sir.  Unfortunately, this ain’t a good one.”

FAIL


Captain Lawrence Cuvee de Castleton (2nd batch, 2008)

July 29, 2008

PREVIOUSLY ON MY TOP TEN MOST WANTED LIST

No ABV listed but purpoted to be 6%

Throughout my entire childhood I was a collector extraordinaire. Baseball cards, comic books, Pez dispensers, action figures, celebrity autographs, movie paraphernalia, Wheaties boxes, vinyls, and things so much more nerdier that even I am ashamed to discuss them. Or, have repressed them from my memory as if they had sexually abused me (pogs anyone?). I went to card and comic shows, flea markets, garage sales, auctions, and autograph signings to procure my minor treasures, usually accompanied by my father or a fellow nerdy collecting buddy. Eventually, I got bored with amassing shit as I moved into my teens and more interesting and loftier pursuits entered my frame of reference. And, I thought I’d pretty much given up collecting for good around age 15 or so when I virginally realized that I didn’t want to ever bring a girl back to a bedroom filled with displayed Starting Lineups and Spawn comic books. I was wrong.

I am very much still a collector. I am very much still a nerd. I am a beer collecting nerd. I came to this eureka moment in a most startling and sudden manner this previous weekend.

The weekend saw the release of Captain Lawrence’s exceedingly rare (only 840 bottles released per annum) and highly acclaimed (a perfect score on Rate Beer) Cuvee de Castleton. I could not find a single person to go with to the brewery, but that wouldn’t stop me, I knew I had to make the 38 minute train trek upstate by myself. My readers and my taste buds deserved it. Also, this beer could only be purchased on site. I’m always up for an adventure and this was going to be my first time entering the world of true beer freaks. I expected a scene, but I was totally blown away by what I was to witness.

The release was at high noon and based on the buzz on beer forums and messageboards (yes, these exist) I speculated if I got there between 10:30 and 11 AM I should be in fine shape. Stupidly, I went out and drank hard on Friday night, not being tucked into bed til 5 AM or so. Back up at 8:30 I threw on some dirty clothes and my hangover shades and hustled to Grand Central, catching a 9:30ish train off the isle. Of course, fucking Metro-North was delayed but I still pulled into Pleasantville, New York around 10:50. The Captain Lawrence website claims the brewery is only 8 city blocks from the station, but I got incredibly lost, proving that either I was still very drunk or am very much a retard. However, I opt for option C and will claim that the Pleasantville locals are retarded as every single person I passed gave me conflicting directions. People! One of the finest breweries in all of North America is in your tiny hamlet and you don’t know where it is?! Good lord, it is your town’s greatest treasure.

Any how, after probably walking on every single inch of sidewalk in Pleasantville and the surrounding towns, after considering hitchhiking and praying for the only cab for surely hundreds of miles around to pass by me, I finally stumbled upon the right path, sweating pure grain alcohol and fried bar foods from my pores as I sauntered into the Captain Lawrence parking lot at 11:59, just as brewmaster Scott Vaccaro arrived, the doors were opened, and the beer was released to the public. I was well in the back of the line and probably looked and smelled homeless–though I didn’t hear anyone clever enough to quip, “Hey buddy, this isn’t a special release party for Cuvee de Mad Dog 20/20, hehe.”–but I nevertheless tried to schmooze up the people around me.

Always anxious to learn things I don’t know, to pick the minds of strangers, I started talking to the guy right behind me in line. He looked normal–nice clothes, a smart haircut, claimed he had come up from Brooklyn–but he was an unbelievable dork. It was like trying to talk to a fucking MIT doctoral candidate. I’m not sure if he knew more about beer than me, but he was using all sorts of unnecessary esoteric terms, treating beer as if it wasn’t some pleasure to be consumed and enjoyed and used to stimulate female loins but rather some public policy initiative to filibuster about. He also kept mentioning his “girlfriend.” People that find a reason to constantly mention their “girlfriend” unprovoked and apropos of nothing–“Wow, the weather’s sure nice today, just like my girlfriend said it would be.”–usually haven’t had carnal knowledge of a female in years. And, in fact, out of the hundreds and hundreds of people camped outside the brewery, the only three members of the fairer sex I saw were one obese chick who had been dragged along (wheelbarrowed along?) by her boyfriend, and two cute little girls that had been brought with their no-doubt-deservedly divorced father. (I was quite curious whether those girls would be allowed to purchase any bottles as each person was only permitted to buy four maximum.)

I couldn’t even converse with this nerdy little twit behind me, as he was doing all the talking, pontificating, droning on about beer as if he was trying to hypnotize me. I finally reached my last straw when we were each handed a tiny sample of some other brew. You see, it was a convivial atmosphere in line, with people all across the northeast converging at Captain Lawrence, most folks bringing along a bottle or two of interesting and semi-rare beers from their neck of the woods in order to share with those unable to get the stuff in their own areas. My nerdy cohort and I were lucky enough to be handed a few plastic cupped ounces of Ithaca TEN, a rare brew I’d been wanting to try for a while. I cheersed the man who gave me the free tasting and quickly gulped it down. Indeed it was tasty. That whole process took me, oh, about 45 seconds, you know, like a normal human being. After dispatching of my drink I looked next to me to see that the nerd had been hovering with his nose above the beer–eyes sensuously closed and erotically fluttering, natch–for the entirety of the previous minute, looking as if on the verge of passing out from carbon monoxide poisoning. Then, with an unannounced but quite ceremonious fury, my man ferociously sniffed, nay snorted, the fumes of the strong beer as if he was trying to double-barrel some coke so viciously that it would instantly go up his nasal cavity and explode his brain to smithereens. As you can imagine, the additional processes he went through in order to finish and fully enjoy the ounce or so of beer took several more minutes. I cannot imagine going out drinking with this bloke and his “girlfriend.”

He was the paradigm of the kind of beers snobs I hate, and others like him were all around me. At this point, I decided to give up on talking to people, just hoping to quickly nab my rare beers and get some free samples in me as the previous night’s drunkenness was wearing off and the delirium tremens were sneaking up. The line was moving slowly, however, and I couldn’t help but observe the other anxious tipplers around me. The dorks around me. Fat, poorly dressed, hirsute, goofy, and annoying. Just like the populous of any sort of convention where a small coterie of like-minded collectors gather. Later, I would actually hear one man to say his friend as they first sipped the Cuvee, “Dude, we are livin’ la vida loca.” Swear to God.

I’m not sure if beer is enough of a social lubricant for these people. I suppose beer can lubricate one enough to give them the courage to speak, but never enough to make one say things interesting. Or normal. I looked at these people with disdain. How can we share the same interests I wondered?!

Then, I did what I always do when around a freak show alone, I texted a friend to share in my hilarious misery.

AARON: “people that go to special beer release parties are the biggest nerds in the world. seriously.”

FRIEND: “are they dressed in beer costumes? real nerds always wear costumes.”

She was just making a joke, but she didn’t realize how prescient she actually was. I smirked and then looked up to realize that, yes!, everyone was in costume. Every dork in line proudly wore a crusty old XXXXL t-shirt celebrating their favorite beer or brewery. Hats commemorating beer festivals they’d been too. And, each nerd had brought along a favorite beer drinking vessel in order to have their first tastes of the Cuvee de Castleton. Yeah, it wasn’t as bad as dressing like Hermione, or Geordi La Forge, or fucking Captain America, but it was still a goddamn costume.

It was then, as I was in my fifteenth minute or so of queueing*, that I realized waiting in line for a rare beer wasn’t that much different than waiting in line for Ozzie Smith to not look up at you as he quickly scribbles his 5th grade penmanship autograph on an official MLB baseball for $20. It hit me, my God!, I’m like the John Cusack character in “High Fidelity,” who may be kinda handsome and put together, who may attract sexy women and get laid, but who nevertheless is as much of a geek as the loner weirdos that shop at the record store he owns!:

“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here–mostly young men–who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased–underlined–Frank Zappa albums. I’d feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn’t…well…kinda one of them.” (“High Fidelity” 2000)

It all made sense now.

I came to an upsetting realization: normal people must look at me with the same disdain as I was looking down on these nerds! To an outsider I was indistinguishable from these cretins!

Aw, fuck it, I wasn’t “one of them.” I was much cooler than all these people. I may not be George Clooney, but goddamn I was still a different species from these Trekker types.

By 12:45, and just a few minutes before the beer was sold-out completely, I had my maximum four bottles, I had a refilled growler of their double IPA, I had a free sample or two in my belly, and I had glanced at a train schedule to realize I had just 4 minutes to sprint back to the station and get the fuck out of Dodge. With fifty pounds of glass and beer clanging in bags draped over my chest, I flip-flop sprinted back as hard as could. I must have looked the part of the consummate Vice Blogger on my ride home as I hogged three seats across with several hundred ounces of beer on me, a cigar protruding from the front pocket of my Polo begging to be smoked, all as I cavalierly read from the latest issue of “Playboy.”

I’m not sure if I can handle going to one of these nerd beer conventions again. It really held a mirror up to myself that scared me, that made me question who I am as a man, that busted my self-confidence in two, that made me think I should grow a sloppy beard and talk about original gravities, wort, and diacetyl all day.

Oh, who am I kidding?! The second another limited release comes out I’ll be up at Captain Lawrence or some other regional brewery dorking out, no doubt scorned by the others after everyone has read this anti-beer-nerd missive.

But let’s get down to brass tacks. How does this magical beer taste? It is surely one of the most limited released beers in America, and certainly the rarest brew I’ve ever had (compare to the 12K bi-yearly release of Utopias).

Captain Lawrence compares it to a champagne and they aren’t lying. I popped the top and it nearly exploded, ejaculations of foamy whiteness coming from the bottle like I was celebrating New Year’s. It pours fizzier than any beer I’ve ever seen before. On the label it is described thusly as a “…combination of Belgian style ale which has been re-fermented with hand picked Muscat grapes & aged in wine barrels. As the beer ages in the oak it undergoes a secondary fermentation using the wild yeast known as Brettanomyces.”

Cuvee de Castleton smells very much like a champagne and tastes like it too. Upon my first small sip, I almost retracted my tongue, I was so surprised by the intense tartness as this is the first wild ale I’ve ever had before. Definitely the most non-beer-tasting beer I’ve ever had as well. Even more so than Utopias. This really has nothing that really grounds it to being a beer except for the slight Belgian Ale of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Very carbonated, some good bite. You smell and taste white grapes and some spice too. Lemons and green sour apples. You’d have a hard time convincing a lot of people that this is actually beer though.

The sourness nails you at first so don’t give up on this beer after the first sip. It takes a while to figure out this brew’s brilliance. Luckily I got 4 bottles**, two of which I am making my first attempts at cellaring, which should actually make the beer even more sour Captain Lawrence claims.

Due to the tartness you have to drink it slowly, but that’s a good thing as it helps you absorb it better. I don’t think any one besides me will say this, but ask yourself if you like Sour Patch Kids before having this one. (Oh he’s so irreverent say the beer snobs reading this!) The tartness is remarkable though, my mouth was puckered for at least an hour after having the bomber. Everyone around me must have thought I wanted to kiss them. Perhaps I did. The beer makes you giggly and high just like some champers. I don’t completely buy that it’s 6% either. I was kinda fucked up after one solo-consumed bomber.

Cuvee de Castleton becomes more beer-like the more you drink it and the warmer it gets. The oak flavor starts to really come through in this insanely complex brew. I was confused at first by this beer as it’s my first wild ale, but by the end I was loving this and glad I have so many more bottles.

I really don’t think this is a beer that impatient neophytes will like and it would be hard to convince them otherwise. They should probably avoid it as I could see them doling out knee jerk F grades. And, considering I’ve drank one bottle and thus there are at maximum 839 left in the world, good chance these folks will never get to try this masterpiece.

Finally, I have never struggled so much to score a beer. I danced back and forth between maybe something in the Bs upon my first shocking taste before settling down, understanding the beer, and sometimes thinking it an A, many other times thinking it an A+. Really though, I think an A+ beer should be a no doubt about it. Of my only three A+’s, I knew they were A+’s the second I tasted them and likewise in each and every subsequent sip from there on out until the glass was drained. Thus, after far too much in-head deliberation, much like “Twelve Angry Men” inside my cerebrum, I had to finally admit that Cuvee de Castleton deserves an…

A

My final sip was an A+ though and I can’t wait to try bottle number two.

*Nerd fact: Only word in the English language with five straight vowels.

**Beer traders interested in having a bottle, please check out my Top Ten Most Wanted list and make me an offer in trade!


Stone Ruination IPA

July 25, 2008

7.7% ABV from a bomber

The Vice Blogger and the Alkie

What kind of cosmic practical joke is this? What sort of karmic retribution has become me? I now find myself living with a bonafide alcoholic fresh out of rehab.

Done laughing? Let me explain how this happened. My actual roommate–rather, the man I lease a room from–Brandon is…an interesting character. Actually, Brandon is his Christian name, he goes by his Indian yogi master-issued name currently. Professionally at least. I may write about him some other time, but dynamically we do get along swell. Mainly because we’re on vastly different schedules. I’m coming home from the night while he’s waking up on his wood board (seriously) bright and early to teach his first yoga class of the day. At home I’m a loner and so is he, both of us staying in our shut-door bedrooms, never bothering each other, even having the courtesy to only head to the bathroom when we’re sure the other one of us is safely tucked in his abode, therefore preventing any idle and uncomfortable chit-chat from occuring. We both like it this way.

Then, about a month ago, I came home drunk, late one night, and this man Steve was quietly sitting in my filthy, miniscule, and never-lived-in living room, just staring at the wall. Not sleeping. Not reading. Not eating. Not watching TV. Just sitting. A little weird, but I see weird a lot in my life. We shook hands, chatted for a sec, and I learned the basics. He was a friend/student of Brandon’s from yoga class. He inferred he’d only be staying a night or two. You know, like a normal houseguest. No big deal.

About a week later, I realized Steve was still living with us. No, I never saw him, I just noticed very basic things that meant he was still among us. A tussled blanket on the living room floor, a pair of shoes near the front door, and one of my towels had been taken out of the closet and used. None of this particularly bothered me as I was never seeing Steve and I’m a generous enough guy to let a stranger soil one of my towels.

Then, one early weekend morning as I slept off a hangover, a knock on my door. Brandon has never knocked on my bedroom door so I knew it must be the infamous Steve. I was still groggy as I opened the door with a terse “Yeah?”

“Hey man, can I borrow some money?”

At the early hour that didn’t seem like such an odd request. I explained I had none as I eschew paper loot in favor of plastic. Much neater. I did have a huge pile of change tossed carelessly onto my nightstand though, only quarters and some dimes as I throw most pennies and nickels away.  They are stupid coins that just weigh down my pockets. I told Steve he could have the pile. In fact, it would be a favor to me as it would tidy up my nightstand and free up some space for more essential bedside items that you may wish to imagine about in your sick minds. Steve put his cupped hands slightly under the surface of my nightstand as I used my arm like a croupier uses a hook at the craps table in order to shovel the five to ten dollars U.S. toward him.

The next day, Steve asked to borrow my cell phone to make some calls and I complied. Fine, I realized, Steve is broke and kinda pathetic, perhaps lost his job, and Brandon is helping the guy out. That’s all. I’m a firm believer in you helping out your fellow man. And by “you,” I literally mean you. I don’t wish to help these down-and-out folks.

The next day, Steve asked to borrow my phone again. And he did so the next day and the next day and the next. And he began asking to borrow some cash every single day too. Now I was getting fucking annoyed as this squatter was living amongst me. Meanwhile, Brandon had skipped town back to his mother and father’s house in Delaware for an extended relaxation vacation from his job which is essentially based on relaxation.

Steve began acting erratic and weird, acting like he owned the joint. Every single morning I awoke to find our front door wide open. Sometimes Steve was in the apartment, often he wasn’t. Likewise, every single time I returned home, regardless of the hour, the fucking front door was ajar. Again, sometimes Steve was there, sometimes he wasn’t. Now I don’t exactly own the Hope Diamond and living on the absolute top and semi-deserted floor of our building we are pretty secluded, but I didn’t exactly like this behavior. It wasn’t safe. Only problem was, now I wasn’t seeing Steve for days despite the fact he was clearly still living with me, inexplicably using an entire bar of my soap every fucking time he showered. Luckily, he only seemed to shower once every four days or so. I’m one of those old timers still using bar soap. Irish Spring Sport to be exact, which I purchase in those bulk twelve-packs. How was this motherfucker using a bar a bath? I didn’t want to know. I began hiding my soap, towels, and computer in a little nook in my room.

One Saturday night, I returned home at like 5 AM. Of course, the front door was wide open but this time I found Steve inexplicably in the bathroom, the bright lights shining down on him as he lay on an afghan on the dirty floor, his feet touching the tub and his noggin mere inches from the less-than-spic-and-span bowl. He didn’t even appear to be trying to sleep.

Steve looked up at me as if this behavior was very much normal.

“Hey Aaron, can I borrow a few bucks?”

This was 5 AM recall, after I had spent a full day drinking beers and smoking cigars. I responded to his charity request quite kindly…

“Steve, could your move your fucking head? I need somewhere to stand while I take a piss.”

The next day, some three weeks after Steve began staying with us–I mean with me as I don’t believe Brandon has been in the apartment in weeks–I finally got a call from my AWOL roomie. He quickly began talking in a run-on sentence.

“Aaron I’m really so sorry he just got out of treatment and I wanted to help him out for a day or two but then he just started staying and he wouldn’t…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa–BACK UP. ‘Treatment?'”

“Yeah, treatment.”

“For what?!”

“Oh, he’s a big-time alcoholic and drug abuser. Just got out of Pederson-Krag the day before he moved in with us.”

I could not believe I had been living with an alkie–that wasn’t the little Aaron devil that sometimes resides on my right shoulder–for nearly a month. While still on the phone I sprinted to the fridge, grabbing about $50 worth of trappist beer and some American strong ales I had recently stocked up on. I transported them back to my room where I hugged the cold bottles like teddy bears, softly telling them, “The big, bad drunkard ain’t never gonna steal you guys away from me!”

I’m so pissed. At Brandon and at the alkie. I sit quietly in my dim room right now writing and drinking a Stone Ruination IPA, perhaps appropriately named as my life is more ruined, seemingly in more shambles, than the Parthenon. In all seriousness, Stone named the beer Ruination because they (only partially jokingly) claim it will RUIN your palate it’s so damn hoppy. Stone claims it make foods bland and makes lesser beers undrinkable. They’re probably right as it packs a whopping 100plus IBUs. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units and is the measure of how hoppy, how “extreme,” a beer is. Usually on a zero to 100 scale. Your typical macros would probably check in at under 40 IBUs or so, while IPAs and barley wines soar toward 100 if not higher, though higher than 100 is often a gimmicky if not miscalculated number. It’s not gimmicky in Ruination’s case though. Predictably, I love high IBU beers.

I use a vanilla scented Glade candle to mask the intense hop smell of this beer. I don’t want Steve busting into my room like a crazed dipsomaniacal zombie, ripping the bomber out of my hands for a violent chug then sticking his tongue down my throat to taste any more lingering hints of alcohol. Actually, Steve is so freaking skinny I don’t think he could hurt me and steal my beer even if he wanted too. He’s so frail he must not be eating. Shit, maybe I should lend him money.

Everything the Stone IPA just gets a little wrong, a little “off,” Ruination NAILS. More flavorful, more complex, better hops. Delicious. Bursting with hops, pine, and citrus. Full-bodied and incredibly bold with some good spiciness. A surprisingly clean finish though. Looms in your mouth well afterward making you feel like you won’t need to take a second sip for minutes as the taste just doesn’t leave your tongue.

Gets better the more you drink it. And, yes, it really does ruin your palate and make other beers seem worthless by comparison. It is top notch. One of the best double IPAs on the planet*.

It has also now gotten me quite loaded. And as my grandpa used to say, my back teeth are floating. I gotta piss like a Secretariat.

Great. But I can’t go out there. I can’t chance walking outside of my safe womb of a bedroom and running into Steve. This is my fucking life. People in New York spend every second they are outside and on the street trying to avoid beggars. Forced to ignore them, turn the other cheek, act like they are not humans, just to avoid giving these hobos a nickel**. Now, every single time I exit my bedroom I am immediately confronted, bombarded, by the same thing — a fucking panhandler in my own fucking house.

What a joke. I wish there was an animal control for humans. I’d call them on Steve right now.

A

*Speaking of DIPAs and getting back to this week’s Hop Rod Rye post. Again, how is the 8% Hop Rod a single IPA, while the 7.7% Ruination a double?! They are both clearly doubles!

**And, yes, I realize the delicious irony of mentioning how I hate the homeless and refuse to give them money when just a few paragraphs earlier I discussed how I hate pennies and nickels so much that I just throw them away. I’m going to hell.


Southampton IPA

July 25, 2008

6.5% ABV

I’ve mentioned before that I feel like IPAs are pretty much the standard bearers for American brewers. You got a good IPA, you’re probably a pretty decent brewery. Got a bad one and you’re brewery probably is mediocre. Don’t even have an IPA in your line and you’re a big, bad, stinky corporate macrobrewery.

I’d had some Southampton beers in the past and generally enjoyed them, so when I saw their IPA at Whole Foods I was excited to give it a whirl. I doubted it would be a masterpiece, but thought it should be pretty good. Plus, I’m a flat out homer bigot in favor of New York breweries.

I was generally right. The beer was nothing special, but still a very solid IPA. Smells floral and piney, not too powerful. Modestly hopped but not super flavorful. Slight fruit notes. Little too carbonated. Bitter aftertaste. Very drinkable. I’d polish off a six-pack of this again with no thought, but I wouldn’t drink this if I need a masterpiece to savor for the evening.

B-/C+


Lagunitas Sirius

July 24, 2008

7.6% ABV from a brown-bagged bottle

Ah, the “road soda.” Beer for the drunk on-the-go. Wrap that sucker in a paper bag and all of the sudden it’s invisible to the world and you’re not culpable. What was that Bunny Colvin said on Season 3 of The Wire, “There’s never been a paper bag for drugs.  Until now.” He was referring to his creation of an ad hoc drug-selling zone malapropriously nicknamed “Hamsterdam” in which street thugs were free to sling rock without any consequences from Baltimore’s po-lease. Of course, this is a brilliant plan and all sorts of major crimes plummet in Baltimore. Nevertheless, and as expected, the stupid city government doesn’t actually care about improving the city but, rather, in lording over people, so they force Bunny to retire and put an end to the Hamsterdam experiment. Soon Baltimore is back to the its status quo shithole existence.

Luckily, with rare exception and despite Mayor Bloomberg’s occasionally terrible ideas, New York refuses to be a nanny state. In a way, New York City is a more upscale Hamsterdam. Crimes that don’t harm other people–smoking weed, drinking in public, jaywalking, not wearing helmets, pissing on bums, fucking hookers, getting an Asian rub ‘n’ tug–are de facto legal here as police and the government turn the other cheek. And rightly so. I’m a grown man, why should I feel like I’m committing a crime by simply sipping a beer as I stroll down the street on a relaxing Saturday night?

Is there any dumber, more draconian law in America than it being illegal to publicly drink? Is there any other law that more shows how out of touch politicians are in thinking they can rule us with a mighty iron fist while attempting to make the world a better place (ha ha) than by not allowing a 29-year-old man to calmly sip a drink on a street corner?  Yeah, probably.  But not being allowed to publicly drink irks me a whole lot more than having to wear a seatbelt in the front seat of a car.

We dined at the decent RUB on Saturday night and afterward we wanted to hit the revamped Frying Pan, an old boat docked in the Hudson near Chelsea where you can get drunk on terrible, terribly overpriced, and terribly small beers while ogling prudish bitches on Girls Night Outs or simply while absentmindedly staring across the river wondering if you could ever truly handle commuting from Jersey (so close, but yet…so far!).

Even though RUB is on 7th Avenue, the hike all the way to the complete westside of the island is remarkably long and pretty much only accessible by foot. We would need a road soda to sate us on our voyage. We hopped into the nearby Whole Foods to grab a pop. My drinking buddy, a public tippling neophyte and a very straight-laced and honorable citizen, was a bit scared about boozing on the sidewalks of Manhattan. He has a wife and a good job and I think fears of ending up in the Sing Sing slammer and losing it all waltzed through his mind. I assuaged his fears that nothing would happen, but I don’t think he was truly at ease until we passed through the Chelsea Projects en route and saw pretty much every single building resident outside BBQing and getting loaded* as cops nearby on horseback just monitored the scene. Not concerned by any means, not trying to stop the technically “illegal” fun, just making sure everything was cool, like they were at a parade or something.

I must admit that most of the projects denizens were getting shit-canned on cheap malt liquors, while I selected a yuppified California microbrew I’d been wanting to try every since I first saw it on the shelf. Perhaps not the most thematically appropriately beer to brown bag, but I’m not gonna slum it just for accuracy’s sake. The Sirius was creamy, though not so creamy that it tasted like anything other than a normal ale. Pretty hoppy I guess, with a decent finish. I was shocked as just seconds ago I looked up the ABV of this. Boy is it masked well. I would have guessed this to be in the 4.8 to 5.2% range or so as it had absolutely no bite. Decent and I’d have it some more if it was handed to me at a party or orgy, but I doubt I’ll ever buy it again. It’s kinda boring and unremarkable but it did get the job done for the 15 minute voyage. Then again, it’s hard to fully analyze a beer while you’re walking over bums on an overly dark 24th street trying to reach your destination.

B-

*Yo, don’t accuse me of racism with my seemingly stereotypical observation. Projects life looks awesome. I WISH I could score an invite to a PJs BBQ: booze, ribs, weed, lasciviously dressed women, dominoes, and hoops. Sign. Me. Up.