Seems like every bar these days is decked out to appear as though you stepped into a 19th century saloon. With their moustaches, suspenders and bespoke tweeds, even the bartenders get into the act. Drinks seem to take 20 minutes to make, given that the juices are freshly pressed and mint muddled to order. All ice cubes possess precise 90 degree angles. And this is no doubt fun. But sometimes, you just want beer, a simple bourbon or a vodka-soda-lime. And you want it fast and without pretense in a place that is fully comfortable in its skin. For those times, pretty much the only place that will do is the Brooklyn Inn.The Brooklyn Inn doesn’t need to masquerade as a saloon from the turn of the century… because it actually is! The only thing imported in this place is the gargantuan carved wooden bar, but that was brought over from Germany in the 1870’s. With it’s super-high tin ceilings, stained glass windows, creaky floors and mahogany wood carvings, having a pint at the Inn feels like quasi-religious experience. But I’m fairly certain you won’t find the kick-ass juke box and pool table at church the way you will at the Inn. We also love that the bartenders aren’t afraid to offer up a buy-back if you’re a few rounds in, so be sure to tip well and remember it’s cash only. Cash only, but bullshit free.
In my humble opinion, what this winter has lacked in snowfall it has made up for in bleakness. Unrelenting freezing cold temperatures have gone hand in hand with these insane monkey viruses that everyone has been passing around like playing cards, and at this point in February I just thank God for whiskey. And this particular season, what I’m really loving is the rye from Rittenhouse. Rye! Yarrrrr. What the hell is rye, anyway?The story goes that before Prohibition, rye whiskey was the most popular spirit consumed in the whole US of A. Good, hardworking Americans drank it straight and in cocktails by the droves, presumably while dancing to the Michigan Rag. It was even used as a salve to help teething babies! To be a baby in 1918 must have been something, friends. But sometime after that ridiculously dry 18th Amendment was repealed, it was unfairly stigmatized as the preeminent choice of your neighborhood’s red-nosed morning drunkard. Many decades later, a broad base of whiskey lovers rediscovered it and now happily there are dozens of stellar ryes to choose from at your local package shop. A final Cliff Clavin fact: rye whiskey is only designated as such when 51 percent of the headline grain is in fact actual rye (much as a bourbon whiskey must be 51 percent corn.) In layman’s terms, I think what makes rye different is that it’s less sweet and more spicy. It has some of the feisty attitude you find in scotch, but without the peat and smoke.And it’s been hard work, obviously, but I’ve spent many evenings trying different ryes. The Rittenhouse wins for me because it has all of the excellent characteristic rye flavors like pepper, cinnamon, and ginger but it also has a very pleasant orangey undertone to it. And it has a complex aroma: sort of like fresh leather, old wood, and perhaps an angry Viking. It makes a fantastic Manhattan, but I think it goes brilliantly over a few cubes as well. Best of all, at around $24 a bottle it’s a serious bargain, given most retail above $35. So next time, make it a Rittenhouse on the rocks! Bottoms up from your pals at On the Real.
Not too long ago, we took an intro class in making homebrew at Bitter & Esters. It was fun and informative! Plus, drinking. We decided to take it to the next level, so this past Saturday afternoon was spent actually making beer with guidance from Bitter & Esters co-owner and brew guru, Doug Amport. That’s Doug, below. He knows his stuff.After some debate, we decided to try for an Oktoberfest-style lager. Right off the bat, I learned two things worth sharing here: first, calling it an “Oktoberfest” beer is a marketing gimmick. This coppery and delicious beverage is correctly called a “märzen,” which has its origins back in good ole 16th century Bavaria. The term “märzen” (or March, in German) is a remnant from a time when the village brewers last beers were made in March and then stored until late summer or fall. That’s why they are March beers, or Märzenbier, if you want to be a pain in the ass.Regardless, the whole “Oktoberfest beer” concept is a recent development, and so named as the release of the beer coincides with the famous autumn beerfest in Munich. Interesting AND thirst-quenching. Second factoid: the word lager is not just a noun, but a verb. The root word “lagern” is German in origin (notice a trend?) which means to store. “To lager,” or lagering, is essentially cold storage and fermenting of beer over a longer time period: usually 4-6 weeks. So although we made beer on Saturday, it’s chillin’ in a cold storage carboy until December 27th. Next up: bottling party!