New York…the city that never sleeps. Also the city filled with poor cellphone reception, pretentious yuppy bars, and crappy macro imports.

I’m in town for work, and after a brief happy hour with a handful of colleagues, decided to wander down the street on my way to my hotel to see what I could see. It’s very busy in Midtown where I’m staying, in part thanks to the United Nation’s General Assembly that has been convening this week. In fact, a head of state walked by me in my hotel lobby, accompanied by an entourage including about six gun-toting security guards. I’m assuming since he’s staying at my hotel, he must be from a ridiculously poor third world country, as I could probably get better accomodations finding a refrigerator box and placing it over a steam grate near the subway station.

My first stop down 3rd Ave. after my happy hour was some tiny Irish pub, what I assumed would be a welcome reprieve compared to the other options in my immediate vicinity that included several ultra-trendy, $10 beer night kind of places…not really my style. I walked into the dimly lit bar and immediately looked to the draught selection, the true litmus test for a decent bar. What I found would have made any Irishman cry. The only thing Irish about the place was the leprechaun picture on the wall, next to the NY Mets banners posted all about the place. This was like some kind of weird sports bar trying to pass itself off as a real purveyor of decent alcohols. The only thing on tap that I’d even consider drinking was Guinness…everything else was macro BS like Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, and Stella Artois (gag me). I quickly exited.

Passing a couple other suspect drinking establishments as I walked a few more blocks south, I thought to myself “why don’t you just stop in a liquor store and get something you know is going to be decent.” My buddy the Vice Blogger recommended trying Captain Lawrence if I saw it, so I looked up and down the street for any liquor store I could find. Luckily a couple blocks down, I happened upon one on the other side of the road, and jaywalked my way across the street to give it my patronage (as an aside, is there really such a thing as jaywalking in NYC?).

I walked into the tiny shop, finding a morbidly obese gentleman sleeping behind the register. Yes, actually sleeping. Since I hate to get woken up when I’m taking a nap, especially at work, I quietly slipped by the front and went to the back of the store where I thought the beer coolers would be. But within a few seconds, I realized I was completely surrounded by nothing but wine and liquor bottles. What the hell kind of place was this that doesn’t sell beer? Just then, the fat guy came to his senses, asking if he could help me find something. 

ME: “Uh, yeah, do you guys sell beer in this place?”
FAT GUY: “No man, beer is only sold in grocery stores here in New York. You’re not from here, huh?”
ME: “No, not really.”
FAT GUY: “You ever see that movie Fargo? You sound kinda like that one guy…”

I took off again down the road, in search of any kind of grocery store I could find. I passed a shitty little delicatessen, and out of the corner of my eye saw what looked like a beer cooler in the back. Score. With a hopeful stride, I made my way in, greeted by nothing but crappy macros one after the other. My search for decent beer was becoming infuriating.

A few more blocks down the street (after nearly being killed in the crosswalk by a speeding cabby), I passed another deli, and went inside to see what they had. This one proved a little different, but not by much. The only “good” beer they had was from Brooklyn Brewery, which I understand is like the upper Midwest’s version of Leinenkugel’s (not undrinkable, but not great)*. I did enjoy Brooklyn’s East India Pale Ale recently, and saw a number of other offerings from them that looked interesting, including their Pennant Ale ’55. At that moment, my prior reading of the Vice Blog, a fantastic educational tool in alcohol culture and enjoyment, kicked in as I remembered that in NYC one is allowed to buy single bottles from a six pack. This is a fantastic innovation in alcohol purchasing that should be adopted by every state in the union. So I grabbed a couple bottles of the Pennant Ale ’55 and made my way back to the hotel.  
    
As a Minnesota Twins fan, I naturally expected this beer to smell and taste relatively shitty, just like the Yankees squad this year. On top of that, any kind of beer with an obviously gimmicky name like Pennant Ale ’55 typically just reeks of mediocrity. But, I was pleasantly surprised. It poured into a chintzy plastic hotel cup with a nicely carbonated head and fruity aroma. Tastes like a slightly sweeter version of Goose Island Honker’s Ale, an English bitter style beer that is pretty malty with strong biscuit notes. I’m not a big fan of that one, but this beer from Brooklyn is a little more enjoyable. It went down nicely as I watched an old rerun of Cops in Minneapolis. How ironic.

Rating: B-

* I ammend my comparison. Leinie’s is pure garbage (especially Honeyweiss and Berryweiss). But Brooklyn at least takes brewing to the artisan level with some of its harder to find offerings. I’d say they’re more like Sam Adams in that way.

Baggo must have been created by a secret consortium of beer manufacturers to help sell more of their product. If you’re not familiar with this popular yard game, also known in some parts of the country as Cornhole, shame on you. It’s quite possibly the most perfect mix of skill and beer enjoyment ever devised. Forget darts. Forget Golden Tee. Baggo is a game of the gods.

According to the Royal & Ancient Governing Authority of the game, I’m currently the #2 ranked Baggo player in the world. I’m not bragging. Just saying I’m pretty good. Especially after a sixer of Summit EPA’s. Which is what I was enjoying this weekend up at my buddy’s cabin in northern Minnesota. There’s just something about standing on a lake shore on a hot sunny Saturday, throwing small bean bags at a wooden board with a nice pale ale in your hand, and taunting your opponents after they’ve completely missed the board two turns in a row.

Summit is listed as one of my favorite breweries, and for good reason. For starters, they’re brewed locally in St. Paul, which means I’m more apt to get fresher samples than my beer compatriots across the Midwest. In fact, my greatest-ever Summit experience took place one day on a golf course in St. Paul…at the turn I bought a hot dog and EPA on draught. I took one sip, and the hops just exploded off the beer. I promptly threw away the uneaten dog. No sense in confusing my palate…I wanted to completely enjoy the freshest tasting beer I had have ever come across.       

Before we go any further, let me clarify one thing…I’m not trying to be a homer and tout this beer simply for the fact that it’s made a few miles down the road. It’s a very good beer, but on the scale of things, not the absolute best pale ale I’ve ever had. It is, however, a great example of quality brewing from the Upper Midwest. According to the website, they use a combination of Horizon, Fuggle and Cascade hops to give the beer its distinctive bite. It comes in at about 45 IBU’s, and from the nose alone it’s certainly the first characteristic you notice about the ale. They use 2-row Harrington and Caramel grains, and I think the nutty, slightly sweet malt profile helps balance things a bit. At 5.3% ABV, it’s a good session beer if you’re not planning on doing anything for the next 12 hours or so. Except of course defend your Baggo world ranking.

Rating: A-

Actual conversations I’ve had recently with bar servers:

Scene 1
“Hi there, what can I get for you?”
“Hmmm, what do you have on tap?”
“Oh, you know, pretty much everything you’d ever want…”
“Great, I’ll have a Sierra Nevada.”
“Oh, we don’t have fancy beers. Just Bud, Bud Light and Miller Lite.”
“I’ll have a water.”

Scene 2
“Hi there, what can I get you for happy hour?”
“What’s on special?”
“All of our domestic taps.”
“Great, how about a Fat Tire.”
“That’s not domestic.”
“It’s made in Colorado.”
“We have Bud, Bud Light, Mich Golden Lite and Labatt.”
Sigh…I’ll have the domestic import from Canada.”

Anheuser Busch plans to introduce its first Bud-branded ale this October. For some of you that enjoy craft beers, I can hear the noses turning up as I write this. I, on the other hand, am a little curious, and look forward to giving this beer a shot. Seems a little like Michelob and Miller’s recent attempts with their craft-inspired lines to appeal to a broader demographic of beer drinkers that probably wouldn’t otherwise try something like Sierra Nevada. And when I say broader demographic, I mean pretentious college kids that want to act like they’re maturing beyond Fratty Natty, but in reality aren’t yet able to truly appreciate and understand a quality brew. It’s OK, I was there once too. Back in high school, I used to think Rolling Rock was an “interesting selection” because I saw DeNiro drinking it during the bar scene in The Deer Hunter.

I’m not expecting much from Bud American Ale, and I doubt I’ll be running out to buy more than a 6 pack. It sounds like they’re dry hopping with Cascade, giving it a mouth-puckering (ha!) 28 IBUs. I guess that’s a significant step up if you’re used to drinking any of their other just-slightly-hoppier-than-regular-tap-water delights. Gotta give A-B credit for trying.

Found this interesting little segment on YouTube from one of A-B’s brewmasters describing the new beer. Also, check out this thread at Beer Advocate.