Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Russian Invasion

I talked to Chama River's head brewer Jeff Erway the other day, and he had some exciting news: Next month Chama will be releasing BOTTLED versions of their barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout. The beer will be in 750 ml bottles and the release is very limited- like under 50 cases. Jeff thinks the beer will sell for around $13.00. I'm not sure if the beer will be sold through local retailers, but will for sure be sold at Chama River. Will it be discounted for Chama's beer club members? Man, the more I write here, the more I realize I have no common sense when it comes to getting answers for a story.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Firkin Friday!

What the firk! There is an event going on TONIGHT at O'Niell's Pub and I don't write about it until the day of? Admittedly, I am still in my postseason football funk (firk you again, you low life Cardinals fans), but I'd like to give notice beer happenings in Albuquerque a few days in advance, at least. Blame O'Niell's for not letting me know about it, and the people of Arizona for unleashing in me a desire to murder.

Anyways, O'Niell's is starting "Firkin Friday", where a cask-conditioned ale will be featured every Friday starting at 9 pm. The first beer featured is a Brown Ale from Chama River Brewery. I was told that $4.00 per pint will be the price, but don't hold me to that, as there seemed to be some confusion from the three "I don't knows" heard in the background after the bartender inquired for me.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cardinals Fans are Weaker Than Coors Light

Or MGD 64. Or Michelob Ultra. No, wait, make it O'Doull's. Yeah, that's about right. We made the short drive to Phoenix on Saturday for the upcoming Eagles-Cardinals NFC Championship game Sunday. We stayed in Scottsdale a few blocks away from the Upper Deck Sports Bar, home of the Eagles Desert Nest fan club that was hosting a pep rally for the thousands of Eagles fans who made the trip from around the country. When I hear "sports bar", I don't think of a bar stocked with microbrews...and this place was no exception to my expectations. So we bit the bullet and joined everyone else who was buying up the Miller Lite cans on special. Hell, we were buying them four at a time. And we liked it. It was perfect beer for the warm weather and party atmosphere. We drank well into the night and enjoyed the camaraderie of the best fans in football.

On to the game. We left our hotel and started up the trusty GPS to guide us to the game. Unfortunately, the GPS had no idea that there was a marathon going on that had every street we needed to turn on blocked off. I didn't know how to tell it this, so we just kind of went up and over, up and over, until we arrived at the stadium. Nice place. Too bad it was filled with the biggest group of front running bandwagon jumpers I have ever had the displeasure to be around. There were many Eagles fans sitting in our section, and probably another 10,000 more scattered around the stadium, but that still left 60,000 clueless Arizona fans to deal with. These people didn't even know the rules. Eagles fans on many occasions had to turn and explain to dumbasses what the calls meant. They didn't even know their players: "Go number 38!" was overheard. I'm shaking my head as I write this. And don't get me started on the newness of the jerseys. Don't forget to take the tags off, ladies.

This may seem like a bit of sour grapes as the Eagles lost, but don't get me wrong. I give the Cardinals team all the credit they deserve, as they came out with a great gameplan that succeeded. But the "fans" don't deserve anything. Eagles fans stay with the team through bad seasons, selling out every home game and traveling to other cities to root for them, more so than any other fan base. They sit in freezing temperatures and scream their lungs out. And they always will. They may have a bad reputation, but oh well. Cry about it. I personally embrace it. One of the highlights of my day was as we were exiting the stadium and a stadium employee standing by the escalators said, "Thanks for coming today!" to us and a couple of other Eagles fans. One of the guys looked at her and said,"Your fans are a fucking joke!" Oh, good old Philly. Cardinals fans were streaming out at the same time as us. Some fans- their team wins the NFC Championship and they don't even stay around for the trophy presentation. Like the guy said, they are indeed a joke.

Finding a place to drown our sorrows was not a problem, as we weren't far from Papago Brewing, rated 6th best beer bar in the country by BeerAdvocate readers. Papago sits in a strip mall in a spot that you never would give a second look to, but the inside holds a great beer selection. 30 taps that rotate frequently, and a large cooler that hosts a unique bottle selection. It is unique in the regard that both 12 and 22 oz. selections are available to drink at the bar, as well as to purchase for take out. Customers pick out the beer from the coolers themselves and bring their selection to the bar to be opened by the bartender. If only the taps were self serve too!

We had a Big Sky IPA, a bottle of Left Coast Torrey Pines IPA, and tasters of North Coast Old Stock, Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter, and local favorite Four Peaks Pumpkin Porter. I don't know how we tried all these beers, as the bartender was very inattentive and it took a long time to get served every time we were empty. I give him some benefit of the doubt, as he said that he was working the bar during the game and the place was packed for hours. The guy looked drained and we knew how he felt. It was that kind of day.

We made one final visit to the Upper Deck, though the mood was not as festive as the previous evening. We had a couple of beers with some Philly guys who made the trip. They were down but not despairing. True Eagles fans that they are, they know that there is always next year, or the year after, or the year after. They will watch every game and cheer (and boo) their team regardless of how the season is going. They will be there for every exhilarating score and suffer through every heartbreaking loss. And so will we.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Driving to Boston Takes Its Toll

Five days in Philadelphia, yet it seems like we only just got there, and didn't see everything I wanted to. We did get to hang out with Rocky Balboa, though the poor guy has been moved from the top of the art museum steps to the Spectrum (old arena of the Flyers and 76ers) and finally back to the art museum, but stuck in a corner off to the side of the museum like a kid punished for misbehaving.

Boston is only a little over 300 miles from Philadelphia; a straight shot up I-95, which also happens to be the most traveled interstate in the country. This fact did not work out well in our favor! It was fine at first, as the dreaded New Jersey Turnpike traffic was non-existent. The coffee from the Starbucks at the even more dreaded NJ Turnpike rest stop was even good. I didn't take a chance on Roy Rogers, which is a burger chain that I have only seen on that turnpike and in NYC. Their open air "free fixins bar", holding pickles and onions that were probably breathed on by half the US and most of Puerto Rico dissuaded me from anything besides coffee.

That strategy was working well as we hit the first stretch of major gridlock just east of the George Washington Bridge, and I spotted the cost of the upcoming toll. Eight dollars just to cross a bridge! And the stress before you get to the toll booth...I was convinced my lane must be closing, as people kept leaving it to get into the next jammed lane. It turned out they were just impatient and any driving to them, whether forward or sideways, was satisfying.

The remainder of the drive was just so congested that it was nerve-wracking, and this is coming from a person who enjoys road trips. I think I have been in New Mexico too long and am used to being able to take a highway for stretches without another car in sight. After hours and hours of white-knuckle driving, we arrived at our Holiday Inn Express in Cambridge, and I was happy to see our knack for getting hotels across the street from liquor stores was alive and well.

Jenn's parents were also in Boston at the time, and they graciously picked us up from our hotel for the short ride to the Sunset Grill. Google Maps put the distance at 4 miles between the two, but somehow Jenn's dad managed to make it take just a little longer than the most crooked cab driver would take to drive an unsuspecting Asian tourist. Talk about having a knack for something! I actually enjoyed the ride, as I got to see the Public Gardens and Boston Common and neighborhoods that I wouldn't otherwise have seen. The only problem was that I was nauseous from an allergic reaction to Jenn's perfume that she doused half of Cambridge with. The only thing that kept me from throwing up was the promise of good beer to come.

And what good beer it was. Sunset Grill boasts an amazing 112 beers on tap, with hundreds more in bottles. Taps were everywhere I looked. The beer menu read like a magazine. The dilemma of how to try all the beers we wanted without drinking ourselves sick was solved by our server Eddie, who said we could get 5 oz. samples of the beers we wanted, rather than having to buy a full pint of each. This allowed us to try a total of 24 different beers, and I can actually remember most of it! I think my favorite beer of the night was the Great Divide Hercules Double IPA, which is funny because I don't care that much for it from the bottle. I think the reason is I have always gotten the beer at Kelly Liquors on Wyoming, where beers may sit for longer than they possibly should, especially in the case of an IPA. In fact, while Great Divide changed the labels on their beers 4 months ago, you can still find the old-labeled Great Divide line at that Kelly's location, so buyer beware.

If you find yourself in Boston, please visit Sunset Grill- it is a true beer destination. Here is a rundown of the beers sampled that night:

Victory Hop Wallop DIPA(cask-conditioned)
Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA
Weyerbacher Charlie (smoked ale)
Ipswich Blueberry
Corsendonk Apple
Founder's Backwoods Bastard Scotch Ale
Berkshire Coffee Porter
Southern Tier Unearthly DIPA
Great Divide Hercules DIPA
Sixpoint Bengali Tiger IPA
Speakeasy Double Daddy DIPA
Allagash White Ale
Arcadia Big Dick's Old Ale
Lagunitas Brown Shugga
Southern Tier Choklat
Green Flash West Coast IPA
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
Stone Ruination DIPA
Southern Tier Imperial Cherry Saison
Arcadian Cereal Killer Barleywine
Oak Aged Arrogant Bastard
Berkshire Holidale
Brooklyn Monster Barleywine

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wow. I'm in Delaware.

But not for long, and anyway, we had a good reason to be here: Total Wine and Spirits. I have written about this alcohol superstore chain before, and what sets this apart from the others is that all merchandise is tax-free. It is right across the state line from PA, so it is a good place to come if you really plan on stocking up. We can't do that since we are flying, but it is still fun to look.

Later that day we were back in Wayne, PA, home of the Beer Yard that I wrote about previously. We were visiting Teresa's Next Door, the bar portion of a restaurant called Teresa's Cafe. The bar is known for its limited but well-planned tap list, and was worth the drive back into this snooty neighborhood. They also had the largest selection of glassware I have ever seen at a bar. I had an Ithaca Flower Power IPA and Jenn chose Southern Tier Unearthly Double IPA. The Ithaca beer was full of Simcoe hops, which give the beer a great smell and keeps the bitterness level where I like it: high. Unearthly is an 11%palate killer that we were happy to see on tap, as we had been hoping to try it on this trip. We also had a taste of Victory's Old Horizontal Barleywine from 2007. The bar has a selection that makes you want to come back, but the yuppie atmosphere and bartender who looked like he was waiting to be discovered kind of turned me off. Glad we stopped in though.

Finally that evening we met up with Joseph Frantz, the noted Philadelphia-based filmmaker and beer lover who introduced us to 1601 Cafe, one of the fantastic new corner bars in Philly that serves up gastropub food and craft beers. I didn't bother with the food, as I was too busy trying the Mojo IPA on draft. We can get Mojo in Albuquerque, but for some reason no place ever has it on tap. So the brewery is 500 miles away from us, yet I have to travel 2000 miles to get Mojo on tap. The real find was Founders Breakfast Stout, probably the highest regarded coffee stout available in the country right now. And 1601 had it on tap! For only FOUR dollars, I found out at the end of the night! Most places that can even acquire it charge 7 or 8 bucks a glass.

So as I said, Joseph Frantz is a filmmaker (just released a new movie entitled Minghags starring Bam Margera, go to to order), but he also recently co-authored the book "Dreamseller" along with Brandon Novak. The book describes Novak's struggles with drug addiction, and to be honest makes me feel pretty good about my drinking. The book is a fast, entertaining read, and you can find it at the Barnes and Noble at Coronado or Cottonwood.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

More Philly, More Beer

Pennsylvania has an incredible beer selection, but the alcohol laws are antiquated. In Albuquerque, you can walk into any 7-11 (though I wouldn't recommend it) and buy beer, wine, or liquor. Pennsylvania wine and liquor sales are only through state-run dtores, with a limited selection and a staff that is there just to collect a paycheck. Good luck getting advice when choosing between a cabernet and a zinfandel. Beer sales are kind of confusing. Six-packs are available for take out at bars, but with a high markup- how's $11.99 for Miller Lite sound? How's Miller Lite sound for free, for that matter? Otherwise, beer is available only in cases at "beer distributors" which are dingy warehouse-like buildings that house mostly macro lagers. The Beer Yard in Wayne, however, is a true beer destination for craft beer lovers, especially if you have the money to buy whole cases at a time. Not only do we not have the money, we are flying, and suitcases don't quite have the shape to hold beer in cases. Even though the guys at the Beer Yard knew we were just looking, they gladly shared a bottle of Stoudt's Winter Ale that they were sampling. Great people and great beer in a town located on the "Main Line" area of suburban Philadelphia, where even the car wash places are upscale.