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New Year’s Meta Post

This is going to be a looooong update which includes everything from our recent trip to New York City to my four hour stint at the Toronado last night.

12/20/98 – City Steam Brewing Company –  Hartford, CT

One of the goals that I had when going to back to Connecticut to visit relatives was to evaluate all of the local brew pubs in the Hartford area. So, the night after we arrived in Connecticut, we decided to meet up with Janet’s family for dinner. Janet, my mother and I decided to kill two birds with one stone and go to a brewpub.

My first choice, based on the reviews in Celebrator Beer News was to go to to Hartford Brewing Company, but they were closed… because everything seems to close in Hartford on the weekends. Anyway, I digress. So, we decided to go to City Steam Brewing on Pearl Street.

I was hoping that City Steam was trying to emulate San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company’s Steam Beer. However that was not the reason that it was called City Steam. You see, Hartford is one of the last major cities that has a steam works. That is, most offices and many apartments in houses in Hartford are heated via steam pumped in from the Hartford Steam Works. City Steam was designed to use a direct feed in from the Steam Works, creating a brewing system that is unlike any other brewery in the world.

The beers were not outstanding, and the food was uninteresting. The highlight of the place was that they actually decided to brew a Roggen, or rye beer. It was the best domestic rye that I have had, significantly better than the Red Hook Unfiltered Rye that I get in Safeway for making chili. The beer was dark and strong with a hint of caraway seeds, making it similar to the Thurn und Taxis Roggen, one of my favorite beers.

Every other beer was lackluster. The Amber was unbalanced and the Belgian-Style Tripel was spiked with juniper berries making it interesting… yet thoroughly undrinkable. The stout was nice, but the cinnamon taste was distracting. City Steam ranked a low 3 (out of three) breweries in the Hartford area.

12/21/98 – Trout Brook Brewing Company –  Hartford, CT

Monday evening, the three of us (my mother, Janet and I) all decided to go out to Lena’s Pizza (which has the best double-stuffed pizza in the world) for a final meal in the Connecticut. When we got there, I noticed that they had the Elm Street Brewing Company’s Amber Ale available on tap. So, I ordered one up… just to find that they no longer stocked Elm City. Instead, they had the locally brewed Trout Brook Brewing Company’s Hooker Ale.

Now, before any of you start thinking dirty thoughts about this… Thomas Hooker was the founder of the State of Connecticut. Hartford has a Hooker’s Day Parade, we all sang songs about Hooker in school, and it’s no surprise that they named their first beer after Tom Hooker.

The Hooker Ale was a very nice beer, reminiscent of a standard hoppy Pacific Northwest style Amber Ale. It was so good that we decided to head over to the brewpub for a quick drink. Unfortunately, the brewpub was extremely crowded with stogie-smoking bags of manly testosterone and we couldn’t get the bartender’s attention… not that I have problems with cigar smokers (as I am a cigar smoker myself)… but there was absolutely no ventilation, making even my eyes water. I grabbed a souvenir pint glass and we went to our next port of call.

Still, smoke be damned, the beer definitely ranks a strong #2, and I would drink it if it was available in California.

12/21/98 – Hartford Brewing Company –  Hartford, CT

After leaving Trout Brook, we all decided to go to Hartford Brewing. At first, we thought about not going at all, because we were a little tired… but we were happy that we decided to stop in for a pint!

Hartford Brewing is a small dark bar complete with a British brewing system (taken directly from a brewery in the United Kingdom) which focuses on British Beers. When we walked in, the bartender (who was also an assistant brewer) greeted us and set us up with our first order. Janet had their ESB and I grabbed their Pale Ale. Both beers were exceptional, even if Janet found her ESB a little dark for her normal taste. Before the night was done, I would also try their strong ale and a beer called “Bacchus.” Then to top everything off, the bartender drew some extremely potent Imperial Stout of the fermenter to me to sample. Aah Heaven.

Hartford Brewing Company not only served its own beer, but they also had a tap dedicated to the Lindeman’s Framboise, the only non HBC beer available there. Add a selection of hard liquor and you have my third favorite brewpub ever (after Goose Island in Chicago and Magnolia in San Francisco).

Before coming to Hartford Brewing Company, I thought the best beers that I would have in Connecticut were the bottles of  Speakeasy Untouchable that Forest (the president of Speakeasy Brewery) gave us for our long trip to the East Coast. I was happy to be proved wrong. Hartford Brewing is listed in Avery’s ranking as not only as the best beer in Hartford, but one of the best overall breweries (which includes: Spaten, Lagunitas and Speakeasy) that I have had the pleasure of sampling.

12/22/98 – Abbey Pub –  New York City

Tuesday night, about 5 hours after making it to New York City, we decided to head up to the Upper West Side to grab a beer and hopefully meet up with Catherine Skidmore, a fellow RENT (the musical) fanatic.

Well, we never met up with Catherine, but we still spent an enjoyable couple of hours at this little local pub.

The Abbey has a few beers on tap, including Murphy’s Stout. In addition, they also have a number of Belgian beers available in the bottle, including both Duvel and Lindeman’s Framboise… which is unheard of at a small local bar in San Francisco. however, it was practically the perfect neighborhood bar. Heck, we were probably the only non locals in the joint… I hope they didn’t mind our intrusion.

The worst thing about drinking in New York City is that they have a tax on drinks served at a bar. This makes a pint of beer cost around $5.00, where it would cost only $3.25 in San Francisco. Sigh… I guess everything can’t be better in New York, can it?

12/23/98 – d.b.a. –  New York City

Dave Keene, the owner of the Toronado told us that if we only visited two beer bars in New York City, that we should go to d.b.a. and Brewsky’s/Burp Castle. So, when RENT ended at 10:45 pm, we made our snowy trek out to 1st Ave and 2and Street (not 2and Ave and First Street like the cabbie took us to, leaving us to walk the remaining two blocks) to check out d.b.a.

If the Toronado sold hard liquor in addition to beer, the result would be d.b.a. They had a tremendous selection of hard liquor (including Anchor’s Old Potrero and Junipero), fifteen taps, three handpumps and about sixty different bottled beers… and not a Corona or a Budweiser could be found.

Janet and I spent around three hours here, and I started off by drinking a nice 1996 Cantillion Brouscella Lambic (which is unavailable at the Toronado) and a Thurn und Taxis Roggen. Janet had a Guinness. Then we asked the bartender to bring out a Cantillion Kriek (sour cherry lambic).

They brought out a perfectly stored kriek that was probably 5 years old. It was absolutely fantastic. When we left, we promised to each other that when we return to New York we will go back to d.b.a.

12/25/98 – Brewsky’s – New York City

Christmas night, we decided to go out for a post-dinner beer. Since we had not been to Brewsky’s yet, we decided that it would be best to give them a try instead of going to d.b.a. again. The cab dropped us off at the corner of 7th Street and 2and Ave. We then walked east towards 1st Street, as we were told that the bar was on 7th between First and Second. Unfortunately, the bar was between Second and Third, so by the time we made it into the bar, we were ready for that beer.

Brewsky’s only serves beer… no wine or hard liquor. It is connected to its sister bar: Burp Castle. When I asked the bartender what the difference was, he stated that at Burp Castle, they waiters wore monk’s robes and served every Belgian beer in the appropriate piece of glassware… but you couldn’t get the draught beers.

Brewsky’s had about 100 different bottled beers… with the focus on moderately priced Belgian beers, and seven or eight taps. Janet had the Brooklyn Brewing Company’s Chocolate Stout, and I had the Ipswich Christmas Ale. Also found here was the Anchor Christmas Ale, yet I declined to have another pint of it, as I was completely unimpressed with that beer in San Francisco where it is brewed. I then had another Thurn und Taxis Roggen, and less than an hour later we were on our way home.

Would I go back to Brewsky’s? Possibly, but I certainly preferred d.b.a. But still, Brewsky’s has a nice neighborhood feel that makes it attractive. But like most bars in New York City, they really need to increase their ventilation… because it was so smoky, it even kept me from lighting up a Nat Sherman cigarette.

12/26/98 – Steak and Ale House-  New York City’s JFK Airport, Terminal 4W

Since we were stuck at the airport for four hours due to Tower Air’s little screw up, we searched out a bar in which to drown our sorrows. We ended up at the Steak and Ale House because Janet saw a sign for New Amsterdam beers by the stairs to the restaurant.

New Amsterdam Brewing is a wholly owned subsidiary of FX Matt Brewing, the people who brought you Saranac and Brooklyn Brewery. The only New Amsterdam beer that they had was the Amber, but it was good enough for us to stay for two pints each, then leave for a snack and then return for another beer before leaving for the gate.

The Amber was a fantastic, extremely drinkable beer. Though it isn’t a microbrewed beer, it certainly a craft beer, brewed with care… and when I find it in San Francisco, I would certainly pick up a six pack.

12/30/98 – Toronado –  San Francisco

Since Ian was working Wednesday night, we decided to make our first trip back to the Toronado on his shift. Our plan was to go out to Hahn’s Hibachi for some Korean BBQ and then head over to the Toronado at 9pm. However, we finished dinner early, so we decided to head over at 8pm. Johnny was filling in for Kirsten (who was on vacation) and he greeted us and we ordered up our first round. Janet had a Guinness and I had a Boont Amber. We spent the first few minutes talking to Peg, the former senior pastry chef from the Ritz Carlton and jockeying for a seat at the bar. By 8:45, we replaced Peg at the best seats in the bar (seats 1 and 2 from the diagram in the 11/15/98 entry).

At 9pm, Ian arrived and Johnny left to cash out. Fifteen minutes later, so did everybody else. I’m not kidding here, within about thirty minutes about fifty yapping yuppies came in. Johnny stood up on his stool (with his International Orange-colored jeans) and asked if Ian needed any help with the crowd. Ian just said no, took out a cigarette, coolly lit it, took a puff and then turned around to take the next order. Oh yes, he was ready to deal with the yuppies tonight.

We only stayed for a few minutes… long enough for an Underberg and a Lagunator (Janet had another Guinness)… and then came home for a long night’s sleep.

12/31/98 – Toronado –  San Francisco

Work ended early for me on New Year’s Eve, so I headed out to Rosamunde for a late lunch and then to the Toronado for a beer. When I walked in, Robert was on shift.

Robert, as you might remember, is one of our favorite bartenders. We actually went to the Toronado five days in a row back on Thanksgiving just because he was the bartender on shift for most of those days. Anyway, I walked in and immediately ordered up a Moonlight Toast. The Toast was a great, lightly smoky yet mildly hopped beer… and was consumed slowly so I could enjoy it… as there was only this keg left, and when it is finished, it will probably be another year before it is back at the Toronado.

While I was working on the Toast, Ted, a regular at the Toronado who was on break from his job in the Fire Department, showed up. Ted ordered up a Liberty Ale and said that he would only be there for a quick beer before heading out. Within a few minutes, Jet from Rock and Roll San Francisco showed up, and Ted ordered up a Chimay… because locals should never drink alone. I followed suit and ordered up an Aventinus.

Before Janet arrived at 5:30, I engaged in lively conversation, made contact with a beer distributor who is going to help me build a keg dispenser at my house, and finish off a pint of Boont Amber, a Prohibition Ale and an Underberg.

Right after I started the Prohibition Ale,  Robert left and Pauly came on shift. It’s been months since I had been to the bar when Pauly was on shift, so it was a treat to catch up with him again. Pauly told me that Yancy’s Bar, a local bar in the Inner Sunset, was closed by the Alcohol Beverage Control Board for serving a minor. The penalty was a 25 day closure over Christmas and New Years, essentially robbing them of about $100,000 worth of revenue and taking the Christmas salary out of the hands of the bartenders and waitresses. Needless to say, Pauly was being overly diligent, even carding regulars that afternoon.

At 5pm, I started up on a Big Ass Ho. That is to say that I ordered an 800ml glass (approx 2 pints) of Hoegaarden White. Janet got there about 200ml into the beer, so I asked Pauly for another glass and we split the remaining pint and a half before heading to a Thai  restaurant for dinner.

Whew. What a couple of weeks!

Posted in The Barfly Chronicles.

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