First brew in California!

I made it!  I’m here in Cupertino for a work trip, and today was my travel day.  I was on a six hour flight from New York, in which a young boy (read: Monster) was running up and down the aisles (all the while being lazily watched by his seemingly uncaring mother), and he was hitting everyone in an aisle seat, including myself.  Remember the movie Clifford?  With Martin Short?  Think of that.


Absolutely an image of the boy who kept smacking me and all of the other people on the aisle with his bacteria laden stickyfingers, and definitely not a picture of Martin Short as Clifford in the movie Clifford.

It’s 9:15pm PST, which means it’s 12:15am EST.  I’ve been traveling since 9am EST, and I ate a Country Fried Steak and my buddy Alexander’s extra Oreo Shake at Denny’s.  So, basically I’m ready to hibernate, like a full bellied, exhausted bear.  But, at the end of a long travel day, comes a sweet, sweet, luxurious California reward! 

Sierra Nevada Five Hop Experimental IPA

5.8%ABV, made with “Experimental Hops”.  Sierra Nevada’s website does not say what hops they use.  Comes in at 60 IBUs.  (IBU = International Bitterness Units)

This was bottled on 02/02/2016.  I love my IPAs super fresh, as the older they get, the more the hops fade.  When I opened this one, it smelled like fresh grapefruit, orange, and even some coconut and vanilla.  It had a two finger, bright white, fluffy head, that stuck around for days, seemingly.  Sierra Nevada makes such amazing quality beers, the age didn’t do much, although you can tell the hops faded a bit, especially on the nose.  Taste is candied orange (less grapefruit than the nose), and dry.  Another great beer from these dudes.  I rated it a 3.75/5 on Untappd, only because it’s not super fresh.  I bet I would bump it up if it were fresher.  

I wanted to post a quick beer review for my first beer in California!  Stay tuned for more stories, I’ll be here for the next three weeks!  Cheers!

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A love letter to Il Bambino, or, How I Became the Redheaded Tree Monster

On a sunny day in April, 2010 (it might have been late March, but that’s semantics), I put in my resume at a sandwich shop with an unassuming little storefront on 31st Avenue in Astoria.  I was out of a job, and had no other prospects lined up.  My wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) Holly Kay, and I, had been there once before.  We popped our heads in when we were taking a walk, exploring the neighborhood.  We ordered Crostinis to go, and they were unbelievable.  Having lived West of the Subway, near the East River, we never really ventured past 31st Street.

Astoria is very confusing.  As you go from North to South, the streets begin with a number, and end in Avenue, Drive, or Road.  The numbers go up from 1 as you walk South.  If you’re walking West to East, they go up from number 1, and all end in Street.  Why?  According to Internet (I googled “Why are streets numbered the way they are in Astoria?”), Astoria was made up of a number of different communities, who all had different names for the streets and avenues.  This means that the same avenue could change names every few blocks.  So, between 1910 and 1920, there was a massive overhaul, and they changed the names to numbers, going up from 1 starting in the Northwestern part of Queens.

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Wow!  A History Lesson!  Not about beer! Yahoo for School!  Yahoo for me!  (This is my second Billy Madison reference in 3 Blog posts and I ain’t ashamed about it and I ain’t ashamed about my English neither.)

Anyway, I was out of a job, and in desperate need of one, so I walked into Il Bambino, on 31st Avenue in between 34th and 35th Streets.  As you walk in, you look straight ahead into the dining room and outdoor garden.  To your right are 6 stools, three underneath a banquette that looks out onto the street, and three underneath a small wooden bar that looks into the kitchen.  On the wall to the left, there is a giant pig, sectioned off and labeled with different types of cured meats that come from each section (i.e. the head is labeled Sopressatta).  Above the pig, are the words An Tard-Ri, which is Gaelic for “The Great King” (HOW AMAZING IS THAT?!?!?). Holly and I fell in love immediately, so I knew I had to give it a shot.

I spoke with Ryan Keogh, the manager, who said that there weren’t any server positions open, but he did possibly have a Counterperson position opening.  I handed him my resumé, and said I was absolutely interested, and left.

A few days or so went by, and that desperation turned into necessity.  I sincerely needed a job…  So, here’s my side of how this went down.  I decided to walk over to Il Bambino and pop my head in to see if they had made any progress in filling the Counterperson position.  I was unemployed.  I had nothing but time.  So I walked over, and happened to see Ryan, the very manager I had handed my resumé to, walking towards the restaurant.  So I said, “Hey man, remember me?  My name is Patrick, I gave you my resumé a few days ago.  Just wanted to follow up.”  He said that he hadn’t made any decisions yet, but would call me in a few days.

Ryan remembers this differently.  According to him, he was innocently walking to work one day, when an awkward redheaded monster jumped out FROM BEHIND A TREE and said “HEY REMEMBER ME?  YOU GONNA GIVE ME THAT JOB????”

…I’m 90% sure I was NOT behind a tree.

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A reenactment of this incident in front of Il Bambino in 2014.

Needless to say, I nailed it.  I got that job.  I worked behind the Counter, learned the ins and outs of the restaurant, and kept asking if and when any server positions were going to open up.  Apparently I raised my hand like an eager schoolboy at one of our first staff meetings.  Again, I’m 90% sure I didn’t do that.  I’m an adult.

I made myself clear about what I wanted to do as I’d been stuck as a busboy in one of my previous restaurant jobs, with the promise of becoming a waiter.  That never came to fruition, as I was told later I would never be a waiter because I wasn’t a woman.  That was information that I wish they would have brought to my attention YESTERDAYYYY!  (Second Adam Sandler reference in a single blog.  Wordpress gives out badges, right?  I should get a badge for this.)  Also, I visited there about a year ago and there was a dude bartending.  Again, whatevs.  No bad blood, their food is amazing, wine list is on point, and as you’ll see in a few paragraphs, they had some beers that had an impact on me.

At Il Bambino, I became a server after about a month, and Ryan and I became friends pretty quickly.  We worked hard, knew how to talk to people, and had similar tastes in music (although his knowledge far exceeds mine, also you should see his vinyl collection).  Remember my first post about Kanye West’s Runaway?  That’s that dude.

At this point, I didn’t know much about craft beer.  I wasn’t really into IPAs (which, if you know me now, is very surprising) and I wasn’t above drinking a Bud Lite at the bar.  I had been doing Improv Comedy for the last two years or so, and we were able to drink them for free (or really cheap) so that was a thing we did often.  The beers I did know about were the ones served at the aforementioned restaurant where I was a busboy. Three that I remember specifically were:

  1. Reissdorf Kolsch, which is a traditional German Kolsch, with sweet, bready malts, and a grassy hop character.
  2. Rogue Brewing Dead Guy, a Maibock, which is a German-Style Amber Ale, a sweet, balanced beer with earthy hops.
  3. Schneider Weisse (try NOT saying that with a German accent.  You can’t do it.), a peppery, citrusy German Hefeweizen (wheat beer).

I wasn’t much of a beer guy.  I wasn’t picky.  Maybe times were simpler back in early 2010.  Maybe I never shoulda gotten that job at Il Bambino.  Maybe then, Ryan would have never turned me into the redheaded monster that hides behind trees and jumps out to grab the hoppiest IPA or the bourbon barrel-iest Stout he can find, just to scurry back behind his tree and take a sip.

Nah.  It was the best decision Ryan ever made, hiring me.  He knows it.  I know it.  We all know it.  We had fun working inside that little unassuming storefront on 31st Avenue, between 34th and 35th streets in Astoria.  Please go eat there.

My gateway into my love and passion for Craft Beer began here.  Ryan and I would taste these beers together, and I learned that the people who made these beers were not unlike Darren Lawless (Owner and Head Chef at Il Bambino), and Ryan.  They cultivated Il Bambino into the amazing restaurant it is today, and have expanded to a new location in the West Village.  They’ve been working together for years, and are insanely talented, both in their own right, and know what their audience wants.

Beer, at its core, is 4 ingredients: Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast.  Craft brewers are all about quality ingredients, hard work, and community.  I think it’s this mindset that Darren and Ryan had helped fuel my passion for craft beer and the people who make it.  Sometimes, simpler is better.

Ryan was (and is) a whiz at ordering the right beer (and wine) for the food they serve at Il Bambino.  Darren’s menu of Crostinis, Paninis, Salads, and Tapas, consists of simple ingredients, simple concepts, executed impeccably.  I believe that Ryan has the same mindset when it comes to the beer menu.

The beers Ryan had on the menu when I started were:

  1. Sixpoint Sweet Action, a Cream Ale from Brooklyn, a crisp beer with grassy, citrusy hops, and a toffee-like malt profile.
  2. Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, a malt forward IPA with balanced, citrusy hops.
  3. Allagash White, which, in my opinion, this is the quintessential gateway into Craft Beer.  “You like Blue Moon?  Here, try this.  It’s much better.”
  4. Lagunitas Pils, a traditional, Czech-style Pilsner.  Clean, grassy hops with nice sweetness from the malts (give this to someone who asks for a Bud or Bud Light).
  5. Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, classic Brown Ale from the UK, with nutty, roasted malts.
  6. Ommegang Hennepin, a peppery, funky, tart lemon zest citrus Farmhouse Saison.
  7. Pacifico, a Mexican style Light Lager.  (Corona’s more awesome primo)

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Chicken Mozzarella Panini accompanied by an Allagash White.

Ryan’s choice of beers listed above are amazing compliments to Darren’s menu.  Simple ingredients, elevated and complimented by the food they’re served with.  The beer menu has changed over the years, but it still contains amazing beers that pair perfectly with the food.

IMG_0133Founders Breakfast Stout, one of Ryan’s weekly specials.  Coffee and chocolate dominate this easily drinkable, 8% Stout.  Ask my Dad!  He loves them!

 

IMG_0256Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Saison.  8.5%ABV, with aromas of citrus, and a little funk.  Taste is crisp, sweet, citrusy, peppery.  Another perfect beer to go with Crostinis.

IMG_0165Puu Puu Platter, a plate of six different Crostinis.

IMG_0319Tröegs Mad Elf, an 11%ABV Ale made with Honey and Cherries.  I like to let this one sit a year, as the flavors mellow out a bit.

IMG_0318Just wanted to throw in this picture of my gorgeous wife enjoying her wine.  As you can see by the Poinsettias and Nutcracker, they decorate for Christmas!  It’s amazing!

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This is not beer.  This is a Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Raspberry Syrup and Homemade Chocolate Frosted Flakes.  Please eat this.

IMG_2279Myself and Ryan at Arts and Crafts Beer Parlor with The Thin White Duke.

Again, I will mention that Il Bambino now has two locations, one in Astoria, and one on 8th Street in the West Village.  Please go eat there now, and I will wait here, so you can come back and finish this blog.

Il Bambino was my first foray into craft beer, and it got me excited to try something new.  I learned how beer and food complimented each other.  Also, I was shown the art of craftsmanship, whether it was Darren with his passion for elevated, simple ingredients, Ryan with his passion for experience (both for his employees and his customers), or craft brewers with their passion for quality, taste, and community.  Often times, you can find complexity in simplicity.

Anyways, until next time!

Cheers!

Saying Hello, By Saying Goodbye? Pt. Deux

Hey!  You came back!  Thanks for coming back.  That’s really sweet of you.  You’re a real pal.  This is a continuation of my first post, so please, if you haven’t read it, go back and check that one out, then come back and read this one.  I’m very patient.

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Look how patient I am!

Ok!  Let’s continue with Part Deux…

So it was Hiten’s last shift at City Swiggers, a bottle shop on 86th, between 1st and 2nd Ave.  You should go there.  It has 14 draft beers and probably like 40,000 bottles and cans.  This is not an exaggeration.

It was 8pm, which is way past my bedtime.  I believe my wife, Holly Kay, had worked a 6:30am-3:30pm shift that day, and had met up with some friends in between.  I worked until around 7:30, we met up, and got on the 6 (where some guy named Drake ran through with his WOEs), and walked the long avenue blocks over to City Swiggers.  We were, frankly, exhausted.  But we wanted to stop in and make sure we were there to give Hiten a proper send off.

It was pretty crowded, and loud, as it was a Friday night, and a lot of people were there for Hiten.  My coworker David, a home brewer, was there with his girlfriend, and we said hello, and ordered our first two beers.  Thankfully, two seats opened up right at the end of the bar, so we were able to sit.  Our feet and legs thanked us, as we’d both been running around all day.

Holly ordered an Other Half Brewing Company Mosaic Dream (because she has impeccable taste).  This is a single hopped Imperial IPA, hopped only with Mosaic.  I’ve loved every beer I’ve tried from Other Half Brewing (they’re in Gowanus, Brooklyn).  Hiten has waited in line at the brewery, very early on Saturday mornings, for their can releases.  (See previous post for the awesome Make it Rain IIPA he gifted me…)

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I’ve heard of Mosaic referred to as a sexy hop.  And ooh my, she sure is.  She comes from the same family as Simcoe, another hop that I adore.  The aroma wafts into your nose like a tropical breeze.  One sip and you’re transported to a far off, white sandy beach (somewhere tropical, let’s say for this instance, Saint Martin), surrounded by freshly cut mangoes and pineapples.  You take a bite…  This must be the Dream that they’re referring to…

Snap back to reality (oh, there goes gravity!).

This beer is bright, citrusy, and perfect for a day on the beach, or by the pool, or wherever you damn want to, it’s your life, LIVE YOUR LIFE, DRINK BEER WHERE YOU LIKE!  (Is that going to be the Benedict Beer Blog’s first tee shirt?  Probably not.).

If you’re outside of New York and can’t get up here, and that picture I painted appeals to you, I would highly recommend picking up a Founders Mosaic Promise, or Pipeworks Lizard King.  These are both single hopped with Mosaic, so you too can be transported to paradise.  Check them out, and let me know what you think!

I ordered the Grimm Afterimage.  This is an amazing unfiltered Double IPA, with citrusy, dank hops.  According to the Brewers, they used Mosaic (there’s that pretty lady again!!), El Dorado, Falconer’s Flight, Columbus, and Simcoe.  (I want to be a Hop Namer.  Is that a thing?  Can I make that my life’s work?  I mean, come on…  Falconer’ Flight?  Give that man a Nobel Prize!). The hops are balanced out by a burnt caramel, bready malt sweetness.  This was my second time having this beer, and it’s just as good as I remember it.  I rated it 4.5 out of 5 caps on Untappd, which is an awesome Beer Social Networking App that you should absolutely check out.  This comes around in cans from time to time (at least twice, from what I know), so grab it if you can.  This is a gorgeous beer.  If you can’t find it, try to see if you can get Grimm Tesseract, Grimm Lambo Door, Other Half Green Diamonds, or Singlecut Billy Full Stack.  These are some of the best Double IPA’s released in NY.

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Grimm Afterimage Double IPA

My palate needed a change after all those delicious, delicious hops…  And I looked across the bar, and saw some nice gentleman sharing a bottle of 2015 Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout.  This is a variant of the regular Bourbon County Brand Stout, with Intelligentsia’s Los Delirios Nicaraguan coffee beans added.  For those of you who may not know, Goose Island admitted to some Varients of their Bourbon County Brand (specifically Coffee and Barleywine) having what they referred to as “off-flavors”.  I was interested to try it, after reading countless reviews about how the beer was infected.

I have had the Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout once before, about 5 years ago, with my dear friends Matthew and Lauri Spitz, who went on to open Moustache Brewing Company, and it was amazing.

This bottle was certainly off.  It tasted boozy, with sour raspberry and chocolate, but no coffee.  It wasn’t bad, as I enjoy sour beers, but this was unintentional.  I’m glad I didn’t wait on line to pick this up, but was happy I got to try it.  Thank you strangers at the bar, and thank you Hiten for pouring me a taste!

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Looking down into the abyss of an “off flavored”  Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout

At this point, a number of our friends had showed up.  We hadn’t really eaten anything at this point, so we ordered some snacks.  Hiten also had a bunch of pizzas ordered, so Holly grabbed us two slices, and by that point, we wanted to slink back into our cave and hibernate like the tired bears we were.  But we were having such a great time with our friends, and Hiten was having a blast pouring and sharing beers with his friends.

The last beer I tasted, and shared, was the Stone Xocoveza (pronounced “shocko-veza”) Stout.  In stark contrast to being transported to the beach, this beer picks you up and drops you in a rocking chair in front of a roaring fireplace, with untouched, glistening white flakes of snow flittering by the window, family singing Christmas Carols while visions of cinnamon, coffee, and spice dance all over your tongue.  Holly and I shared a 5 ounce pour of this from our friend Sean’s flight (he doesn’t like stouts that taste like coffee), and it was so good (as I remembered) Holly and I ordered and shared another.

IMG_1922Our friend Sean’s Stone Xocoveza Stout.  He promptly ordered “A stout that doesn’t taste like coffee.”

IMG_1927Our second Stone Xocoveza Stout

By this point, we paid our check, and prepared to make our long journey home to Jackson Heights.  We were both exhausted, but really happy that we showed up, and spent time with some amazing friends.  And, as we went down into the Subway station, we saw a group of people doing QUIET CLUBBING!  Have you ever heard of this?  There’s two different stations, and you get to choose which you want to (quietly) rock out to.  It was really cool, and we actually considered doing this.

As memorable as the beers were, I simply loved our whole experience.  I got to share stories and beers with my beautiful wife and our amazing friends, and we were all able to be together and celebrate Hiten’s last night at City Swiggers.  The bar was filled with he and his fiancee’s friends and family.  Hiten, whether he knew it or not, made an impact on people around him, and will continue to do so in Arizona.

I got a few texts after my first post, saying “Great blog!  When are you going to talk about beer?” I hope this post has answered that question.  For me, it’s not just about the beer.  What I love about beer is that every sip, every different beer you try, comes with an experience.  The appearance, aroma, taste, even the environment you’re drinking in and the people you are with, will bring you somewhere.  Sometimes, it brings you somewhere you never want to go again.  Sometimes it brings you somewhere you’ll want to visit over and over again (responsibly, of course).

Until next time, dear, sweet, sexy (I assume) reader.  Keep having and enjoying wonderful experiences, and share any thoughts you have in the comments below!

Cheers!

Saying Hello, By Saying Goodbye? Part I

Saying goodbye is never easy.  Saying goodbye with beer makes things…  A little bit easier?

At my job, we see people come and go all the time.  It’s the nature of the business, and also of living in New York City.  People get promoted, move to different stores, or get jobs outside of the company, or they get sick of the subway, the crowds, the smells, etc.  This is an almost daily occurrence, so it doesn’t usually throw me off.  Then, one person you thought would always be at work to chat with, or share a laugh with, says he’s leaving.

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Another one bites the dust.

What does this have to do with beer?  Isn’t this a beer blog?  Why am I still reading this?  Are there any horse socks?  Is anybody listening to me?

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These are all valid questions, reader.  Oh, and believe me, we’ll get to them…

Beer brings people together.  I started getting into craft beer only about 5 years ago, and since then, and perhaps even before then, the industry has exploded.

I got into craft beer working at a restaurant in Astoria, Queens called Il Bambino.  We would have weekly beer specials, in addition to the beer on the menu, which included Allagash White, Smuttynose Finestkind IPA, and Sixpoint Sweet Action.  What I loved to do, still being new to craft beer, was describe beers by how they made me feel.  One night, it was probably in September (seasonal creep was way less of a thing than it is now, where we see pumpkin beers in June and Spring Seasonals in December), our special of the week was Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin Ale.  This is an unbelievable pumpkin beer brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, and clove.  I would describe it to customers, saying “It tastes like Fall in a glass.”  One of my fellow servers misheard me, and described it, saying “It tastes like fall in your mouth…”  I think she probably sold more of that beer than I did.

Each week brought a different special.  My manager (who is now my dear friend) Ryan, would order a different beer every week or two, and we would have a chance to try it, usually after our shifts, when we locked the doors and put on Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.  (We usually started with “Runaway”, which starts out with a high E played over and over again on a piano, and usually the bottle would be open and poured before the first “LOOK ATCHA!”

While I could credit Kanye with getting me into craft beer, (Yeezy taught me), it was really all Ryan’s doing.  Ryan is very smart.  He knows what people want.  He has really accessible, delicious beer on Il Bambino’s menu, and is knowledgable enough to know what specials to put on that will compliment owner Darren Lawless’ (F)lawless menu of Paninis, Crostinis, and tapas.

I will talk much, Muchmore about Il Bambino in other posts, but this is where the foundation for my love of craft beer began.  They just opened their new location on 8th street in the West Village.  You really should go there, and their Astoria location, because they’re the best.

So, my buddy Hiten is leaving New York.  This sucks.  Saying goodbye sucks.  But, New York City is a monster, and he’s going to be amazing wherever he goes, which, in this instance, is Tucson, Arizona.  I’ve never been there or thought of visiting there.  Now, I will strongly consider it.

A month or so ago, he got engaged (!!!) and I texted him to congratulate him on said Engagement.  He thanked me, and offered a can of Other Half Brewing and Barrier Brewing Company’s collaboration, called Make It Rain.  I thanked him and told him to get back to celebrating his engagement.  I just wanted to reiterate how selfless Hiten is.

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Proof.

Hiten also worked at City Swiggers, an amazing bottle shop and bar on the Upper Eest Side of Manhattan.  My wife and I joined some of our friends for Hiten’s last shift here, and we had an amazing time, celebrating Hiten’s last night of work doing what he loved, sharing amazing beer with everyone.

Stay tuned for Part Deux of this blog where I promise I will talk about the beer we drank.  If anyone listens to the “U Talkin’ U2 to Me?” Podcast, with Adam Scott and Scott Aukerman, they started out wanting to cover two U2 albums per episode, and ended up getting to maybe one per episode (and one episode called Staind Glass, which is an episode about the band Staind featuring Comedian Todd Glass).  Anyway, I hope I don’t get as tangential as they do…  But I already have, and hey!  You’re still reading!  So this works!  Right?

Anyways, see you next time.