Budweiser American Ale

September 21, 2008

5.1% ABV bottled

Aside from those Domino’s oven-baked sandwich commercials and the inexplicable Dr. Pepper spots in which an aging Julius Erving plays beer pong by himself, no product has been as advertised on TV this fall as Budweiser’s new American Ale.  Yet for the past month or so I’ve been unable to find it.  The first Anheuser-Busch product I’ve wanted in my entire life and I simply could not locate it.  That changed last night as I finally stumbled upon some and greedily snapped it up.

The nicely designed bottle label sure makes it look like a respectable beer and the pour was downright craft brewery-looking.  A rich amber color, could have easily been mistaken for a beer from a skilled microbrewery rather than an assembly line suds factory.

Not too much smell and nothing more than adequate flavor.  A marginal effort I suppose, but a sour finish and a certain heft doesn’t even make it as drinkable as you’d expect this kind of swill to be.  It’s very “safely” made, Anheuser’s uninspired version of a Killian’s Irish Red I suppose.  I would probably only drink it again if the only other choices were light macrobeers.  And it’s not like I’d relish that.

Honestly, I don’t understand the point of this beer.  It’s nowhere near good enough for beer snobs to enjoy, yet is too “weird,” “dark,” and complex for macro-swilling hillbillies to tipple.  Too fancypants they’ll say.  I predict this beer finds no market and ends up as the Crystal Pepsi of the industry but, you know, without the Van Halen crap-rock soundtrack.



Schell FireBrick

September 20, 2008

5% ABV

When I was younger, I thought there would be nothing better than if I could one day live above a bar.  I would walk down there in my slippers and a bathrobe for a quick nip.  I could tell women I met there that I literally lived upstairs.  And if I got too wasted and passed out on the bar, my kindly bartender friend would excuse himself for a minute and fireman carry me upstairs to tuck me in.

I currently live above a bar.  And despite the sandwich-board advertised obscenely cheap drinks and quite raucous atmosphere, I’ve never been inside once.  You see, I live above a gay bar.

Look, I obviously have no problem with gays or gay bars, in fact, one can quite accidentally wander into gay bars in NYC, missing the tiny rainbow decal on the front window, and find themselves drinking there and enjoying themselves for quite awhile before noticing that the clientele is 100% fabulous men save a fat fag hag or two.  But this gay bar I live above is flamboyant gay.  More like Elton John than Lance Bass.  Blowjob-in-a-dark corner gay.

I sit in my bedroom drinking a bottle of Schell FireBrick as I prepare to go out.  A hearty pour with a foamy head.  Decent smell with a bit of skunk to it.  A pretty good taste, an all matl Vienna-style lager, like a slightly worse Negra Modelo.  I’ve been impressed with Schell’s offerings so far.  My room abuts the bar’s patio and its already starting to get rowdy down there.  I’m guessing they ain’t watching the South Florida/FIU game.

When I return tonight I will be greeted outside the bar stretching to in front of my building’s stoop by a herd of transvestites and transsexuals smoking Virginia Slims and cat-calling all the straight men that pass, trying to solicit them.  Even though I know the score, returning drunk at 3 AM I will always see one of those gender-reassigned, DD-siliconed, shaved-down Adam’s apple, flowing blond hair extensions “women” from afar and think, “Goddamn, who is that piece of ass in front of my building?!,” getting closer only to realize it’s clearly a former man.

However, most of the bar patrons hanging out front are John Waters’s Divine-style drag queens.  Personal performance artists not even trying to pretend they are female.  6’5″ with green wigs, stuffed to the gills bustiers, and sequined gowns.  I’ve started to know some of the regulars.  Nice gals and boy are they funny.  On occasion I’ll even find myself chatting with the trannies late at night, only waking the next morning hungover thinking, “Why the fuck did I talk to ‘Jasmine’ for fifteen minutes last night?!  What were we discussing?!”  I wonder if these drag queens think I’ll fuck them one day.  God I hope not.


Harpoon Octoberfest

September 19, 2008

5.5% ABV bottled

In my mid-twenties I was friendless.  No, that’s not as bad as it sounds.  What I mean is that I was essentially friendless in the city I lived in, New York.  Through a weird confluence of events, several of my pals moved to Hollywood for greener pastures, several moved to other East Coast cities, quite a few got engaged or married and fled for the ‘burbs, and of my two most-usual drinking buddies one got shipped to Iraq and another picked up and moved with his fiancee to middle-of-nowhere New Jersey.  In seriously like a half-year I had gone from having two dozen friends and at least a dozen regular drinking partners to having no one.  But I still wanted to drink, I still wanted to go out, I still wanted to socialize, get in trouble, have stories to tell, and meet women, so I had to go out drinking alone.

Here are my tips for drinking alone.  On a Friday night.  In a packed bar.

1.  Arrive slightly early.  Just a few minutes before the rush because you absolutely have to get a chair at the bar.  This is incredibly crucial.  I will never drink alone at a bar unless I have a chair.  Guy sitting at bar drinking alone = passably normal.  Guy leaning against a pole in the corner drinking alone = creep.  Just the way it is.

2.  Gotta go to a bar with TVs so you have something to do when you’re still sober.  Some of these faux-dive bars that would be perfect for drinking alone don’t have TVs.  You know how hard it is to find something to do while sitting alone at a bar and still sober?!  You can only study the menu for so long.  You’re forced to stare vacantly ahead, usually at your reflection in the bar’s crappy schmutz-covered mirror, at the reflection of yourself.  The guy drinking alone.

3.  You don’t have to be too friendly and start conversations.  Big mistake drinkers-alone often make.  You don’t want to act like that one guy from your freshman dorm floor who went out of his way to say hello and introduce himself to literally every single person he came across in your first week of school.  God I hated that guy and so did everyone else.  Just sit there and like Ted Williams or Barry Bonds, wait for your pitch.  It will come.  The bartender will remark on something and you can respond.  You better be interesting, funny, smart, and certainly not needy, but it should be easy to quickly befriend the bartender.  Other bar patrons will follow suit.

4.  Nor do you need to lie about why you’re drinking alone.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with drinking alone.  You’ll get asked often, “Who you’re with.”  People that ask you this aren’t trying to play a cruel game of “gotcha” and make you tell them you’re a solo-sipping loser.  You’re not.  Yet a lot of people lie.  I don’t know why people think it better to tell someone that asks that they’re just “waiting for a friend” rather than drinking alone.  So you think it’s cooler to infer that you have been stood up by a friend or a date than that you are simply having a few by your lonesome?  Believe me, drinking alone is cooler and more sexy than you think.

5.  And not having to piss is more crucial than you think.  I used to have a massive bladder as a youth and never had to break the seal, but as we get older we all have to go out to water the horse a little more than we’d like.  Nothing sucks more than having to do that move where you put a cardboard coaster on top of your pint glass and then shuffle off to the little boys’ room, returning to find a happy hour group of seven people standing around your chair, considering taking your seat as you have to “excuse me, excuse me” your way to your barstool, the group staring needles through the back of your melon.

6.  Girls (and guys) will love you.  It’s probably apparent that my rules are pretty much written for males.  Look, I certainly have no problem with women drinking alone, but a lot of people do.  A lot of people call a woman that drinks alone a…prostitute.  So sorry for the malecentricity within my rules, but it is what it is.

The days of rugged individuals have long since passed and people are impressed by those that can exist as an island.  I go to bars alone, restaurants alone, and movies alone.  It’s not a big deal, it really isn’t.  But our pussified culture has gotten so used to hand-holding and the buddy system in all we do that most people simply don’t have the testicular or ovarian fortitude to be independent.  I do, and women are impressed by that.  But more importantly, people aren’t intimidated by someone drinking alone, they think he’s surely so hard up for companionship that he’d love to be approached by anybody and everybody and he will certainly be ingratiating.  And thus, they do all my work for me.  I never get approached when I’m with a group but when I’m alone at a bar I get bombarded with people coming up to me as if I’m an celebrity and they are an autograph seeker.  For some reason people want to know the guy drinking alone.  Men come up and shoot the shit with me, buying me drinks and introducing me to their girlfriends, and groups of girls come up to hit on me.  It’s kinda insane. People aren’t scared of someone drinking alone and it can be used swimmingly to your advantage.

7.  Soon enough you’ll be part of a group and no one will have even remembered you came alone.  You’ll be treated as just an old friend and asked if you’d like to join them at the next bar.  Of course you would.  This has happened to me countless times. And the best part is that these are just ad hoc friends so even if you make a fool of yourself–like you usually do–by morning none of these folks have your number or email address to call you or write you and ask what the fuck you were doing, thinking.  So you have no excuse not to at least attempt to be the life of the party!  Oh, and you will be!

Luckily, my friendless state only lasted for like a half-year or so before I had re-formed a crew.  Having said that, living in NYC one is forced to drink alone for at least 30 minutes stretches quite often when friends are late in arriving.  So these tips are good for those times too.

Such was the case just last week as my friend got caught in traffic and I hate to wait him out at the bar.  I sipped on Harpoon Oktoberfest, finding it kinda boring, but decent.  No real bite or flavor but smooth.  Malty.  Doesn’t exactly taste like a true Oktoberfest, and I wouldn’t want another, but it’s not offensive or anything.  I don’t know why some of these American breweries don’t think we can handle a full-bodied Germanic Marzenbier, but for Christ’s sake, we can!


Schell Pale Ale

September 18, 2008

5.75% ABV

As my “in box” of yet-to-post reviews stacks up it’s time to send some to the “out box” via quick-hitters…

I’ve never really liked pale ales.  Rightly or wrongly, I’ve always felt they were kinda like IPAs for Dummies.  But not this one.  This one, from America’s second oldest family-owned brewery, I really dug.  It has a great, smooth flavor.  Incredibly drinkable.  East Kent golding hops give it a most pleasant smell.  It also has a solid full-bodied taste.  Love the maltiness.  As far as session beers go, this is top notch.  I could imagine myself bellied up to a bar in St. Paul polishing off several dozen of these.  I think it’s a better pale ale than even Sierra Nevada’s famed one.  If you have access to this one, be sure and try it.


Troegs Nugget Nectar

September 17, 2008

7.5% ABV bottled

For years, I’ve lived just a dozen or so blocks from the Trump Riverside complex and never thought much of it.  I just assumed the buildings housed your typical breed of Manhattanite high-rise-living stereotypes.  Then, this weekend, needing to get from Hudson River Park across to see a friend on the Upper West Side I decided to take a route that cut a swath through the middle of the massive development.  And, oh boy, was I quickly on another planet, man.  It was like an Oz in the middle of New York, a total self-sustaining upper-upper-class commune of the kind of yuppies you only see in movies.  Powerful forty- and fifty-something finance-type men with their thinning hair, primary color Polos pulled taut over their respectable paunches, slightly too-short pairs of those navy shorts that are kinda like a rich man’s version of cut-offs (if the material cut off was from a discarded pair of Boss suit pants), and Cole-Haan loafers, worn sockless natch.  Walking the sidewalks of their secluded high-rise villa holding hands with their younger never-had-a-job-before trophy wives as each partner used their one free hand to push a massive SUV stroller that costs more than two-month’s rent for plebes like me and you.  It was eye-opening I must say.

As I mentioned, the Trump Riverside community is seemingly totally self-sustaining, but this is no kibbutz, brother, not like these folks are growing their own maize and hemp, so of course they have to have their own fancy-pants stores.  And I shouldn’t have been surprised to come across their supermarket, a gourmet place called Jubilee.  Now, I’m like an old lady who has to go into every antique shoppe she comes upon to look for dumb knick-knacks, as I am cosmically compelled to enter every new supermarket or beer store I come upon, despite the fact that I was overstocked with supply at the time.

I was not surprised in the least to see that Jubilee had a phenomenal beer supply, surely one of the biggest grown up soda secret stashes in Manhattan.  All sorts of oddball stuff I had never seen before and in many cases never even heard of before.  I was psyched to see literally just a single loose bottle of Nugget Nectar (and for only a buck fifty!).  A buzz-worthy beer that I know is not so rare, at least in PA, but which never makes it to NYC.  I also realize it is quite a bit out of season as it appears to release in February–and was no doubt on the Jubilee shelf since then–but for such a hopbomb I don’t think that should have mattered freshness-wise.  I could be wrong.

God, I loved the smell of this one.  Like inhaling a Christmas tree.  And the taste is about as hoppy, piney, and floral as they come.  Right up my alley.  A nocturnal emission for hopheads.  Not exactly sure why this isn’t an IPA, but whatever they want to call it, I loved it.


Blue Point Oktoberfest

September 17, 2008

ABV unlisted (I fucking hate when breweries do this!)

I have an embarrassing confession to make. I would understand if you are so disgusted by me that you quit reading the Vice Blog. On Sunday night I ordered from Domino’s.  A full day of watching football and I must have been so deluged by those commercials for their new oven-baked sandwiches that eventually I thought it a splendid idea to actually order one.

Putting that fact aside for a second, Domino’s has an absolutely amazing feature on their website whereas they literally show you step-by-step, like a sporting event gamecast on ESPN.com, how your order is progressing.

They tell when your food has been prepped and by whom (Ramon in my case!), when it has been put in the oven (by Jordan in my case!), when it has been taken out and put in a heatwave bag (thanks Hector!), and when it is headed your way (see you soon delivery man Baganda!).  It’s almost worth ordering from Domino’s online just to see this amazingness in action.

However, this seemingly rave review quickly takes a right turn and drives off the cliff.  You see, as I was following my sandwich’s progress, anxiously awaiting for Baganda to arrive from a location just 5 blocks away, I noticed it was taking far too long.  And after 30 minutes I started to think that Baganda had been hit my a car.  And after 45 minutes, when the website order progress changed and said “Order Completed by Baganda!” I knew I had been bamboozled.  That the order progress follower must simply be a cosmetic lie.  Numerous calls to Domino’s went unanswered as well and I began to seethe.  I considered sprinting down to the corporate pizzeria to shove someone’s head in the oven “Goodfellas” style.  Alas, I was sitting in my underwear and too lazy for that exercise.  Thus, with nothing in my fridge but beer, my dinner for the evening, just like a monk during lent, became a six-pack.

Earlier that day I’d stumbled upon Blue Point’s Oktoberfest.  I didn’t even know they made that style.  And apparently others don’t either as it currently only has 15 reviews on BA.  Too bad, it has a cool label and is pretty decent.  And actually tastes like a correct Oktoberfest, which is great as I’ve been finding many American versions are nowhere close to correct in style.  This one is.  Mild smell, not too complex, malty, or full-bodied but good enough.  Certainly better than Brooklyn’s version.

Oh, and the epilogue to my Domino’s story is that I did indeed march down there on Monday where the kindest of kind Jamaican manager told me that Baganda did show up at my apartment building but that my doorman refused to let him in.  That might sound legitimate except for the fact that I live in a building so shitty that we barely have a front door, much less a doorman.  Whatever.  I was refunded my money in cash and given some free coupons and cheezy something-or-others.


Flat Earth Convention Ale

September 17, 2008

5.4% ABV from a bomber

There’s two schools of thought on how to walk the streets of New York. You can be like Barry Sanders, juking and jiving your way around slow-moving tourists, sidewalk-hosing bodega owners, and fatsos in Rascals, cutting right to left, behind newspaper bins, using bus stops and fire hydrants as your blockers as your try to quickly traverse the street. This certainly works but it is tiring and certainly not cool. No one looks at someone jitterbugging down the streets and thinks, “Now that is one sexy motherfucker.” I mean, how bad would the opening to “Saturday Night Fever” have been if famous homosexual John Travolta had implemented the Barry Sanders walk through Brooklyn? Something tells me the movie wouldn’t have been quite the cultural touchstone it became.

A second school of thought is to navigate the street like G.O.A.T. Jim Brown, picking an opening and with head down and shoulders even lower, busting through the crowds and sending any one in your path flying. This too is an effective process for Manhattan walking but results in people thinking you the high school bully who never grew up, still pacing through the halls knocking nerdy freshman out of the way. Plus, with all the crazies in the city, this method has a high potential for fisticuffs erupting.

Now I am one of the finest walkers in the entire city and I think that is because I shirk the common schools of thought and use a third school, a hybrid of the other two, hoofing it down the sidewalks ala Walter Payton. When I need to juke, I juke, but never too much. And when I need to lower my shoulder or use a oh-did-I-just-bump-you forearm to clear the way, I can do that too. And just like Sweetness, I never go out of bounds (the street).

It seems like hybrids of opposing schools of thoughts are always the best way to go. My feelings on politicians are well discussed and even if I do decide ever to vote again, I can’t imagine it being for either a Republican or a Democrat, it would have to be for someone with a bouillabaisse of values. It simply doesn’t make sense to be too far extreme in any direction in regards to…well almost anything.

Now that is not always the case with beers. I love overwhelmingly hoppy IPAs and overly alcoholic barley wines as much as the next guy, but I also like those oddball beers you can’t really pigeonhole. Such was the case with Flat Earth’s Convention Ale, a Minnesota brew specially made to celebrate the area’s hosting of the GOP Rah-Rah-a-thon. Said to have “a conservative amount of hops and a liberal amount of special malts” the brewery itself calls it a red ale, while Beer Advocate labels it a Belgian pale, Rate Beer gives it the always-ambiguous “summer” beer label, and I found it to be something completely different. But more on that in a sec.

I didn’t realize this til after I had opened the beer, but this brew has had strange problems whereas quite a few of the bottles have spontaneously exploded, sending shards of glass everywhere. In fact, the beer has actually been recalled, and with only 9 total reviews on Beer Advocate at the moment, it would seem to be an increasingly rare pop.

Luckily for your Vice Blogger, the bottle was enjoyed without a hitch. A light straw yellow almost-macro pour with a very, very bubbly head. It had a mild smell and I was begin to wonder if this simply was a fancified macro.

It wasn’t. it was very carbonated and bubbly in taste, Belgian yeast and moderate hop bitterness (38 IBUs). Quite a bit sour, almost like a weaker version of a wild ale. I realize by definite it cannot be a wild ale, but that’s exactly what it tastes of, like a poor man’s Cuvee de Castleton. A chalky finish and low ABV are its demerits.

Whatever it is, boy is Convention Ale one oddball beer. Very interesting, almost like a champagne. It took me a while to figure out if I loved it, liked it, or hated it, but I sure kept drinking it, was damn glad to try it, and utterly sad to finish my sole bottle.