Scooping in NYC
Last Updated :13/04/09
ll the details from my May 2008 trip to New York will appear here in due course, and here's the first part of my report to be getting along with! I'll try and add the bar gen soon, too, but in the meantime you'd be better off with Alex's gen - here are his USA Pages for the gen on NYC, and I especially recommend his "New York beer demystifyer" which tells you all you need to know without having to read my gibberish - surely a bonus.
Travelling at One Scoop per Hour - Part One (part 2 is here)
This trip was long overdue, I ruminated, sat on the bus to Manchester airport; I'd been meaning to visit the land of the hop for a good few years and had finally given in to the lure of lupulin overdose when Sterling topped $2 in value which made the visit a potentially cheap(er) one, and even more so I'd only paid £280 return plus I was going to be staying with Alex Hall, “old skool” beer scooper and long-time friend, at his place in Brooklyn and he'd promised me more scoops (and hops!) than I'd be able to manage in the week at my disposal. Given all the above, I was well unsurprisingly very whipped up for this trip!
Other than that, there's not a lot more preamble to be said; I was visiting New York for near enough a week and as well as visiting as many of New York’s myriad of beery delights as possible I hoped to visit some of the brewpubs in the neighbouring state of New Jersey (plus score another state!) as well as dispel any thoughts that Americans were all obese burger-munching idiots who would vote any retard into their presidency as long as he started a war.
Alex had assured me that New Yorkers weren’t like this at all and, on the strength of his scoops predictions, I'd set myself the somewhat gargantuan – not to mention liver testing – target of scooping a beer for every full hour I was in the country, a total of 151, which was being made difficult as New York only had a single brewpub with the correspondingly large tasting tray this entails... “Ah well, I'll give it my best shot”, I thought, subconsciously apologising to my internal organs for the onslaught they were about to be put through, and as we pulled into the airport I’m sure my stomach was gurgling in protest…
Saturday 10th May 2008.
Flat out over the Atlantic.
I'd already checked in on-line and so made my way through security to the gate where I saw my plane was to be a scoop both physically and type-wise, being a Boeing 767-336ER, and the journey seemed positively short at 7 hours after the mammoth 13 hour arse-numbing slog down to Santiago de Chile the previous year. I bought some water in preparation for the flight and, with nothing better to do, hung around the gate, watching a steady stream of aircraft arrive and depart, until my flight was eventually called.
With the strange luxury of having a reserved seat as opposed to the usual scrum on cheap airlines I took my time in boarding, thinking that as I was on an aisle I'd rather have the fellow passengers in my block seated to save being asked to move twice. I presented my boarding pass to the staff at the gate without much thought but, as they slid it into the reader, the device suddenly bleeped alarmingly and a red light flashed; hello, I thought, what's going on here? “Seat change” stated the smiling lass, handing me back my boarding pass after scribing something on it, and as I followed the crowd along the airbridge I noticed that she'd written “2B” on my pass...
Now I'm not an expert on planes but I do know that on flag carrier airlines the front bit of the plane is generally for pompous business twats on expenses, but would my new seat be much better than the one I'd relinquished out back in cattle class? I honestly had no idea what to expect as I boarded the aircraft but, as the stewardess ushered me through into the front cabin, I suddenly saw exactly what I'd been gifted; huge seats akin to individual compartments which, by the looks of them, slid down into a flat bed!
Now I know what you're all thinking and it's probably along the lines of “jammy bastard”, but this fortuitous seat change hadn't been totally random; I inform someone, who shall be nameless, about travel information I pick up whilst travelling and he'd asked what flights I was taking so he could “sort something out” with the airlines. I hadn't realised what he'd meant by this until now, but this was the best possible start to the trip I could have hoped for; thanks, Steve!
I prepared to take my place in the allotted capsule but before I could make myself comfortable the chief steward came over and told me that, as there were only six business-class passengers, I could choose whichever free seat I wanted and so I went for the very back one on the left which, I hoped, would give me a great view of New York as we arrived into JFK airport. We departed on-time and I was soon into the business-class lifestyle, testing out my reclining seat (which did, as I'd suspected, recline totally flat) and scooping in the entire wine menu by the glass!
The food, Royal Duchy sausages with mash and sticky onion gravy, was pretty good and came with proper cutlery to match the real wine glasses and, as I reclined in my seat high over the Atlantic with a glass of Chilean Merlot in one hand, a superb bar of Hotel Chocolat 70% cacao in the other and the Specials chugging out from the in-flight entertainment music selection, I reflected on just what an excellent way to travel this was... but, even so, there was no way I'd have paid £500 extra myself to do it!
As I finally cleared the wine list with a so-so glass of Bordeaux I was handed my landing cards to fill in. These elicited two laughs from me as I was asked if I'd ever been “involved in crimes of moral turpitude” (dunno, how do I know if I've done something when I don't understand what it means?) or “had between 1933 and 45 been involved with Nazi Germany” (not as far as I remember, no) which definitely lightened up what is always a fiddly and time-consuming operation. My cards completed, I enjoyed the approach into New York and was pleased to see the buildings of Manhattan rising out of the bay in the distance as we made landfall over a scantily populated archipelago; this was it, my first sight of America!
Being business class we were first off and, fresh and relaxed from my extremely comfortable journey, I almost sprinted for customs as Alex had warned me that it may take a very long time to be “processed”. Imagine my delight, then, in finding three people ahead of me in the queue and reaching the desks within a couple of minutes! The bloke behind the glass examined my passport and landing cards before confirming I was there for a leisure trip and, with a “have a nice stay”, he thumped home a stamp and that was it, I was in!
Amazed at how quickly and straightforward the procedure had been I made haste to the airtrain, the guided rail peoplemover which serves all the terminals and connects with the subway at Jamaica station, and paid my $5 for the surprisingly long trip. As the train left terminal 7 I realised that I'd been from plane to train within 15 minutes; is this a record for JFK, I thought, relieved that I'd been exceptionally lucky in being first off the plane. Once at Jamaica I quickly obtained my 7-day subway pass from staff on duty waving tickets at those disembarking the airtrain and made the connection with subway line E for the half-hour trundle into the centre to meet Alex; despite my eight glasses of wine on the 767 I was ready for a beer, and preferably one with plenty of hops!
The E train rumbled under the streets of Long Island, taking the 46th Street loop due to trackwork, and I eventually arrived at 23rd and Ely Avenue from where I rang Alex to let him know I was on my way before transferring to the G train. We'd planned to visit a new bar not far from his place, Habitat, where apparently I'd be able to scoop a dozen or so craft brews on tap and it would be a gentle breaking in to the American beer scene and so, surfacing into the glaring light of Greenpoint Avenue, I set eyes on New York – well, Brooklyn – for the first time.
Alex had said he'd meet me between the station and Mark bar, another pub with scoops available, so I set off along the road, taking in my surroundings. Far from being a faceless concrete wilderness as I'd half expected the buildings had a fair amount of character and some looked uncannily like the redbrick Victorian ones found in Manchester's northern reaches, plus there seemed to be a lot of Polish shops around including bakeries which had shelves piled high with what looked like, from my vantage point across the road, makowiec rolls... things were looking good for snacks later on, I decided!
It was when I saw Alex walking towards me waving that I realised I'd not actually seen him for what must have been at least six years when I'd last visited the Glastonwick beer festival, but he'd not changed that much; okay so he looked a few years older, but I'm sure I did too and his hair's nowhere near as grey as mine is these days! Formalities complete, Alex informed me that Habitat was closed today so we'd have to scoop it another time but, this being New York, there was plenty more to keep us occupied and so after we'd dropped off my bag at his place there was just time for my first scoop of the trip from his extensive beer stash; Tröegs Tröegenator doppelbock was a smooth, distinctly lagery brew with toffee, malt and some treacly hints before a complex malt and toffee finish and nothing like the overblown “extreme” beers that, many years back, I'd thought comprised the entire American craft beer scene!
With the first scoop under my belt I informed Alex of my plan to scratch 151 different beers during the trip which elicited a chuckle but also an affirmation that, if I was up to the challenge, so was New York; apparently I'd be able to scoop 100 beers just in Brooklyn if I so wished! Feeling like the move was well and truly underway we set off for my first taste of Brooklyn bar life at the intriguing sounding Gutter bar which, so Alex's superb guide to New York had informed me, had a bowling alley attached and had a decent craft beer list plus it was also close to the Brooklyn brewery which, so he said, we may as well do as we were so close – and with another half-dozen scoops on offer there I wasn't going to argue!
Into the scoop of things.
The Gutter was situated in a road of shabby warehouses in what guidebooks would probably call an “interesting” area of Brooklyn. I can't remember the gen but am pretty sure it's a converted warehouse itself although such a good job has been done with the décor that you'd never know if led in blindfold, although it was the beer I was after, not to slag off the place’s furnishings like some fat Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen! I began with Captain Lawrence pale ale and, the instant I smelt it, I began to grin inanely; this was more like it, this was what I'd traversed miles of ocean for: hops! Amber in colour – which I was to learn during the week was standard for American Pale ales – with a malty aroma packed with sappy, fruity rosepetal and evergreen hops. The flavour was bitter and hoppy, almost sticky with sappy resins, and had a glorious full-on bitter, hoppy and almost “turkish delight” hop finish yet underscored by a solid maltiness; oh yes, this was what I had come here for!
I moved onto Southampton IPA which wasn't quite as pungently hoppy as the Captain Lawrence had been although it's very bitter taste was mixed with a hefty blast of leafy, piney hops that would be unthinkable back home to all but the most adventurous of brewers. Dogfish Head Raison d'Être was next and I'd been looking forwards to trying some of DFH's apparently interesting brews for quite a while and, despite this one not being a hop-monster, it was very interesting with a sweetish raisiny taste complete with a fruity, rich almost Belgian Dubbel-like finish and I don't think I've ever tasted anything like it before or since!
We finished with a bottle of Arcadia Shipwreck porter, matured in Bourbon casks, and notwithstanding my initial scepticism about the overpowering taste of whisky after half the glass I’d come around to it’s caramelly, toffee-malt and liquorice taste propped up by a fairly subtle and almost rum-like toasted wood and burnt matches hint; once again, fascinating stuff, and as I supped I reasoned that in just four beers at this surreal bar in Brooklyn I'd probably experienced more variety, interest and adventure than most British brewers produce in their lifetime.
Feeling very pleased with the way things were going I was poised to order another scoop when Alex said we'd better be off if we wanted to make the tour at Brooklyn. As much as there were other beers on tap I wanted to scoop he said we'd see them elsewhere and, anyway, there was a bar in Brooklyn which served all these beers and more... I was sold! A short walk through what had obviously once been a shabby industrial area now being poshed-up considerably brought us to the cat-fitted brewery with Monster, the aforementioned cat, wandering around outside greeting the crowd of visitors!
The tour wasn't much cop to be honest, aimed mainly at normals whose only real intention was to get it over with and into the bar as soon as possible, although learning that most Brooklyn beer was made at their much larger brewery up-state was interesting! With the tour over we headed for the bar and I was pleased to see a whole row of taps dispensing beer; game on! Pennant was first and immediately I saw the difference between these beers and the micros we'd supped in the Gutter; bland, malty and plain with more than a suggestion of dried yeast – this wasn't a good start! Things improved slightly with the seasonal Helles which was admittedly Germanic and lagery in flavour although still quite dull. Brown ale was an easy-drinking chocolatey beer with nothing really exciting about it, but we'd left the best until last; Blast (8.5%) was an amber brew oozing resinous, piney hops and had a full malt flavour allied to a firm bitterness and resiny hop taste and, although the finish was slightly disappointing, this had been the best of a poor bunch!
Keeping the tally ticking...
Alex suggested that we head to Mugs Ale house where we could meet Felice (Alex's wife) and, after some food, I'd be able to bump up my tally with some proper craft brews. A quick tally-up revealed that I'd scooped 9 beers so far and had been in America for a mere 5 hours; my target of a mere 151 was looking easy! Ten minutes later and we'd arrived at Mugs which was a sociable street-corner pub, somewhat English in character, where a dazzling number of beers were on tap including two on handpump! Alex informed me that we only had time for a couple and, anyway, we'd be back within a few days for a beer tasting and so, along with a very welcome and tasty meal, I scooped the two beers from cask.
Mercury Ipswich IPA was deep amber, as I'd already realised was normal for American IPA's, yet still not the hop-monster I was after with a very drinkable pine/rose petal hop character over a decent malty sweetness although lacking somewhat in bitterness. Their Oatmeal stout had a huge roast barley aroma and flavour, maybe a touch one-dimensional, albeit with some bitterness, toasty malt flavours and a hint of liquorice in the finish. We squeezed in one more beer, Stone IPA, which was also a bit of a let-down in the hop department with a decent enough pine, citrus and hop character over a good malt body although I thought it to be slightly restrained and generic.
Saying goodbye to Felice for now, Alex and I pressed on into Williamsburg and soon came to a strange bar called K&M which still bore signs of it's former incarnation as a Polish Pierogi shop! We were only calling in as it was en-route to the main event of the evening but Alex suggested we try one of the rare Hitachino Nest beers from Japan which the bar sold, so their Red Rice beer was quickly acquired and, yet again, I was experiencing fascinating beers! Reddy amber in colour with a bizarre dryish, grainy, wheaty taste with a hint of sourness and something else unidentifiable (presumably the rice!) it had a dry, grainy and almost lambic-like finish and was a beer I'll remember for quite a while as being unlike almost anything else I've ever drunk!
Losing my Green Flash virginity...
Next stop was the famous Spuyten Duyvel bar where Alex assured me we'd find a great selection of craft beer although their policy was different than most other bars in only having a few beers on at a time and allowing them to change frequently rather than keeping a dozen or more on sale at once; bad for the scooper but, I suppose, better for beer quality! One beer which Alex was keen for me to try, so he said, was Harviestoun Ola Dubh from 30 year-old whisky casks that had been on handpump a few nights back and I was extremely withered about this as it wasn't available in the UK at all at the time I was in New York (although I think it is now). Witheringly, the handpump was bare when we arrived, although the benefits of having a local beer hero to show me around was emphasized when he managed to blag the final pulls from the cask which had only run off a few minutes before our arrival.
Jet black with a texture of blackstrap molasses, this brew immediately showed why it wasn't on sale in the UK; surely only a handful of drinkers would understand such a monster of a beer? Toffee, aniseed, tar, treacle and a thick maltiness slugged me in the mouth along with a massive (maybe too massive?) spirity whiskiness that made the beer taste a lot stronger than it actually was along with a crunchy wood note from the cask maturation. Overall I wasn't a huge fan, thinking it too unbalanced with the Whisky blotting out everything else, but I'm very glad I got to try it – and from cask, too!
We followed this with Smuttynose Barley wine, a reddy-amber brew with a full, sweet malt flavour with a medley of flavours in the finish including liquorice, treacle, toasted grain and red fruits which finished sweet, mellow and unexpectedly suppable. Avery Redpoint was next and this was somewhat of a let-down with it's bland maltiness and vaguely toffeeish backtastes although after the Ola Dubh and Smuttynose I'm not surprised we couldn’t taste much! Bluepoint Spring Fling was next up, a plain yet solid bitter beer not dissimilar to an English pale ale, and we finished with my first Imperial IPA from Green Flash of California.
At this point I didn't realise that I was about to discover one of my favourite brewers in the world but the first taste of this amber brew soon told me I was drinking something very special indeed. I'd not known what to expect from IIPA's, thinking they'd be way too boozy and extreme for me, but this one, at least, was a revelation with it's pine, sap and rosepetal hops, a huge bitterness to balance the full-on think malt body before it finished with a huge pine, bitter, dry and thoroughly hoppy finish balanced by a crunchy, grainy malt character; I now knew that it was possible to have balance even at 9.5% and, looking back, this was one of the major revelations of my recent beer drinking career!
All too soon it was time to go so we took a bus back to a new bar close to Alex's apartment, Lenora's Way, where two more scoops were obtained in the form of Sixpoint Diesel, a deep red/brown burnt, toasty and chocolate-forward brown ale and very drinkable for the style, plus Sierra Nevada Torpedo, a surprisingly bitter beer with a strong dry-hopped finish alongside more full-on bitterness and malt. With that my first day in New York was at an end, all that remained was for us to take a bus a few stops for a nightcap of Ballard's Darkly Veiled barley wine which showed itself up as a simple, sherried and malty beer without any of the complexity and character which most of the American beers had exhibited. Full of winners and happy to be in full scooping mode, I was asleep almost immediately...
Hours in America: 11, scoops drunk: 21.
Sunday 11th May 2008.
Here we go again.
Sunday dawned bright and so, whilst Alex had a lie-in, Felice and I went for a wander around Greenpoint to see the sights. I was impressed by the area's industrial look with Manchester-esque warehouses looming over narrow streets and a semi-derelict air to some parts and I particularly liked a large water tower perched, like some 1960's Soviet satellite, atop an abandoned factory, although not as much as the fascinating view over to Manhattan’s shiny temples of commerce from the barbed wire-adorned waterfront.
With the sightseeing done we met up with Alex in Spike Hill, a local bar with a craft beer slant, for beer and breakfast; the breaded oysters with scrambled eggs and hot chilli sauce certainly went down a treat! On the beer front I began the day's campaign with Sixpoint Brownstone which, as the name suggests, was a brown ale with a luscious chocolate flavour mixed with bitter hops then a dab of floral resins to balance it out, and very good it was too. Sly Fox Saison Vos was next and it was here that I discovered an American beer style that I simply don't think works or resembles the original at all, Belgian ale. Hazy yellow, it had banana and wheat flavours with a spicy, dry and reasonably Hoegaarden-like finish although I can't imagine why any brewer would want to emulate such dross personally!
I was in need of a hop fix and so Bluepoint Hoptical Illusion was acquired with it’s huge resinous hop aroma complete with rosepetals, citrus, peaches and grapefruit that transferred into the flavour almost smell to taste along with others such as lime juice and a zingy gingery hint. If I had to criticize this beer I'd have to say it was lacking in the bitterness department although the glorious hop aroma and flavours amply made up for this and brought a beaming smile to my face!
Alex had arranged to meet some fellow beer enthusiasts in the next bar, the Black Rabbit, so we trooped through the dimly-lit pub to the enclosed garden out back where we sat and talked beer for a while. Scoops here were Lagunitas pilsener, a malty and reasonably well-brewed lager with too much dryness and hop for a proper Czech pils but nice enough all the same, Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold was an average pale ale with balanced malt, hop, bitter and toffee flavours and overall was tasty but not that exciting and, finally, Smuttynose Porter which I thought more a stout on account of it's roastiness and chocolatey, coffeeish taste although whatever style the brewer intended it to be it was a tasty brew with plenty of bitter chocolate in the toasted malt finish.
The hops keep on coming!
Our next call was the strangely named Pencil Factory which was situated opposite a glorious example of redbrick Victoriana – funnily enough, originally a pencil factory – and this bar had tables outside with views down to the river and Manhattan so we sat out in the sun's lazy rays and talked about beer yet again as the traffic passed by. First up from the taps was Smuttynose IPA and now we were talking, I thought, as waves of flowery hops, citrus, pine needles, hopflower and resins washed across my tongue. This was a beer I could have drunk all day had we not had other bars to visit but, as it was, I made the most of my time with it and savoured the huge flowery, sticky resinous hop taste and excellent bitter, hoppy and malty balance.
Ommegang Rare Vos was next and here was more ammunition to my argument that American Belgian ales just don't taste very nice, although as I thought about why I realised that it was the pronounced banana character reminding me of weissbier that was putting me off! This one was full of bubblegum orangey and sweet malt tastes and could almost have been liquefied “Bazooka Joe” bubblegum (remember those?); just not my kind of thing, I'm afraid.
We next took a wander along to the Diamond, a cosy yet very modernist bar with great beer list (Bayerischer Bahnhof Gose, anyone?) where a full-scale beer tasting was in progress: just what I needed in order to bump up my tally! Alex somehow managed to weasel me into the group and so, after a quick half of Sixpoint Bengal Tiger IPA (toffee malt overlain with a piney, floral and decent bitter, resinous hop taste) off we went with some very interesting beers indeed!
First up, all the way from Italy, was Grado Plato Strado San Felice (8%) and although the other tasters were impressed by it’s “bretty” character I felt that this characteristic wasn’t supposed to be there and the beer was simply infected with wild yeast! Next up was Big Boss Hell’s Belle (7%), another of those pesky “Belgican” (Belgian beer made by Americans!) beers with way too much bananary sweetness that blotted out all the other flavours much in the way ginger does. Victory Abbey 6 was scooped from the bar during a short break in proceedings and was found to be yet another Belgican with a simple, blunt banana and sweet malt flavour… these beers were already beginning to annoy me and I’d only been in the country 24 hours!
Geary’s London Porter came next and despite my relief at it not being a Belgian-style beer my excitement was short-lived as the brew was a thin, dry caramelly and less-than-impressive take which was more like a poor Baltic Porter than a proper top-fermented one! Things changed for the better, thankfully, with the next beer and I’m sure that it wasn’t just due to the poor run on beers I’d supped previous that I marvelled at it’s hoppy magnificence; no, it was simply a superb beer! Midnight Sun Mars (8.7%) had a stunning raspberry and apricot fruit aroma that I reasoned was from Simcoes with a full, bitter, fruity hop taste which finished dry, complex yet still with those delicious raspberryish hops and a hefty bitterness coming through… this was more like it!
I’m not sure a lot would match that hop-monster but, to be fair, the next beer didn’t try to surpass it but settled for being a straightforward brown ale with good drinkability; Williamsburg Aleworks Jamestown 400 was chocolatey, sweetish, mellow and tasty which is all most people want from a brown ale and it impressed me with it’s lack of pretention and straightforward good taste. Duck Rabbit Baltic Porter was cracked open next and this was another disappointment with a character akin to someone having tipped a jar of treacle into a particularly nondescript batch of lager! Carolina IIPA had all the resinous, rosepetal hops I’d expect from an IPA yet without the oomph and power I’d hope an imperial IPA would have and finished disappointingly weakly.
That, then, concluded the tasting, an event that in an hour flat had boosted my ratings tally by nine beers, so Alex suggested we carry on with our Brooklyn crawl with a visit to a newly-opened bar, Habitat, where we’d have a choice of another dozen craft beers! Lead on, says I, and as an added bonus I acquired a huge Makoviec poppy-seed jam bread confection from a Polish bakery we passed for the amazingly democratic price of $1.25!
The evening draws to a scoopifactory conclusion.
Habitat provided me with a further two scoops for the orange book in the form of Avery Brown Ale, a richly chocolatey and very sessionable ale with some treacle and dry notes in the finish, and Keegan Mother’s Milk Stout, another dark brown beer although this one had more caramel flavours than the previous beer along with the roasted malt and chocolate tastes. Now on the home strait, we paused briefly in the Mark Bar where a plethora of winners awaited me; Long Trail Double Bag was a malty dark lager vaguely in the Altbier style although far darker and more over-treacled than the classic Düsseldorf beer is, Keegan Four Philosophers was yet another Belgican and yet again totally over-banana’d, High Point Ramstein Maibock was a very passable attempt at this difficult style with an obvious lageryness, some toffee and a rich maltiness yet without the over-the-top flavours which would turn it into yet another generic strong lager, Sierra Nevada Early Spring Ale was sadly quite bland, dry and characterless whilst, finally, Magic Hat Lucky Cat IPA was a disappointingly average and under-hopped beer with suggestions of flowery hop and bitterness but nowhere near enough to pose a serious lupulous assault on my tastebuds.
Back at Alex’s place, after munching on a very good and surprisingly authentic pizza, a relic from a famous brewery long closed – Heavyweight – was produced from Alex’s stash although this relic had the added bonus of being scoopable; it was a bottle of their Baltus OVS (8.2%)! Obviously old, the typical cardboardy tastes of age overpowered any subtleties in the brew and a backwash of Sherry and Madeira finished off rather un-beery yet I was pleased to have tried a beer from such a famous brewery and, anyhow, it was still a winner! The final beer of the day, astonishingly number 27, was Gambrinus Spoetz Shiner, allegedly a Bohemian dark lager, yet tasting more like another industrial product with too much caramel and molasses added… and thus ended my first full day in New York… 48 scoops thus far, and I’d not even left Brooklyn yet!
Hours in America: 35, Scoops today: 27, Total scoops drunk: 48.
Monday 12th May 2008.
During the night New York was lashed by a fury of wind, rain and general grimness so, when I ventured out into the bright morning, it seemed as if the very air had been washed and blown clean and the pavements (sorry, sidewalks) showed the remnants of their overnight soaking as I splashed along to the bus stop. A short ride later and I was on the L train rumbling under the Hudson towards Manhattan where I planned to have a wander along Broadway and take in the sights, although I hadn’t planned on the weather across town being far grimmer than that I’d left behind in Brooklyn but, I decided, I may as well have a look anyway and so implacably splooshed my way along Broadway towards Time Square.
I passed the striking Flatiron building which, looking at it head-on, allowed me to plausibly believe that, when it was the tallest building around, people thought a gust of wind would topple it; it’s one thin – yet daintily beautiful – structure. After purchasing a pack of razors from a convenient chemist and topping up my reserves of dollars from an ATM which didn’t charge me a $2 fee (very rare!) I stoically plodded on through the improving climatic conditions until I passed the iconic buildings of the Empire State Building, Maceys and then, finally, reached Times Square.
The addition of rain to the tarmac gave the huge screens and lights of the area a surreal quality and seemed to intensify their garishness, aided considerably by the leaden grey sky, although not being a Capitalist pig I didn’t really see why a street full of adverts for tat was a particularly good thing and worthy of being a famous landmark… but hey, at least now I could speak from experience! Feeling like I’d earned a beer I descended the steps into the subway and took the next Q train downtown back to where I’d begun, Union Square, where I’d noticed the original Heartland brewpub which I hoped would kick-start my day’s ticking with a trayful of winners!
The pub was housed in an impressive old building although inside it was disappointingly formulaic and modern plus, surely with a touch of irony, bits of the old brewing kit were still scattered around, some looking as if they’d simply been abandoned when brewing moved out to Greenpoint beerworks in Brooklyn. Eight beers were available so I went for the tasting tray, deciding that I’d rather drink small samples of beers which didn’t promise much in the way of character or interest and were, if truth be told, just more notches in the bedpost of my scooping obsession! Things began poorly with Cornhusker lager, an averagely bland yellow fluid with plenty of bubbles and only the vaguest hint of bitterness in the finish, and didn’t get any better with Harvest Wheat which was almost tasteless without even the bubblegummy wheat tastes for me to dislike; I dislike wheat beer, but I dislike blandness even more!
Grateful Red (oh, the wit!) showed a slight improvement with at least a modicum of flavour of toffee maltiness, hints of molasses and more toffee in the finish before a balanced if bland finish, but this false start was ruined by Indian River Light… look, I’ve no idea what the fuck this abomination was supposed to be, but it tasted to me like Fanta that had been left out in the sun for far too long and after a few sips I gave up and moved onto the next glass, Red Rooster Ale. This was very deep red with a reasonably complex malt, treacle, caramel and toasted grain flavour and some vague bitterness in the finish and, it must be said, suspiciously similar to Kelly’s Irish Red although this brew did seem dryer and tasted as if there was more roast barley in it’s makeup and was, correspondingly, the best beer I’d had thus far… although that’s not exactly a compliment.
Two more beers remained scoopable and so I acquired a glass of Indiana Pale Ale which, whilst not living up to the lupulous heights of Smuttynose IPA, wasn’t bad at all and had all the requisite pine, citrus, rosepetal, bitter and fruity flavours albeit in much smaller amounts than I’d have liked. My final glass of beer was soon being poured and I had high hopes for this one, it having garnered the highest ratings I’d read of the Heartland range, although somewhat predictably it was no better than “decent”! Farmer John’s Oatmeal Stout was red/black with some grainy sweetness yet was saved from stickiness by a good roast malt bite and some bitterness in the finish. So, that was Heartland cleared up, and I headed off to meet up with Alex at the city’s only remaining brewpub, Chelsea, out on the far western side of Manhattan, pausing only to reflect on the global nature of beer enthusiasm as I received a text from Steve Pereira in Prague!
A short journey by bus and then on foot later I’d arrived at the slightly bizarre Chelsea Piers area overlooking the Hudson wherein, so I had been reliably informed, lurked New York’s only remaining brewpub. Finding it was another matter, however, and it took me a good five minutes walking warily along unlit access roads into the dank depths of the complex before I literally stumbled upon the front door (or I assume it’s the front door – it may have been the cleaner’s entrance) by tripping up the kerb and almost through the glass.
I was there, though, and once I’d made myself comfortable at the bar all the tribulations of finding the place ebbed away like the beer in my sample tray – very quickly! I began with Checker Cab blonde, a gentle beer without any exciting flavours, yet it had a decent balance of moderate malt, hop and bitter tastes. Sunset Red came next and this was a good ‘un alright, a surprisingly bitter, hoppy and tangy brew where the hops balanced the nutty sweetness of the malt well; this was turbocharged Irish Red! Showers and Flowers Spring wheat was quickly dispatched and, despite it not being my thing at all, I could tell that this was a well-brewed beer with plenty of grainy tastes and some residual bready sweetness from the wheat.
The pub’s Barley Wine was next and I was pleased to see what I really, really hope was irony in it’s name; Imperial Mild! This particular example was Bourbon cask-aged and, despite the beer being swamped by spirity and vanilla-laden whisky, it had decent drinkability and I felt that under all this booziness and OTT vanilla was a decent beer trying to get noticed. It was now time for some hops and only one beer could deliver; Hop Angel IPA sounded just the ticket and it certainly matched all my expectations with a substantial pine, grapefruit and rose character, plenty of bitterness and a delicious complex malt and citrus hop aftertaste which lasted for ages and was just what I needed! It wasn’t a world-beating IPA, at least not in my opinion, but it certainly had enough hops to be getting on with.
Alex had arrived by this juncture and he managed to blag me a beer not yet available, the Oatmeal Stout, which had a sourish twang and a very Murphys-esque sweetish, creamy taste with gentle roast malt, liquorice and hints of bitterness. The other stout on the bar, Cream Stout, was also scooped and I preferred this beer for it’s crunchy roast malt attack, slightly sweet liquorice, treacle and almost Devon toffee finish with more burnt grain; very accomplished indeed, although more like the Guinness of old when they still put some flavour into it and didn’t rely on gimmicks such as serving it through a glacier to try and sell the stuff…
Travels with a cask.
Alex had picked up one of his empty casks from Chelsea in order to get it filled at Sixpoint and so, after a quick chat with the brewer to dispense some well-deserved praise, off we went back to Brooklyn via a swift stop at a pub that was at the top of my “must visit” list, the Blind Tiger. We attracted some strange looks as we wandered along Bleecker Street carrying our metal Pin by a makeshift brown tape handle but, being dedicated scoopers, strange looks from normals didn’t bother us and we were soon clanking our way into the pub for a couple of swift halves! A Rogue week was in full swing and so we indulged in Imperial Porter, a rich, roasted yet smooth brew with coffee, roast and a late bitterness, and Smoke which had a delicate sweetcure bacon suggestion in the aroma and, less so, on the tongue with more beech smoke coming through in the soft, supple treacly malt finish which ended interestingly sweet and smokey.
Despite the existence on the bar of at least 20 other scoops it was time to press on and deliver our cask so it could be filled for Alex’s forthcoming festival, so we took the subway across town to Brooklyn. En-route, our cask attracted more unusual looks from confused normals which bordered on “Goddam terrorists” in some cases! I’m assuming that it was only our lack of beards and non-swarthy looks that saved us being gunned down by a SWAT team, I’m sure of that; Goddam Commie Arab terrorist pinkos…
We luckily avoided the attention of any gung-ho triggerhappies and arrived at Sixpoint with our cask which we dropped off with the brewer who, unfortunately, was right in the middle of cleaning down the kit and therefore too busy to show us around or dispense any free beer, although I’d already had most of their range and could see the entire plant from where we stood so this wasn’t a terrible loss! Our baggage dispensed with, we were free to travel without suspicion of being set on mass destruction and so off we went to the East Village in search of weapons of mass inebriation… sorry about that, I’ve been trying to find the right place for that gag for the last 5 pages!
Alex told me about a new bar which had very recently opened and which was stocking some excellent beers that I really should visit and so, trusting his judgement on such things, a short subway ride brought us into the East Village and Alphabet City where we made haste for our first call, the strangely-named d.b.a. After getting over the first aromatic impression of cheesy wotsits (or maybe vomit!) we squeezed ourselves into a corner and set about the beers on offer. Sly Fox Sterling IPA was hazy amber in colour with a good hop character, plenty of citrus, and a well-balanced yet still stickily resinous hoppy finish, which was followed by Bluepoint ESB, a rather plain malty, fruity reddish beer which I felt was a reasonable take on what I assume is it’s model, Fuller’s ESB, but although they’d got the blandness about right they’d missed out the sickly-sweet Orange marmalade character that all Fuller’s beer possesses.
Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold was next up and this hefty 10% brew was unexpectedly drinkable for such a strong ale with a balancing bitter hoppiness and bananary malt character which had been attenuated enough to prevent the whole thing collapsing into a pit of sticky maltiness. Stoudt’s APA was probably the closest I’d come this far to finding a “supping bitter” in New York and had a very British character to it’s makeup with an excellent balance of flowery hop and malt, nothing extreme or life-changing, yet a well-made and gluggable brew. Our final beer was somewhat of a let-down, sadly, as Otter Creek Wolaver’s organic All-American had a bland and sweet malty disposition with little to recommend it. As we downed this last brew, a local explained how he thought Youngs was some of the best beer in the world… my incredulous look and unbridled mirth didn’t seem to shake his conviction, but he did shuffle off to find someone else less opinionated on such matters!
Our scoops supped, off we went to the new bar at which Alex explained he was busy installing a cask ale system that, sadly, wasn’t yet operational although a dozen beers on tap mollified my scoop-craving somewhat. The landlord of the pub was a lively and typically New York kind of character with a huge personality and, when he guessed that I was a rather desperate scooper, ushered us into his cellar to show off the very impressive coldstore which was, basically, a large insulated wooden box into which the kegs and casks were stillaged; looking at kegs was all very well but I’d much rather be drinking the stuff out of them, I mused as the chiller blasted ice-cold air down my neck, but little did I know that the next two beers I was to drink would be two of the finest of my 20-year scooping career to date.
On the brink of beervana.
Back in the bar I was poured a stemmed glass of my first choice, a beer that sounded 100% like my kind of thing in the form of Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA, although I couldn’t have been prepared for the assault about to be unleashed upon my unsuspecting tastebuds and olfactory senses. I could smell the beer before the pour had finished, a pungent waft of raspberry and hop resins drifting across the bar, but it was only when I lifted the glass to my nose and took a deep sniff that I knew that I held a beer that I’d remember for a long, long time to come; I spent a good five minutes inhaling the sumptuously sweet yet tangy raspberryish hop aromas, a huge smile on my face, before I plucked up the courage to actually sip the beer – how could something that smelt so divine possibly live up to the aroma’s hype?
It did, and with some panache. The gorgeous raspberry, gooseberry and apricot aroma translated perfectly into the flavour which had a solid malt backbone yet it was those succulent, fruity hops that everything revolved around and the bitter, resinous, malty and pungently complex finish almost took away my power of description! After setting a pub record for the slowest consumption of a small glass of beer (yet maybe with the most appreciation!), I reluctantly eschewed another in favour of Green Flash West Coast IPA which, I thought, could never in a million, trillion years ever match the sublimity of what I’d just consumed…
One inhalation of the heady hop oils billowing from my fresh glass told me that, somehow, I’d managed to follow one of the finest beers I’d had in years by another which, sadly, I’d probably not appreciate sufficiently after such a hop-monster as the Weyerbacher! Massively dry-hopped, the Green Flash had a simply sublime aroma of fresh hops, resins, citrus and leafy, green hopflowers, one of the freshest and most inviting aromas I’ve ever experienced, before a good malty flavour over which was laid a stunning array of aroma hops and bitterness with lemon zest, grapefruit, lime juice and exotic fruits and flowers all coming into play with a glorious finish of fresh, leafy, resinous and zesty hops… I couldn’t believe just how good this beer was and sipped at the glass with what must have been a look of complete wonder on my face.
Hops, hops and more hops.
So, I’d just drunk two of the best beers I'd had for a long time – or maybe ever – straight after each other! What are the chances of that, I thought, as the zesty, fresh hops caressed my tongue and I marvelled at the huge level of hoppiness done with the touch of an artist. All too quickly the glass was empty and I turned my attention to a beer I'd got on my “must try” list, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA, although I was slightly concerned that after the two previous hop-monsters I wouldn't taste very much or give it the respect a beer of it's stature deserved.
There was no need to worry on that count as 90-Minute turned out to be yet another huge IPA with plenty of hops even if it didn't quite match the excellence of the previous two beers, although I'm not sure a lot would to be honest! An amber brew, it had a well-balanced toffee malt and almost “noble” hop aroma with hints of vanilla, fresh hops, zesty citrus and more toffee maltiness before the flavour gradually trailed off into a tasty, complex and superbly balanced noble hop and malt finale... could this pub do any wrong with it's beer choice, I wondered, as yet another glorious American IPA slipped down worryingly quickly, although the provision of some snacks helped to counter the ominously high alcohol quotient I was consuming with these strong ales.
Worried that my tastebuds would be permanently damaged by such a high lupulin intake, I switched to a diametrically different style for my final beer in this excellent pub, North Coast Old Rasputin Imperial Stout. This was another huge beer yet in a very different way; an immense roasted coffee and heavily toasted grain nose followed through into the intense flavour which, despite the enormity of flavours involved, was surprisingly moreish and supple with liquorice and a good bitterness balancing out any residual sweetness from the malt and alcohol; overall, then, yet another excellent brew and more proof, should I have needed it, that American micros could produce some remarkable beers.
I was toying with the idea of another Green Flash, just to flush out the roastiness which clung to my tongue, but Alex reappeared from the cellar and said we'd best be getting off to the Hop Devil Grill to see what beery delights were on sale there. Saying our goodbyes to the landlord, and promising I'd be back before the week was done for a further colossal hop intake, we took the subway back across to Brooklyn where we wandered along 8th Avenue towards the pub. Alex told me that this was where the really rare stuff in New York generally appeared although it seems that someone had a grudge against them and so we needed to show ID to get in which, apparently, protected them against under-age drinkers entering and potentially getting them closed down. Fair enough, I thought, but looking at our obvious middle-ageness I didn't see how either of us could be considered underage by any stretch of a fevered imagination!
We were soon inside and in possession of a taster tray which was extremely welcome seeing as I required at least a dozen of the beers on tap! The hugest scoop was first, Otto's Jolly Roger stout, which was a thick, liquoricey brew with plenty of roasted barley in the body and a good toasted grain finish. Avery IPA was next and this had some piney hop and bitterness although I felt that the Weyerbacher and Green Flash had spoiled me for life as this just didn't seem as hoppy as I wanted it to be! Likewise Abita Turbodog and Boulder Hazed and Infused, whilst the other beers (Kuhnenn Fourth Dementia, Boulder Obvoid and Chelsea Tsar's revenge) were of varying degrees of averageness, whereas the final beer of the night, Victory Old Horizontal, gave a mellow malty glow to proceedings with plenty of interesting flavours lurking in it's alcoholic depths.
With time way past midnight Alex called a cab to take us home whereupon we decided against any final nightcap brews as we were both knackered and, anyhow, I'd scooped 34 beers in this one day alone which was more than enough to keep my tally ahead of target! As I watched a few minutes of TV to help me off to sleep, an advert blared away which showed customers obviously madly in love with whatever tat was being peddled, although the tiny text which flashed up at the bottom of the screen for what must have been milliseconds made me chuckle; “Dramatisation of actual consumer testimonies”… Dramatisations indeed, I’ve never seen such unbelievable testimonies!
Hours in America: 59, Scoops today: 34, Total scoops drunk: 82.
Tuesday 13th May 2008.
After three days of desperate scooping I decided that as I was 23 beers (a day's scooping at my current rate) ahead of my punishing schedule I could afford to take it easy and see the sights of the city, therefore Tuesday would be designated a rest day for my internal organs – well, insofar as I'd only be scooping a few – and so, armed with a fully-charged camera, I set off to explore Manhattan's landmarks.
I walked up through Greenpoint, taking phots of Manhattan's skyscrapers bathed in morning light from the McGuinness bridge as I did so, before indulging in a bacon butty from a convenient café then taking the 7 train across to Manhattan. I wandered up Broadway, viewing the sheer crassness of Macy's and Times Square (which isn't really a square, more a road junction with big fuck-off TV's hung everywhere, but there you go), until I reached Central Park. Relaxing in the shade of trees from the strengthening sun I admired the surrealism of the park which is surrounded – right up to it's perimeter – by tall buildings which give a rather claustrophobic and hemmed-in character although the verdant vegetation came as a huge contrast to the beige skyscrapers which crowd in all around.
After a brief troll around the park, soaking up the rays and joining a multitude of office workers taking an early break on the expansive grass slopes, I headed back into the concrete jungle in search of my next target, Trump Tower. Now I can't see how Americans can take someone called Trump seriously as the mere mention of the word takes me back to primary school when trump was the word for farting before we'd learnt how to swear properly, but they do and he's got a really, really big tasteless eyesore named after him without a glimmer of embarrassment at having the childish word for flatulence in ten-metre high lettering on the outside.
The night before I'd raised this point with Alex and, after some amusement, he'd admitted that he still found it funny but Americans just don't see the joke at all. I enquired whether he'd ever considered farting in Trump tower as a show of British irony – he hadn't – which made me even more determined to carry out this hit for the little people against the corporate machine; Donald would be quaking in his boots if he'd known what I had planned, that's for sure. I've since found out that Chris Fudge had the same idea and carried out the same daring mission on his last visit to NYC, so it's not just me who's a flatulence-obsessed gas-emitting big kid at heart...
Anyhow, I'd soon located the tower and was surprised to see that it looked half-finished with a bizarre amount of foliage growing out of one side, but I was there on a mission so in I went to find it even more tacky, pretentious and garish than I'd ever imagined it would be; having seen the American apprentice I knew how high Donald's opinion of himself was but I wasn't prepared for such a vomit-inducing display of tat and self-aggrandisation as I saw, although I could hardly contain my sniggering as almost everything had Trump printed all over it!
I'd been holding in my flatulence all around Central Park and now was the time to let it out; I strode calmly to the centre of a large echoey-looking ostentatious marble corridor and let rip with impressively raucous results – and no-one batted an eyelid! Feeling deflated in more ways than one and so, with my gaseous ammunition spent, I trudged out of the temple to tat with more than a hint of disappointment but guessed that every English tourist must do the same and therefore the uniformed door-openers and concierges have seen (and heard) it all before...
A Pastrami butty and a Ginger Man.
With the sun becoming ever more ferocious, I strode down 5th Avenue taking in the admittedly impressive sights of faceless skyscrapers interrupted by old gothic churches and Doric columned façades. It was only when I passed the famous Rosen's deli that I realised I'd walked a good few miles thus far and my belly was beginning to complain that my throat had been cut so it was inside for one of their famous pastrami sandwiches with a can of cream soda (as far as I could tell not from Coke or Pepsi although I’m sure it was) to wash it down; how New York is that?
Feeling suitably refreshed by the massive butty which must have been a good two inches thick with warm meat, I passed through Central Station to admire it's soaring roof and very Antwerp-esque stairways before giving into my scooping gene (and thirst!) by calling in at another of my must-visits, the Ginger Man. This bar had mixed reviews but, I reasoned, how can anywhere with 30-odd beers on tap be anything other than worth a look?
With it's huge windows allowing in more light than seemed possible from the dingy pavement outside I sat at a table, resting my weary feet and slightly sunburnt slaphead, whilst I perused the menu. I'd soon realised that the range wasn't as good as I'd hoped with a fair amount of what I'd class as common beers and a surprising amount of Foreign stuff too (not what I was after, although Schlenkerla Märzen was vaguely tempting!) but there were still plenty of scoops to go for so I plumped for Brooklyn EIPA on cask as a potentially refreshing start to the day's winners.
I really should have realised that a cask beer wasn't the idea thing to slake a mammoth thirst, being warmer than tapped beer, and it didn't help that the expected dose of hops was nowhere near as high as I'd hoped for but then again I should have guessed as much of a beer from Brooklyn! Fairly malty with some vague hoppiness, it didn't last very long as my dry throat gulped it down thirstily whereupon I ordered my next scoop, Arcadia Hopmouth IPA. This was better although again not what I was after – a big blast of bitterness and citrus hops – as it's piney resinous hop was somewhat overshadowed by a cardboardy twang which may have hinted that it was too old? Deciding to have one final scoop before carrying on with my touristy exploration I went for a bottle, Cape Ann Fisherman's Navigator, a deep red and sweetish treacle toffee-like lager (I assume!) with vanilla and more toffee before a mellow, malty finish with a good surge of late flavours saving the day giving it a vaguely Berlin dunkel character.
I had more exploration to do before the daylight gave out and so off I went to explore the “cast iron” district around Canal Street and spent an hour or so simply wandering around the streets and gazing up at the tall iron frontages with growing admiration for New York's architectural heritage; the city was nothing like I'd feared architecturally, basically a concrete high-rise onslaught, and outside of the financial district many buildings were Victorian-looking and, in Brooklyn, almost Manchester-esque in their redbrick and iron solidness! There's only so long you can blunder around looking upwards, though, and soon my neck was showing signs of repetitive strain injury and so that was that, sightseeing over, it was time for food then beer!
I made my way across to Bowery, the famous street once famed for it's down and outs but now an area of regeneration, passing on my way a moving reminder of the 11/11 attack in the shape of a small fire station for “Engine 55” with a plaque outside listing those who had set out from the bright red doors on that November morning never to return. The street reminded me once again of Manchester with redbrick frontages and cast iron fire escapes in abundance as I wandered along looking for somewhere to eat and it wasn't long before I'd found a very likely-looking contender in the shape of the Fu Wong Chinese restaurant at 100 Bowery. The immediate area was full of Chinese shops and teeming with Oriental-looking people so I was fairly confident about this place, even more so when I peered through the windows and saw it was 100% staffed and chock-full of Chinese; this was the one for me, then, and in I went!
The staff seemed a little surprised to see me enter but were smilingly courteous and I was soon sat at a retro vinyl table with the bustle of a busy local café all around me and a cup of complimentary green tea sat on the table! I went for chicken with vegetables in a black bean sauce and within minutes a huge steaming plate was placed in front of me which I tucked into with pleasure. I found it to be an excellent meal, much better than the majority of Chinese takeaways back home although, considering the customer base, I wasn't that surprised if truth were told!
I demolished the mountain of food within a couple of minutes and as I did so, with the help of more tea from the steaming urn, felt the heat and tiredness of the day's exploration drift away to be replaced with a desire for some winners! Paying the ludicrously small bill of $4 – one of the best value and enjoyable meals I've had in a very long time – I set off in the direction of the East Village Tavern where Alex was busy fitting their new handpump and hopefully I'd be able to drink more of the sublime hopfests that are Weyerbacher Double Simcoe and Green Flash IPA… and a few winners, let’s not forget those!
Second sight of the Green Flash.
On my way I passed the Loreley which advertised eight draught German beers but on closer examination none seemed that interesting and, anyway, I was on a mission for hops and so carried on in search of some. As I turned into East Houston street I suddenly realised that I’d just passed one of the must-visits of New York, the Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, and so retraced my steps in order to purchase some Knishes for later on. In case you don’t know what a Knish is, it’s vaguely like a pasty with mashed potato covered by a thin dough and then baked; it’s a lot nicer than it sounds, believe me, particularly when you get the ones full of garlic and spinach!
With the surprisingly heavy snacks safely stowed in my pack for later I pressed on towards the East Village Tavern calling in at Croxley Ales along the way. This busy little bar had a decent range of craft brews on tap but I only had time for one and so chose Tröegs Hopback which, sadly, didn’t live up to it’s name although as far as amber, chocolatey beers go it was pleasant enough and had a surprisingly complex and moreish malty finish.
I soon arrived at the East Village and, despite my “one scoop and hour” target looming over me, I simply couldn’t refuse another glass of the Green Flash WCIPA which, if anything, tasted even better than the previous day although this time I was drinking it without my tastebuds having been anaesthetised by Simcoe overload first! With it’s withering onslaught of citrussy, resinous, flowery lemon/lime zest and hefty bitterness over a not-too-heavy crystal maltiness (which, in my opinion, way too many American IPA’s suffer from) it was without doubt one of the beers I’m most pleased to have sampled and would love to be able to buy it in the UK where I’m sure it would sell well to hop-heads as it has a very British grain bill even if the hop charge patently isn’t!
Alex emerged from the cellar and asked if I was ready to go; “Of course I am, mate, just let me finish this scoop first!” I spluttered through a glass of Penn Pilsener which, surprisingly, tasted very much like a traditional German Pils with a dry, taut maltiness and suggestion of herbaceous and grassy hop in the finish although to suggest it was in the style of a Czech Pilsener, as I’ve read in some places, just shows how much some people know about lager – feck all!
Another evening, another scooping session.
We called in at the strangely named “Drop-off Service” for a swift tick and found Stone beers crowding the taps which, I must admit, wasn’t the ideal scenario as I’d not really liked the beers I’d tried thus far from Stone but need must and we were soon furnished with pints of beer. The infamous Arrogant Bastard was my first choice and, sadly, it totally failed to live up to the pompous gibberish I’ve read on the bottle such as “it is doubtful you have the taste or sophistication to appreciate an ale of this depth”; reddish in colour, it had little aroma, a dryish, toffee-malt flavour with some bitterness with some hops coming through in the dry, slightly bitter finish although without enough of anything to make it interesting enough for my obviously unrefined palate. That’s me with no taste or sophistication, then…
Stone Pale Ale was next and this, too, was a fairly bland brew with a smattering of molasses maltiness and citrus hop but nowhere near enough to satisfy me and cemented my opinion that Stone beers are more about image than quality; I really can’t see any foundation for all the endless hero-worshipping on Ratebeer of their unexciting and relatively un-hoppy brews, but I suppose it’s the same old Ratebeer thing of people being afraid to criticise things everyone else likes and anything with the word “IPA” in the title… not me!
We decided, as the final stop of the evening, to call in at Barcade which is something of a legend in New York owing to it's very enlightened attitude towards new and rare beers which, obviously, was something of which I wholeheartedly approved! The bar is situated in what looks to be a converted garage which gives the place an industrial feel and the many game machines add their lurid glow to proceedings creating a truly unusual atmosphere indeed. Of the many beers on tap I required at least half a dozen, probably more like a dozen, but as we only had a limited amount of time I got stuck right into them with Middle Ages Druid Fluid, a sadly bland brew with a gently maltiness and not a lot else. Climax IPA was more reminiscent of a brown ale then an IPA with a chocolatey taste balanced by some bitterness and although I watched it poured I'm still not sure that this really was what they said it was... although I can only go by the taps!
Avery Karma came next and, yet again, I wasn't impressed with this sweet malty brew with a vague suggestion of dryness and hop and a cloying malt finish, whilst finally Allagash 4 was yet another “Belgican” with a flavour that didn't agree with me at all, full of sweet malt and bananas! Looking back it seems as if I didn't enjoy Barcade at all but that's not the impression I'd like to give to prospective visitors; it's a great bar with a large beer choice and I was simply unlucky with the beers I had that night and I'd totally recommend anyone to go there to see for themselves what an unusual and very beery place it is.
We popped into a deli close by where we bought some supplies for our return home and then stomped across to the subway station... where a sign told us that trains were being replaced by buses, cheers then! Luckily one was waiting and so on we got for what would – supposedly – be a short ride back to Alex's place although somewhat predictably we missed the stop and ended up crossing the bridge into Queens! The driver was spectacularly unconcerned by our plight as he let us off on the other side of the bridge and, as we plodded back across, what I assume was the same bus returning gave us a friendly blast on the horn; cheers then!
Luckily Alex had the gen and we managed to catch a bus within a few minutes that dropped us off close to his place and so, quite a lot later than we'd wanted to be but relieved to be back all the same, we finished off the evening with Brooklyn (Utica) Monster Ale, their 10% barley wine, which I thought was a touch underpowered for the high gravity although it had a decent enough malt flavour and not too much methanol to spoil the mouthfeel. Finally, Otter Creek Double Decker English Ale was cracked and found to be an earthy, chocolatey brew which I suppose, if I was feeling particularly generous, could be classed as a Mild or even Brown ale, but still I'd like to know what was supposed to be British about it... maybe the lack of hops?
Hours in America: 83, Scoops today: 13, Total
scoops drunk: 95.
Wednesday 14th May 2009.
Up on the Boardwalk.
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny which meant that it would be my day of tourism and visiting New Jersey; I'd been scooping solidly for four days now and was beginning to feel the pace so figured that a day drinking not too much would be just what my put-upon internal organs would ask for if they could speak. Alex had invited me to a local beer gathering at Mugs Ale House later on where a speaker from Stone would give a talk so the day wouldn't be totally beer-free, but a day out in the sunshine taking in the sights of Manhattan was just what I needed after some pretty intense scooping during the last few days.
My first target was the impressively Gothic Brooklyn Bridge or, more correctly, the boardwalk over said bridge which I'd read gave great views over both riversides and seemed an ideal start to the day's sightseeing. I'd soon reached the Brooklyn end of the bridge but, try as I might, finding the boardwalk's entrance was proving very frustrating; how hard could it be to find a set of steps, I fumed, stomping around under various flyovers until a friendly local pointed me in the direction of a hitherto unexplored underpass where I found, much to my surprise, some well-concealed steps up to the bridge... maybe investing in a few signs would be a good idea as I saw quite a few other bemused tourists wandering around in the same confused state as me!
I'll not bore you (any more) with tales of the bridge apart from saying it's feckin' long and it took me a good half-hour to cross it by which time the sun was well and truly up with it's powerful rays already forcing me to reach for the sunscreen. The views were just as spectacular as I'd read, however, so a slightly burnt slaphead seemed a small price to pay for the excellent photos I'd acquired. On the Manhattan side I traipsed around the banking area, talking in the sights of Wall street and all it's capitalist trappings, before having a look at the world trade centre site which was still (mainly) a big hole in the ground with countless cranes and items of heavy machinery industriously creating something new but what it was I couldn't see; in fact, you can't see a fat lot of the site at all, even from the “viewing area”, which left me puzzled on the trudge across to the Staten Island ferry terminal as to why they’d bothered having one at all.
Alex had tipped me off that the ferry was the best way to
see the famous statue in the bay plus it gave a great view of the city on
the approach and so, with it costing absolutely bugger-all, I couldn't
refuse this bargain! I was, however, surprised at the size of the ferries
which were more like ships but, as I said, for nowt you can't really
complain! I'd hoped to do a quick change back onto a return ferry at Staten
Island but – predictably – as we arrived the other was just about to leave
and so I had no alternative but to wander around the terminal and it's
environs for 20 minutes whilst I waited for the next departure. The trip
back gave superb views of Manhattan and New Jersey and, as I leant against
the ship's railings watching the buildings get slowly bigger, things felt
good; I had another full day and a half to scoop my required beers and I was
still, despite a quiet preceding day, 12 beers ahead of schedule with a
prospective decent haul in New Jersey later on... and, thinking about that,
all that sea air was making me decidedly thirsty!
In a new state.
Not the drunken, gibbering state I'm normally in, no, but a new state of the USA! I'd taken the NJT train across from Penn station (after a good while trying to work out how to operate the ticket machines) and was heading for South Orange where a brewpub was ripe for scooping. I feel, before launching into full-on beer speak, that I must mention the bizarre way NJT staff their trains and do ticket inspections; each carriage has a couple of inspectors aboard and, when they've checked your ticket, they put what I assume is a “seat occupied” slip on your seat and punch your ticket... conspicuously over-manned for such an easy operation, I thought, but maybe NJT rail unions have a good negotiator?
I was soon at South Orange and clattered down the steps to street level where, to my amazement, my nostrils were assailed by the enchanting aroma of brewing meaning that I wasn't far away from my target if my nose could be trusted! The brewpub was soon located just across the street from the station exit and within a minute of leaving the train I was walking into the bar; now that's what I call a proper waiting room! Being late afternoon all was quiet at Gaslight Brewing and I had the bar almost to myself as I began work on a $9 six-beer tasting tray which comprised of glasses surprisingly bigger than I'd personally have used for tasters... this didn't really matter as they were my first beers of the day but I knew that my aim of scooping three New Jersey brewpubs had vanished as the time was now pushing 16:00 which gave me 39 minutes of drinking time before a minute of running time back to the station for my next move!
I began with Bulldog Blonde, a pale, toffeeish and slightly bitter session beer with a decent flavour, followed by Pirate pale ale which was kind of an Irish Red with treacle, malt and sweetness leading to a complex flavour. So-called “Perfect stout” came next which patently wasn't anywhere near flawless, although it had enough burnt nutty grain to make it suppable even if the finish was too sweet for me. Hopfest promised much but delivered little on the lupulin front with too much alcohol and a harsh bitter finish, whilst my 100th scoop for the trip, Big Dog Porter, was a decidedly gluggable liquoricey, winey and full-flavoured malt-led brew with molasses and sweet malt in the balanced finish. I finished on Eliminator, a 9.8% barley wine, which was surprisingly pale with way too much sweetness, peardrops and methanol which blotted out everything else beneath them.
The pub itself was an unusual place with the brewery in the front window, conditioning tanks in the side room and several areas on different levels although nothing really shouted to me “we love beer” apart from the delicious smell which still came from the brewery; to me it had been a distinctly average brewpub with average beer, the best having been the Perfect Stout although that only scored 3.5 points out of 5, but without places such as this would ordinary “Joe six-packs” ever come into contact with craft beer?
Walnut street – walnuts not included.
I made my train – just – and was soon changing at Newark Broad Street (which thankfully had toilets!) for my connection to the delightfully-named Walnut Street station where my second brewpub was waiting. This was a new outfit, so new Alex still required it, so I'd decided on this one just to show him how desperate I was for scoops! Arriving at Walnut Street temporarily disoriented me, aided by my reluctance in being arsed to get my map out, but after walking the wrong way for a few minutes I reluctantly retrieved my map and within a few minutes was at Egan and Sons, the new brewpub in town, which looked very posh indeed.
Inside was a riot of pale wood and mirrors but no sign of a brewery! At the bar I acquired a tasting tray of the four beers available and was told that the brewery was definitely on-site and making all the beers available for sale which, without visual evidence, I'd have to go along with. I perched myself on a stool at the bar, having only 50 minutes to score the lot, but it was soon apparent that I had plenty of time as the samples were far smaller than I'd had at Gaslight, although $4 for three scoops wasn't too bad when I considered some European countries!
Fancying some hops to slake a thirst brought on by my journey from South Orange, IPA was first to my lips but rather than the pungent hopfest I was hoping for there was more of a balanced malt, bitterness and fruity hop sensation which, although perfectly tasty, was a touch restrained for an IPA in my opinion if very drinkable! Red was next, a deep amber sweet fruity malt brew, with a good balance of toffee maltiness and dryness in the finish to make it that rare thing for red ales, distinctly un-sickly! Lager was a grainy, popcorn-hued brew which despite lacking in hops was well made considering it's target market and went down as well as the others. Finally I raised Pilsener to my slavering gob and this was the best beer of the day thus far with it's rich malty flavour and a hint of wortyness – how very Czech – with a good dollop of noble hop character in the finish: good stuff and it's rare to find a beer called “Pilsener” which actually bears a passing resemblance to the real thing!
As I drank I chatted to my fellow barflies who seemed impressed that an Englishman had made it his business to trek out from New York simply to sample some beer, but when I revealed my goal of drinking a beer for every hour I was to be in the country they decided that I was obviously deranged and/or and alkie and shuffled their stools away; what's so unusual about being totally desperate for beers to the extent you'll drink one an hour (even when asleep) for six days? Bugger-all, if you ask me...
With my train back to New York beckoning I made tracks (ooooh, sorry...) for the station but not before I'd called in at a lovely little bakery a few doors down from the brewpub where I stocked up on snacks for the trip back including a one-person pizza, some cookies and the most amazing muffins I've ever had which contained cheese and jalapeno peppers! The lass behind the counter was, in solidarity with her compatriots in the brewpub, confused as to why an Englishman was in town and after I'd explained my reasons I don't think she was any more enlightened but she made a nice job of pretending to care... and that, folks, is what customer service is all about!
I was soon on the train, munching at the sublime muffins and having had a bizarre slip of paper stuck behind my head as per the outward journey, and within 30 minutes arrived into Penn station feeling like a long time had passed since I'd departed although it had only been around four hours all told. With an appointment at Mug's Ale house with the local beer club I made haste on the subway and arrived just in time as the Stone brewery rep began his talk. I say talk, but in reality it was more of a “we're great, everyone else is shit” tirade and, I'm pleased to say, even the locals seemed to be irked by his blanket backslapping for everything Stone made, even the crap stuff! After ten minutes I'd had enough but my exit into the pub was blocked by the Stone guy himself and so I sat and listened, wondering if he actually believed what he was saying... surely not?
Eventually he finished his speech and, after a desultory burst of applause and some rather scathing questions, we trooped inside for some beer. Stone IPA was on the house and so it was rude not to try some as, after all I'd heard, I really wanted to try the best beer in the universe! Predictably it comprehensively failed to live up to it's billing and despite some candied fruit and a decent hop taste it was too sickly-sweet for me and more subdued in flavour than I'd like for an IPA which, so Green Flash had taught me, should be zesty, full of life and bursting with juicy citrus hops... and this beer blatantly wasn't! Stone's 10th Anniversary IPA was next and this too was a let-down with a nice enough rosepetal aroma but any hop flavour was drowned out by alcohol and sweet chewy malt which swamped the delicate hop resins in a sticky sweet malty tide.
One of New York's local brewers, Defiant of Pearl River, had their ESB on handpump and so a half was quickly acquired for research purposes. I found it a decent enough malty brew with sufficient pine, rosepetal and bitter hops to balance out the sweetness but there was an underlying hint of sourness which I thought stemmed from a yeast problem and wasn't really supposed to be in the mix at all. Smuttynose Gnome came next which lived up to all my expectations of a “Belgican” beer; wheaty, spicy and bananary! Next was Boulder Mojo Rising which was much more what I was after in the hop department with a good balance of flavours, hop-led, and a delicious resinous character which gave the brew a great sessionable quality. Last up was Smuttynose G-Bock which defied classification by virtue of being slightly smokey in a Bamberg-esque way yet it also had a deliciously mellow maltiness which, when combined with the smoke, gave a wonderfully subtle and very drinkable beer with plenty of character; Smuttynose do it again for me!
Our final stop of the evening was Habitat in Greenpoint where a final couple of scoops were acquired to bolster my flagging tally as well as a fortifying plateful of Empanadas making me feel like I was back in Argentina not in New York (and yes, they were very acceptable indeed!). Sixpoint Sweet Action was a strange beer, not really my kind of thing with all it's bubblegum and toffee, but it went down well enough for the time of evening so I can't have disliked it too much, and I followed it with Harpoon IPA which was a sadly bland end to the day's drinking with little hop, bitterness or even interest to make me want more than a half.
Hours in America: 107, Scoops today: 18, Total
scoops drunk: 113
Thursday 15th May 2009.
A “rolling riot” for my beers.
The next morning Alex was setting up his “Caskhead” festival in the Brazen Head and so, in a spirit of munificence and knowing that I had been dossing on his sofa and generally cluttering up the place for the past five days, I offered to help out. First, however, I needed to purchase a wheeled suitcase in order to transport the hefty amounts of scoops I intended to take back to the UK with me and so, after a slight lie-in to fortify myself against the stress of shopping and not drinking, I set off along Greenpoint Avenue to look in some of the shops along there where, so Alex had informed me, I was bound to find something worth a punt at a decent price.
After a while wandering along the road weighing up the options I plumped for a cheap shop which seemed to sell everything and anything as long as it was inexpensive! Some commodious cases on wheels were displayed above the counter and, after managing to attract the attention of the disinterested staff, I was able to examine some and decide that they seemed adequate for the job of transporting two dozen beers back home! Suspicious, as I was, that my chosen case was slightly shoddy in it's build quality, I reckoned that as long as it got my scoops home in collaboration with metres of bubble wrap and cardboard it'd do, plus it was only £15!
Pulling a roll-along case isn't something I do often and hope never to do again (“why occupy only your own space in the airport when you can take up two people's worth?”) but with the carrot of a cellar full of American scoops back home I was willing to put up with the embarrassment of looking like a Tory bastard just this once and so rumbled my way up to the Brazen Head to meet Alex trying not to carve a path of destruction with my big blue wheelie suitcase which was a bugger to steer whilst empty and I didn't even want to think about what it would be like when stuffed with heavy bottles...
Working for my beer.
The next few hours were spent setting up the forthcoming cask ale festival which entailed lugging many firkins up from the pub's cellar and stillaging them ready for serving. With all the casks in position ready to be spiled we retreated to the nearby Downtown Bar & Grill to let them settle and indulge in some much-needed sustenance (and in my case scoopstenance!). After a very impressive snack we blasted into the beers on tap; Dogfish Head Peche Berliner Weiss was a revelation and displayed an amazingly subtle touch for a brewery known for completely the opposite! Slightly sour and bretty, it possessed gentle fruity flavours complete with a spritzy graininess and sour, bitter finish yet with a dab of luscious peach; this was pure quality!
We then moved onto a whole load of Allagash beers including Interlude with it's spicy, farmyardy brettanomyces character, Double and it's thick malt and liquorice, Musette with a strong whisky cask taste, Black was – as you'd guess – a stout and Odyssey with its very bizarre flavour. We finished with a couple of bottles from the extensive list; Hair of the Dog Rose tasted quite oxidised and cardboardy so obviously hadn't aged well whilst Heavyweight Parkuno's Porter was a mass of soy sauce, malt, treacle and cardboard which had stood up far better yet still reinforced my opinion that beer is better fresh or, if that’s not possible, with as little age on it as possible.
Fortified with food and beer we trudged back to the Brazen Head to finish off the setup and once the casks were in position we began the tapping and very necessary sampling; necessary to test the condition for Alex and necessary to get 'em in the book for me! Highlight of the tapping session was when the cask of Hook Norton Mild tried to blow it's keystone out at me as I hammered in the tap but, having done this hundreds of times before, I knew what to do and so a few solid thumps with the mallet saw it safely secured in place albeit with a couple of pints sprayed liberally all over me and the surrounding area!
On with the “quality control”, then... Greenpoint Old Red Rose reserve was spicy, winey and complex whilst their Beerworks Black had a very Germanic schwarzbier character to it, Sly Fox Grisette was yet another “Belgican”, Arcadia Hoprocket had it's hops too “late-copper” for my taste with a big piney and flowery aroma but not enough bitterness although the overall impression was of a tasty, fairly hoppy and interesting beer. Chelsea “Imperial Mild” barley wine – which Alex assured me was ironic and not a serious name – was far blander than the oaked version I'd enjoyed in the brewpub although there was plenty of spicy, grainy malt flavours and alcohol, and finally a beer I'd already tried but deemed good enough for a further snifter was Chelsea Tsar's Revenge which was just as tarry, liquorice and coffee-imbued as the previous sample and a very good Imperial Stout.
Fancy a Bud?
With all the beers stillaged for the festival Alex decided on a walk down to Park Slope to try the bars there after a visit to Bierkraft to acquire my beers. I'd already seen the beer list on-line and it had looked mightily impressive, but I didn't think that all the beers would be available at once; as we entered the shop all I could see was beer all the way to the back of the room and that seemed a long way away! Huge fridges all along one wall held beer of all styles and from all over America (with some rarities from overseas, too, such as Cantillon!) whilst shelves on the opposite wall had the same beers – plus more – at ambient temperature. Around a dozen beers were available on tap for takeaway plus there was artisan cheese, chocolate and crisps (including Tyrrells...!) plus far more other delicious goodies than I can remember... this was beer shop nirvana, I told myself, as I rummaged through the shelves pulling out bottle after bottle of scoops!
After ten minutes' frenzied clinking through the shelves I'd amassed 26 beers and some other bits and pieces – maple syrup Dulce de Leche, anyone? – which came in at a very reasonable price indeed although I hadn't reckoned on it all weighing as much as it did when stashed into my rolling riot; rather than bouncing along randomly it now required a great deal of energy to motivate into a sluggish trundle and I wasn't exactly relishing the prospect of dragging this leaden object around the city for the rest of the evening although, as every scooper knows, after a few beers you can lift/pull anything; the amount of times I've tried to lift a bag full of bottles from the previous day's scooping escapades and been unable to shift it… as an advert once proclaimed, beer gives you strength!
Feeling as if my arms were lengthening with every step we rumbled along to the first bar on our crawl, the Lighthouse, where a few craft beers would be available. We chose the Wachusett Green Monsta which, as it was poured, looked distinctly pale and gassy but on first taste we both knew that something was way wrong – surely this was Bud or something equally crap? Alex put this to the barman who was suddenly very evasive and called over another bloke who also looked worried; we'd rumbled his con! It turned out that this was indeed Bud although the landlord pleaded that he'd been told to rebadge it by the bar's owner... no excuse, we countered, maybe most drinkers would have a pint and believe it was craft beer but he'd met his match with two seasoned scoopers who'd probably tried more beers than he'd ever believed existed.
In the end we agreed to a refund, there being nothing else worth drinking, so feeling slightly puzzled at this blatant rebadging which Alex said was a very rare thing in the way we'd just encountered it was off to the next bar where – hopefully – we’d have better luck with the beer, although I felt dirty having consumed multinational filth and only the thought that we’d got our money back and realised what it had been right away mitigated this slightly…
Things get slightly better – then a lot better.
Fancying a bit of food we stopped at Bonnie's Grill which stocked a few craft beers on tap along with filling and tasty food which was just what I needed after a day of working hard in a cellar and in preparation for our next visit which, so Alex told me, would offer a great range of beer. Bonnie's didn't have that good a beer selection that evening although the food was decent enough and fairly good value; I still scooped two common beers, Greenpoint toasted lager which was a honeycomb flavoured amber beer with good drinkability, plus Magic Hat No.9... look, I don't know if this stuff is supposed to be a joke but it's not beer, it's sickly-sweet apricot juice, and I left most of it in disgust!
The Gate, then, was our final Park Slope visit and this was the one where the best beers would be on offer. Well over a dozen were on tap and, unusually for New York, they were on sale by the half as well as the pint which meant less beer to drink and, although this may seem a bad idea, after almost a week of solid scooping I was fading a bit by this point! We began with Weyerbacher Quad 2008, another “Belgican” with a rich banana, treacle, boiled sweets and candy sugar taste which could pass as a Trappiste strong in a blind tasting although, as usual in America, I felt that the banana fruit twang in the flavour was way too prominent.
Bear Republic Heritage came next, a thick, mellow chocolatey brew which went down a treat although it didn't have much else to it, but I was sure the next one would after my experiences with this particular brewer thus far; Green Flash Hophead Red! My new “favourite brewery in the world” didn't let me down with a simply massive hop aroma, rich red colour, and gorgeous full sweet maltiness balanced to perfection by a huge bitter, pine needle and stickily resinous hop character; stunning stuff yet again from Green Flash despite this beer containing way too much of my least-favourite ingredient, crystal malt!
We finished with a trio of Sly Fox beers: Helles Bok was definitely bok-like with a smooth toffee maltiness and noticeable methanol in the finish, Scotch was an unusual dark beer with tastes of honey, toast and crunchy malt all wrapped up in molasses, whilst finally O'Reilly's stout was a very passable Guinness clone, full of the ash, charcoal and coffee flavours Guinness used to have many years back before it was dumbed down for the greater good of the drinking public (and Diageo’s balance sheet) although the astringently bitter finish was pure America!
Topping up the tally.
We took a bus back to the Brazen Head where we hard-spiled the beers (after checking them all again, naturally) before we became embroiled in a game of darts with some locals who thought – wrongly – that as I was English I'd be able to play darts!
Them: “Ah, English are you? Let’s throw some arrows!”
Me: “Playing darts isn’t a nation-specific genetic thing, you know! I may look like a darts player but I’m fucking useless, I’ll probably miss the board and spear the landlord!”
A few games soon proved that genetics have no influence on darts ability and so we made good our escape back to Alex's apartment. There he force-fed me 3 more beers as he was concerned that I'd not make my stated target of a beer for every full hour I was in the country; I couldn't really be arsed but looking back now I'm really glad he made the effort as, without those three final beers that night, I'd have surely missed my goal without a Herculean effort on my final day.
Clipper City Heavy Seas Pegleg was first, a toasty, dark and roasted grain beer with obvious alcohol and lots of liquorice in the aftertaste giving a tasty, flavoursome stout. Yet another beer from Heavyweight – the long-closed New Jersey brewer – came next although, as with most of the others I'd tried, it was too far oxidised to taste much beyond sherry and cardboard. Finally, a bizarre beer emerged from Alex's stash; Sudbrack of Brazil's Vigorosa was a strong red beer of indeterminate style although I'd guess wheat featured prominently in the ingredients judging by the sweet (too sweet for me) bananary flavour! This was enough for one day and so, feeling that I'd done enough to set myself up with a good chance of scoring the ten beers needed to achieve my target, it was time for my final night's sleep in New York.
Hours in America: 131, Scoops today: 28, Total
scoops drunk: 141
Friday 16th May 2009.
“Got any bubblewrap?”
With Alex indulging in a spot of overdossage I took the opportunity to pack my case in readiness for it's flight across the Atlantic. With the help of a huge roll of bubblewrap and a mound of cardboard I was finally satisfied, after about an hour of careful packing, that at least some of it’s precious cargo would make it back to the UK in one piece although I took care to bury the Green Flash bottles in the centre and wrap them especially carefully; they weren't scoops but they were probably the best beers I'd found for years and I really wanted Sue to try them: and I did again!
As the weather had turned extremely grim we took a cab to the Brazen Head although the traffic was such that we probably could have walked it in not much more time than it took! Once there Alex began to prepare the beers for sale and I headed off to find my ten scoops, although I had a severe case of CBA (can't be arsed, if you were wondering) and, anyway, there wasn't that much left of my time there as I had a flight to catch back home at 20:00 that evening, so what was the point in bothering? It was only a stupid idea I’d had and I didn’t have to do a beer an hour, did I? Why the hell should I let this target hang over my every move, I fumed, stomping off to the metro station…
I chose the Blind Tiger as my first call as, I astutely guessed, I was sure to require at least ten beers from the 30-odd they had on tap and, anyway, we'd only had a few swift halves in the pub and I wanted to give it the benefit of a “proper” visit. I took the F train to West 4th Street and munched on a bagel as I plodded through the drizzle along Bleecker Street, not really appreciating how interesting an area I was in, and soon arrived at the pub whereupon, on catching sight of the beer board, my scooping gene suddenly awoke; there were beers to be scored and I just had to beat my target of 151!
The final push.
The pub was quiet and I took a seat at the bar and ordered my first beer, Defiance Brandy Brown, which was sociably malty with a hint of lactic and molasses in the finish. Sensibly I ordered some food to see me through what may well be my last scooping frenzy in New York – on this trip, at least – then got back onto more serious matters with Lagunitas Hairy Eyeball, yet another deep red/brown brew, although this one was more complex with raisins, chocolate, malt and nutty grain all meshing together well leaving a moreish finish.
My food arrived, heralded by a squeaky toy used as a request by the kitchen for service, and the Buffalo chicken was a right plateful; a very spicy chilli chicken fillet with an even hotter and spicier sauce were set on toast with a dish of cooling blue cheese dip. This must rate as one of the best pub snacks I've had for years although, admittedly, the chilli count didn't do a lot for my tastebuds until the resinous, bitter, rose petally and hop oils of Avery Maharajah managed to shift it by sheer force of lupulins! This was a delicious IPA with plenty of forest floor and fruity hoppiness then an adequate blast of bitterness to match the malt in the finish and was just the kind of thing I’d not found enough of during my trip.
It was only then that I noticed other drinkers having beers in smaller glasses than I was ordering and I was soon in possession of my next winner, Southampton Imperial Porter, in a much more scooper-friendly quantity! Now I can imagine the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those saying “but it's not a half...” to which I say “bollocks”! Drinking even a half (admittedly American measures) of each beer was a recipe to being denied boarding on the flight home and so I was more than happy to go for these smaller – although in my opinion plenty big enough – glasses in order to further my tick tally and enable me to achieve the greater good of a “scoop an hour”.
The porter was very Baltic Porter in character with liquorice, toffee and a dry maltiness with a delicate character and fairly bitter finish although this subtleness didn't last with my next tick, Smuttynose Imperial Stout, which was much more of an American bruiser; hugely bitter, oozing IBU's, it had a very complex flavour of coffee, burnt grain, sweet malt, methanol and some hop resins with a massive bitterness hanging over the flavour like a controlling force which, somehow, managed to bring all the flavours together into an interesting yet intense conclusion.
The final straight.
After refreshing my tastebuds with water after that mammoth roast and bitter onslaught I knew that I was on the home straight and that I was going to make my target of a scoop for every full hour I was in the country – but only just! Tröegs Dreamweaver was next and, as feared, was a bubblegum and sweet melange of tastes and not my thing at all and, although it did taste well-made, I was pleased that I only had a small glass of it! Rogue Chipotle did what it said on the blackboard with a smoky, vaguely paprika-like taste and a very slight hit of chilli in the throat and is probably the only chilli beer I've ever been able to finish although I’d not say that I actually enjoyed it!
Another Rogue beer was next, Dad's little helper, although this one was a bland, amber beer with very little of interest about it anywhere. Southern Tier IPA provided a much-needed hop fix with plenty of hopflowers, bitterness, pine and fruity hop taste and was followed by the same brewer's double IPA – my 151st scoop of the trip – although this only served to further my personal opinion that IIPA's are too strong, alcoholic and malty which overwhelms the hop character leaving only the harsher flavours and bitterness rising above the overly-sweet toffee and malty body.
As I finished the glass a huge wave of relief washed over me as I'd achieved my frankly bizarre target for the week, although this was tempered by sadness that my time in New York was almost at an end... but I knew that the city hadn't seen the last of me! Back to the Brazen Head I went to pick up my ton of lead disguised as a suitcase on wheels before saying my thanks to Alex for putting up with me all week; without his help in finding the beers I'd scored plus his selfless help in aiding my consumption of almost all of them (plus virtually force-feeding me a few!) I’d never have achieved my improbable target.
So, off into the drizzle I went, dragging my case which seemed determined to veer all over the pavement – sorry, sidewalk – at every opportunity until I reached the A-line station where I took a train all the way to JFK airport for my flight back to England. I was flying back into Heathrow as I'd wanted to fly on a jumbo rather than another 757 and I also required the new terminal 5! The plane was a 747 as booked although I didn't manage to get upgraded and had to suffer cattle class and it's associated crappy food, quite a comedown after my outwards luxury, but I was so tired after the marathon scooping frenzy that I slept almost the entire way back.
We were late in so, combined with the predictably shambolic UK customs, I missed my connection to Manchester which resulted in a much longer investigation of T5 that I'd wanted... but, when put into context, I'd had a scoop every hour in America and that was something to be proud of, although I could almost feel my internal organs pleading for a dry week; some chance, lads!
Hours in America: 151, Scoops today: 10, Total
scoops drunk: 151
Bloody hell, what a trip! I know that for a hophead such as myself the west coast is a better bet but, as a stepping stone to that, my first visit to America had been a huge success in all aspects; I’d anticipated on disliking the city but had ended up really appreciating it’s distinct areas, architecture and general feel, I’d got a handle on American beers in a far bigger way that I’d imagined possible, tried knish, found some great pubs (and beer!) and discovered a couple of brewers who make some of the most sublimely hoppy beers I’ve ever tasted… not bad for a first visit, eh?
For those brought up with the staid, boring UK beer scene the American one can be somewhat daunting and, it must be said, it does help if you like your beers hoppy although I was very surprised to find that I didn’t consider many of the beers I had to be excessively hoppy/bitter and, thinking back on my tasting notes, many of the IPA’s weren’t hoppy enough for me and I’d also discovered that many American IPA’s had way too much crystal malt in their recipe which, to me at least, drowns the hops in a sticky-sweet toffeeish wave. It’s not all IPAs though, and I tried imperial stouts, robust porters, weizenbocks, Belgian abbey-style ales, Abbey dubbel, a bizarre Berliner Weiss fruit mashup and well over a dozen other styles which you rarely – if ever – see in the UK; for lovers of interesting, experimental beers America is one of the places you need to visit.
New York is a huge, sprawling city with very distinct “beery” areas but, apart from the obvious attractions, there’s plenty non-alcoholic of interest; walking across the Brooklyn bridge, the Staten Island ferry, exploring Midtown Manhattan, farting in Trump tower, relaxing in Central park, seeing how “Manchester” parts of Brooklyn are and then there’s always New Jersey just across the Hudson and… well, let’s just say you won’t get bored! I loved the city far more than I’d imagined I would as far from being a skyscraper-infested mess of corporate crap there are a surprising amount of low-rise areas where redbrick, brownstone and iron fire escapes reign supreme and then there’s the Polish areas of Brooklyn, Jewish Midtown, Bowery’s Chinatown and that’s just for starters…
All in all, then, New York is a fascinating city with enough beer-wise and sight-wise to keep anyone going for months never mind a week! West coast ales are common in town and the rise of cask-conditioned beer is gathering pace in the city with many of the craft beer pubs now serving at least one cask ale, albeit some only at weekends. So, to sum up, if you like interesting beer and cities then you need to get yourself to New York and experience a culture not that different from ours but with enough of a twist that you know you’re abroad… and get some hops inside you!
Getting there and getting around there.
First the good news; airfares to New York are, relatively speaking, cheap with £250 being a good price and one you should aim for. The city has three airports, although La Guardia is for internal flights only and Newark is in fact over the border (and Hudson) in the neighbouring state of New Jersey although it’s not that difficult to get to. That leaves the city’s monstrous carbuncle of an airport, JFK, as the main one you’re likely to arrive into and I can’t really offer much apart from to say it’s quite easy to get to on the A train, if a little way out of town, and so large that it helps if you’ve flown from Heathrow to acclimatise yourself to gigantic airports! Saying that, my experience with it was much better than any I’ve had with Heathrow…
There are many airlines flying to JFK but, with the withdrawal of BA from it’s Manchester route (the one I used), direct options apart from out of Heathrow are limited. LHR is to be avoided if you wish to keep your patience, wits and bags about you but, if you really must go from there (and it’s generally the cheapest departure point), you’re spoiled for choice with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air France, Delta and others all making the trip across the Atlantic. Continental offer some respite from LHR with direct flights from Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh although these seem to be delayed almost every day I hear the traffic news and they’re more expensive plus you’ll probably be on an old 757. If you don’t mind changing somewhere in Europe you can basically choose any departure airport and carrier with every airline (and his dog) offering New York-bound flights from somewhere in Europe, the only problem is the extended time you’ll spend connecting and hanging around airports which, obviously, could be better spent in New York unless you fancy a day in Milan or Amsterdam scooping beforehand… but you’ll get enough beer over the pond so maybe that’s not such a great idea!
New York has a superb public transport system which is every bit as good as many in Europe with a comprehensive metro system (subway) and literally hundreds of bus routes which enable you to reach every part of the city and further afield. There are trains too (and Central station is well worth seeing) although these aren’t a lot of use unless you want to venture out to New Jersey and score the brewpubs there – which you’ll probably want to do as NYC only has a single brewpub, Chelsea, and the lure of easy scoops will probably get the better of you at some point! The MTA, New York’s transport authority, has an impressive website available here where you can find maps, timetables and just about everything else you’ll need. If you’re in town for the week you’ll do well to invest in a 7-day unlimited ride Metrocard which can be bought from vending machines at JFK’s metro station or the uniformed staff on duty there; just make sure the plastic wrapper is sealed before shelling out $27! These are valid for 7 days from first use on all subways and buses in NYC.
© Gazza 29/07/09 v1.0
Some random phots...
Phot : Alex Hall
Phot : Alex Hall
Phot : Alex Hall
|Brooklyn brewery NYC||Monster the Brooklyn brewery cat NYC||Gazza at KM Bar Brooklyn||Gazza in Gutter bar Brooklyn||Gazza in Spuyten Duyvel|
Phot : Alex Hall
Phot : Alex Hall
Phot : Alex Hall
|Gazza at the Diamond Brooklyn||Gazza in Hop Devil with hellfire sign||Gazza with cask in Blind Tiger||East Side Tavern NYC||Alex on the Subway NYC - with a handpump!|
Phot : Alex Hall
Phot : Alex Hall
|Front window of Gaslight brewpub New Jersey||Gazza in Downtown bar Brooklyn||Gazza with casks in Brazen Head||Alex with casks in Brazen head||Gazza in Bierkraft Brooklyn|