Thursday, June 21, 2012

Just Tryin' to Beat the Heat

Waking up in my sun-room-turned-bedroom is always an adventure. If I leave the windows open, bugs find their way in pretty easily; if I leave the windows closed, I reach the verge of suffocation from the lack of airflow. On a normal day, these crises are easy enough to handle. On a day where the temperature has already reached 91 degrees by 10:30 AM, these conditions are too much for my cranky morning self.

Luckily for me, my big sister the working woman is already safe and comfortable in her AC'ed office by the time I wake up, and yesterday morning she had already sent me an email to say we would be going to Clover that night for a $3 limited edition Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project beer called "Magnifico." She is always saving the day.

The Clover Food Lab is in Inman Square, relatively unexplored territory for Alicia and me. As most Bostonians know, just because something is only a five minute drive away, doesn't mean it won't take hours by MBTA. Unfortunately Inman Square is one of these lost treasures, but two buses and a short walk later we found ourselves in front of Clover in a longer line than we anticipated. Clover itself is a cozy little cafe that serves up seasonal fast-food with healthy ingredients, many of them organic. Sandwiches like eggplant and egg would be enough to drive in Cambridge residents - beer is just a bonus.

Last night's event wasn't only a beer launch. Clover clearly knows how to cater to its mainly hipster, 20-something crowd and also offered free cupcakes and live music. There was even paper and crayons to keep us busy and relive a small piece of childhood. While "Magnifico" by Pretty Things was a little hoppier than we like, a beer in hand and an hour inside and away from the heat was the perfect way to end a hot day in Boston. Also, it helped us get a closer look at the owners of Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, Dann & Martha Paquette - I've never had more friendly faces pouring and handing me a beer.

To make a long (hot) story short, if you're burning up in Boston in the next few days like we are, keep your eyes open for events like these that are constantly serving up beer and all kinds of deals in Boston. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Sil

Don't let the name - Silhouette Cocktail Lounge - fool you. The Sil, as we've affectionately begun calling it as we've gotten to know Allston/Brighton better, is a dive bar. Although it may be losing its dive cred with all us twenty-somethings taking over. Last year, Silhouette was unseated from Boston Magazine's Best of Boston Dive Bar. But thankfully, plenty of cheap drinks and free popcorn can still be had.

Silhouette is well-known for a good night out, and deservedly so. Brittany and I have both been before. After our failed night at Jose McIntyre's last week, we decided to stick with a guaranteed fun (and cheap) night this weekend. Narragansett (Lager, 5%) pitchers are only $8.50 each and add up to four cups of beer. A classic popcorn machine runs all night long - and you can grab a basket (or two or three...) for free. Darts are available to play at four boards in a back room - also for free.

This Saturday, we got to Silhouette around 10PM to find a line of twenty-somethings at the door. Surprisingly, a group of them were looking good in some cute dresses, stripy sandals, and button-down shirts. Looking too good for the Sil. At the same time, they weren't unsurprising - the Silhouette clientele seems to have become much more well-dressed and more consistently in their twenties.

The line wasn't ideal, but we weren't ready for the even divier but line-free Model Cafe down the road (we'll eventually make it there), so stuck it out, and luckily we moved inside pretty quickly. 

Silhouette provides a great night of people-watching. We admired (read: scoffed at) the hipster outfits of tangled hair, skinny jeans, and bizarre cut-off jean jackets with giant, tacky images emblazoned on the back. Let's be honest, we avoided eye contact with the older clientele sitting along the bar. We met one barely-twenty-one-year-old who enthusiastically told us he had just turned twenty-one at midnight and a stranger was buying him a shot. Then he asked, "Is it okay that I just came and talked to you and now I'm going to go back with my friends? Is that okay at bars?" I hope he had a great night that he can sort of remember. We repeatedly checked the back room for a free dart board, but sadly didn't get a chance to play this Saturday with so many groups taking advantage of the free game.

The decor at the Sil is also something to be admired: old beer signs and posters, falling-apart decorations from holidays long past, and the tackiest and most nostalgic word-art signage asking patrons to smoke out back. Ah, the days of PowerPoint and Word Art. I'm glad Silhouette is keeping that lost art alive.

The popcorn was flowing that night - our first attempt to get a basket was rebuked because all the baskets were taken - and Brittany happily pointed out that the bartender was using a shot glass to add more popcorn kernels. It fit well with her practical, no-nonsense attitude. Any night of the week, the Sil has the same bartender, and she knows exactly what she's doing. She fills pitchers of Narragansett and PBR all night, moves quickly between the bar and the back window to the dart room, and keeps the popcorn coming. All with the help, on the weekends, of a friendly and fast-moving server. All-in-all the entire staff is friendly: the waitress, the bouncers, and even the bartender, on the rare occasion she cracks a smile.

Since I had training early the next day, we shared just one pitcher and one Gansett can ($3) between us - enough for a little buzz - and chatted about the past week. Our conflicting schedules (mine the 9-5 desk job schedule, Brittany's the constantly-changing server schedule) mean nights out require a little more catch up than most roommates might need.

All-in-all, it was a nice and relaxing night. I've never had a bad time at the Sil, whether it's chatting with Brittany over a few glasses of beer or playing drinking games with a group of friends. (Yes, it's the perfect bar to bring your own deck of cards and play drinking games all night.)

Cheap beer brings everyone together.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Our First & Last Time at Jose McIntyre's

What was originally supposed to be a night filled with $2.50 pitchers of Miller Lite and $1 apps at the Mexican-Irish restaurant Jose Mcintyre's turned into a life lesson that you should never eat Mexican when 1) One of you works at a Tex-Mex that never disappoints or 2) You're both too hungover to actually enjoy Miller Lite. 

When we both found ourselves too exhausted/hungover after a long Pride weekend in Boston we decided to veto the beer we're too snobby to enjoy anyway and drink something that would go down a little smoother. We probably should have known as soon as we saw the confused-puppy-dog-eyes of the waiter who greeted us that we should have skipped Jose's all together.

As a server, I (Brittany) give the benefit of the doubt and all of the sympathy that I have to waiters no matter how long it takes for us to get our drinks (about 25 minutes in this case - not an exaggeration) or the amount of times they fail at witty banter. Luckily, there were only about seven drink options so it didn't take long for Alicia to decide on the Caribbean Chill Margarita, and as someone who typically loves all things Brazilian, I went for the Caipirinha. 

Alicia's margarita had 1800 coconut tequila, coconut rum, Triple Sec, lime juice, sour mix, and OJ. The exotic Caipirinha ended up being 2/3 Leblon Cachac topped with a barely existent amount of lime and sugar. If I had know I ordered a Brazilian blackout in a glass, I would have gone with the sangria that was all I really wanted. But while still waiting for our dinners, after watching the table that had sat down after us finish up their fajitas, and after a lot of internal conflict, I had about two sips of my drink before I had no choice but to send it back. Our waiter was quick to let us know that it was the first time the bartender had made the drink and that I of course could trade it in for a sangria. I can really only blame myself for this mistake, but there are very few Monday nights where I'm ready for that kind of alcohol at 7:30 PM. 

The sangria and margaritas were over-priced but delicious and lucky for us the bartender sent over a free margarita that had clearly been a mistake by our flustered (but sweet) lil server. Our trip to Jose's wasn't a total waste: it brought us back to our Irish roots with a little bit of Mexican flavor. Alicia ate a monstrous dish of chili topped with mashed potatoes (Mexican Shepherd's Pie) til the bowl was empty and I had a Chicken Avocado Salad that mostly acted as a chaser for my Caipirinha. 

Let this be a lesson to everyone: if you're craving Mexican or tequila, Border Cafe in Harvard Square can offer you $5 margaritas within minutes and all the chips and salsa you can fit into your stomach. And I don't just say that because I work there.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Good Beer, Good People

Brittany and I are no experts on beer - a lot of people at American Craft Beer Fest clearly knew much more about hops, IPAs, local breweries, and everything else having to do with craft beer. But ACBF was the perfect way to welcome Brittany back to Boston and launch our blog. And it was certainly a success.

To be fair, I'm not at the very beginning of my beer learning curve - summer 2011 included many nights drinking beer by a bonfire and watching every Stanley Cup game at Joshua Tree (except the final game, which we watched, amazingly/hilariously enough, at my favorite gay dance club, Machine). Friends have encouraged me to try new beers and learn more about my tastes. This winter I learned about the brewing process at the Sam Adams Brewery in JP. And most importantly, last fall I attended Boston Beer Summit, an event smaller than but similar to ACBF.

At Boston Beer Summit, you could feasibly try every brewery (there were far to many at ACBF for that), could see them all at once (the World Trade Center was much too large), and there was more of a variety beyond American craft beers. ACBF bills itself as "the east coast's largest celebration of American beer," and they're not kidding. Boston Beer Summit was baby size compared to this. I discovered my love of hard cider and mead at the Beer Summit. But ACBF had their priority: BEER.

There were some things I knew going in that I had reaffirmed at ACBF: I don't like a lot of hops or very dark beers and I do like fruit. Luckily there were fruit flavors galore. Off the top of my head, I remember blueberry, apricot, watermelon, and passionfruit. One thing I learned at ACBF: American ales tend to be more hoppy, which made my tasting experience a little difficult. I now can say 100% I don't like IPAs because ACBF had a lot of IPAs.

There were over 500 different beers to try, so we knew we'd have to move fast, and even then we couldn't try it all. A fun-looking booth and short lines were key to getting us to try your beer. Unfortunately we lost track of our tasting checklist, but we remember the stand outs. And I definitely remember my favorite brewery: Kona Brewing Company. They set the record for farthest distance traveled to ACBF (5,069 miles) and I'm so glad they made the trek.

With a booth near the entrance, Kona was one of the first places we tried - and was the last one on our way out the door. Brittany and I tried to go for a different beer at every brewery so that we tried as many as possible. At Kona, Brittany went for the "Wailua Wheat," which they described as a "wheat beer with a little bit of passionfruit in it," and I tried the Koko Brown, a "toasted coconut brown ale."

The Wailua Wheat (American Pale Wheat Ale 5.4%) was light and actually had a strong taste of passionfruit, which I loved. I can definitely imagine laying out in the sun with a book and some of this beer. The Koko Brown (American Brown Ale 5.5%) was equally delicious in a totally different way. It was described as having a coconut flavor, which it definitely did. But it struck me as very similar to the coffee and mocha style beers I had tried in the past. Delicious.

There were plenty of other beers worth writing about, of course. Beer Works' Godzilla (American Strong Ale 15%) sounded intimidating, and for good reason. Brittany tried it first and wasn't a fan, but I actually quite enjoyed it. It had a lot of flavor and you could definitely feel the higher alcohol content as it went down. Pretty Things was great and was Brittany's favorite brewery.

Beyond the beer, we quickly learned that the people are one of ACBF's greatest assets. Whether it's observing some interesting folks, learning about the beer from an enthusiastic brewer, or chatting with some of our fellow buzzed beer-drinkers, we were entertained all night. We saw someone with a lot of tassels, some neon yellow pants, a bachelor party, and friends, family, and couples of all ages. Three Heads Brewing was one of Brittany's favorite breweries...because she liked the guys at the booth. A guy named Sumir wanted to make sure we got his name spelled accurately in our blog. (Hey, Sumir!) On the T home, we met a couple guys who were the friendliest people we met all night.

This post really doesn't cover the enormity that was ACBF. Visit their website to learn more about the festival itself. And ask us if you want to see the videos that didn't make the video cut.

American Craft Beer Fest: 5 Rules (VIDEO)

American Craft Beer Fest was everything we imagined: too many options to keep track of, busy crowds, and a lot to learn about beer. Before we even made it to the event, we realized we were two of the youngest people headed to ACBF and we had a lot to learn.

About halfway through ACBF we started to take note some of the lessons learned, and made a video about the event along with some tips and tricks to help get us through the next beer festival.

  1. Don't make eye contact unless you want to talk. Don't get us wrong, we met some interesting people at ACBF and we're not anti-social. But we learned that if you don't want to make conversation with someone, don't make eye contact - some people are happy to stop and chat and keep you from moving on to the next brewery.
  2. Wear a pretzel necklace. We can't tell you how many times we regretted not having a pretzel necklace. It was at least every time we tried a new beer and every time we saw one of the dozens of more well-prepared beer drinkers wearing their own necklaces. We were prepared with food - some granola bars and cookies - and even bought some (mediocre) fried dough, but it just didn't compare to the pretzel necklaces. Some really ambitious people had full-size soft pretzels around their necks and one guy had a duct tape belt of various snacks. We were impressed.
  3. Wear stretchy pants. 3.5 hours of beer drinking. Enough said.
  4. Hydrate. Key to ACBF's motto: Respect Beer. There's no way we weren't leaving ACBF sloshed, but drinking water kept us on our feet and feeling fine the next morning. And thankfully, ACBF provided plenty of water throughout the event.
  5. Pee before you need to. Do not wait to pee until you can't wait any longer - anticipate the line and go early. We even used the bathroom at the start of the event, when there was no line at all, just to be safe.
These five tips can probably help get you through a lot in life, but we definitely think they'll help you survive your next beer festival. 

Stay Pretty & Drink Real Beer

I just want to prelude this post by saying that we will stay true to our beer on a budget promise as the summer goes on, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to launch our blog and my first night back to this beautiful city with the American Craft Beer Fest at Seaport World Trade Center. 5,000 people, 550+ types of beer, and fried dough in one room... impossible to pass up. We went into the night prepared for all conditions after a warning from a friend that he had no recollection of his return home. Snacks, umbrella, camera, and flip cam in tow, we patiently awaited 6:00 as it poured down rain on the 5,000 beer lovers (some prepared with ponchos, others refusing to let the rain slow down their skirt lovin' selves).

As soon as I caught the scent rising up from the basement of the convention center, I knew this would be worth the wait and $48.47 ticket price. We made some executive decisions as the festival began, mostly that we would keep track of which beers were our favorite in the provided pamphlet and we would videotape as much of the event as possible. Looking back at these objectives, they seemed reasonable until you've spent about an hour in a room with the challenge of trying every beer in it. Long story short, we lost track with about an hour left, the pamphlet didn't make it back to Brighton, and some of the video may act as a future PSA for the effects of too much beer. One rule that did pan out - don't wait in line if there's a shorter one next to it. Never ever choose to wait five minutes for Sam Adams when Ass Kisser volunteers have the tap ready for you.

ACBF was not only a tutorial on beer drinking, but beer vocabulary as well. Lucky for us, the pamphlet included a long list of terms we had probably heard countless times, but never learned like "Hops" or "Lager".  Walking from vendor to vendor never failed to be entertaining with the number of booty shorts for sale reading "I Heart Hops" on said booty, as well as my personal favorite slogan for Pretty Things Beer: "Stay Pretty & Drink Real Beer" - Words to live by. I was also seriously impressed by Three Heads Brewing - their beers were a lot smokier than the beer I'm used to drinking, but their personality in advertising and general vibe had my attention. I'd much rather drink a beer knowing it came from three guys with character than from a cardboard cut out of Sam Adams.

I'm not a woman with many regrets, but I will never go to a beer festival without a necklace made of pretzels ever again, all that gives you is food envy that results in the consumption of fried dough doused in cinnamon and sugar (I don't hate it).

I can't end this post without noting the absurd people you will inevitably meet at a beer festival. Bachelors, soldiers, people flying solo, and people in groups, either way, you'll never feel alone, and that's the glory of beer-lovin' Bostonians.

Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project: American Darling
Three Heads Brewing: The Kind IPA (American IPA / 6.8%)
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery: You can't go wrong with anything Dogfish