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Have liver, will travel

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


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