Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Tuesday, Jun 22 2010 

Several years ago, while I was studying abroad, my college boyfriend came to visit.  As an early 21st-birthday present, I took him to Dublin for a long weekend, where we celebrated by going, where else, the Jameson Distillery.  First of all, if you’ve never been (to Ireland, Dublin, and/or the Jameson Distillery), I highly recommend it (Ireland, Dublin, and the Distillery).  The tour ends with a whiskey tasting involving all the usual suspects: Jameson, Jack, and Johnny.  The idea, of course, is to prove to you how smooth and delicious Jameson is, as compared to the rather harsh bite of the other two, er, gentlemen.  Not that I’ve ever been a particularly hard sell in that department.

Irish whiskey is, was, and maybe always will be my shot of choice, especially when pitted against scotch and bourbon.  I just can’t get passed the burn of even the longer-aged bourbons, and the only scotch worth drinking is prohibitively expensive compared to my favorite whiskey.  But I never like to judge too quickly, especially when it comes to something that could be delicious if given a chance.  Thus, the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ festival in National Harbor this weekend.  The festival boasted 60 beers to sample, 40 bourbons to try, and a bacon-tasting station.

Now, just to recap, I do not like the following:

1) Bourbon

2) Bacon

Which left beer.  And pulled pork.  And hushpuppies.  And more beer.  And water, given that it was 93 broiling, sunny degrees, and, despite mopping sweat from my forehead for five hours, I got not one single shade tanner.  The injustice of it all.

Anyway.  I’d like to report that I gave bourbon a fair go and despite my best attempts to choke down more than the eensiest, tiniest little sip of a taste, I still hate it.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know why, beyond the fact that it freaking hurts more than I can explain, and if I wanted something to burn like that wouldn’t it be easy to just chug some shitty tequila?  I even tried the 18-year-aged stuff and, to be honest, I don’t think it even tastes any different from the not-aged-at-all crap.  I can taste the years in scotch, but definintely not in bourbon.

I did have some fan-freaking-tastic beer, pulled pork, and hot sauce though.  Also, whoever convinced me that I don’t like barbeque sauce is an idiot, because that shit is tasty if it’s done right.  We tasted one that I was fully planning on purchasing before our departure, but in our near heat-stroke state of mind, all we could focus on was returning to the air-conditioned car and taking a nice long nap.  I’m regretting it now though, and seriously considering ordering myself a little stock of it from their online store.  A few considerations must be made for the fact that I rarely cook anything on which barbeque sauce would traditionally be eaten, however, and I fear that if I learn to cook things like pulled pork and ribs for myself, it will be literally all I want to eat during grilling season.

Boyfriend also raved about the bacon, which I confess I didn’t even try.  Honestly, I’m not a fan of anything smokey – if you describe food to me as having any kind of smokey character, it immediately turns me off.  And don’t even get me started on the rauchbeir thing.  I can’t even stand how that smells.

All in all, neuroses aside, it was a pretty great day.  We ate ourselves silly and washed it all down with some great beer.  Boyfriend purchased an obscenely large bag of beef jerky and ate half of it on the 45-minute drive back to Baltimore, which meant I woke up from my sun-induced nap to the overpowering smell of dried meat and a Boyfriend who was maybe rethinking the amount of jerky he’d just ingested.  Because like everything else in life, you can often have just a little too much of a very good thing.

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Harpoon Brewery, or How to be a Bad Girlfriend Thursday, Apr 1 2010 

How to be a Bad Girlfriend, Lesson Number One:

Last weekend, three days after I returned from San Fran, I opted to drive the five hours up to Boston to visit Boyfriend.  Naturally, I chose to leave right from work on Friday afternoon, which put me on the Jersey Turnpike at approximately 5:15pm.  Which is, coincidentally, the exact moment I began questioning this little plan.  Did I mention that I also made the decision to not change out of my work clothes? Yeahhhhh…

Anyway, several hours and half a book on tape (yup – you read that right) later, I pulled up to his apartment still in high heels and a dress.  Because of course I did.  In fairness, he only judged me this much, but I think that if he’d known then how Sunday afternoon would play out, he may have been a much harsher critic.

Here’s how it went down:

Boyfriend works.  A lot.  As in, I lose track of the multitude of jobs he holds down because he does so many different ones.  When I come up to visit, he generally tries to work as little as possible while I’m there, which is sweet.  Unfortunately, taking 2-3 days off from his approximately 2.5 million jobs is not exactly easy, and he usually has to work at least once while I’m there.  This is fine with me for a couple reasons: 1) the shifts he keeps are usually so early in the morning (5am. True story) that I sleep right through the entire experience and before I know it, he’s back in bed, and 2) the ones that aren’t freakishly early in the morning afford me a little free time to hang out with my Boston friends.  Not that I avoid doing this with Boyfriend, it’s just that having friends up there makes it easier to entertain myself when he’s not around.

This little visit was no different.  Boyfriend knew in advance that he was going to be operating the scoreboard at Northeastern’s baseball game on Sunday afternoon well in advance, and I immediately told my sorority “Little Sister” that she’d be responsible for entertaining me while he was otherwise engaged, since I strongly believe that baseball is the most boring sport on the planet.

Now here’s where it gets dicey for me and I become a shitty girlfriend.  Little suggested a brewery tour – more specifically, since we’ve both already been to Sam Adams, the Harpoon Brewery tour – and I couldn’t say no.  Of course, this resulted in the following conversation with Boyfriend/his boss when I dropped him off at work.

Boss: Are you staying to watch the game, Katie?

Me: Um, no…

Boyfriend: No, she’s going to the Harpoon Brewery.  With her friends.  Without me.  Even though I haven’t been there yet.

…Awkward.

So despite my new place in the doghouse, Little and I had a fantastic time at the Brewery.  The tour was, bar none, the best brewery tour I’ve ever been on.  And I’ve done my fair share of brewery touring.  Five dollars bought us a half-hour tour with two hilarious, knowledgeable guides and an hour-long “tasting” at the end.  And by tasting, I mean that they led us to their bar, stocked with 12 taps of Harpoon beer, filled our souvenir four-ounce tasting cups with their original ale, and proceeded to let us drink as much of whatever we wanted for the next hour or so.  Um, hello? Can you think of anything else you’d like from a brewery tour? Because I can’t.  Not one thing.

I also have to make the confession that I wasn’t Harpoon’s biggest fan before this tour.  Having only had their IPA (and, as a rule, hating IPA’s), I wasn’t compelled to really try anything else.  That, my friends, is called foolish – their beer is delicious and extremely well-made, especially the Oyster Stout, Munich Dark, and Cider.  By the end of the afternoon, I was effectively eating drinking my words.  Just consider me a Harpoon convert.

And as for my place in the doghouse?  Well, I think I made a little gain in that department when I brought Boyfriend home a growler of Harpoon’s newest beer: the Belgian Pale Ale.  I mean, he finished it in under two days.  So I’m 97% sure he enjoyed it.

Brooklyn Brewery Sunday, Nov 29 2009 

If you live outside of the tri-state area, there’s a good chance you aren’t terribly familiar with Brooklyn beers.  And until yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t their biggest fan.

Most liquor stores in the area stock the Brooklyn Lager, and ocassionally their Local One and Local Two brews.  But finding anything beyond that is kind of rare (unless, I imagine, you live in Brooklyn) – which is a real shame, considering I really enjoyed the Brown Ale and Back Breaker I tried yesterday when Boyfriend and I decided to visit the brewery on a whim.

Like Riverhorse, Brooklyn gives free tours.  Unlike Riverhorse, they are not self-guided, and they only happen on Saturdays.  And, to be fair, it’s not really so much a tour, since you’re really just listening to the brewery’s history while standing in one room of their factory.  Still, it was interesting, and totally worth the trip across the river.  Especially since the place is pretty much a regular bar with only one brand of beer on tap – they sell beer tokens (6 for $20 – a bargain for NYC) and playing cards, and there are large circular tables throughout the room to use for drinking games and eating the pizza local restaurants will deliver to the brewery.  Seriously – if I lived closer to the City, I’d be there pretty frequently.

And while the Locals may not be quite my style, it’s fun to have a new kind of beer to look for – because you can bet that if and when I find that Back Breaker, I’ll be buying at least a 6-pack.

My Favorite Winter Beer Monday, Nov 23 2009 

As I mentioned yesterday, my beer tastes have been progressed right on through the fall, despite it only being November.  Which means that instead of looking for everything pumpkin, I’ve moved on to looking for everything Christmas – those limited edition, molasses-thick beers that warm you from the inside out.  The kind that are deep and rich, dark and full of malty goodness.

Boyfriend and I discovered our favorite such beer last year, at our first beer tasting festival in Philly.  Of all the Belgian beers on hand, it was the N’Ice Chouffe that won us over from the first sip.  We spent months looking for it, only to discover a week ago that it’s a seasonal beer, and is produced only once a year at a monastary in Belgium.  Well I’ll be damned.  No wonder no liquor stores were carrying it when we found it in February.

But they are carrying it now, and it’s still as fantastic as I remember.  So fantastic, in fact, that I’ve bought three bottles in one week.  Don’t be so quick to judge – I’ve only finished one so far…

WE ARE…PENN STATE Wednesday, Nov 18 2009 

I’m not sure what kind of college experience you people had, but I went to a Southern school with a mediocre football team.  No one goes to the University of Richmond to play football:

1 – It is a school of 3,000 students.  3,000.  That’s the kind of school where the bad life decisions you made on Friday night follow you to class on Monday morning every. single. time.

2 – The football stadium isn’t on campus.  It requires a carride through a very residential neighborhood and a very narrow, crowded street full of shops.  It requires sobriety from at least one member of your party.  And all of that means that it’s a lot of extra work to ask of college students on a Saturday morning.

3 – We’re a D-1 school.  D-1….A.  Which means that yes, we can give scholarships, but no, we decidedly cannot compete with any of the teams in the Big Ten (well, maybe Indiana).


Of course, the year after I graduated, against all odds, they won the national championship and decided to build a brand spanking new football stadium right on campus.  Oh, and one of our alums made quite a name for himself playing for a little organization called the NFL.

 

But prior to all of those changes and improvements, my fellow Spiders and I went to football games primarily to tailgate.  And also, we wore sundresses, heels and pearls.  And there was no beer – it was all varieties of fraternity-made jungle juice.  So really, we had little to no interest in the game, and many of us only made it into the stadium around 45% of the time.  It’s pathetic, I know.

 

 

 

So I had my heart set on going to see a big college football game.  I wanted thousands of people roaring in support of their team.  I wanted a sea of monochromatic sweatshirts.  I wanted cheap beer, campers that had traveled across the country full of devout fans, and I wanted some great football.  And after a year of trying, Boyfriend and I finally got there.  “There” being, of course, Beaver Stadium: Home of the Nittany Lions. The Lions are a Big Ten dynasty to be reckoned with.  They routinely make an appearance in the BCS standings, and their following is such that fans travel to Michigan, ‘Bama, and beyond to watch their team compete for a bowl invite.

 

The couple seated behind us, for example, (in the impossibly cramped bleacher seats designed to house the 107,00+ fans that trek to State College every Saturday) were Penn State alums.  They’d been at every home game for 40 years, and they knew the first and last name of every student on that field.  They chanted with gusto, and their hearts broke in unison with the rest of the stadium when their team fumbled not one, but two kickoff returns.  And when the game turned around, and the defense returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter, the husband high-fived Boyfriend, kissed his wife, and chanted right along with the students.  This is a couple who has followed their aluma mater through wins, losses, and championships for forty years.  I can’t even tell you who Richmond played last weekend.

I don’t think you can compete with that.  The love I have for my school is a strong one, and Richmond has a wonderful almuni base, but this love, this devotion, to what happens on the field every weekend is what unites the enormous community of Penn State alums.  This is not a school where you took a class with every person you graduated with, nor is it the kind of college where you see the same faces day in and day out.  Rather, this is the kind of college where, when you look around the stadium on gameday, you see the people who shared the shame rituals as you did: the chants, the Blue Band, even the Lion, haven’t changed in decades.  There might be new faces in the senior section every year, and the starting quarterback might be different, but the tradition is the same.  And the tradition (as well as a winning record) is what makes this team, this place, and these people so special.

 

So I guess in the end, I have to thank Boyfriend.  He not only facilitated this whole event, my desire to attend this specific event in the first place was thanks largely in part to the fervor he feels for this team.  And now, having been there to see it for myself, I can clearly understand why.

Salem, Mass. Monday, Oct 19 2009 

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Say what you want about the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore – the real characters are found in Salem, Massachusetts.  This is the town that embraces all things bewitching year round (at least, they have since the Puritans left), but especially comes alive during Halloween.  Nowhere else in the world, I imagine, would you see – in broad daylight, no less – a witch (cloak, hat, heels and all) walking through a graveyard.  It’s spooky and quirky in the best possible way.

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It’s also only about a half hour outside of Boston, and when I told Boyfriend that I wanted to do something “Halloween-y” (English major be damned, I make up words sometimes, too) during my visit this weekend, he didn’t have to do much research to find the ideal venue.

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And not to toot his lovable little horn too too much, but it was pretty much perfect.  The weather, which dropped a wintry mix all over New England the following day (when I was trying to board a plane and Tom Brady was trying to single-handedly crush the spirits of the entire Tennessee Titans franchise) even cooperated fully.  It was sunny and crisp outside, cool enough for the gloves that happened to be stuffed, forgotten, in my pea coat from last year, but mild enough for an afternoon of walking through this quaint, eccentric little town.  We sipped cups of hot apple cider (75 cents from a beautiful store called Pamplemousse) and marveled at the full face paint and costumes worn by some of our fellow explorers.  We also took an hour-long narrated trolley tour  around the city, learning about the history of one of the oldest towns in America and giggling like children at the tiny voodoo dolls and foam gravestones dangling from the trolley car’s ceiling.

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We ate lunch at a bar that proclaims to be haunted, and is part of the afterdark, ghost-story-ridden Salem pub crawl (unfortunately, this event sells out in the summer months, so we weren’t able to participate), and stopped later in the afternoon for beers at the Salem Beer Works, where we sampled everything from their Black Rider brew to their much lighter (and full of tiny fresh blueberries!) Blueberry beer.

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Hours after we arrived, we ambled back to the train station and crammed ourselves into a car full of other Salem tourists, our cheeks pink and windblown, peeled off our gloves and hats, and promptly fell asleep, wholly content with our tour, our day, and each other.

Breakfast of Champions Tuesday, Aug 25 2009 

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Saturday, Boyfriend’s actual 24th birthday and One Day After Party, was a lazy kind of day.  In terms of the excitement factor, all the craziness had happened the night before.  Saturday was just the two of us, all day, on our own schedule – and man, did we need it.  We started with a breakfast that involved opening a birthday-present bottle of Jameson, and ended on the couch, dozing in and out of consciousness, full of good food and good beer, with Boyfriend’s Red Sox definitively beating the Yankees.

 

In between, we went to the Riverhorse Brewery in Lambertville, NJ, which neither of us had ever visited.  Arguably, I’ve never even tried their beer, and Boyfriend had never been to any brewery (I cannot believe I overlooked this, by the way, considering how much he loves beer).  Regardless, it was a tiny little self-guided tour, which honestly felt a lot more legit than the kitchy touristy feel of the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.  And oh my god, the smell of hops and barley.  I have never in my life smelled anything like that – a yeasty, soft, doughy smell that hung in the fermentation room like a thick blanket and overpowered all your other senses.  Seriously.  It was crazy.

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And after wandering through the bottling room, where one of the Brewery’s six (only six!) employees gave Boyfriend an unmarked 6-pack of Riverhorse Lager, we stood at their bar and tried a sample of the four beers they had on tap that day…for a dollar.  One dollar for four small beers.  Four small good beers, after a free tour.  It’s really a good deal, especially when you consider the very, very cute hippo logo that adorns everything in their gift shop of a bar. 

 

But back to breakfast.  Because Boyfriend had some very specific food requests on his birthday, and request #1 was an omelet.  Unfortunately, we had nothing but potatoes, cheese, and onions to put in the eggs, and I was not making him a shitty omelet on his birthday for heavenssakes.  So I made him homefries.  Sort of.  And eggs with cheese, and rye toast.  And of course the Irish coffee.  I’ll give you one guess as to which part of breakfast was his favorite. 

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Homefries

(Serves 2)

1 potato, chopped to a medium dice

1/2 large white onion, diced

1 tbsp finely diced garlic

2 – 3 tbsp olive oil

Salt and pepper

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with foil.  Spread potatoes evenly across baking sheet, and toss with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Bake for 15 minutes.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 1 – 2 tablespoons of oil.  Add onion and garlic and saute until translucent.  Add potatoes and saute until potatoes are soft and evenly brown. 

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Philly to the Face Friday, Aug 14 2009 

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As much as I yammer on and on about my love of red wine, I’m really a beer girl.  Beer snob, I guess, would be the more precise way of putting it, because I have very strong beliefs about not drinking beer that tastes like water.  You should see Boyfriend and I picking out a 6-pack at a liquor store.  It takes us no less than 30 minutes every time, and this is after we’ve already hashed out what kind of beer we’re in the mood for during the car ride. Sure, I’ll drink the low-calorie, ten-bucks-for-a-whole-case junk if we’re, say, playing pong.  I’m not gonna ruin good beer by throwing a ping pong ball into it, let’s be honest.  But in general, if I’m drinking a beer, I want to enjoy it, and I don’t enjoy crappy beer.  Plain and simple.

P1030668Now, this kind of behavior annoys some people, but fortunately I don’t know any of them.  Or perhaps I’ve met them and they stopped going out with me because they know my disdain for bars with only crap beer on tap.  Either way, along with Boyfriend, I have several close friends who love to try new kinds of beer – which is how we wound up at the Philadelphia bar Eulogy last night.

If you’ve read any of my snide comments about the great state of New Jersey, you know I don’t live in Philly.  I’m actually about an hour-ish outside of Philly, and to be honest, I’m not a big fan of the city.  I have a strong bias towards The Only City That Really Matters, which you can blame entirely on my football and hockey preferences if you so choose, but is really more of a function of the fact that I do not like Pennsylvania drivers or their stupid always-delayed airport, and I hold grudges.  The point of all this being that it is an effort to get to Philly, especially on a weeknight, especially when I have to work the next morning, and especially when I do not want to drive because I’ll be drinking.  But off to Philly we went.  This bar was that big of a deal.  I mean, it has over 300 different kinds of beer.  Three hundred.

Talk about overwhelming.  I’ve been lucky enough to go to enough beer-tasting festivals (One at a zoo, even.  How random is that?) to know exactly what types of beer I do (stout, porter) and do not (emphatically not IPA’s or anything sour or bitter – why would I drink something that causes me pain like that!?) enjoy, but I don’t even know how you’d go about choosing a beverage at this place if you didn’t really know what different styles of beer taste like.  It’s even a challenge when you know exactly what you like.  And you don’t always pick winners.  I had one beer (a coffee-stout) that was unanimously voted by the table to be the equivalent of attempting to drink very strong coffee grinds (bet that sounds delicious, huh?), but mostly, I loved everything I ordered.  And we ordered a lot.  Including food, actually, because when you’re drinking beer with 10.5% ABV, you have to have something to soak up some of the booze.

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Eulogy calls itself a Belgian bar, which means they serve some kickass frites (although, to be fair, they reminded me very little of the actual frites I had in Brussels) and delicious dijon-y and spicy dipping sauces.  We (read: I) polished off quite a few of those throughout the evening.  Boyfriend and I also went halfsies on the Brugge chicken sandwich and the Three-Cheese Grilled Cheese.  Effing great, both of them.  The chicken was sooo juicy (dry chicken = pet peeve), and really, how can you go wrong with three different kinds of melty cheese on thick, golden, toasted slices of sourdough (The answer is that you cannot go wrong. Ever.).  UGH. I’m salivating at my desk.  Bring me more frites.  And beer.  Definitely bring me some more of that.

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