Tuesday, 22 December 2015

DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 2) - NEW YORK DECEMBER 2015




DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 2)

 

Loco Motives

I'm in Rehab (Saudi Arabia) again this week and it's a great opportunity to reflect on the second part of my US tour, New York! After leaving Texas I caught the Friday night flight out of Houston. I stopped briefly in Charlotte, North Carolina airport and whilst waiting for my connecting flight and, having a thirst, managed to hunt down some of the local craft. In this case it was NoDa Brewing Companies offerings which lured me in with their "Hop, Drop 'n' Roll" (A classic American IPA) and "Coco Loco" (A complex malty number) both great beers an a treat to get some good local craft from a state I didn't realise I'd get a chance to sample anything from. 
 

A Hell of a Town

After a couple of beers in Charlotte I carried on to New York and met Laura in JFK airport and we shared a cab to the Empire Hotel in Manhattan, our base for the weekend.

The fare came to about $63 and we got some serious agro from the taxi driver when I handed over $65. Apparently by this point I still hadn't got the hang of the whole tipping thing.

It being late and us being hungry we headed out to the local pizza parlour which came highly recommended by the hotel. We ordered a pepperoni and I had a Negro Modelo. Not exactly craft or local but it's one I've wanted to try ever since I was in Taiwan and dreaming of Mexican Amber Lager. (A topic of a future post perhaps.)
The pizza place owner was basically Mr. Panucci from Futurama... "Pizza going out... C'MON!!!"

 


More Like a Goat than a Goat

The following day we headed down to the Museum of Modern Art after being lured in by a poster advertising a Picaso sculpture exhibition.

More like a goat than a real goat? Seems like one of those "wetter than water" type comments.

My favourite piece was this recently excavated fishing boat which had been shot at by hundreds of arrows. It was inspired by the story of a Chinese general. The legend goes that the general's army was running out of arrows so he took a boat filled with straw men and feigned an attack on the enemy. When the boat returned it was so pin-cushioned that the general was able to replenished the armies supplies. I loved this story because of the sheer cheeky audacity of the general.


Or it could just be a very abstract hedgehog..


There was also the papier-mâché star spangled banner for some reason.

A Walk in The Park

After the museum we headed down to Central Park. It was hard to believe that it still felt like Autumn in early December. The weather was mild and the trees were still flush with their autumnal plumage. We came across a talented group of lads managing to rob a crowd blind out of sheer peer pressure. They did eventually pull of some stunts but I estimate they made $1000 in donations in less than 30 minutes. This goes to show what the power of true entertainers can achieve. They did this by doing a couple of quick backflips and handstands and getting a bit of a crowd going. Then with well rehearsed lines and speaking in perfect unison to naturally amplify themselves to a crowd of hundreds, they whipped up the crowd into a frenzy with some gags and by celebrating every donation they got. Dozens of people offered them up and each was greeted with a "Hey Guys! I just got twenty dollars!", "From Who?", the rest of the lads would hail in time, "This girl" "Where's she from" and so it went on. They really built up the tension and managed to get hundreds of dollars in donations. President Obama may be interested in change but these guys were interested in tens, twenties and fifties! They eventually managed an impressive finale involving jumping over about half a dozen people in a line. Impressive in itself but not as impressive as how successful their little show was.


Not a bad little action shot
 

Solid Gone

After walking through the park we headed to the Natural History Museum. The museum has a staggering collection of dinosaur fossils and my incredible replicas which really to help to bring these magnificent beasts to life. I think My favourite was the triceratops but I'm not really sure there was so much to see. It wasn't hard to find Laura's favourite.


Being big fans of the jungle book I couldn't help but see the resemblance in this Fossil to the dancing bear Baloo. "Solid Gone".
After finishing the museum tour with a dazzling display at the Hayden Planetarium, we made a dash to see the full size blue what they have displayed which we were keen to see after seeing them a few weeks earlier in Sri Lanka (maybe I'll blog about that trip at some point). By this point it was getting late and was time to make a prompt exit through the before the exhibits started coming to life. This unusual phenomenon has been recently documented.

Saddle Up

With the sun setting and the Saturday night vibe starting we both agreed it was time to get into our drinking boots and head out to see what we could find. After a couple of Anchor Steam Beers in the reception we headed to The Pony Bar. We both got IDed on the way in with the bouncer giving us a friendly grin and simply stating "Business before pleasure". The Pony Bar is a lively place with over 20 taps. We tried a couple of the local efforts. First up was a Captain Lawrence Effortless Session IPA which had a slightly rough bitterness but was crisp and refreshing. Next I tried a Great South Bay Bourbon Barrel Aged Scotch Ale which can only be described as syrupy bourbony goodness! Laura had a Sierra Nevada Kellerwies Hefeweizen which was a little heavy on the banana and bubblegum notes for me but still very nice.

In Tacos Veritas

Next we headed for tacos at Cascabel Taqueria where we washed some great tacos down with some Dogfish Head Aprihop. The apricot notes in this beer are quite subtle given that they have actually added apricots. I can't help but think the same effect could have been achieved with just selecting the right hops for the job. Vic Secret is a great hop for adding apricot notes in my opinion although Mosaic does well too.

Mmmm... Tacos!

To Prop or not to Prop

Final place we headed to for the evening was The Ginger Man. At first impression this dimly lit joint was a great place to rest our weary legs and enjoy some good music. They had around 70 taps and with a selection like that we could have quite happily stayed for a few. After sitting for a while with no service I approached the bar and ordered a couple of beers. "Where are you sat?" asks the barman. I pointed to the table we had in the corner and was about to order when I was told "You'll have to wait for the waitress, I can't serve you unless you're sat at the bar."

Unfortunately this place wasn't the only place I've been that operated this ridiculous system of service whereby because we weren't actually sat at the bar we couldn't order beer. So I returned to my table to continue to wait for the tardy waitress to make her way around to us whilst the barman stood idle and after half an hour of waiting we eventually got our drinks. I had a Stone 'Enjoy by 25/12/15' which I have to admit is probably the best beer I have ever tasted. It was perfectly balanced and so crammed full of fruity notes I might as well have been munching down a packet of fruit pastels! I ordered a second pint and again marvelled at how the waitress seemed to be operating in an entirely different time-zone to the barman.

I realise this absurd system of having to be served by a waitress if not actually sat at the bar is to enable them to work for their tips. In this case it totally backfired as not only was the service so poor we sat most of the time waiting and not drinking. The horror on the face of the waitress upon realising we'd not tipped seemed to suggest she held this atrocity worthy of a trial for crimes against humanity at The Hague. She seemed deaf to the viewpoint that, in our view, she had actually significantly impeded our drinking and we would have drank more if she wasn't there at all.

A Candle Light Nightcap


I've a vague suspicion we might have stopped somewhere else for a night cap but this is as far as I'll take it for day 1 in New York. In day 2 we stopped off at the Brooklyn Brewery for a tour of their facilities and a few samples amongst a few other interesting places so keep an eye out for that post.




Sunday, 13 December 2015

DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 1) - TEXAS DECEMBER 2015




DRINKING NOTES FROM A BIG COUNTRY (PART 1)



Lone Star State

Sitting on my own in the airport at George Bush (first of his name) International Airport in Houston feels like an appropriate time and place to reflect on the adventure of the last couple of weeks. It's hard to believe that it has been only 12 days since landing in the US and that since then I've managed to grab a few local craft beers in five different states.

The whole tour has been an absolute blast and I'll talk about it in several digestible parts to give me a chance to collect my thoughts and give anyone reading this a chance to grab another beer between chapters. 


It seems quite fitting that I finish this tour where I started, in Texas, and I'm please to report, like all six airports I've been to in the states (I did a few connecting flights), it's not hard to find local craft beer on tap. I'm currently enjoying a St Arnold Christmas Special, a quite drinkable light ale which keeps the added seasonal spices at a suitably subtle level.

Houston We Have a Problem, a Drinking Problem...

Driving around Texas just gives you an idea of the scale of this country. I can't quite get over how much space they have here. The Texans for the most part came across as very friendly and quite excitable at times. When I first landed I was greeted with a hearty "How are y'all doing!". A brief look over either shoulder confirmed it was still just me stood there and I struggled to hide my confusion at the use of the somewhat plural greeting. I wonder if it comes from living in a state where it's often hard to believe it's all just one person stood before you.

A little research told me the craft beer scene here seems to be thriving and with a couple of nights to spare exploring I was looking forward to see what I could find.

The first place I checked out was the Hay Merchant in Houston. Arriving on a Tuesday night was a stroke of good luck as it was steak night and being Texas it frankly seemed rude not to. The thick slab of perfectly cooked steak came with a caramelised fish sauce which wasn't fishy at all but just packed bags of flavour and I wolfed it down before you could say Umami.


The tap handles in this place are amazingly varied and rustic


A quick glance down the beer menu, consisting of around 50 taps, it was staggering just how many draft beers were on offer and just how strong most of the beer on offer was. The weakest thing on the menu being 4.8% and with the average closer to 7% and I knew I'd need the steak just to soak up the booze. It's clear that the local taste for beer is heavily in favour of the strong hoppy styles. I sampled the Karbach Hopadillo and the St Arnold Art Car both hop-a-licious IPAs as the menu promised and at $5 a pint it was a welcome relief from some of the expensive beers I've had recently in other countries.

One Horse Town

Following the conclusion of a 2 day conference in Houston, myself and a work colleague headed over to Beaumont to visit an industrial site. After sitting through a safety induction (which seemed to focus mainly on handing in your guns before entering and not feeding the crocodiles whilst walking around the site) I knew I was in for another cultural experience. 

On the evening we asked the hotel to call us a cab and they handed us the card of the only taxi they knew of (everybody drives themselves everywhere here it seems). The business card stated "Just Call Wayne" and 15 minutes after following these instructions our carriage arrived. After getting in the cab I asked the Stetson wearing driver if he was Wayne. With a look of confusion he replied "No, I'm John, Wayne does the day shifts". I had to resist the temptation to suggest that he should therefore rename the taxi company "Just call John / Wayne".

Driving through Beaumont it seemed a sleepy industrial town and apparently has a population of 118,000 although quite what they all do on a night is beyond me. We headed to a place called Suga's (Imagine saying "Sugar's" in the style "Bubba's") which came highly recommended as the most happening place in town. As the two of us walked in and the patronage of the establishment doubled I couldn't help but wonder if they ever managed to fill the place which had easily enough seating for 200. In terms of local craft the barman offered up a bottle each of St. Arnold Elissa IPA (a more malty, East Coast version of the Art Car I'd had the night before), a St Arnold Amarillo Hefewiezen (which fruity hoppy character slightly distorted the style but made it far more to my liking) and a Shiner Bock which was fairly light bodied and bland for a Bock in my view but was a pleasant final bottle of the evening. 



At one point I commented to the barman that none of the beers were labelled with the alcoholic content and that in the UK that would be illegal, to which he just smiled and said "Welcome to Texas!" At the end of the meal (some fantastic deep south style seafood) the barman called a taxi for us. When John / Wayne showed up to give us a ride I really got the impression that Beaumont is just a one horse town.

A Wonder I Found the Place

On my last day in Texas I headed over to 8th Wonder Brewery with the promise of a tasting room and a brewery tour. This place is a little off the grid (a popular system of road layout in the US) and the taxi driver asked to use the satnav on my phone in order to navigate to the address. After a few minutes of driving through a rough looking industrial estate with some fantastic street art I finally reached my destination. It took most of my will power to not respond to the driver's request for a tip with a retort along the lines that he should have in fact tipped me for my navigational services. But smiling amiably I gave him a dollar for the trouble (it was only a $5 ride) knowing full well I might be jumping straight back in if the place ended up being closed.

Fortunately the place was not only open but heaving and as I walked into this converted industrial unit with it's innovative use of beer kegs for structural supports, cable drums for tables and butchered shipping containers for outdoor shelters I couldn't help but be impressed. It's a fantastic testament to the allure of this place that so many people had made the effort to venture to the area, so bereft of anything else worth seeing other than the graffiti.


8th Wonder's Outdoor area "Wonderworld"

The bar at 8th Wonder was serving a selection of beers brewed on the premises and, like many such establishment, were operating a beer token system to speed up service at the bar. Thankfully this helped the three capable bar staff easily deal with the crowd. Unfortunately the one solitary soul operating the beer token counter was not managing quite so well under the sheer demand for the branded bottle caps which passed for hard currency in this place. Fortunately for me I'm British and queuing without complaining for lengthy durations is undoubtedly in my genes and the roaring atmosphere and friendly fellow endurers of the line made the time pass far smoother.

I grabbed a Hopton IPA which smelt and tasted incredible with the cascade dry-hop it boasted certainly packing a citrusy punch. I also sampled the Alternate Universe, a German Alt Beer which was well balanced and definitely malt foot forward, and the Mission Control, a Brown Porter which packed a hit of coffee and toffee notes in. All in all the three beers were excellent and for $15 including the branded glass and with a food van serving pulled pork sandwiches out back I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and it more than made up for the disappointment of not getting to see the brewery itself.

Taco's Saved My Life

As I left the brewery I took in some more graffiti. I do believe that some good street art in the right places can help to brighten up the place. As the inevitable march to all live in concrete jungles continues it's important that the environment in which we live is attractive. 


"Anyone that knows me well will know how I can relate to any graffiti artist stating that tacos saved his life"

So Long and Thanks For All The Fish Tacos

So it's time to leave Texas now and disappointingly I've got to fly back to the UK via Saudi Arabia so any hopes of bringing some of these great beers back with me have been dashed. Thanks as ever for reading on, please comment post and share away and stay tuned as next I'll be talking about the other places I checked out on the trip including New York, Pittsburgh and Denver!