Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Change of Pace: Wine and Wii

Just so you don't think I'm a beer-cat and never drink anything else, I went to a wine-tasting on Saturday. Now, I admit that I'm not exactly an expert on fine wine, I can certainly hold my own in the presence of others who usually consider beer their first choice.

In the scope of the actual wine-tasting "contest," where attendants try to guess the wine based on the description, I only got 2 out of 5, but I was impressed by the fact that the two I got right were my favorite two wines, and they were from California and Australia, two of my favorite regions for wine. So, at least I proved that I know what I like and I'm not just faking it or going willy-nilly out there.

But you can't go to someone's house for a wine-tasting without bringing something yourself, so I brought a Parker Station Pinot. I had never heard of this before, but it was given to me so I hoped it was good enough for the crowd I was in (and if not, well, I didn't pay for it.) It ended up being quite delicious, and a nice contrast to all the Merlot that people had brought.

But really, the true highlight was me, after a few glasses of wine, banging out "Don't Fear the Reaper" on Rock Band and getting a pretty awesome 99%. not bad for my first time, if I do say so myself. I think I only missed one cow bell beat that ruined my whole deal. I was hoping Walken was going to come out of the TV and shout, "More cowbell!" at me.

Anyway, as much as I enjoy beer, it's good to mix things up once in awhile. Do be careful with wine, however. It has never actually made me sick or anything, but it is a much different hang-over the next morning. I'd say the philosophy is the same as with beer; stay away from the cheap stuff and enjoy it. If you do have a bit too much, then just remember; the sure is more cowbell.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Into the Sunset

Last night, I went to the Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston, one of my favorite places, home to 112 taps and 380 microbrews, and I left wondering why I don't go there more often.

It was a friend's birthday, so we were expecting a bunch of people, which always lights a fire under me to try and be the best drinker at the table. I didn't see what everyone was drinking, but I think I did a pretty fair job. I started with a Victory Golden Monkey, a really tasty 9.5% beer, on tap no less (even the Publick House only has it in bottle.) It's a smoothy. Definitely make it your business.

When my competition arrived (the guest of honor's boyfriend, and the only other person that I knew in attendance who could possibly be a better drinker than I), he approved of my choice and suggested a beer I had never heard of: Harpoon Leviathan Triticus. The Triticus checks in at 14%, so high that they will only pour you 8 ounces at a time (barely a glass), but that's okay because this beer needs to be sipped like a fine Scotch. It tastes almost like chocolate syrup. I don't really know how to describe it, so I'll let their website:

Latin for "wheat," Triticus is a strong and dark wheat wine-style ale that
boasts 14.3% alcohol-by-volume. The blend of 50% wheat malts, including
caramel and chocolate, provides color and depth of flavor. Complex hopping
and dry-hopping lends a delicate spiciness and just enough balance to
complement its strength. Once brewed, the Triticus was transferred to
50-gallon bourbon barrels and aged at the brewery for over 2 months.

It certainly tasted like it's been waiting for two months to be enjoyed. There are obviously a lot of beers I have never had, but for me to have never heard of this beer, and from a brewery right in my backyard no less, is crazy. It is probably the highest AC I've had in a beer, and that is saying something. My competition was right, and he certainly didn't mess around, drinking three of them. I have to say, although I loved it, this is not your Daddy's beer. This one is for serious beer drinkers only. Anything with that much alcohol is not to be trifled with. but if you think you can handle it, give it a whirl.

I switched to the St. Bernardus ABT 12 next (I have a funny thing when I go to a place like the Sunset, where I don't like to get the same beer twice. Seems wrong when there's so many choices.) at 10.5%, it is the highest alcohol content of any of their beers, dark, fruity, and to quote their site, "the absolute top quality in the hierarchy of the St. Bernardus beers." That is saying something, because they have an excellent Tripel.

For some reason (I guess that's just what you do on these occasions), we left Sunset (after paying a ridiculously large bill) and went to the White Horse Tavern, a nice establishment, especially if you like pool (which I do not), the only problem is that the selction is obviously not what it is at Sunset. I was able to get Sam Adams Octoberfest, which I consider the best Sam has to offer and is sort of like drinking eggnog on Christmas. You can't go a fall season without having a few Octoberfests. I had two, plus some lame, cheap free shot that some girl was handing out. I also signed my life away for a cheap Zippo, which I may live to regret, but they always look so cool in the movies that I just couldn't resist.

Anyway, point is, the White Horse is fine, but nothing stacks up to the Sunset for selection and quality beer. The food is pretty good too. My only problem is that the crowd is usually pretty young, so if you're not into that, try going on an off night or during the day. And parking around there sucks, but if you're there to really enjoy yourself, you shouldn't be driving there anyway.

So go and drink yourself silly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fenway Beer Blues, Part II

If anyone actually reads this, I have an important question: is Speakeasy Big Daddy really that terrible, or did I get a skunked one? Seriously, I almost sent it back at the Sunset Cantina the other night, which would have been a first for me. I have never sent any beer back, ever. It must have been kicked, right? I'm sure they wouldn't steer me wrong. According to their website, they've been "legit since 1997." Wow. A whole eleven years of brewing. they must know what they're talking about.

Uh, sorry. That was uncalled for. Here's a link to make up for it.

As luck would have it, I got to go to a second Red Sox game and get another crack at the beer vendors. This time, I played it more wisely, methinks.

Again, I went with my Dad, who invited me along when he scored complimentary tickets by entering his town Little League Baseball into the Granite City Electric Field of Dreams contest. The contest consists of Granite City Electric giving one lucky Massachusetts town lights for one of their baseball fields, plus 4 other towns cash prizes for their league. Apparently, last time my Dad entered, they won cash and a lawnmower at second place, but didn't get free tickets, so this was way cooler. We even got a hat. Good enough for me.

We came away with no lights or loot, however. This, of course, has nothing to do with beer, but it's still funny, because when they showed the drawing during the pre-game show, I actually made it on TV for a few seconds. I should have yelled out the name of this blog or wore a T-shirt or something to promote it, but whatever, I was there.

As far as the beer, truth be told, it wasn't much to speak of, but hear me out. I only drank Sam Adams, Guinness and a Bud (A Bud! Me!) This is really slumming it for me, but here's the kicker; I didn't mind. In fact, it was pretty good. Even the Bud. Guinness is, naturally, always good, and I can stomach Sam for a baseball game, but Bud? I can't remember the last time i drank one of those. And I kind of enjoyed it.

I think my body sort of enhanced the taste because it had been so long. Like if you eat healthy for awhile, then decide to have a doughnut. Obviously, there is nothing good about it, no nutritional or earthly reason to eat a doughnut, just like there's no reason to drink a Budweiser. I'm not even sure you could actually get drunk off of it, unless you had maybe fifty. But for some reason, it tasted really good.

Maybe I've been too hard on the old King of Beers for all this time. Maybe it's not so bad. But I wonder, would it taste that good if I drank it more often? Or would I start to feel like crap, much like someone would if they actually did eat doughnuts all the time?

I must say, though, that at least I made that discovery. No need to worry next time I go to Fenway. No need to force down a lousy Miller Lite. Just save that Bud for the occasion, like you would a chocolate glazed.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Top Picks Part 1 - Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

I thought I would write about some of my favorite beers and places, since I have to write about something anyway because it will look like I've been writing this for awhile (and, let's face it, even I can't go out drinking every night.)

So, today I'll be talking a little about Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, bar none one of the best brewers out there. Go on, tell me I'm lying. Founded in 1979 by Ken Grossman in Chico, CA, Sierra Nevada has fast become one of the top brewing companies in the world. It began rather humbly in 1976 when Ken first opened his own store after studying chemistry and physics at Butte Community College and California State University at Chico. (Note to self: if you want to brew really good beer, study learn some Chem.) This is the awesome part, from their website:

Two years later, it was time to make the dream a reality. Ken and co-founder
Paul Camusi cobbled a brewery together from dairy tanks, a soft-drink bottler,
and equipment salvaged from defunct breweries. Though the equipment was secondhand, they created a first-rate microbrewery. The ingredients were premium, including the copious quantities of hops that would become the brewery’s trademark. An avid backpacker, Ken named the new company for his favorite hiking grounds—the Sierra Nevada mountains

What a story. And what a beer. So, of course, the Hopiholic is going to tackle them. Let's take it by the numbers, shall we?

My personal favorite of their offerings is the Celebration, a dry-hopped ale brewed especially for the holidays (Which means it's coming soon. Whee!). You can look up all the info here, but the important thing is that you're looking at a 6.8% alcohol by volume with the Celebration, which is right in my wheelhouse. It's got an intense aroma, so it tastes good with prime rib or wild fowl again, perfect for the holidays). Crazy pastas work well, too, like goat-cheese ravioli or fettuccine. So, start looking for this around Thanksgiving or so, and definitely drink as much as you can.

Second only to the Celebration is the Anniversary Ale, which is a Fall beer, so I have some in my fridge right now. It's an American-style IPA, well-hopped, with a slightly malty finish, and the Magic Number on this one is 5.9% (once again, a very hittable pitch. Maybe down in the strike-zone, but definitely something you can drive.) It goes very well with any kind of spicy Asian dish, or even fine chocolate desserts. Personally, I like to skip the chocolates and just take the beer straight, but you do whatever you want.

As I mentioned in the previous column, Sierra makes a delicious ESB, which they call Early Spring Beer since that's when they release it, but it is an Extra Special Bitter. It's an unfiltered beer, combining English and West-Coast-styles, for a reddish hue (or as George Costanza might say, "a pinkish hue") and a smooth taste. I have no idea what you would eat with it, but if you're like me, probably some kind of chicken will go with almost anything. Or Pizza.

And now, the grand-daddy of them all, the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the signature beer of the brewery. this one is available these days in most bars, all year, so I'm sure most of us have encountered it, and probably have had it. If it is an option, it is always my very first choice. Straight-up Sierra has a 5.6% alcohol by volume, and premium Cascade hops for a nice flavor. This one also goes well with spicy cuisine, or anything in my book. It is a great bar beer, a perennial favorite.

Sadly, I can't tell you much about the Porter or the Stout, although I've been meaning to try them. I'm not much of a Barleywine guy, either, so I don't have many good things to say about the Bigfoot. But just about everything Sierra Nevada makes is awesome in my book, so definitely make it your business.

Highest recommendation from the Hopiholic.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Fenway Beer Blues

So, for my inaugural entry, I wanted to set the tone a little for what will hopefully be a semi-regular thing and to let any actual readers know what they are in for (besides biting sarcasm and grim cynicism.) I'm going to write about my Adventures in Beer. This may seem very unappealing to some, and some may be thinking, "Why is he writing about this?" but I feel that there are plenty of uneducated drinkers out there, so if I can help even one of them, then my job is complete.

Let me give you a "f 'r instance." Last week, I went to a Red Sox game with my Dad (an uneducated drinker if there ever was one). Since I work very close to Fenway Park, I thought I would get an early start at Boston Beerworks, one of my favorite watering holes. I had to meet the Old man at Who's On First?, a dive that specializes in cheap beer and cheaper women, so I figured I had to get my jollies in early.

So, at Beerworks, I started with my old stand-by, the Fenway Pale Ale (when in Rome...), an American-style Pale Ale that actually doesn't really taste like one, but it's still very good. It's dark, pretty hoppy, and gives you a nice bitter kick at the end. Anyway, I found a seat at the bar (amazingly), ordered up some nachos, and commenced people-watching.

As we go forward, I should point out that I am not a fast-drinker. I like to enjoy my beverage and taste it going down, not drink thirty beers in ten minutes and pass out and tell everyone the next day how awesome I am because I drank thirty beers. Come on, would you drink wine like that? Well, if you were my ex-girlfriend, I suppose you would, but real people wouldn't. Why drink good beer fast? It's a waste, not to mention a hazard.

Having said that, I was under a bit of a time crunch, and I noticed that Beerworks was sporting a new tap: Bay State ESB (Extra-Special Bitter) that I really wanted to try. I only had a scant few minutes, so I made the quick decision to down the Pale Ale and order an ESB. I did not regret it. The ESB was delicious (even better than the Sierra Nevada ESB, which according to their bottle, means Early Spring Beer. Those scamps!) In fact, the Extra Special Bitter was not all that bitter, even less than the Pale Ale. but it was very hearty and tasty. Definite recommend if you're at a Beerworks location.

Unfortunately, I had to drink it fast because I had to meet my Dad at Who's on First?, where he would not doubt offer to buy me a beer. I hurried over, and Bob was well into a Bud bottle, and offered to buy me a Sam (Boston Ale, not my favorite of theirs, that would be the Octoberfest, but better than anything else they had.) He drank two to my one while we chatted about the Sox/Rays series, but I was still way ahead on points, of course. And due to the speed of my drinking, feeling slightly contented.

Here's where we go downhill. Once inside Fenway, my dad insists on drinking a different kind of ESB, Extremely Stupid Beer. Yes, this would be the $25.00 (or whatever they charge these days) Lite beer. Yes, we all know it. It seems to have come straight out of the Fenway urinals. Absolutely disgusting. In fact, I think it killed my buzz altogether. I heard my stomach say, "Hey, wait a second! Weren't you drinking really good beer not twenty minutes ago?" The Urinal Cake Lite actually made me ill. And not because it was a bad batch or whatever. it tasted normal. It's just gross all the time. Of course, I had two, but only because the Old Man was buying and, hey, I'm at a game.

So, thumbs up for the Beerworks offerings, natch. If you're going to Fenway at all, though, either pre-party and skip their watered-down crap, or seek out the couple of decent stands they do have: the Irish Beers (Guinness, etc.), or the Sam Adams way down in right field. And I think some sections have a Heineken guy walking around, but he may be tough to find. I say stick with Beerworks, Cornwall's (not for any good food, though), or even the re-tooled Cask n' Flagon, since they at least have a decent selection as well. Otherwise, either mortgage your house and risk the tummy ache and buy the Lite Piss, or sneak in a flask.
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