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Have liver, will travel

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Nobody Talks About Wine Club

Hello, it's been a while. But we're ready to kick this thing back into gear. While not necessarily tourism-related, I thought I could post a few thoughts on a really stupid, but fun thing I'm fomenting. Maybe you can help name it.

A lot of people have wine clubs, where they get together every once in a while to eat exotically-prepared offal and quaff wines that Eric Asimov told them to drink (I'm tired of demonizing Robert Parker—let's get after another influencer for a while).

The problem with "wine clubs"— Asimov calls his a "dojo"—is that, like a gang of ninjas, you probably can't join one. These clubs are usually for well-heeled braggarts who like to boast about rappelling into a guarded fortress to cat-burgle the bottle of 1787 Lafitte they brought to the party (which, by the way, tastes like ancient cat piss, though you'll never admit it).

I've got a new job in the past few months (one of the reasons for the very light posting), and sniffed out a few wine fanciers in the ranks. As we've rapped around the water cooler about wine and tourism, it occurred to me that it would be even more fun to do so with stemware in my hand. To save money, and to curb our human tendency toward ostentation, I proposed a price cap—a very fair $20. So, after work on October 25th, we will convene in a convenient conference room, each with a sub-$20 bottle, and have at it. Take this advice if you want to copycat: Always invite the HR guy. If he refuses, you're hosed.

While I would like to solicit feedback about the usual stuff—good bottles under $20, wine club parliamentary procedure, the triscuit-with-wine-conjecture, and so on, there is another issue I'd like help with. We can't just call this "*insert your company here* wine club." How lame. Asimov has a DOJO, for chrisesakes. I thought about calling it "Nobody Talks About Wine Club" in honor of Chuck Palahniuk, but that may be too pop-culturey. I also thought "Sawbuck Wine Club," but that seems to be too much about the money. "NAMBLA" was already taken. So you see, it's tough to start your own wine dojo. Post your thoughts on what we should call the club, and we will faithfully report on the wines we try and the times we had.

—The Alcotourist

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Word to the Wise

February is half over, and warmer weather is soon to return. The Alcotourist and I are looking forward to a foray into Long Island wines the moment the ground thaws. And not a moment later, lest we be overrun by crowds of tour busses. I am reminded, not at all fondly, of our misadventure at Rivendell winery in the Hudson Valley.

The Alcotourist and I have been pleasantly surprised by some of the New York State wines we've tasted. There have been a few stand-out rieslings, sparklers, and cab francs to give us hope for our new home state. The tasting rooms of Vintage have been especially good promoters of the best New York has to offer, and I always enjoy stopping by their SoHo location for a few sips and a look around. Because of our pleasant encounter there with a riesling from Rivendell, we decided to take a trip to the winery itself. It was early fall, and we enjoyed the crisp air and scenic drive... until we reached the parking lot. There were two tour busses and at least twenty cars (two parking lots!). We entered warily. What we saw turned our stomachs like a bottle of cabernet left ten years in a boiler room: a winding assembly line of "tasters" moving through to get their swig with no description of the what they were tasting, no interaction at all. As we approached, two stumbling young women left the line, downing their fresh pours, and one said to the other, "Oh, my god, I'm so drunk!" Her friend grabbed onto her as if she herself might topple over any second, glass in hand. The Alcotourist and I hurried out the door without trying a thing.

The Alcotourist and I understand that Rivendell couldn't help the busloads of tourists (though they could have prevented the stumbling drunks, I say). But I do wish that they had chosen to announce to the group what the wine was, what its characteristics were, and then allowed each a taste. As it was, the pourers informed gulpers simply of wine names or varietals if asked, then moved them along.

I also believe their determination to attract large crowds led to this display. Rivendell doesn't just sample their own wines at the winery; the room serves as another Vintage tasting room location. In fact, I was disappointed to discover from their list that the only Rivendell wine we could have tried that day was the same riesling we had already tasted at Vintage in the city. While I applaud their efforts to reach a large audience with the finest of New York's wine, they got a little too much of what they asked for. If you set up an assembly line-style service, you get stumbling, drunk assembly line-style tasters. A little intro into the world of appreciation could have gone a long way.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

TAP New York

This past weekend, the Alcotourist and I made our way up the winding roads to Hunter Mountain ski resort in the Catskills. The ingenious folks at Hunter Mountain have figured out a way to bring us out of our city experience when there is nary a snowflake in sight: TAP New York, a beer and (supposed) food tasting weekend featuring some of the best breweries in the state. A mere two hour drive from the city (at Alcotourist speed), the beauty of the Catskills on a late-April day, a proffered fold-out in a friend's suite--how could we refuse?

Tasting began at noon, and the first thing the Alcotourist wanted to taste was an advertised "wasabi veggie dog." A little something to slow the alcohol and keep us standing for more tastings. But after several rounds in all rooms, tents, porches of the festival, we found no such veggie dogs. There were mystery meat hot dogs, foot long hot dogs, and "pizza" that was really a triangle of flour tortilla with some sort of cheese-like substance melted on top. The food protion of TAP New York was truly leaving much to be desired. Finally, I found some warm and salty pretzels and the Alcotourist and I had a quick snack before trying the beer.

I must confess that, unlike the ever-ambitious alcotourist, I did not try a beer at every station. The fourteen or so I tasted (mind you, I only drank the whole glass if it was worthy of such attention) were enough to leave me passed out on the aforementioned fold-out by nine thirty. That said, there were some fine beers to be had at the festival, and I will report a few of my findings here, leaving the "awards" and definitive judgement to he who tasted from all.

My few additions to his fine list:
  • I am in wholehearted agreement of with the Alcotourist's praise for the beers of Sixpoint and Chelsea. In fact, I had 2 from each of them, in lieu of a single beer from some of the brewers whose swill made the Alcotourist grimace. I have no regrets.
  • I'm always glad to see Lake Placid Pub & Brewery--I've enjoyed far better pub grub in their glorious lakeside dining room than was to be found anywhere at TAP. In fact, the Alcotourist and I enjoyed an Ubu from Lake Placid Pub & Brewery at Easter dinner with my family, courtesy of my Ubu-loving cousin, Justin.
  • Unibroue is overrated, and the Porkslap Pale Ale from Butternuts is lucky to have an intriguing name to lure folks into trying a sip.
  • I was pleasantly surprised by Duncan Kincaid's "Dacker" from Davidson Brothers. It isn't to my usual dark and bitter taste, but it was perfectly balanced and refreshing--a great summer treat on a hot day.

I hope we will have more to report soon on our forays to Chelsea and Sixpoint and Brooklyn where they (and we) live. I for one will pass on any "gourmet" hot dogs.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Alcotourism Awards—TAP NY Edition

click to enlarge

The 2003 Best Supporting Actress Oscar® shall always be a monument to the meaninglessness of awards. Awards are the amalgamation of the ephemeral inclinations, pertaining to whatever objects they have taxonomically curated, by a group that deems itself an authority. Some award-making authorities may fadge with your own inclinations, while others may not, which is the only inherent value of awards in a consumer sense. For example, you may be inclined to agree more with Film Independent or the Screen Actors' Guild's assessment of a performance than, say, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's.

Marketing and politics (the very vampire parents of every award ever bestowed) usually serve to confuse our picture of reality. The 2003 Best Supporting Actress Oscar®, awarded to the balefully inept Renée Zellweger, is just such an example. The golden statue on Ms. Zellweger's mantle is actually an affront—a desecration if you will—to the very craft that the Academy was attempting to honor.

So why do we like awards so much? Awards ceremonies are uniformly boring and insipid. The awards themselves mean little, except to the gaping, reptilian life forms known as publicists and marketers. The act of ordering a group of objects from worst to best is a wholly unproductive exercise. And yet, we long to see the things we like recognized—especially if that comes at a cost to the things we don't like.

Aha, you may be thinking that this is a rant against the awards given at TAP New York at Hunter Mountain a couple of weekends ago. Well, sort of.

First of all, they have two awards, or "cups." According to TAP,
The F.X. Matt Memorial Cup will recognize the Best Craft Beer Brewery in New York State and The Matthew Vassar Cup will recognize the Best Craft Beer Brewery in the Hudson Valley.
Huh? Isn't the Hudson Valley entirely within the state of New York, except the little stretch at the end that tepidly touches New Jersey? This geographic nit really didn't open the field up that much—only one brewery from Jersey, High Point Wheat Beer Co, attended. In fact, they awarded both Gold Medals (for best individual beer in New York and Hudson Valley) to the same beer. The TAP organizers further added to the geographical confusion by inviting Legacy Brewing, from Reading PA (fortunately, this was a happy geographical aberration—see below) and Unibroue, from Chambly, Quebec.

The F.X. Matt Cup (best brewery in New York State) went to Black Forest Brew Haus & Restaurant. The Matthew Vassar Cup (best brewery in the Hudson Valley) went to Captain Lawrence Brewing Co. Black Forest brews a nonplussing list of Teutonic beers. I deigned to taste their Black Forest Amber, which I would use to slake a house fire, but not my thirst. The Captain Lawrence was better—they had a Reserve Imperial India Pale Ale that was good, but it didn't attain the soaring achievements of some of my favorites at the Festival. The other individual medalists were good, particularly Lake Placid's Frost Bite Pale and Blue Point Brewing's Hoptical Illusion IPA, but how did the judges single out those particular beers as medal-worthy when there were, in-my-not-so-humble-opinion, way better contenders?

Once again, awards are meaningless...

...Unless given by me.

I am an authority after all—I write this blog. Furthermore, I'm very diligent. In fact, I made a point of tasting brews from every contestant. My taste is, as you dear readers know, impeccable. Additionally, I have no interest in selling tickets or appeasing my invited brewers (as a beer festival would be), nor am I constrained by time, season, or an events calendar. And since the topic is alcotourism, I am also not constrained by location, or space. In effect, the laws of relativity do not apply to me, and I am free to bestow meaningless awards on whomever I want, whenever I want, and for no particular reason other than my appreciation of the imbibe in front of me. It will be everything we love about awards, without the anxiety and obnoxious red carpet couture.

Therefore, to christen the Alcotourism awards, I shall bestow these four laurels to breweries at TAP NY that were passed over this year by the official judges:

Best Beer at the Festival: Hop Angel IPA, Chelsea Brewing Company, Manhattan. Perfect hop balance with a floral, esterous nose, and a satisfying body. One of the best IPAs I've ever tasted, it belongs in the IPA Valhalla with Bear Republic's Racer 5.

Best Brewery at the Festival: Sixpoint Craft Ales, Brooklyn. I tasted every one of the beers from this brewery and all were excellent. Furthermore, I think the Sixpoint crew could take the Black Forest crew in any dark alley up and down the Hudson. When the official cups were awarded, everyone lined up to taste Black Forest again, and there was plenty left in the kegs. Sixpoint was dry as a bone. I briefly considered wringing their bar rag into my glass for one last sip. Of particular merit was their Brownstone (Brown Ale), SMP (Smoked Porter), Encore (Belgian Dubbel), and Righteous Rye, a beer that doesn't appear on their regular list. I still dream of that Brownstone, though. It is the perfect brown ale, unlike the lackluster and syrupy Wickeds of the world. The Alcotouristess may object that Lost Coast's Downtown Brown is the best brown ever, but I disagree, and therefore crown Brownstone the new champ.

Conversion Award for Changing My Mind About A Style I Usually Don't Prefer: Legacy Brewing, for their Hedonism Red Ale. This is the second red ale/IPA hybrid I've tasted, the first being Red Rocket from Bear Republic. I'd like to taste them both together, because I actually think that Hedonism may exceed Red Rocket. The sweetness and texture of this red are perfectly balanced by the unapologetic dry-hopping.

Honorable Mention for a Big Brewery That's Still Not Afraid to Make a Kick-Ass Smoked Porter: Brooklyn Brewery. Almost as good as Stone Smoked Porter, this one was a surprise from Garrett Oliver's crew only inasmuch as it proves that success doesn't have to make you boring.

We were very happy that our favorites were all very close to our new digs. In fact, Brooklyn Brewing's tasting room is just across the street from where we board our dog. We can't wait to visit all the award winners and enjoy these beers again.

Thomas Jefferson: OG Alcotourist

Well, this is hardly a review, since the book came out in 1995, but I recently took a trip to my local library and dug up Passions: The Wines and Travels of Thomas Jefferson by the very meticulous James M. Gabler. I really dig this period of history, and always knew that this particular founding father was an oenophile. It was an interesting read, though a bit repetitive and bogged down in minutae at times. More than anything, I was startled at the sheer volume of wines purchased by Mr. Jefferson. He was given to purchasing hundreds and hundreds of bottles in a single outing.

Another interesting theme in the book was the French Revolution. Jefferson took his wine tours just before the butchery began, and I found it interesting and inexplicable that he could hold France's nobility in contempt for the abject poverty of the third estate, while living a lifestyle hardly less aristocratic—upon the backs of the human beings he himself held in captivity.

Hubert de Montille declares in Mondovino, "Where there is wine, there is civilization." But very often, there are savage social realities that bring the juice to the table. The documentary pointed that out brilliantly when the filmmakers went to Napa to interview the Mondavis. There is a fantastic scene in which the filmmakers spontaneously begin interviewing a Mexican laborer about working conditions during a conversation with the winemakers. The laborer said little, as it was so poignantly obvious that he was expected to pick, and not speak. Such are the lives of those who trod the thin line between worker and slave post-abolition America.

So here's an open question—can wine exist without exploited labor? Or is this product of civilization dependent on a caste system where no harvester could ever hope to afford the product he's picking off the vine? I personally think that wine can and should be a pleasure that can be enjoyed by everyone, and that it can be made in a way that is fair to everyone involved on the supply side. We've seen the advent of "fair trade" coffees, and I'd like to see the same thing in the wine industry—some kind of official committment to a living wage for workers in every step of the process.

This isn't just the ranting of a bleeding heart liberal—this proposal makes business sense to an industry that is steeped in pretense and snootiness. Invest a little in human capital on the supply side, and watch the demand side grow.

One last note, I watched the Merchant Ivory production of Jefferson in Paris to accompany the Gabler book. What a mess that movie was! Without knowing the history, I never would have lasted all the way through. But it was fun to see nevertheless—the costumes and production design were a great visual complement to a rather dry book.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Rally's-Pride of our Alley; Chambers Street Wines; Melville Vineyards & Winery

There's a little convenience store/deli around the corner from our place. It's got a red awning with large white letters proclaiming its name: Rally's. Upon closer inspection, one gleans that the store used to be called "Sally's," and the thrifty owners who purchased the joint from Sally simply patched over the "S" on the awning for the store's new appelation. So it's that kind of place—hardly what you'd expect to read about on a hooch snob's blog. At first sight, Rally's looks like the kind of place you'd go to get change for the parking meter, or a weak coffee when you've run out of beans.

But appearances, says the cliché, are deceiving.

Fact is, Rally's has a killer beer selection, hand picked by the owner himself. It's not a Bevmo-style lexicon mind you—there's no room for that—it's just a few choice bottles in a little cooler in the back, many of which are so esoteric, you'd never even see them at a wholesaler. We picked up a some Dogfish Head brews the other night—90-minute IPA, 60-minute IPA, and an ApriHop (yes, an apricot-infused IPA). They were even selling World-Wide Stout ($9.99 for a single 12-oz bottle). We decided to save that for another time.

They also have an extensive selection of Belgian Ales, particularly lambics, a couple sixers of Brooklyn Brewing Company's best brews, a few real German and Czech lagers, and some California mainstream micros like Sierra Nevada and Anchor Steam. Rally's one little cooler has more to keep a discerning beer lover busy than any ten grocery stores.

In Tribeca, I ran into another find: Chambers Street Wines. On my way home after work, I stumbled into what appeared to be a little mom & pop place, lured by a display in the window that pimped "mixed case specials"—they do a mixed Red case for $200, and $100 mixed cases of Reds, Whites, or both. Inside, I was pleased to see $10 bottles sitting next to $300 bottles on shelves arranged by region. This portends one of two things: taxonomical errata, or insightful curation of stock based on, in the case of inexpensive wines, extraordinary value for money, and in the case of expensive wines, hard-to-find gems from the great and emerging regions. Fortunately for me, the latter applied. I was delighted to see Pinot Noir from Melville Vineyards and Winery, one of our favorite Sideways country producers.

Perhaps this belongs in another post, but when we tasted at Melville, there was a couple there with a baby and a toddler. Darling children, but the toddler must have had a sour tummy, and dropped messy bout of diarrhea all over the tasting room rug. The obvious olfactory challenges proved to be a testament to the quality of Melville's wines—not even a fog of baby shit could quell their exceptional character. Next to the remarkable, inimitable Sea Smoke Cellars, Melville has the most exciting Pinot program in Santa Barbara County.

Sac's cheese pie, courtesy of Slice NY
I found a nice bottle of Monpertuis 2003 Vin de Pays du Gard La Ramière Counoise for $10, and a $20 Sobon 2003 Amador County Zinfandel Fiddletown next to a wine shop placard that comically praised this 15.1% monster's lack of "alcohol heat," and a $14 Ocone 2001 Aglianico del Taburno. The Monpertuis was dense with blackberry fruit and a little herbal sting. The Ocone was the first Aglianico I'd tried, and it was rustic and impressive with top notes of sour cherry and a shaggy texture of dry cocoa and black raspberry compote—we had it with pizza delivered from Sac's Place, which turned out to be an inspired pairing. I'm saving the Zin for a doghouse day when I need the assistance of a proven aphrodesiac. I'll keep you apprised of how that goes, dear readers.

Anyway, don't judge a book by its cover, appearances can be deceiving, the ugly duckling is a swan in disguise, and all that. And maybe that's my lasting impression of New York in general—there's so much going on here in every corner of the city that no one could hope to apprehend it all. As a country mouse, I grew up thinking the city mice had it all bad—murderous cats, Victor traps, and urban blight. But those are outward appearances—penetrate them, and the streets really are paved with cheese.

—The Alcotourist

Monday, March 20, 2006

On the Town

Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra in On the Town, MGM, 1949

Friends have asked about our impressions of New York, and it's a difficult question to answer. We're still tourists here in some sense, though we're gradually making friends and discovering our druthers. Last weekend it hit 74 degrees, and we had a glorious amble through Central Park, but other than that one day, winter has put a damper on our usual free-wheeling, follow-your-nose method of exploring. We also continue to be leashed to a dog who can't stand being alone. He's been making it through the days all right, but howls desperately if we go out at night. Still, when cabin fever strikes, we've left him with his kongs and chew toys to howl as he pleases, the neighbors be damned.

On the glorious 74-degree Saturday, we paid a visit to what has become my favorite local wine shop, Union Square Wine and Spirits, which happend to be hosting two free tastings as we walked in. The salon upstairs hosted a tasting of biodynamic wines from all over the world. We even sipped a (very dry) Blanc de Noirs Brut from New Mexico. Downstairs, we were treated to wines from Italy, including an excellent $10 Primitivo, 2003 Cantele Primitivo del Salento, and a knock-out 2003 La Spinetta (Guiseppe Rivetti & Figli) Barbera d' Asti Superiore Bionzo. The Primitivo was especially exciting for me because I confess I'm in a bit of a Zinfandel phase, and Primitivo, as it was recently discovered, is the Italian sister of Zinfandel, which was found to originate in Croatia on the Dalmatian coast.

This Primitivo had nice concentration, with that lively, astringent character I love so well in Zinfandel. The fruit was bodacious with plum, raspberry, and cherry, leaning a little on the sweet side—I usually prefer a little more oak and alcohol in the mix, but for ten bucks, I have no complaints.

The Barbera was a revealation. Dry and dense, with a Havana nose and a rustic oak finish, it stood up to the Alcotouristess's homemade lasagna like a champ. It's listed at $49.99, but we got it on sale for $24.99. Sweet. Look for the rhino on the bottle.

Last night, we visited New York's favorite Pizzeria, Grimaldi's, located just under the Brooklyn Bridge with a view of downtown Manhattan. It was an early Sunday evening, yet the wait outside in 40-degree weather was 25 minutes. Perversely, I noticed from the line that the lights were on in the quaint riverside lighthouse that is the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. The Alcotouristess waited in line while I picked up a hot fudge sundae to go, with a scoop of Chocolate Chocolate Chunk and a scoop of the best Butter Pecan I've ever tasted. I took it back to the line, and we shared in the ecstasy of this frozen treat, despite our red wind-licked noses and blue-with-the-cold fingers.

We were finally shuffled into a tiny table at Grimaldi's, and ordered a large pie with roasted red peppers and onions. We ordered a too-young 2004 "Badia Al Monte Marche Sangiovese," which was fine for pizza but nothing to take home. The pie was outstanding. The dough was thin, yet formidable in texture. The mozzarella (no other cheese is used on Grimaldi's red pies) was fresh and perfect. When we return, we will opt for the simple cheese pie. The toppings were great, but they weighed down the pizza, whose expression is perfect in its thin-crust simplicity.

We returned home on the train to find an agitated dog. We'd been using our video camera to record his progress with our anti-separation anxiety training, and were disappointed to find pictures of him standing on his hind legs, front paws in the window frame, his head cocked back, howling plaintively for over 30 minutes. Wouldn't you, if you'd missed out on Grimaldi's?

—The Alcotourists

Sunday, March 05, 2006

In the Big Apple

Well, we've been on hiatus for a few months, and here's the reason: We liked New York so much on our last visit that we decided to move there, or "here" since I'm writing this from our quaint little rowhouse in Astoria. They say that moving out of state is the second-most stressful thing you can do in your life—divorce being the first. We won't argue with that.

It's been particularly rough on our dog, who was always clingy, and now has a full-blown case of separation anxiety and can hardly tolerate having us out of his sight. It's been no small cramp in our Alcotourist style. Wine from the local shops and a Netflix membership have been de rigeur.

But don't despair, dear readers! We still managed to get out a couple of nights with the help of a dogsitter and a little luck. Here are our most recent finds:
  1. The Hop Devil Grill is still one of my favorite beer joints of all time. When I was here looking for an apartment in January, I literally intuited my way back there one night without any directions whatsoever. I've taken to getting their $15 flight of five 8-oz beers to taste as many of the esoteric brews as I can in one night. The bartenders are ale zealots, and can tell you anything you want to know about the beers in rotation on their 24 taps. I also discovered, during my January trip, that Hop Devil makes the best veggie burger in the world—it tastes like bison, yet is totally meatless. We got a dogsitter and visited a couple of weeks ago, and enjoyed an incredible American Pale Ale called "Dales." Brewed in Colorado, this golden-hued ale has the best hop aroma of any in the style since the "Jack Mormon Pale Ale" I tried in Lander, Wyoming (more on that in a later post). Another favorite on tap, surprisingly, was a porter from Yuengling, America's oldest brewery—inky black and smooth as silk.

    We also got the news that Hop Devil was getting six kegs of Bear Republic (the first Bear Republic Kegs in NYC) the next week. I was there the first night with bells on. Bear Republic makes what I would argue is the best beer in America right now: a Russian Imperial Stout called "Big Bear Black." My favorite Bear Republic beer, however, is called "Hop Rod Rye," essentially a strong IPA with rye malt. This deep copper ale is deliciously bitter and totaly unique. Hop Devil managed to get the following six beers from Bear Republic, which I ordered in a special $20 flight: Racer 5 IPA , Racer X Double IPA, Hop Rod Rye, Red Rocket Ale, Pete's Brown Tribute Ale, Red Wheat. Though I was sad that, through some shipping snafu, Big Bear Black wasn't available, it was still great to see all these beers on tap so far away from Healdsburg, where we'd gone on this pilgrimage. Here's my critical run-down:
    Racer 5 IPAThey bill this as America's best IPA, and it's hard to argue the claim, even when there are so many excellent beers made in this style today. It is very good--certainly top 5.
    Racer X Double IPAI am a big fan of Stone's Ruination IPA, and double IPAs in general, but this one suffers from the excellence of Racer 5, which is perfectly executed. I'd rather just have 2 Racer 5s. Not that Racer X is bad--far from it. It's just not as exceptional as Racer 5.
    Hop Rod RyeMy favorite Bear Republic Ale. Excellent and Unique without being obnoxious or sickeningly sweet, like say, some Dogfish Head or Magic Hat brews.
    Red Rocket AleI'm not a red ale drinker, but this is excellent stuff. As with all Bear Republic ales, this one is robustly hopped and dry—a mix of IPA and red ale styles. This is the only Red Ale I've tasted that isn't completely listless and boring.
    Pete's Brown Tribute AleThe Alcotouristess prizes Lost Coast's "Downtown Brown" above all others, but this is my favorite Brown ale. The brown sugar maltiness is brought to heel by aggressive hopping. Ahhh!
    Red WheatWell, if I'm not a red ale drinker, I'm certainly not a wheat beer drinker. Still, this is an extremely creative take on the two styles, and appropriately dry and hoppy. It's worth a try.
    Big Bear BlackThis wasn't on tap at Hop Devil, but it deserves a mention here anyway. This is, in my estimation, the best beer in America today. Complex, roasty malt flavors; warming alcohol, and perfectly piney hop bitterness and floral aroma. This is the beer with everything. If you can't appreciate it, go nurse your Zima in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
  2. While at the Hop Devil, I heard of a Victory Brewing event at The Gate in Brooklyn the next week. Now, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring and say that Victory is an overrated brewer. Their "Hop Devil IPA" (not to be confused with the excellent Hop Devil Grill, above) is a worty, sludgy mess. Their barleywine is too sweet. Their Imperial Stout was good and dry, but nothing ultimately to write home about. The find in this trip was the Gate itself, especially for those of us with dogs that can't be abandoned. Yes, the Gate allows dogs, and we took our separation anxiety-ridden hound inside and were welcomed. Indeed, our pooch was a hit with the clientele, and got plenty of good-natured pats on the head from passers-by. We'll be back, especially later in the spring when the patio opens.

    We hadn't been to a dog-friendly pub since the Lucky Lab Brewpub in Portland, Oregon. This awesome, rustic brewpub with a huge mural replica of Wyeth's "Christina's World" painted on its back wall has great vegetarian-friendly fare and a covered patio where you can enjoy your pint and dinner with your dog. We were so happy to find something like this in our new city, and we openly wonder why there aren't more dog-friendly pubs out there?

  3. Skeptical as we were about trying a Long Island wine, we decided it was time to brave a bottle and for $12, the Pindar 2001 Cab Franc was worth a try. I let it decant a full hour before venturing to sip--and was pleasantly surprised. Not a complex wine, lacking in some of the fine tobacco I appreciate in some of my favorite Cab Francs, but definitely drinkable and, after two more hours of decanting, a fine accompaniment to some Godiva truffles. A promising introduction to New York wines. Napa it's not, but better than Temecula and for half the price.
So, we sign off, promising another update as circumstances allow. We will endeavor to provide a full review this spring of the Bohemian Hall & Beer Garden, mere blocks from our abode, and other places to imbibe as we discover them...
—The Alcotourists