Buy This Bar A Drink… Mugs Alehouse Turns 21

Photo courtesy of Mugs Alehouse.

Photo courtesy of Mugs Alehouse.

In an era where keeping a business up and running is a challenge in the best of times, it’s hard to imagine a bar that’s old enough to buy itself a drink. Yet, today, Mugs Alehouse in northside Williamsburg is celebrating its 21st year in business.

Owner Ed Berestecki remembers those early years, having to work side jobs just to keep in business (apparently, not a lot has changed in the bar business in that regard). When the bar first opened, the neighborhood was more dodgy than hipster (neighboring Brooklyn Brewery was only eight years old at the time). The bar started with eight tap lines and now have 32, but it’s the history of bottles on the walls that are the real conversation pieces.

So, stop on by tonight and be sure to get a hit off that sixtel of of Brooklyn Brewery’s Blood Brother’s IPA 20th Anniversary Ale. It was created especially for them last year, and rumor has it the beer has aged well.

Virgin No More… The Bitch Goes to BCTC

Ommegang1For those who have never been, Ommegang’s annual “Festival about Nothing,” Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, is one of those key beer events that you really must undertake at least once in a lifetime. It’s not about the beer, which was excellent, or the Brewery, which is happily situated in the bucolic Catskill Mountains, or even the cool beer peeps you’ll meet while there, of which there were plenty.

No, going to this “Woodstock of Beer” festival is so much greater than the sum of its parts. In fact, it is the camping out under the stars in the middle of nowhere with beer and barbecue that really makes this outing a must for any beer lover. While I don’t know if BCTC is one of a kind, it certainly is unique.

As it was my first time there—not to mention my first time camping—my perspective is one of a newly deflowered virgin… and perhaps I’m basking in the glow, but here are my main takeaways from the three-day festival, which ran August 3-5.

Pick the right campmate or go it alone, and pack appropriately.

Your tent is probably the only privacy you’ll get all weekend, and while you may spend almost no time in it, you’ll be in close quarters with someone who is drinking. A lot.

And when it comes to packing, there are people who bring in couches and entire campsites, complete with cookstoves. However, you have to haul it in and out. The experienced peeps have dollies and wagons. Also, the weather is variable; last year temperatures were nearing 100 and this year it was low-50s at night. That’s really hot and really cold if you aren’t prepared. Preparation should include bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water (Ommegang had some, but finding it wasn’t easy and plumbing was nonexistent).

OmmegangKegsPace yourself.

The real beer scene is not in the brewery or at the revered tasting. The real beer scene is at the individual brew tents. Many breweries are in attendance, and they all have beer (I visited Empire, Sixpoint, Brooklyn Brewery, and Slyfox, among others). You can (and probably will) start drinking Saturday morning at dawn and could still be drinking until early morning on Sunday. That’s when the festival is at its best.

You also want to time your shower (everyone said to get in line early, which wasn’t bad, but I had my best shower around 3 p.m. on Saturday when no one was in line and water pressure was consistent). And speaking of water… for some reason this year (as opposed to 2012, apparently), there were almost no sink stations. The portapotty situation by 1 AM Sunday made me think the R-train is one of the cleanest places on Earth. I could have bartered my hand sanitizer for Westvleteren 12 at that point. You can save yourself scary dreams and God knows what else by bringing baby wipes and cleanser.

Your flashlight is your friend.

Someone gave me the head’s up to bring a flashlight. My lovely campmate brought an extra for me, as well. However, I took a nasty spill when I cut between tents (they’re everywhere, so it’s almost impossible not to cut between them). I hadn’t even been drinking (much) at that point, but it never occurred to me to monitor my path to the john. I tripped over a tent rope and down I went. In other words, it gets really really dark.

The entertainment is a mixed bag.

The VIP dinner was probably better than I will assess here, but considering it was an upsell, I won’t do it again if I return to BCTC. The food was meh and the beer was readily available throughout the festival (i.e. nothing rare or exceptional – a line up of Ommegang standards and La Chouffe). But the band? The band was so loud I thought my eardrums would start bleeding! I don’t know who thought it was a good idea to play at that decibel, but the worst part was it precluded any table conversation. I met some nice people at the dinner—at least I think so—but we were literally screaming in each other’s ears to be understood.

Weirdly, the mainstage bands were way quieter. Perhaps it was the same sound system that was dispersed over an open space (the VIP dinner was under a tent). I could hear the music at the venue, but it really didn’t reach the campsite. More fun was the late-night bonfire and midnight fireworks. My campmate took to the Ferris Wheel, which had a really long wait but entitled her to bragging rights over all of us who didn’t make it on. And I don’t know if there was a movie Saturday night (per the program). After the Friday night “movie” turned out to be old Seinfeld episodes, I lost all interest in media.

And speaking of Seinfeld, the festival is apparently directly tied to the show. I never watched it (although I got some of the references because anyone of drinking age would have been aware of the culture zeitgeist the show held in the mid-90s), so I missed the “inside jokes” and thought the “Festivus” angle was lame (even I know that Festivus is a Christmas-type alternative holiday).

If you don’t have Verizon, you might as well leave your cell at home.

Verizon was king at the festival. The AT&T peeps were a mixed group of mopiness, with a bit of sour grapes thrown in to the mix (my favorite quote was “I guess that’s what you get for an extra $20/month!” I didn’t have the heart to tell the guy that I pay $40 for my smart phone as part of a family plan). However, I could get up to 4G at certain places on the grounds. That said, even my service was sketchy. The charging tent was a cool addition, and the guys working the tent probably didn’t get enough tips to justify all they did to keep us charged up.

OmmegangPorkMaking new friends was the best part of BCTC

I already mentioned that the best way to drink beer was wandering from tent to tent. Well, I found my new peeps at Olde Burnside Brewing Company from East Hartford, CT. Not only did they share their beer… they shared their coffee! Coffee was one of the more difficult items to find (next year, I’ll use my super growler to bring coffee). After I was generously presented with a cup of coffee, I was offered a Saison Dupont for my second hand. Then I was offered breakfast (I passed), lunch (I missed the Jambalaya so they whipped me up a lobster roll instead) and dinner (slow-roasted pork shoulder… AMAZING!). It was meeting people like Jason, Jaime, Tim, Jack and the rest of the Olde Burnside posse that really makes me want to go to BCTC for years to come.

The beer was pretty good, too.OmmegangEmpties

I’m not going to break down the beers I drank. I haven’t even completely updated my Untapp’d check-ins. That’s how much great beer there was. However, I did find a couple beers that were worth the effort of getting to Ommegang (more on that below). My major score of the day was Lava. I didn’t even know it was going to be there, and I’ve been wanting to try this beer since Draft Magazine awarded it with the Best Beer of 2012. However, My absolute favorite was the Stone Reason Be Damned, an 8% ABV Belgian-style abbey ale, aged in red wine barrels. I really hope I can track some down in bottles to enjoy again soon.

Trust your GPS.

Cooperstown is in the middle of nowhere. As in “nowhere near a major highway.” One of the car mates said this was his fourth year and every year he had arrived via a different route. We went two different ways per the GPS, and on the return trip we ended up smack dab in the middle of the Catskill Park. It was gloriously beautiful, and probably didn’t add any time to the trip home. Other than being unable to find coffee en route, it was well worth the detour. Especially for folks who generally have concrete and skyscrapers as part of our daily view.

You can see the photo album (and “like” The Bitch’s Facebook page) here.

It’s July Good Beer Month… Where To Drink

Proclamation2014_2For New Yorkers, it seems like every other day there’s some incredible beer release or cool gathering. The whole “too many beers, too little time” can seem overwhelming, but there are certain times of the year when being a part of the beer scene is like running a marathon.

July Good Beer Month is certainly one of those times. For 31 days every July, NYC celebrates as the Mayor’s office delivers the July Good Beer Month Proclamation (if you want the audio version, listen here at the 30 minute mark for Garrett Oliver’s oration… it’s brilliant!):

Office of the Mayor, City of New York – PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, July is Good Beer Month in New York City. And at barbecues and picnics and pubs and groggeries across the five Boroughs, our city’s residents and visitors are getting into the spirit and are beating the summer’s heat with cold beers. Even more refreshing is the fact that some of the best brews we have in the fridge and on tap are made right here in New York as our city’s craft beer scene continues to thrive.

WHEREAS, like any top quality product, good beer is the result of dedication of many people. Growing New York’s collegial, knowledgeable, independent beer community has required the passion and expertise of farmers, brewers, distributors, importers and devoted patrons alike. The community has also focused on keeping its industry sustainable and environmentally conscious. Brewers have formed partnerships with both city farms and local artisans, and foster the kind of conversations that keep their taverns and tasting rooms great places to share big ideas about what’s next in craft brewing.

The proclamation continues, acknowledging the Good Beer Seal bars (full disclosure, I blog for GBS). But what’s really cool is the Mayor’s support for five years and how craft beer has truly grown in the city. Here are a handful of the events you will want to check out this month. And feel free to tag me (@BKLYNbeerbitch) or the Good Beer Seal (@goodbeerseal) on Twitter for RTs; I want to know what you’re drinking and where you’re headed in July.

My favorites for the month include:

  • The Total Long Island City ImmersionSaturday, July 13th – Starting at noon, you can score a pass to get free beer samples from Brooklyn Brewery, among others, as you wind your way through LIC’s best pubs, patios and brunch spots.
  • The Parisian Ball on Governors Island – Saturday, July 13th – Starting at 4 p.m. and going until the wee hours of Bastille Day, you can be a kid again with vintage rides, music, libations and—one can muse—a central square for beheadings (no, not really; that was The Bitch’s attempt at a joke). This site offers slightly discounted tickets from the official website. It is 21+.
  • Mission Dolores Hosts Pioneers of American CraftWednesday, July 17th – MD does some counter programming from all the rare and unusual stuff going on tap across the city by putting the “Old Guard” beers of Anchor, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Brewery. Sure, they’re your father’s craft beers, but I’m probably old enough to date your dad so it works for The Bitch!
  • Duvel/Ommegang Belgian Independence Day Celebration at Sunswick 35/35Thursday, July 18th – If you don’t make it out to Governors Island for Bastille Day, this is the next best Euro-independence event I could find to slate your need to act all superior to us ‘Mericans. Added bonus for those not able to make it to BCTC in August.
  • July Good Beer Month Presents NY State Food & Beer Expo – Saturday, July 27th – Come to Williamsburg’s East River Park for a great lineup of beer from KelSo, Shmaltz/Coney Island, Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, among many others. Entry is at 90 Kent, and GA tickets will be available day of. VIP will be on sale the week of 7/15 at Good Beer Seal.
  • Prix Fixe dinner featuring Jeff O’Neill of Peekskill BrewingTuesday, July 30th – Jimmy’s No. 43 will be hosting Jeff O’Neill for a beer pairing dinner. Here’s hoping Jeff brings his Simple Sour!
  • Edible’s Good Beer at 82 Mercer – Wednesday, July 31st – This is the premiere event that wraps up July Good Beer Month each year. Try to score a ticket now, because they typically sell out well in advance.

Puddin’ for Patrick

CreamPuffCooking with beer is always an interesting adventure. I heard that East Village artisanal pudding shop (yes, there is an artisanal pudding shop in the East Village) Puddin’ by Clio had whipped up some special cream puffs in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, so I took it upon myself to stop by. Let’s just say the result was bit mixed.

The pudding incorporated Brooklyn Brewery’s Dry Irish Stout, a 4.7% ABV that has a fairly mild (i.e. not bitter) flavor that should work well in cooking. I’ve cooked with stouts, and in general, I don’t recommend them because they simply overpower the flavor of the food. Now, the low ABV boded well for cooking in a rich medium such as pudding, but the cream puff was very beer laden. The cherry compote was almost indiscernible in the mix. The soda bread exterior matched the beery-ness, so I’m guessing that’s what chef/owner Clio Goodman was going for in this recipe.

All in all, I wouldn’t choose this as my dessert, but for one week each year (it’s a special off-menu item only available until March 17th), it’s worth a try. Let’s just say the Bitch is Satisfied.

Puddin’ is located at 102 St. Marks (aka 8th Street) near the corner of First Avenue (towards Avenue A, south side of the street).