A clear conscience is a sign of a bad memory.

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PumCaca V – So We’re Still Doing This?

To see previous years go here – 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012

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We’re Back. For More.

After a very relaxing 2013 sans PumCaCa, I was rallied once again this year to keep the tradition going, this time by both Mark Stevens, co-operator of Maine Beer Tours, and Jim Devon, professional drinker and my co-pilot for the “Hadlock Field Incident.” Mark immediately set about amassing a veritable treasure trove of pumpkininnyness, aided by contributions from the other “tasters.”

The venue this year is Mark’s trailer/office, situated on the Bunker/Tandem Campus. It is actually a great place for me to know about, and if I am out with the kind of girl that I really don’t want to bring home to my living space, I will be giving him a call, because sketchy hook-ups in trailers is fun. I’m told.

Before I introduce this year’s judges, I feel the need to say that, over the years, as the pumpkin beer craze has grown, we’ve see our number of entries grow from six in 2009 all the way to almost thirty, only five years later. Along the way, we have all tasted lots of disgusting beer, but I feel like this time it was much harder to distinguish them from one another. It’s as if they all collectively decided to dial their flavors back and go for something more quaffable, perhaps in anticipation of the pumpkin spice backlash? I’m not sure, but it would appear that even the brewers are over it with their own pumpkin beers.

Well they fuckin should be. These tastings are not unlike a death march.

And now, the judges:

First off – Me. I started this wretched little thing of ours.

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Jon Dietz, longtime veteran of PumCaca and beverage professional

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Jim Devon, He just likes to drink beer and this is how he goes to work. Interesting side note, you will see this image at the top on a greeting card in 2016. No Joke. Thanks Jim.

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Mark Stevens, Co-Owner of Maine Beer Tours, which is always a great time and you should go check it out. Also, I need to defile his trailer.

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Joe Watts, Assistant Beersmith at Bunker Brewing. Each year we always try to have someone on the panel who claims to “like pumpkin beer” so… Yeah. Joe.

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Shahin Naganaganaga Nagaworkhereanymore, the heart and soul of Novare Res Bier Café. This is his second tour of duty, and it’s worth noting that he went above and beyond hosting the event in 2012.

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Joel Beauchamp, Portland’s original “Health Goth,” Joel and I will be opening a nightclub together in 2015. So watch out. Joel doesn’t like to take notes. He also doesn’t like pumpkin beer.

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Arlin Smith, Co-Owner of Hugo’s and Eventide Oyster Co. He was kind of enough to supply us with a bottomless flask of homemade Twisted Tea from Eventide, which definitely helped take the edge off around number 16.

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Chresten Sorenson (Not pictured because he is so shy. He also didn’t give me any notes. At least Arlin gave me a paragraph or two. Still, Chresten is such a delight that he is still welcome to return next year).

And.. the PumCaCa 2014

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This year we decided to put a rating on each beer between 1-100, with 100 representing the “best beer you’ve ever had,” pumpkin or not. We felt this could help, especially with several of the selections pretty much tasting the same, that is to say, like shit.

1
Shipyard Brewing, Pumpkinhead – Portland, ME

What the Website Says:

“Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale is a crisp and refreshing wheat ale with delightful aromatics and subtle spiced flavor. A seasonal favorite! Try Pumpkinhead with a shot of spiced rum or in a pint glass rimmed with sugar and cinnamon.”

Judge’s Corner

Joe: It’s as if you mashed up a piece of freezer-burned cinnamon toast with a full can of Budweiser. 26/100

Dietz: Classic Dentyne aroma with slightly buttery notes. Does not taste good, actually it doesn’t taste like much of anything you’d want to ingest. Like drinking a PBR that had a few pieces of Cinnamon Toast Crunch floating in them for a month. 31/100

Joe W: 28/100

Jim: Smells like rotten grape soda, cinnamon, and apples that have already been eaten. Why is my tongue numb? 39/100

2
Shocktop Brewing, Pumpkin Wheat – St. Louis, MO

What the website says:

“Our Pumpkin Wheat seasonal offering combines the smooth taste of Shock Top with the flavors of Fall. We start with a traditional Belgian-style wheat ale and then brew with ripe pumpkins and a variety of autumnal spices, including nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, for a refreshingly smooth beer that fully captures all the flavors of fall. LIVE LIFE UNFILTERED!”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like pumpkin pie, tastes like dirty nutmeg water. 25.2/100

Dietz: Quite a bit of nutmeg on the nose, and the color is dark like morning urine. Cinnamon and bitter nutmeg on the palate, with a really shitty beer base. 28/100

Mark: Nutmeg Nightmare. 20/100

Shahin: Tart, with flavors of nutmeg and, for some reason, yogurt. 15/100

Joe W: (Apparently not quite into taking notes yet) 20/100

Jim: This smells like a homeless man’s armpit with a dusting of nutmeg, and tastes like my son’s apple juice after it has been left in the sun for a very, very long time. 30/100

3
Woodchuck Private Reserve, Pumpkin Cider – Middleberry, VT

What the website says:

“Every once in a while you know you stumble upon something glorious. That something just so happens to be our Private Reserve Pumpkin. We have combined our signature taste with a refreshing pumpkin finish. Limited to just two and half hours on the production line this is a true connoisseur’s cider.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: This smells like the “bubblegum flavoured” fluoride that they used to torture me with at the dentist, and tastes like Red Bull and Kandy Korn. 11/100

Dietz: The nose is astonishingly bad, like an apple urinal cake. Foams up in the mouth, and is sickly sweet with an atrocious finish of candy and oxidation. If Jolly Rancher made pumpkin beer, it’s taste like this. Also it doesn’t taste like pumpkin at all. 6/100

Shahin: Like an apple Jolly Rancher, with a cummy/semenal mouthfeel. 12/100

Jim: Smells like cranberry soap, tastes like watermelon Jolly rancher and vinegar. 4/100

Joe W: 3/100

Mark: Kandy Korn Cotton Candy. 10/100

4
Harpoon Brewery, UFO Pumpkin – Boston, MA

What the website says:

“It’s a simple story; we brew this beer because we like pumpkin (pumpkin pie, really) and thought an unfiltered pumpkin ale would be great, especially during the New England fall. Turns out it is. Imagine a pumpkin vine wound its way in a field of barley, and a brewer harvested it all to make a beer. Add Northwestern hops and a blend of spices, and you’ve got UFO Pumpkin. The malt combination provides a smooth body and slightly sweet flavor, which balances perfectly with the earthy notes derived from the pure pumpkin. And like all of our UFO beers, UFO Pumpkin is UnFiltered.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like Bazooka gum, taste like nothing. It’s bitter, kind of reminds me of sucking on plastic. 26/100

Dietz: Reasonable amount of pie spice on the nose, with a touch of manure. Bitter, astringent, and utterly unpleasant. How or why would anyone drink 12 ounces of this shite? 20/100

Joe W: Very wheaty, fluffy, and astringent with heaps of terrible spicing. 27/100

Shahin: Smells like dirty pennies, and is quite bitter with flavors of old Big League Chew and bath salt drips. 11/100

Mark: Somebody spiced up the Budweiser. 20/100

Jim: Smells like rotten peaches, and tastes like clove-flavored bubble bath. 55/100

5
Smuttynose Brewing Co, Pumpkin Ale – Portsmouth, NH

What the website says:

“Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale is our homage to the craft and heritage of America’s brewers. Recipes calling for the use of pumpkins in beer date back to early colonial times, when brewers sought to extend their supply of costly imported malt with locally grown ingredients, such as squash and “pompions.”

In that spirit, we brew our ale with the addition of pumpkin to the mash, along with traditional spices to create a delicious American original.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Tastes like beer, with a slight bitterness and faint hints of pumpkin. 50/100

Dietz: This actually doesn’t smell that offensive, and there’s a touch of actual beer coming through. Were those hops?!? Slight pine resin and mouthwash notes on the palate/finish. 43/100

Mark: Definitely less spice, a touch bland but much, much better than anything thus far. 50/100

Shahin: Herbal hop nose, with biscuity malt backbone. Tastes like a pale ale got a handjob from a pumpkin, it’s not much but it’s definitely in there! 59/100

Joe W: Much better balance of spices, though there is a weird lack of malitiness and a house yeast flavor coming through. 62/100

Jim: Though it has a scent that is faintly reminiscent of cheddar cheese, it’s not bad. I can taste a bit of pumpkin. 80/100

6
Saranac Brewery, Our Pumpkin Ale – Utica, NY

What the website says:

“A hearty ale brewed with pumpkin, cinnamon, allspice and ginger with a full body and amber color.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Tastes like Tootsie Rolls and mini-marshmallows, and I’m wondering “How many licks it’s going to take” to get this shitty, sticky coating off of my tongue. 31/100

Dietz: Crazy insipid, with a weird peaky acidity. This is pretty gross. 19/100

Mark: No smell, and I’m definitely getting that Tootsie Roll thing. 35/100

Shahin: Kind of like a Cow Tail, I’m getting a lot of fake chocolate/sugar. 13/100

Joe W: I feel like this beer is going to congeal in my stomach and stay there until I die. 14/100

Jim: Smells of ceviche and choad. Tastes like marshmallows that have been marinated in hooker tears. 60/100

7
Rogue Brewing, Pumpkin Patch Ale – Willamette Valley, OR

What the website says:

“ GYO is a Rogue Ale term for Grow Your Own. We made this beer with our own hops, barley and pumpkins.
15 INGREDIENTS: Rogue Farms Dream Pumpkins; Carawheat, Weyermann Carafe & Rogue Dare™ Malts; Rogue Farms Independent™ Hops; Ginger; Cloves; Vanilla Bean; Cinnamon; Cardamom; Nutmeg; Free Range Coastal Water & Pacman Yeast.
From Patch to Batch. Dedicated to Farmers and Fermenters.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like pumpkin pie, with subtle flavors as such. I like both the texture and the notes of caramel. 65/100

Dietz: Smells like pumpkin, and a hint of cinnamon. Slightly buttery, and a bit too much vanilla, but could be considered actual beer. I actually swallowed this one. 49/100

Mark: This actually isn’t bad, and they get the balance of spice way more than any we’ve tried so far. 65/100

Shahin: Cotton candy nose, caramel apple, minimal spice. I will take this opportunity to quote Emily Kingsbury when I say, “I Love It,” though I actually don’t. 29/100

Joe W: These guys grow the hops, malt, and pumpkins, and you’ve got to admire the vertical integration. Spices where they should be, in the nose, and I can definitely detect cardamom, orange peel, and vanilla. 74/100

Jim: Not bad, but a bit perfumed and sour in the finish/aftermath. 87/100

8
Southern Tier Brewing, Pumking – Lakewood, NY

What the website says:

“All Hallows Eve is a time of year when spirits can make contact with the physical world, and when magic is most potent. It is thought that we harness this magic to brew our powerful pumpkin ale. Not so, but it is with great respect to the magic of their trade that our brewers produce this fine beer. Take a whiff of this complex ale and your journey has just begun. At first sip, a magical spell will bewitch your taste buds, yet another victim enraptured by the Pumking!”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: It smells like an almond scented air freshener in an elderly person’s Oldsmobile, and it tastes like eating a bowl of almonds and potting soil. I imagine that if you ate 100 Almond Joy bars, collected your fecal matter, and barrel-aged it, you’d hit the nail on the head. 2/100

Dietz: The nose is shockingly atrocious. Crazy broken cookies and something swampy, vegetal, coconut, and shit. This displeases me greatly. Undrinkable. 7/100

Mark: Coconut almond pie with a graham cracker crust. Sounds like it could be pretty good, right? It wasn’t. 10/100

Shahin: The grand wizard of pumpkin beer. Ropey mouthfeel, and tastes like Nana’s old macaroons dipped in vodka. 11/100

Joe W: This beer smells really interesting, like pie crust, and tastes like garbage. 18/100

Jim: Smells like gangrene, with flavors of marzipan and spray paint. 23/100

9
Shipyard Brewing, Smashed Pumpkin – Portland, ME

What the website says:

“Pugsley’s Signature Series is named after Shipyard Brewing Company’s master brewer, Alan Pugsley. A big bodied beer with a light coppery orange color and pleasing aroma of pumpkin and nutmeg. Pale Ale, Wheat and Light Munich malts combine with the natural tannin in pumpkin and the delicate spiciness of Saphir and Hallertau Hops to balance the sweetness of the fruit. To fully experience all the flavors, this beer is best enjoyed at 55 degrees Fahrenheit.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: More like “Dentyne Private Reserve.” It smells like the kids toy aisles at Laverdieres, and when it’s in my mouth it hurts my fillings. 13/100

Dietz: Mo Dentyne, Mo Problems. This tastes like foamy sewage water and lingers in the worst way possible. I hate this. 9/100

Shahin: The nose is reminiscent of doing a line of cinnamon through a toilet paper tube, and the flavors remind me of simultaneously drinking apple juice, chewing big red gum, and eating popcorn. 16/100

Joe W: 9% ABV Zombie Farts. 2/100

Jim: Smashed assholes, it tastes like chewing on a nasty old Christmas tree that has been left outside in the dumpster for some time. 5/100

10
Shipyard Brewing Co, Bourbon Barrel-Aged Smashed Pumpkin – Portland, ME

What the website says:

“Our award-winning, limited release Bourbon Barrel Aged ales are carefully cellar-aged in small batches in decanted bourbon barrels at our brewery in Portland, Maine. Aged over 100 days. Unlimited shelf life. Recommended serving temperature is 55 degrees Fahrenheit in brandy-style stemware.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: When I was 13, we used to fill two-liter bottles with a mix of rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey. We would take it out in the woods and pass it around, chasing with Cott brand fruit punch. That’s what this reminds me of, sans the pleasant memory of throwing up in front of the cops on bikes, and I aggressively hate it. 2/100

Dietz: It does smell more like pumpkin pie than Dentyne. However, the grossness is more than you could possibly believe, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it contained a cleaning product of some kind. How can you make something this awful? 4/100

Shahin: Kandy Korn butt plug with Old Crow lube. Hobo whiskey farts after gorging on windowsill pumpkin pie. Spicy camel clutch. 4/100

Joe W: Worst bourbon flavor I have EVER tasted. 2/100

Jim: Like a bourbon and sour milk. 12/100

11
Traveler Beer Co, Jack-O Traveler Seasonal Pumpkin Shandy – Burlington, VT

What the website says:

“Driven by an obsessive love of high jinks, the Jack-O Traveler spent his days cooking up mischief for everyone who crossed his path. One of his favorite pranks involved tricking unsuspecting bar patrons into buying him beers and then skipping out just when it was his turn to buy a round.

So clever was Jack, he even scammed the devil himself into granting him a reprieve from hell. Unfortunately for our Traveler, when his shenanigans finally caught up with him and he died, the man upstairs wanted nothing to do with Jack either.

It’s said that after Jack was barred from heaven, the devil gave him a burning coal, which he promptly put into a carved pumpkin to light his way. Legend has it that he wanders the earth to this day, searching for innocent bystanders to hoodwink into buying him his favorite beer, a pumpkin Shandy.

Representing the darker side of Shandy, Jack-O Traveler is an alluring beer illuminated by the tastes of fall. He strikes the perfect balance between bright refreshment and seasonal spice. Jack is an American craft wheat beer brewed with fresh pumpkin, for a delicious, dark hued, Shandy-inspired beer.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Tastes like the kind of ginger ale I would imagine they served at Auschwitz. 0/100

Dietz: Clove, cinnamon, and an acidity that is completely out of place, apparently from lemon peel. There is a rank chemical flavor in the mid-palate, yet another horrible product. 9/100

Mark & Shahin: It’s like a pissed-on urinal cake that has been marinating in Schweppes ginger ale. 10/100 and 13/100

Joe W: Lemon and Pumpkin? 11/100

Jim: It tastes like a carpet cleaner made from Pine Sol, cinnamon, and blood. 28/100

12
Almanac Beer Company, Dark Heirloom Pumpkin – San Francisco, CA

What the website says:

“This velvety American Barleywine-style ale is brewed with over 1,000 lbs of organic heirloom pumpkins and aged in rye and brandy barrels for a year. This decadent autumn sipper pairs well with pecan pie, bread pudding and a warm campfire.

Farm to Barrel

Our Farm to Barrel beers highlight the tradition of aging beers in oak barrels. This strong ale is aged in used brandy and rye barrels for 12 months. During this time the flavors of the barrel and beer merge, making something new. As the barrel “breathes” it slowly imparts flavor of brandy and rye, oak and vanilla into the beer. Inside our pumpkin infused barleywine slowly evolves, developing more complex flavors and aromas. This slow process can’t be rushed. We test the barrels every few months (perks of the job) and when we think it’s ready, the barrels are drained and blended with a fresh batch of delicately spiced barleywine . The resulting beer can be aged for up to three years in the bottle, where the flavors will continue to blend and evolve.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Nose is remiscent of sweet tarts, and I get more flavor of apple than pumpkin. Not too bad. 72/100

Dietz: It’s dark and sour, no real trace of pumpkin just a delightful barrel aged sour with a bit of malic acid. 82/100

Mark: Tart with notes of apples and funk. Thank you!! 85/100

Shahin: Oude brune nose, with a touch of balsamic vinegar, crab apples, and tart cherries. 88/100

Joe W: Not much pumpkin but a great beer. 98/100

Jim: Like a sour apple blow pop, with hints of raspberry. 85/100

13
Dogfish Head Brewing, Punkin Ale – Milton, DE

What the website says:

“A full-bodied brown ale with smooth hints of pumpkin and brown sugar. We brew our Punkin Ale with pumpkin meat, brown sugar and spices. As the season cools, this is the perfect beer to warm up with.
Punkin Ale is named after the seriously off-centered southern Delaware extravaganza Punkin Chunkin (check out some of these Discovery Channel videos of Punkin Chunkin, you gotta see it to believe it!). In fact, Punkin Ale made its debut as it claimed first prize in the 1994 Punkin Chunkin Recipe Contest. Yes, that was a full 6 months before we even opened our doors for business!
Punkin Chunkin has grown in size and scale, with pumpkins now being hurled more than 4,000 feet through the air! If you come down to see if for yourself, drop by and visit us.
Since its debut, we’ve brewed Punkin Ale each and every fall. It is released right around Sept. 1 each year. When you find it, grab some extra because it’s usually gone by Thanksgiving.
Every Beer Has A Story… here’s Punkin Ale”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like a can of domestic pilsner that’s been open for awhile, and tastes like flat Orange Crush with a very unpleasant and bitter finish. Weird, because this one used to always perform well. 32/100

Dietz: Smells passable, with the prerequisite nose of pumpkin pie spice. There is actuall a bit of malt to it as well, not too bad. 59/100

Mark: A touch spicier than I remember, but not too overpowering. 55/100

Shahin: Nutty, reminds me a bit of Anne from Arrested Development, as in, “Who?” Fairly unremarkable. 50/100

Joe W: Forgettable, no real taste of pumpkin. 30/100

Jim: Not bad, not much of anything, really. 78/100

14
Samuel Adams Brewing, Harvest Pumpkin Ale – Boston, MA

What the website says:

“Real pumpkin & warming spices like ginger, cinnamon & nutmeg give this brew a smooth, hearty, and inviting character perfect for the crisper days of fall. Special ingredients include real pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Though the nose isn’t overly offensive, it tastes like a can of cream soda that’s been open for a month, accompanied by some cinnamon snooters. 35/100

Dietz: Darker, roastier, but more of that Hot Ball cinnamon on the nose. It’s like a cinnamon scratch N’ sniff, with definite flaws from diacetyl. Better than Shipyard, but that ain’t sayin’ much! 38/100

Mark: Overpowering with the cinnamon, with buttery notes on the finish. 35/100

Shahin: Schmmmmmmmah? This is crap, like Sam’s Club cream soda. 28/100

Joe W: 30/100

Jim: I burped and almost puked. 60/100

15
Magic Hat Brewing, Willhelm Scream – Burlington, VT

What the website says:

“WILHELM SCREAM THE CALL FOR FALL. The distant drums of change are thumping, signaling the coming of chilling frosts, falling leaves and ghoulish screams. In a patch ripe with orange glow, Wilhelm Scream awakens and unleashes his season-stirring call for fall. His revelers listen for his echo across the ripened dancing days and prepare their seasonal celebration of harvest and ale. WILHELM SCREAM IS RIPE WITH FALL FLAVORS OF PUMPKIN, CINNAMON, NUTMEG AND CARAMEL MALTS. MEDIUM-BODIED AND THE COLOR OF ORANGE SETTING SUNS, IT FINISHES SIMILAR TO THE WAY WE FINISH SUMMER: WITH JUST A HINT OF BITTERNESS.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: This tastes like a can of beer filled with already-smoked whore cigarettes. They should rename it, “Yeast Infection.” All I want right now is a cold glass of water. 20/100

Dietz: A bit of One-Pie on the nose, but overall pretty insipid. Completely forgettable. 22/100

Mark: Like Sam Adams, but worse. 30/100

Shahin: Tastes like school lunch carrots. 18/100

Joe W: No Thanks, All Set. 17/100

Jim: Willhelm, in addition to screaming, also took the time to fuck my mouth with a nutmeg-flavored celery stalk.

At this point, we receive reinforcements of the Eventide’s Twisted Tea (which is about 70 proof) , hand-delivered by Arlin’s sister, Ryan. All rejoice with this manna from heaven, and take a well-deserved break from the pain.

16
Wolaver’s Organic, Pumpkin Ale – Middleton, VT

What the website says:

“ A golden amber ale with well balanced malts and hops and mildly spiced. Brewed with local, organic pumpkins grown by Golden Russet Farm in Shoreham, Vermont.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: What a delightful Autumnal harvest, and how privileged am I to get to put this in my mouth? The handcraft that went into this organic, artisanal brew make me want to call a farmer, any farmer, and thank him for helping to gather up Gaia’s gifts for us all. 11/100

Dietz: Foams up into a violent mousse once it hits the mouth. Poopy, with too much fake cinnamon. I’m losing focus here. 19/100

Mark: Major bite, major spice, major disappointment. 28/100

Shahin: I taste Monsanto hate, and also very inexpensive garam masala. 22/100

Joe W: Guys, this was the gold medal winner at the GABF. I’m giving it a 74/100 and I don’t care that you’ve lost all respect for me.

Jim: Sour, like pickled grapefruit with anchovies. 30/100

17
Central City Brewing Co, Red Betty Spiced Pumpkin Ale – Surrey, BC

What the website says:

Suspiciously nothing.

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Lots of bitterness, and it tastes badly flawed. Betty’s River Runs Red and other autumnal period references. 32/100

Dietz: Treacle tart and emptiness on the nose. Some really odd shit going on here.. 39/100

Mark: My mouth hates everything right now, and I’m getting more of the same. 25/100

Shahin: 7-11 Pumpkin pie while chugging pale ale, and caramel corn. 29/100

Joe W: I think this is a great pumpkin beer, balanced in all respects. Even has a pleasant bitterness! 85/100

Jim: Spoiled pumpkin pie pudding, and about as pleasurable as a stream full of leeches. 34/100

18
Southern Tier Brewing, Warlock Imperial Stout – Lakewood, NY

What the website says:

“Warlock is brewed to enchant your palate on its own and also to counterpoint our Imperial Ale, Pumking. Make your own black magic by carefully pouring this imperial stout into a goblet. Dark and mysterious, the Blackwater Series is serious about high gravity. Reanimate your senses with Warlock’s huge roasted malt character, moderate carbonation and spicy pumpkin pie aroma. FOOD PAIRINGS include spicy BBQ, smoked or roasted foods, or maybe you can try it as a float with a scoop of ORGANIC vanilla ice cream, or paired with a slice of carrot cake!”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Every second that awful, bitter shit was in my mouth took a significant amount of my life force from me. Like a heavier, more nausea-inducing Pumking. 1/100

Dietz: Gross, Nilla Wafer nose. Ejectorama. High alcohol, vanilla, graham cracker, all the wrong parts of cinnamon and nutmeg. I actually feel ill. This is really, really crappy. 9/100

Mark: Roasted version of Pumking. Almond, Nilla Wafers, and Tootsie Rolls. Awful. 8/100

Shahin: It’s like someone abducted a Werthers’ Original and did unspeakable evils to it. 2/100

Joe W: Like a sweet, dark pumpkin cake. Too sweet. 9/100

Jim: More of that gangrene, this time with rotten brownies and almonds. I feel like my tongue is furry. 5/100

19
Redhook Brewing, Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter – Portsmouth, NH

What the website says:

“Out of Your Gourd Pumpkin Porter is dark chestnut brown in color and is made with pureed pumpkin. Cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger are added to the whirlpool and maple syrup is added during fermentation. This full-bodied, rich roasty porter makes you want to eat turkey and watch football, or build a bonfire.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Back to that Tootsie Roll bullshit, this time with a super smoky, burnt coffee finish. It actually kind of tastes like nato beans. That’s not a good thing. 24/100

Dietz: Dunkin Donuts pumpkin spice latte nose, bitter and oxidized (years old) like really bad milk stout. 42/100

Mark: Burnt chocolate with some tin foil. 30/100

Shahin: Like sucking Dustin Hoffman’s cock in Tootsie, with hints of metal and soy sauce. 9/100

Joe W: Some oxygen may have snuck in on the bottling line but otherwise pretty good! 62/100

Jim: Carob, weak sour chocolate, and bleu cheese. That is all. 15/100

20
Waterfront Brewing (Shipyard, apparently), Spiced Pumpkin Ale – Portland, ME

What the website says:

There doesn’t seem to be one.

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: This tastes like Pumpkinhead that has been gargled and spit out by a pirate with scurvy. 5/100

Dietz: Comically bad nose. Super pissy. Like peeing in your mouth while chewing Dentyne, which is fucking foul. Not even remotely like pumpkin nor remotely desirable. 7/100

Mark: It’s like pissing uphill and into the wind while chewing Big Red. Why??? 10/100

Shahin: Hospital on the nose, with hot balls and PBR. 11/100

Joe W: Hannaford deserves this beer. 2/100

Jim: Urethra. Literally like cinnamon and urine. 12/100

21
Weyerbacher Brewing, Imperial Pumpkin Ale – Easton, PA

What the website says:

“We set out to make a bold monument for The King of the Pumpkins!
This 8.0% ABV pumpkin ale is the mother of all pumpkin ales. It is heartier, spicier and more “caramelly” and “pumpkiny” than its faint brethren! We have added lots of pumpkin along with cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of cardamom and clove, giving this beer a spicy, full-bodied flavor. This truly is an Imperial Pumpkin Ale. Perfect finisher on a cool autumn night or match it up with a slice of pumpkin pie and fresh whipped cream.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like old egg nog and tastes like a caramel eucalyptus cough drop. The finish is like Fernet. Yuck. 13/100

Dietz: Masala tea on the nose, with an unfortunately intense palate. Brutal. I hate this. Why did I agree to do this tasting? I’m going to throw up in my mouth. 8/100

Mark: A spice bomb with relentless medicinal funk. Make it stop. Please? 10/100

Shahin: Vegetal peppercorn bile. 8/100

Joe W: To be kind – cloying. 7/100

Jim: Like eating pears and Christmas candles. 52/100

22
Cambridge Brewing Co, Great Pumpkin Ale – Cambridge, MA

What the website says:

“New England’s first and CBC’s most sought after seasonal beer, The Great Pumpkin Ale, is back in bottles and on draft! We are very proud to be brewing with locally-grown sugar pumpkins from our friends at The Farm School in Athol, and Wilson Farms in Lexington. We’re also using organic barley that was grown in MA and then small-batch malted by our friends at Valley Malt in Hadley, MA.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Smells like a mouse that got run over by a car, three days later. Tastes like Stove Top stuffing. 15/100

Dietz: Wet concrete, with a touch of used maxi-pad. What would the base beer taste like here? Pissy, bitter, gross. 23/100

Mark: Less offensive, but not nearly as good as I wanted it to be. 35/100

Shahin: A pumpkin beer with a little bit of space and a hint of savory. Nothing super offensive, or flavorful, going on here. 35/100

Joe W: I think it’s the fault of the contract brewer. 50/100

Jim: Like rotten meat that has been in the basement for a good, long time. 19/100

23
Heavy Seas Brewing, Great’ER Pumpkin – Halethorpe, MD

What the website says:

“In the most worthy of pumpkin patches and during the silence of the midnight hour, the Greater Pumpkin raises up and pours a rich deep and burnished orange color. Heady aromas of bourbon, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and clove linger seductively over the thick white head of this tremendous brew. Its love at first sip as the full malt body, dominated by British crystal malt, brown sugar and pumpkin, slowly washes over your tongue. Bourbon barrel aging rounds out the flavors with notes of oak, vanilla, and bourbon. Pairs well with crisp autumn weather, crunchy fallen leaves, and the knowledge that your kids will be asleep soon so you can raid their Halloween candy bags.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Definitely smells like a pet store/food, and tastes like the watery, runny oatmeal they serve in jail. 14/100

Dietz: Cereal grains, graham cracker, and unwashed parakeets. Somehow it’s worse in the gob than on the smellies. 11/100

Mark: Smells like some old ham I found in a shopping cart at Home Depot this one time, and somehow I think the taste is worse (true story). 8/100

Shahin: Old tapioca pudding WITH SPICES. 12/100

Joe W has apparently dropped out at this point, though even our silent tasters (Joel and Chresten) press on because WE’RE ALMOST THERE.

Jim: Again, like something horrible from the basement. Maybe some old salted caramel? 12/100

24
Newport Storm Brewing, R.hode I.sland P.umpkin – Newport, RI

What the website says:

“Boasting 3 pounds of pumpkin per keg, coupled with lactose milk sugar, a touch of chocolate malt for a ruby/orange color, caramel and cara malts for sweetness and copious quantities of pale malt, the only ingredient left for this liquid pumpkin pie libation was spices. Staying true to RI, we sourced those spices locally from Spice Mill, located in Wakefield, RI. The mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves will ‘warm you up with a cold one,’ all fall and winter long! Available: on draft and in bottles 9/1 – 12/31.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: This smells like a Werther’s Original that is currently being aggressively sucked on by somebody with halitosis. It tastes like astringent root beer barrel candy. 15/100

Dietz: The diacetyl is strong with this one. Badly flawed. 6/100

Mark: This tastes like the butterscotch discs I found at the Christmas Tree Shops, c.1995. 10/100

Shahin has also lost interest at this point…. Everyone is one the threshold of Hell.

Jim: Like Butternut squash.. look all I’m saying is that it tastes squashy!! 56/100

25
Long Trail Brewing Co, Imperial Pumpkin – Bridgewater Corners, VT

What the website says:

“This limited release, seasonal treat is small batch brewed with pumpkins, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves with increased malts and a touch of bitterness for the perfect balance.”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Typical sweetness from a high-alcohol beer, and no discernable pumpkin flavor. 37/100

Dietz: Meh, could be worse. I’m not sure what makes this Imperial. If I were Emperor, I would execute every last one of these motherfuckers. 34/100

Mark: Non-offensive, which doesn’t necessarily make it good. 25/100

Jim: Tastes like it may have turned a little… 72/100

26 (Thank God)
Allagash Brewing, Ghoulschip – Portland, ME

What the website says:

“Allagash Ghoulschip is our version of a pumpkin beer. We brewed it, on Halloween 2008, with a monster mash that included shredded Maine pumpkin and toasted pumpkin seeds. After much toil and some trouble, molasses were added to the boil. The wort then spent the night outside, in our Coolship, possessed by the yeasts of beers past. In the morning, the cooled wort was racked into a stainless tank and pitched with our house yeast. After primary fermentation the beer is then transferred to oak barrels. Ghoulschip fermented and aged in the dark recesses of our cellars for almost three years. The resulting beer is light bodied and pumpkiny in color. Apricot dominates the aroma, with vanilla and caramel lurking in the background. The flavor profile is scarily clean, with a dry, tart finish that will haunt you. Boo. 6.9% ABV”

Judge’s Corner:

Joe: Man, this is what I needed. Aromas of corked wine, in a good way, with super funky, sour, and acidic notes that taste like goddamn Valhalla right now. 1000000/1000000

Dietz: Sour, touch of butterscotch. Still hanging in there, and very drinkable. 76/100

Mark: Bottled in 2011 and great, the sourness is killer. I would drink this anytime. 80/100

Shahin: Vinous, musty, horse blanket, pretty fucking good! Mellowed out over the years! 88/100

Jim: Sourdough. Tasty. Best. 90/100

And, to close, I will give you Arlin’s brief, yet powerful assessment of the whole affair:

“So overall I felt that the majority of pumpkin spice ales we had were absolutely horrible. I found that there were just different degrees of horrible depending on how well the beer was made. The ingredients and care going into a Shipyard is much different then say Dogfish or Rogue. My notes were mostly in the teens for rating. Dogfish was disappointing mostly because it was way too fucking safe. The beer that stood out to me, and is in a league of its own anyways, was Allagash. It was an incredible sour with no shitty flavorings. The only true pumpkin beer we had. Sam Adams was probably my favorite outside of that. Go figure. Thanks for including me. It was a lot of fun. I missed a few.

Shipyard. 15
Shock top. 13
Woodchuck. 1
UFO. Just bad. 12
Smuttynose. 60
Saranac. 20
Rouge. 68 tasted like a beer
Southern tier. 3
Smashed pumpkin. 16 good body.
” barrel aged. 12
Traveler shandy. Floor cleaner. 4
Dogfish. 21
Sam Adams. 71
Magic hat. 23
Otter creek. 22
Central city. 19″
Almanac. Sour. Awesome. 65
Southern Tier Warlock stout. 2
Heavy seas. Most palatable. 59
Newportstorm. So bad. 7
Long trail. 74
Allagash. Best. By far. Holy shit. Best for last. Cool ship. 82”

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I always find it hilarious when people really, really want to come to this tasting because, at the end of the day, it’s absolute torture. At the same time, I guess I would prefer to be tortured in the company of good people so… See you in 2015.

Halloween Night, 2014 – Go North of Hell

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Halloween Night 2014

Join Myself and Chef Brian Hill at Francine Bistro in Camden for

North of Hell

A Celebration of Eating and Burning

Two Seatings – 6:00 and 8:00

Come join us at Francine Bistro in Camden, ME for a special evening featuring hellishly spicy cuisine, not for the faint of heart (or other regions). We promise to both test your endurance and purify your soul.

$35 ticket gets you a choice of five of the following:

Raw Oysters with Salsa Borracho

Rocket Fuel Tuna Tartare with Papas Bravas

Smoldering Pork Ribs with Habanero Mustard Sauce

Ceviche Tostada with Clams, Whelks, Mussels, and Avocado

Salad a la Papaya with Spicy Beef Jerky and Dried Shrimp Dressing

Calamari Fideos with Black as Hell Pasta and Squid Diablo

She Crab Bisque served in a very Angry Pumpkin

Jerk Rubbed Cabrito with Curried Plantains

“Jackson Pollack” Fish Tacos

Seared Rump Steak with Sesame Pumpkin and Salsa Soya

Drink Specials will Aim to Soothe.. Music will aim to help you ignore the pain..

 

Call to Reserve a Seat Now (207) 230-0083
55 Chestnut Street, Camden

 

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San Francisco Food Coma Chapter Two – Things Go Off The Rails…

IMG_6811For chapter one go here

Some people will enthusiastically explain to you, without a trace of doubt in their tone, that Rice-a-Roni is the “San Francisco Treat.” After one night in this fine city, I am more inclined to believe that this honor belongs to both Fernet Branca and, inexplicably, the Irish coffee.

Despite being monumentally shit-housed last night I find myself awakening rather early, and feeling quite rested. This will be our first day on the boat, so I know that a robust breakfast is in order to establish a firm base in my stomach. A friend in Boston had recommended a place called Buena Vista for Irish Coffees, and it just so happens that it is a about a block from our hotel. It’s relatively early but I assume that Rob, the rep from the winery, will be up so I invite him along and he agrees to meet me there.

After a sobering yet invigorating cold shower, I head out into some of the sweetest, most refreshing city air I have ever experienced. Seriously, the fucking climate here is like pure heaven, and I think I need to live here for the sake of both myself and the well-being of those who are forced to listen to me constantly complain about the heat. Buena Vista has yet to open when we arrive, and we are 4th in a line outside the door that swells to at least 20 or 25 by the time they unlock the doors about 8 minutes later. Predictably, the staff seems wildly irritated by the hordes of touristy fucktards that I am now officially a part of. By this rationale, I figure that the chance of me ever seeing any of these people again is little to nil, so I just roll with it.

As we file in I observe a sign on the long wooden bar that reads “No food, only drinks,” as in “If you’re going to sit here and annoy the bartender all you are allowed to do is drink so make it fucking fast.” I secure a table with a good view of the whole place, all the while hoping to watch some sorry asshole make a scene with the no-nonsense looking Barman. Then, the magic happens….

The first wave of orders for Irish Coffees come through, and the bartender whirs into motion, lining up 10 small glass chalices on the bar. In a sweeping motion, he waves a bottle of Tullamore Dew (apparently they are the number one account in the country for this brand) for about a two-count over each glass. He then follows with hot coffee and a dollop of crema on each, with no bottle of the dreaded green crème de menthe in sight. As they are loaded onto a tray, he starts anew, probably repeating the process two or three more times at least, right in a row.
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As mine is placed in front of me, I feel a tinge of excitement, as this is a far, far cry from any incarnation of this beverage that I have ever experienced before. The first sip is boozy and hot, immediately tempered by the ice-cold layer of cream. Wow, these are fucking delicious. I finish in three gulps before promptly ordering up two more.

While examining my breakfast options I see that they offer a crab benedict, and after last nights debacle I have decided that I will order crab whenever the fuck I want, regardless of whether or not it’s “in-season.”

My breakfast arrives on what I can only describe as two “barges” of freshly baked sourdough bread, smothered in crab cakes, poached eggs, and a bright orange “crab sauce.” It’s a friggin lot of food, the kind of plate where you basically need a “strategy” in order to take it all down, so I decide to tackle one barge at a time. I will admit, this big pile of orange-y mess is delicious, though after getting about halfway done I become aware that finishing could threaten to negate my three Irish Coffees, so I decide to wave the white flag in defeat. Just as I am steadying my wings to order another drink, a group of our travelling companions shows up and I opt to surrender my seat for them and take along walk instead.

Outside I immediately run directly into Dan and Amos, which I was dreading because I technically ditched them the night before. Dan begins to scold me, asking if I had “At least blogged about whatever the fuck I did for the three homeless people who occasionally break into the public library to use the computer to actually read it?” to which I respond, “Yes?”

After promising to “Get weird” with Dan later on that night, I spend the rest of the foggy morning alone, walking up and down the hilly San Francisco streets. After a couple of hours I make my way back to the hotel to freshen up, stopping on the way to purchase a few bottles of wine to keep in my room for “an emergency.”
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We are scheduled to convene at the boatyard around noon, as we will be spending a few hours out on the Bay in a gorgeous 1968 Stephens Boat owned by the winery. Once aboard, we are informed that there is an unlimited amount of every varietal of wine that they make, as well as a full selection of cold beer at our disposal. I immediately locate a suitable perch, collapsing into a very big and comfy Adirondack chair on the deck, where I am handed a glass of Riesling. I notice that a stunning blonde woman from New Zealand has joined us, and I find myself completely lost in my own thoughts of how perfectly the sun reflects off of her hair. Just as my mind begins to wander to more explicit notions, I am jarred back into reality by Dan shouting at me about “Getting weird” from a neighboring Adirondack.

The preliminary races for the Louis Vuitton Cup, a yachting competition connected with the America’s Cup, are commencing all around us, adding to the surreal nature of the afternoon. I catch a glimpse of The Oracle, Team USA’s highly advanced vessel that eventually went on the wine the whole thing in 2013, despite beginning at an unexpected deficit. I’ll be honest, even after living with someone who raced boats for seven years, I still understand fuck-all about sailing, but I will tell you that you cannot properly appreciate just how fast these boats move until you watch them live.
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After snapping a few prerequisite photos of Alcatraz and pounding my fifth glass of wine, I become aware that I am actually starting to get a bit hungry, which is rare on these types of (work) vacations. I slip below deck, fill my glass with Pinot Noir, and peruse an array of sandwiches that have been set out for us. I join a few of my companions at a dining room table of sorts, where we have our first opportunity for a bit of “get to know you” time before Dan comes crashing into the room and completely monopolizes me straight out of the conversation. He leans over to tell me how he “really wants to bend that kiwi chick over the fucking rails,” and while it’s slightly obnoxious I have to admit that I can’t help but completely agree.

The rest of the nautical excursion is pretty much these scenarios on repeat: drink, close eyes, get yelled at, and then drink some more. Upon returning to the docks it is about 2:30 PM, and we’ve got the afternoon wide open to do whatever before we meet up for dinner at 7:30.

I’m in limbo, the kind of limbo that involves one inner voice begging for me to go back to the other hotel for a nap, while the other bears a more predictable suggestion for the remainder of my afternoon. Of course, I choose oblivion, and find myself following Dan, Amos, and a dude named Connor straight into the nearest bar. Connor is new to the group and I watch as he endures his first “scenario” with Dan, who starts out by buying everyone a beer and a shot of Fernet. We tip up the shots, no problem there, but then Dan insists that we “chug” the beers, to which Connor replies that he’d prefer to sip his.

Dan, incensed, accuses Connor of failing to disclose to us that he is the “Ultimate Pussy.” Connor, completely unfazed, just laughs and keeps sipping away, causing Dan to insist that we ditch him and move on. I figure we’re doing Connor a favor so I agree, and we find ourselves back on the hunt to “Get weird.”

Shortly after we spot Gary and his wife near the entrance to Fulton Market, and we figure that we may as well do a quick walk through. Though I will admit that the market itself is impressive, I’m not looking for anything in particular so my interest begins to wane. After procuring a bottle of the local Kombucha, a welcome yet brief deviation from shots of Fernet, I realize that Gary and I have completely lost track of Dan and Amos. The last thing I feel like doing is going on a wild goose chase through these crowds, and my phone has long since died, so we decide to go get a snack and forget about them.

We settle in the lounge at The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese-y, fusion-ey kind of place located within the market. I’ll be honest, when I’m eating a bowl of pho I could give a shit that the beef came from Prather Ranch or Neverland Ranch, it just kind of is what it is, but this is the kind of place that goes out of the way to keep you informed. As we are there during “afternoon tea,” the menu is a bit limited, so we fire up a couple of bottles of Weingut Bründlmayer Gruner Veltliner while we take a look.

To give you an example of what we’re working with here, I’ve pulled text from their website which properly describes their “vision,” so there’s this:

“For every item on our menu, Executive Chef, Charles Phan goes to the original source region of that item. He studies the traditional ingredients, flavors and techniques, then retreats to his Mission district test kitchen, where he and his team recreate the original using contemporary methods and the finest and freshest local ingredients. The finished product is a faithful reproduction of a world classic, modernized in subtle yet powerful ways.”

So for every single item, Executive Chef Charles Phan is scouring the earth to find the very best example of that item, right at the source, before “retreating” to his test kitchen to make it so much better. Given that his Vietnamese food isn’t actually that good, this seems like a colossal waste of time to me, especially given that one could enjoy a better meal for about an eighth of the price in most hole in the wall pho joints. This is a prime example of why the world is so fucked up.
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After several rounds of appetizers, including wild uni, spring rolls, and jicama salad, by far the least forgettable element of the experience is the wine. When it manages to actually be existent, the service is also condescending at best. Luckily, this experience is just what I needed to make me tired enough to want to nap for a bit, so I bid Gary and Co. adieu before making my way back to the hotel.

Just as I get all of my clothes off and am comfortably tucked into bed, all the while patting myself on the back for doing the right thing, I hear my phone buzz to signal that it has taken a charge. I set up a wake up call with the front desk, so I ignore it and close my eyes. Then, for the next four minutes straight, the phone proceeds to ring non-stop, finally prompting me to get up and see that it, surprise, was Dan. I answer and yell “WHAT?!?!?” into the receiver, to which Dan responds “We’re coming up to your room right now.”

“Jesus, wait, what? I’m taking a nap.”
“The fuck you are.”
“I am”
“No you’re not.”

I know enough to realize when I’m fighting a losing battle, so I get out of bed and brace myself for the oncoming attack. Because he’s an asshole, Dan finds it entirely necessary to loudly beat on my door to signal his arrival, and apparently he has brought both Amos and a full bottle of Fernet Branca with him. We sit on my couch and literally shoot 75% of the bottle over the next 45 minutes, during which Dan begins to critique my tattoos. After requesting that I lift up my shorts so he can see the large pin-up girl that runs up my entire leg, he declares it to be the “best tattoo he’s ever seen.” He proceeds to insist that the upside down cross, made out of bacon, on my back is, in contrast, “quite possibly the most idiotic, god-awful tattoo he has ever seen.”

We have begun into the supply of wine that I had purchased this morning, dismantling a bottle of Albarino before realizing that we’ve only got about 40 minutes until dinner. After doing my best to “freshen up,” I meet the boys downstairs and we make our way to a high-end Peruvian restaurant called La Mar, where the winery has coordinated a special menu for us.

La Mar is very busy when we arrive, and we are forced to practically force our way through an unruly bar crowd of “young professionals” and “complete shitheads” before navigating our way through the sprawling dining room to find our group. There are twelve of us, and I am sure to position myself at the very end of the table, close to Dan and Amos and away from anyone who I may offend in my current state.

Connor, the ultimate pussy from earlier, seems rather amused with our condition, and is being a very good sport about being forced to sit next to Dan. He has commandeered the wine list to start, and selects a few bottles of 2009 Raventos Brut Riserva, a vintage cava that I was not familiar with but was excited to try. Dan does not share my excitement, leaning over to Connor and asking “Is that seriously what you’re going to order for us?”
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The sommelier, Oscar, comes skipping over to the table to get the wine order, and I cannot help but to notice his resemblance to Jack Black, with a ponytail. He’s sporting a well-fitting suit with his Court of Sommeliers pin attached to the lapel, so I know this guy considers himself pretty special.

As I said, the restaurant has coordinated the menu tonight, beginning with cebiche barrio, a classic Peruvian staple of yellowtail, mussels, clams, scallops and shrimp marinated in a tangy rocoto leche de tigre and garnished with fried calamari and cancha, a toasted chulpe corn that is often eaten by itself as snack. It is followed by causa nikei, which consists of chilled yellow mashed potatoes topped with ahi tuna tartare, shaved nori, avocado puree, and an Andean chili and herb sauce, as well as a simple, refreshing ensalada of arugula, hearts of palm, queso fresco and chili vinaigrette.

At some point in the progression, it is my turn to take control of the wine list, which is limited to selections from Spain, South America, and California. As Oscar makes his way over to me Rob, who has begun to get a bit of a glow-on, starts heckling him about the absence of French Wine. Oscar explains that the list was constructed around the menu and the cuisine, and I try to diffuse the situation by telling him that I think, “It’s a really nice list.” This, of course, is not the truth as he’s got a plethora of monstrous California Chardonnays like Patz & Hall and Mer Soleil on the list, which does not, in fact, go with a fucking thing.

I order up three bottles of Dominio do Bibei Lalama, blend of predominantly Mencia from Ribeira Sacra, to which Oscar says, “Tempranillo, very nice.” Ok, now mister “Court of Somms” can’t even keep his varietals straight, so he’s dead to me. I am immediately upset with myself for defending him earlier, because, well, I’m getting rather drunk and being way more of an asshole than I need to be.

One of the most popular styles of cuisine in Peru is called Chifa, which refers to a fusion of classic Peruvian dishes and cooked in the style of Guangzhou and Guangdong, utilizing such techniques as wok hee, or the essence of stir-fry that is commonly referred to as “the breath of the wok.” La Mar serves both lomo saltado, a stir-fry of beef tenderloin, onions, tomato, soy, and cilantro tossed with fried potato and spicy yellow chili sauce, as well as a similar stir-fry that contains quinoa, eggs, sesame oil, and crispy fried noodles. The result is quite successful on both counts, with all of the rich flavors of Peru mingling seamlessly the sweet and sour Chinese elements. We finish with a platter of empanadas stuffed with stewed chicken, a large bowl of fried yucca, and arroz la mar, a dish that is reminiscent of both risotto and classic bouillabaisse with a variety of fresh seafood.

By the time dessert is even a thing, Dan has progressed into full-blown restless, texting me every three minutes saying we should all “Get the fuck out of here and get weird.” I’ll admit that the meal is dragging on the point where I’m all in, so the three of us excuse ourselves, a decision that no one at the table seems to mind whatsoever, and get on with our night.

Dan insists that we are going to a strip club, and personally I think that sounds just fine, so he commissions an Über Cab. I don’t exactly remember the conversation he had with the driver, but he seemed completely on board with whatever mission we were on. He brings us to The Crazy Horse, where he, for some reason, gets out of the car and escorts us in, telling us to call again if we need a ride later. Dan pays for our admission, right before we realize that they do not serve booze here but it’s too late to turn back.

The club is relatively small, with one stage, almost more of a runway, that extends into the center of the room. Dan plops himself down right in the front row, while Amos and I hang a few seats behind. Because they do not serve booze, the dancers are full nude, which for me can go either way. Dan has decided that he is going to impress everyone, and as the first girl makes her way onto the stage he immediately starts laying down piles of money. When she is finished, she comes over, whispers in his ear, and they disappear together.

Shortly after, I notice out of the corner of my eye that a girl is making a beeline for me. I turn just as a ridiculously attractive Asian woman perches in a neighboring seat and puts her arm around me. While she’s pushing her rather large breasts into my arms she makes small talk, before simply getting to the point,

“You like Asian girls don’t you?”
“Yup.”
“Want to go somewhere with me? It’s $40”
“Absolutely.”

As she takes my hand and leads me towards the backroom, I take a moment to commend my considerable negotiating skills. She brings me into a room where various lap dances are going on, before taking me further into a private room and shutting the door behind us. She starts to un-do my jeans, and puts her hand down my pants, whispering in my ear,

“I don’t like to play by the rules. For $120 we can do it all.”

I realize that I need to do some quick thinking, amidst being very, very distracted. I really don’t think it’s a good idea to cross the line with this girl for a multitude of reasons, despite how much I would like to, so I tell her that I am ok with the lapdance we had agreed on. She seems very disappointed, insisting “It will be so much more fun if we stay in here.” Somehow, I stick to my guns and she escorts me back out into the semi-private area before sitting me down and giving me what is still one of the better lap dances I’ve had, with plenty of touching allowed. After finishing, she quickly dismisses me and I start to recall that I should probably find out what’s going on with Dan and Amos.

I find Amos still seated where I left him, though Dan has yet to emerge. We decide to go find a bar and text him when we find a suitable location, though 10 minute walks in each direction are fruitless in this endeavor. Apparently, a lot of San Francisco shuts down early. We go back to the club, where Dan meets us out front. It would appear as if a bus had hit him, his clothes and hair were completely disheveled, not to mention he was sniffling and his nose was running out of control.

“Dude, I just got fucking WEIRD with that chick.”
“Yeah?”
“Yeah, there isn’t much that we DIDN’T do, plus she had drugs. Which was awesome.”

I don’t know hat actually happened in that room, but I do realize that we’re going to need to find a bar somewhere to calm this guy down, and finally we hit the jackpot with some place I cannot remotely remember. We hole up in the corner and crush several beers and heaping shots of Fernet, before chatting up a cute girl who told us she bartended in the area. She takes one look at Dan before declaring, “You’re not from around here are you.” Dan seems confused, and when he inquires why her response is, “Your shirt is too wrinkled.” I don’t know what that means but at the time I found it to be hilarious.

At closing time, we call our driver from earlier to bring us home. Back at the room, we finish another bottle of wine and the rest of the Fernet before I have to call it. We’ve got one more full day ahead of us tomorrow, and I feel like it could be a very bumpy ride.

Off The Wagon with Joe Ricchio Episode 3: Oxbow Brewing

Here it is, episode 3 of Off The Wagon! We headed up to Newcastle, Maine to eat and drink our faces off at Oxbow’s “Goods from the Woods Fesitval”

Directed by Chris Loughran

Assistant Director: Sean Meehan

Special Thanks to Tim Adams, Geoff Masland,  Made-Rite Tattoo, Small Axe Food Truck, Bread and Butter Catering, Hella Good Tacos, Whale Oil, Clubber Lang, Whitcomb, and Dominic & The Lucid

Check it out Here!

 

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San Francisco Food Coma, Chapter One – The Beginning of the End

IMG_1018I will admit that I have always been envious of those who go on vacation and, upon returning a week later, look relaxed and recharged. I, on the other hand, resemble a large jet plane with half of its landing gear smashed to bits attempting to hit the runway without completely bursting into flames, skidding and spinning for a solid half-mile before careening to a screeching halt, five feet away from a large crowd of civilians. In this regard, I suppose that I would more accurately label a “vacation” as a “quest for oblivion.”

Of course, as far as anyone in a management role at my former company was concerned, my recent excursion to San Francisco was, technically, “for work.” However, when one is in the trade of peddling alcohol for a living, the fine line between business and pleasure is barely existent, to the point where it would be impolite not to partake excessively (so long as one continues to hold it together in public). This is how I justify my life on a day-to-day basis anyway.

To reward my diligence in moving a goodly amount of their product, one of the New Zealand wineries that I represent has invited me to be their guest aboard various boats to witness the spectacle that is the Louis Vuitton Cup segment of the America’s Cup races. Though I know very little about sailboat racing, I do know that I am rather partial to drinking on boats, especially in a city that I am told is like being in “perpetual Autumn.” In my mind this translates into the ultimate fat guy weather, consistently between 60 and 70 degrees and completely lacking in the dreaded humidity that has made my summer in Boston so utterly unbearable. No other kind of climate could be more perfect for both thinking AND drinking.

The Journey

Here is my problem with airlines like Virgin America and Jet Blue:

I’m not sure who it was that made the assumption that most airline passengers, many of whom have anxiety about flying, would ever take a shine to “cool” young ticketing agents with a nonchalant attitude bordering on rude, who ring you up for your luggage check-in the same way you would imagine a 7-11 cashier ringing up a pack of butts. The woman checking me in, between exhaustive hauls off of her jumbo Coolatta, tells me to enjoy my flight as she tosses my boarding pass at me as if it were a subway token.

While awaiting instructions as to which groups are currently boarding the aircraft, the man on the intercom decides it would be utterly fucking hilarious to start throwing in a bit of shtick.

“We are now boarding anyone in section D, as in ‘Dude we are finally going to get out of here!”

He is not done. When he gets to section E he quips “This means EVERYONE (pauses, waits for all passengers to start moving in direction of the gate)… EXCEPT for section F!”

The residents of section F appear nonplussed, as the E section ticket holders file past them. Upon walking further into the gate, I see the man behind the curtain and resist powerful urges to smash his face repeatedly into the podium until his nose has made the deadly journey far past his brain.

As we are seated and carry-ons are securely stowed in the overhead compartments with all electrical devices powered down, the safety presentations begin on “Red,” our friendly personal touchscreen online entertainment monitor and travel guide. Personally, while flying in foreign countries my favorite part of the trip is when a beautiful flight attendant stands up and awkwardly goes through the motions with the seatbelt, oxygen mask, and life vest. Plus it’s a nice opportunity to stare before it gets creepy.

What I do not enjoy is a sarcastic, David Spade-esque video presentation depicting strange cartoons with bad things happening to them, and the cheap-laugh soliciting line about “if you’re one of the 99.9999% people who has never used a seatbelt before blah blah blah blah.” I suppose that it’s better than the ill-fated stand-up routine I once witnessed, delivered by the pilot of a Jet Blue flight from Jersey to Maine, where he actually used the line “But seriously folks, it may be a turbulent flight so feel free NOT to disturb the pretty lady seated next to you.” Please just fly the plane, bring the pillows and drinks, and shut the fuck up. Thank you.
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Once safely in the air, I frantically attempt to access the drink service option on Red, as the only sustenance I have had all day thus far was a plate of anemic eggs and homefries at the Jerry Remy’s in airport terminal. I had been disappointed to discover that they did not start serving alcoholic beverages until 8AM, so once aboard I was determined to make up for lost time by keying in three cans of Heineken, as well as two bottles of water, for delivery to my coordinates. After 40 minutes, I begin to wonder if this fucking thing is broken, as I have yet to receive a goddamn drink, but not long after I see signs of life from the slow-moving flight attendants. Luckily, the soothing lavender and blue lights within the cabin are enough to pacify me until I receive my beers and begin furiously drinking them in an effort to steady my wings.
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Because I do not want to deal with the trouble of contorting my gut in an effort to plug my phone charger into the outlet near my feet, I decide to browse the music selection on Red. I am able to locate a few artists that I enjoy, though the selection of actual songs is infuriatingly limited, to the point where if Red were a jukebox in a bar, someone would probably pull it off the wall and toss it through a window on an almost nightly basis. Inadequate as the selection is, it is far preferable to the blood curdling screams of the small Aryan child situated directly behind me, and as I get on to beer number 6, Coldplay’s Trouble is actually sounding pretty good!

That’s when things take a turn for the worse.

After giving Red the bad touch and ordering 2 more Heinekens, I am informed that I have effectively 86’d it from the plane. I think it’s important to clarify that I do not actually enjoy Heineken, but rather I simply find its flavor easy to ignore and superior to the alternatives. I am now left with the option of switching to straight liquor, a horrifying fabrication known as the “funkin’ margarita mixer,” or Bud Light. Because the flight is nearing its end, I choose Bud Light, and am instantly reminded what an utterly pointless creation this beer is. It is literally more watery than a glass of water, and I would probably have more luck getting drunk off of my hangover urine, but I press on, shotgun two of them, and next thing you know the tray tables are going up and it’s time to get this dog and pony show underway.

The Arrival

I appreciate my garish orange Nautica luggage because it is always very easy to spot at the baggage claim, not to mention I doubt anyone would ever try to steal it. To further discourage would-be thieves, I always weigh it down with at least three pairs of shoes, with shoetrees, whenever I travel for more than one day. Upon retrieving it I link up with the rest of my crew, including my co-worker Gary from Boston, at the closest airport bar. After choking down a double shot of Jameson, I fire up a large Peroni and ready myself to make a favorable first impression with wine professionals from all of the East Coast. I am informed that the limo driver charged with transporting us to the hotel has gotten a bit confused regarding the time and would return “presently,” after collecting luggage from the earlier arrivals. Dan, a portfolio manager from Rhode Island with a similar build to my own, except that he’s a ginger, leans over to me and says “Wait until you see this fucking guy – he’s about a million years old and I thought he was gonna throw his back out when he tried to lift my carry-on.”

Father Time, as he would be known from then on, proceeds to rumble up to the curb in a very old stretch SUV, which I would presume to be from circa 1988. Heeding Dan’s advice, I offer to put my own luggage into the back, for fear of having to wait for an ambulance to arrive and take this guy away in a stretcher. Twinkling blue and purple lights illuminate the interior of the limo, and as I pile myself into the corner window seat I am careful not to skid on the hardwood floors.
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As the limo lurches into motion, we are acquainted with yet another new member of the group, who hails from Birmingham, Alabama. He prattles on about where he’s from, before referencing one of the restaurants on our itinerary for that evening. “Pier 23? Yeah, I spoke to a chef friend of mine who advised that we eat lightly there, if you know what I mean.” He pauses, implying something negative about the place, but when I am unable to make a connection I ask “Why? Because we’re hooking up an eight ball afterwards or something?” To me, it’s always a good sign when the first cocaine reference occurs 45 minutes in and is well received by the entire group. First Impression? Check.
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After freshening up with a bracingly cold shower at the hotel, I meet Gary and his wife Clarissa to seek out an afternoon snack at a San Francisco institution known as Swan Oyster Depot. After a 25 minute uphill jaunt, we manage to procure three spots at the 18-seat bar right away, a feat which astounds anyone that I have described my visit to, as the line to get in is, allegedly, “always halfway down the block.” Swan has been around since 1912, and I would venture to say that the overall aesthetic of the place hasn’t changed much over the years. Large piles of fresh seafood on ice are laid out in plain view at both ends of the bar, with market prices for each displayed on the wall. The bar itself is lined with traditional accompaniments like Tabasco, lemon wedges, oyster crackers, and mignonette, all in endless quantities.
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Because I have been jamming down cheap beer all morning, a bottle of cold, cheap Chateau La Tarciere Muscadet tastes like fucking heaven in contrast. The bartender pours all the way to the top of the glass, a practice that, while sometimes inappropriate, is perfectly reasonable here. We start with a dozen Kumamoto oysters, as well as two jumbo prawn cocktails, served with a generous carafe of mayo-driven Louis sauce, and a bowl of “Boston-style” chowder because why the fuck not? The oysters are cold and briny, marked by the cucumber characteristic that is most common with this particular species. I like mine simple, a squeeze of lemon and a quick hit of Tabasco.
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We kill the first bottle of Muscadet in about 12 minutes, and while ordering another we ask the bartender to send out any dish of his choosing. Our confidence in him is rewarded with a plate of insanely fresh Halibut sashimi, complimented by rich, peppery olive oil and salty capers, which we quickly devour before requesting another order. Even though my barstool is wildly uncomfortable, I could have sat there and ate for several more hours, but alas we have impending dinner plans with our host, not to mention the line out the door has become quite sizeable during our stay.
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While hoofing it, mostly downhill this time, back to our hotel, we stop to pick up a few bottles of wine to drink in our rooms in the interim before dinner. After trouncing down several glasses of Pieropan Soave, with a spot of pungent cheese, we are primed to meet the rest of the group, which is now about ten strong, at Pier 23. Initially, Dan has “a bone to pick” with me, claiming that I promised to go out and “get weird” with him this afternoon (which I do not remember doing), but after discovering that I share his affinity for heaping shots of Fernet Branca he seems to forget… until tomorrow. He also cannot help but point out that “He knew I would be fun to party with because I had missed two belt loops entirely,” which I confirm upon looking down. We are off to a great start, as I am, apparently, already a mess.

I would like to take a moment to discuss the phenomenon of Fernet Branca. I remember the first time I partook was with a Portland bartender named John Meyers. We finished the entire bottle, and I remember finding its bitter, medicinal quality weirdly enjoyable. At the time, it had yet to become available for purchase in Maine, so it remained a special treat that I enjoyed whenever I was on the road. Then, all of the sudden, it seemed like it was popping up everywhere, most prominently as a method for a bartender to subtlety identify himself as such to other bartenders simply by ordering it. San Francisco, as it turns out, consumes more than anywhere else in the country, with Boston running a close second. This brings me to the point of my story, which is that I am a firm believer in “when in Rome.”

When I received my itinerary for the trip about a week ago, I immediately set to researching each of the restaurants that we are scheduled to visit. Normally I am quite confident with my decisions, but in the case of Pier 23 I’ve got a bit of a dilemma. On the website, it claims that their specialty is whole roasted Dungeness Crab, though denoting it as “seasonal.” Earlier, when attempting to order crab at Swan Oyster, the bartender informed us that it is, in fact, out of season, and that they refuse to serve the frozen kind. This throws my initial plan into a tailspin, though I notice that Pier 23 is still offering it. Second, I had initially taken interest in the rib appetizer, but with crab now out of the picture I felt compelled to order seafood, as the restaurant is literally right on the water. Lastly, I am starting to get drunk and not all that hungry, and end up putting my focus on Fernet with Dan rather than on the menu where it belonged.
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I manage to open the world’s biggest can of worms when Dan sees me snap a quick picture of the table setting.

“What are you, some kind of fucking blogger?” he asks, to which I reply that “Well, I hate that word but I do technically have a blog.” Immediately I realize that this was NOT the correct response, as every single activity for the next 3 days involves Dan asking if I’m “going to blog about it for the 7 people, including my mother, who actually read it.” Luckily I am able to dig into my arsenal and realize that he, and most gingers for that matter, particularly dislikes being referred to as “ginger balls,” which keeps him at bay long enough for me to get in at least a few pictures of my food here and there.

We power down two shots of Fernet apiece while we look the menu over. Amos, Dan’s travelling companion, gives us a look that implies “It may have been better for the world if you two hadn’t met.” Because I am starting to feel kind of fucked up and not super hungry, I have trouble focusing. Louis, the guy seated across from me, declares that the “Chorizo firecracker chimichanga sounds fucking awesome.” I glance at the Dungeness Crab on the menu, and then the ribs, but when the waitress actually comes around all hell breaks loose as I order like a total piker.

My carelessness is rewarded with a completely lackluster meal, starting with crab bisque (NO idea what the hell I was thinking here) that arrived lukewarm and badly in need of seasoning. This is followed by equally bland fish tacos, which lack breading, any element of crunch, any kind of crema, and anything remotely resembling flavor. I eat one out of three and pass them to Dan, who happily slaughters the remainder. To make matters worse, Gary, a few seats down, has ordered both the ribs AND the whole crab and each turn out to be fucking delicious. The ear-to-ear smile on his face as he devoured the crab will be burned into my memory forever. Even the goddamn chorizo firecracker chimichangas turn out to be better than the bullshit I had ordered! I promptly slug two more shots and three more glasses of wine before going outside for fresh air.
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The weather in San Francisco makes me feel absolutely invincible, as it is cool and completely lacking in the stifling humidity that I am routinely subjected to in Boston. I chat up the doorman, informing him that I have come to the conclusion that this city has “Ideal conditions for the morbidly obese.” He, being a bit chubby himself, agrees wholeheartedly.

Back inside, I return to the table to find that someone at my end has begun the inevitable discussion of finding drugs. Louis is particularly fired up, not to mention he seems to think that I “Know a guy who knows a guy, if you know what I’m talking about.” I inform him that I have no such connections here, and promptly direct him towards Dan just to get him off my back.

To be honest, I haven’t done cocaine in over two years, and this is for a few reasons, the first of which being that the older I get, the more soul-crushing and awful the hangover from that stuff is. There is always the day after, when my body is completely fucked, followed by day two’s immeasurable depression, which generally prompts binge drinking just for the sake of feeling something else. Also, I have gained a lot of weight over the last few years, which makes me enjoy the drug significantly less as I spend more time wondering if my heart will explode than anything else. I know it sounds crazy, but one of my motivations to lose weight is so I can partake occasionally because, at the end of the day, it’s pretty fucking enjoyable. Needless to say, on a trip like this, I cannot afford to be derailed for 2 days this early on.

I have actually made plans to meet up with a random friend from Maine who works in a nearby restaurant. I accompany the group to a pool hall near our hotel, where I take down a few shots of tequila before promising Dan that I was only leaving for a short time to meet a friend and that I would definitely be back. Louis, who at one point looked as though he may pass out, is now asking practically every single person at the bar where he can find some blow, so I figure that this may be my cue to get the fuck out of here before he causes a scene with the wrong person.

I meet my friend at an Irish bar about a 25-minute walk away. She seems fine, and after a few shots and beers we decide to hit up a seedy bar in Chinatown for a nightcap. Then, something strange happens. Within the space of 5 minutes, she has gone from perfectly fine to completely shattered, to the point where I’m worried that she won’t be able to stand up. I finish my tequila and pay the bill, trying to figure out a strategy to get her home when I literally have no idea where she lives.

Outside, I am able to hail a cab, and eventually get her to tell us where she lives. I make sure that the cab driver has money and have them drop me off by my hotel. My head is still spinning from the whole experience when I suddenly remember that there is an IN N OUT Burger situated directly behind my hotel. There is no better way to put a long day of drinking to bed than to thrash a Double Double with a side of fries, so that is exactly what I do.
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I’m not sure my head had even hit the pillow before I passed into a deep, dreamless sleep.

For chapter two go here