Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Week 1: 40 Beers for 40 Nights

With everything that has happened with Brian Williams and now Bill O’Reilly (Can you believe he makes things up!?!), I feel like as a journalist I have to be 100% honest here. I drank my Monday beer on Sunday night and then pretended I drank it Monday when in fact, I took Monday off. Here’s why: I had just poured Sunday night’s beer into a pint glass when Lauren walked out of the elevator. “You know, Sundays are not part of lent right?” She said. “If you count all the Sundays, it adds up to 46 days.” Good thing I married a priest, or I’d be very confused when I hit 40 days 6 days before Easter. Anyhow, the beer had already been poured and it was a damn good one too (more on that in a moment) so the damage was already done. There. I feel better now.

Now for this week’s selections:

WednesdayWeez, Maine Beer Company (American Black Ale 7.2% ABV) – I wanted to kick things off with a beer I had never had from one of my favorite east coast breweries. Maine Beer Company makes a relatively small number of beers churning out just 13 different brews on a regular basis. Their American and Amber Ales Pepper and Zoe are top notch as are IPAs Lunch and Another One. They have a Double IPA called Dinner that I look for every time I go to a place that sells Maine, but thus far have been unsuccessful. I picked up Weez while looking for Dinner. Coincidentally, today was the suggested drink by date on this particular bottle that had been sitting in my stash for a couple of weeks. Weez pours very dark like an espresso and smells both roasty and toasty. It’s very hoppy at first, then you taste that roast to finish. Another stellar beer from a brewery that so far, can do no wrong.

ThursdayPalate Wrecker, Green Flash Brewing Company (Imperial IPA 9.5% ABV) – I am not taking any risks the first two days. I’m following up Maine Brewing Company with San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing which also churns out a smaller number of fantastic brews. Its West Coast IPA is one of the best beers you will ever taste and perhaps the best widely available West Coast IPA. Palate Wrecker is a seasonal brew for those who like to get punched in the face by their beer. It’s Green Flash’s hoppiest beer using six pounds of hops per barrel. This is not an introductory beverage. Those still warming up to IPAs will hate it. It has a citrus smell. I also notice a little bit of a grass scent, but you don’t really taste either of those aromas through the bitterness.

Friday Commodore Perry, Great Lakes Brewing Company (IPA 7.5% ABV) – A streak of risk aversion continues with this IPA from Cleveland’s best brewery (note: I have never had any other beers from Cleveland). Commodore Perry, presumably named for the 1800s Navy Commodore who presumably had a connection to Ohio, is a fairly unremarkable IPA. It’s Great Lakes’ year-round IPA and pales in comparison to some of their more complex seasonal stuff. That’s not to say that I wouldn't pick this out of a line-up. This beer fills the role of a great stand-by, easily available, better than average IPA.

Saturday Jack D’Or, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project (Saison/Farmhouse Ale 6.4%) – This is my first venture into uncharted water. I found a wide selection of Pretty Things at a dumpy grocery store on Manhattan’s Upper West side which has an above average beer selection. Here’s the problem - and I didn't realize it until I tried this - I don’t like saisons. They just aren't my thing. People who do rate this beer very highly so I will take their word for it. I want to give Pretty Things another chance because I dig its story. It’s just three people in Somerville, Massachusetts who brew their beers at a bigger nearby brewery. Expect one of their other selections to appear in the next few weeks.

Monday – Pliny The Elder, Russian River Brewery (Double IPA 8%) – So much for saving the best for last. What can I say about Pliny the Elder that hasn't already been said? For many, it is the holy grail of craft beers. People wait in line for it for hours. It’s barely available anywhere east of California. It has perfect ratings from Rate Beer and Beer Advocate. It’s textbook scarcity marketing, but it also lives up to the hype. Pliny is currently tied with another beer as the best beer I have ever tasted. So, when you have an opportunity to drink Pliny, you take it. It doesn't matter if it’s 8am or you are in the middle of your work day. If someone offers you Pliny, you drop everything and you drink it. Which brings us to Sunday. I had given my friend Tony media passes to a Craft Beer festival I couldn't attend. I only asked that he bring by some Pliny that he obtained on a recent trip to California. He arrived Sunday afternoon with a cold bottle and we split it on the spot. Pliny mixes bitter and citrus flavors better than pretty much every beer that tries. It smells delicious. It tastes delicious. It has an incredibly smooth finish. In a way, it’s good that it’s not widely available because it might ruin everything else.

Tuesday – Spotted Cow, New Glarus Brewing (Cream Ale 4.8%) – Much like Pliny, this beer is tough to find. It’s only available in Wisconsin where it practically comes out of the faucet in most people’s kitchens.  A Manhattan bar owner used to haul truckloads of it to New York, but he got busted. It’s become sort of a cult favorite among Wisconsinites and Green Bay Packer fans. Truth be told, I only love it because I can’t have it. I know a guy (thanks Jeremy!) who can get some every now and then.  It’s a cream ale and a fine one at that, but how fine can you really get with a cream ale? When it comes to overall quality, this is by far the lowest beer on this week’s list. But it’s one of my favorites to drink.

On tap next week: Another rare cult favorite. Will it live up to the hype?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

40 Beers for 40 Nights: A Lenten Sacrifice

My wife will tell you that I get a bit cynical about religious traditions that aren’t found in the bible (and even some that are). I grew up Catholic and as a kid  I just assumed Jesus told his followers that eating meat on Friday guaranteed eternal damnation. After years of fish sticks, I was surprised to learn that this is not even remotely true. Hell’s gates are in fact, not lined with those who ordered the Big Mac instead of the Filet O’ Fish on Friday. This is not the only part of my Catholic upbringing that made me the slightly-cynical, guilt-ridden man I am today, but that is another topic for another time.

When I was in Catholic School, I gave up something for Lent every year. I particularly recall giving up popcorn one year. Every time we ate popcorn at home I would instead eat Doritos. It was a real sacrifice and one of the reasons I was the fat kid in middle school. But, most years I did really give up something I couldn't replace with a pungent corn chip. Then, the meat lie came to light and had a direct impact on my view of Lent. In college I started giving up things like self-control, meth, church and re-runs of “Let’s Make a Deal.” College kids are hilarious.

I've let the tradition slide for the past few years, but decided to bring it back this year. However, instead of mocking the actual tradition of Lenten sacrifice which is a cruel and immature thing to do - I realize this now – I’m going to make a fun challenge out if it that forces me to actually write something every week. I’m calling it “40 Beers for 40 Nights” or “Giving Up Not Drinking a New Potentially Delicious Beer Every Night”. Here’s how it will work: It’s quite simple. Every night I will drink a different beer. Generally just one beer. On a Friday, Saturday or following particularly stressful evening, perhaps more but only one counts. I will chronicle the beers at the end of each week and hopefully pass along some insightful opinions as to what’s good and what’s just more expensive Bud Light with a pretty label. Either that, or I will come off sounding like a total beer-jerk hipster.  Hey, I have a beard now. This is the next logical step. The majority of the beers will be brews I’ve never tried before, but I’ll throw in some old favorites as well. I’ll do my best to get beers that aren’t ridiculously easy to procure. For example, today I bought four different kinds of beer only sold in Vermont from a guy I met on Craigslist. He did not murder or even rob me so the gamble paid off.

Beers I bought from a guy on Craigslist who didn't kill or rob me.

But wait! This a running blog.Yeah, whatever. I’m training for the Vermont City Marathon. This is part of the carbo-loading. If anything non-beer related and noteworthy happens while I’m out there doing endless laps of Central Park, I’ll let you know.

But wait! You have a pregnant wife at home. You can’t be sitting drinking delicious beer while she stares longingly at your frothy beverage! Not a problem. Lauren completely supports this plan. Originally, it called for me to go to a particular Manhattan bar every night on the way home from the office and work my way through their extensive menu. I modified the plan when I realized that going to a bar alone at midnight every night is sad, time-consuming, expensive and requires me to have my pants on well past my normal pants-removal deadline. I’ll be drinking the beer at home well after she goes to bed. I’m not sure if drinking at home alone, pantless watching Seinfeld re-runs in the dark is any less-pathetic than the bar scenario, but it sounds better to me.

First beer goes down tonight.