Monthly Archives: November 2011

Bringing Home the Baconnalia in D.C.

Yes, bringing home the bacon to my mouth was the impetus for a buddy and I making a 24 hour jaunt to a commercially-zoned  Truman Show-like shopping destination in the D.C. Metro area. The National Harbor is a two billion dollar behemoth of retails shops and restaurants south of D.C. See the map below:

Disney is in the town? Figures. Cuz, I am not sure if I can call it a town, for it seems to have no soul. Disney, like the Truman Show, is impeccably imaged.  I only learned of the Disney plans until after I returned home but it made sense. It is small world after all, because if it is going to give the impression of being perfect, it had better be miniature as a cover for its architects’ to project a glimmering and ultimately unreal world. The destination seems crafted to suck as much money out of the tourists’ pockets and purses as it can who are wowed by the bright lights and faux commercial chic. Sorry, give me the grit of Reading Terminal Market in Philly any day.

It is like Vegas without the gambling and sleaze but it still is all mirrors and glass and lacking in substance.  It is an odd and difficult drive to the National Harbor. My buddy, a professional photographer, knows the 95 Beltway roads well and a good thing too…our GPS Systems literally had no maps or directions to the destination, leading further to its mirage vibe. We had come to the locale for the Capital Bacon & Beer Bash with the bacon being various culinary emanations of all things bacon and the beer being shipped in from the microbrewery Heavy Seas.

Heavy Seas came to the event loaded with a vast array of their brews. One wonders how they can brew so many different type of beers like a brewery COSTCO without losing some eye on what main brews are going to be their flagships. To the credit of Heavy Seas, the beer is very good and sometimes even great. My favorite of the evening was the Christmassy Yule Tide, a Belgian Tripel. Tis the season for Belgians. The nights are cold and frightnen, but the beer is so inviting.

It look me a while to find this brew because of all of the other varieties around. Strangely, the only other brewery there was Heinecken, a truly average brew, overpriced, and also lacking any soul. I typically avoid events like this “all you can and eat” expensive affairs because I fight the desire to get my money’s worth without over-indulging. Buffets of beers are not generally a good idea.

Any honest person reading this blog knows that I a always advise moderation and going to a $ 55 Bacconnalian event puts the conviction to the test. I passed due to a very mindful alternation of beer and H2O, with a continuous grazing of bacon infused dishes. It could have been worse, my buddy got rooked for $ 75 since the price was hiked as the event got closer.

The bacon dishes were decidedly below average. Unlike the beer that passed muster with flying colors, the bacon dishes really were less than commendable. I gravitated to the bacon ketchup-sauced chicken wings that were like General Tsaos chicken. A truly amalgamated sino-american dish, pleasing to the American palate of sugar and grease.

Not exactly fine dining but finger licking good…

The vendors were set-up like a food court and the cuisine was food court quality. This dish below was a crazy and gnarled mess of bacon called FOOD OF THE GODS. It made me wonder if there was some dyslexia going on and whether the should have been called FOOD OF THE DOGS?

It came across as a HoJo’s breakfast buffet bacon in terms of taste. I am sorry to be so dismissive but for a high cost event billed as both “Bacon and Beer” the bacon should have been much better. There was another table of bacon that tasted as it it had been drenched in propane, lit on fire, charred, and then served up. With all of the burnt bacon, it tasted as if we were eating petrol-blackened swine.

I dubbed my pal the “King of Cupcakes” due to his voracious consumption of a bacon oil infused chocolate cupcake topped with peanut butter icing. At the end of the night, the proprietor autographed her sign and wrote a salutation to the Cupcake King. He said he  has a sweet tooth…needs to to be the plural “teeth” based on how many he took down.

Speaking of swine, the lowlight of the evening was the sawing (it had been promoted as “slicing”) of a whole pig by the chef where audience members were given 5 lb. huge slabs of pork to take home. That is, all of the pig but the head of the beast which sat on the cutting board for thirty minutes peering out on the throngs of party-goers, back-beated by a deejay and videos, and whose ultimate resting place is still unknown. I sensed that the oinkers’ head could wind up as part of a prank. It was all very Lord of the Flyish. Some lanky black dude upon hearing of the decapitated pig’s head, dropped and pivoted like on the low post in basketball, turned away and uttered, “I don’t need to see that.”

With all of nitrates being eaten, as noted previously, I made quite sure to quaff close to a gallon of water over the evening, to offset dehydration. It did result in me getting up hourly overnight to visit the loo but I woke up at 6:30 in great shape. The night could have gotten imbalanced based on the frat school vibe, abundant beer, oily grub, and a young crowd looking to leave work behind and party. Yet, it was all good fun, albeit greasy. We navigated the choppy waters without capsizing and hotel room was only a couple of blocks away. We stayed at the Residence Inn, a clean and well-run hotel at a half-price rate scored on Priceline. Hoping for a view of the Potomac River, we were chagrined to find our 7th floor hotel room overlooking a nearly vacant parking garage. Pretty sure that was a payback for being a Priceliner…

The National Harbor venture appears to be not living up to expectations because barren parking garages show that the builders of this enterprise envisioned a flowing river of tourists and not a trickling creek of out-of-towners on the eve of the Christmas season, already wise to the scheme and the scam. If I want to go to an overpriced mall, I will just head to King of Prussia. Localities looking to cash in on the tourist dollars had better be too-notch. And, if New York City and the National Mall are about the same distance away, give me the Big Apple rather than some shiny fake apple, all wax and no fruit. Even New York is inflated, but at least it has heart and an attitude.

I guess I was envisioning a more connoisseur type of event and it wound up being part post-college and pre-marriage crowd, and part older folks like us who wanted a tour of fine tour of bacon and beer.

After we departed the event, which concluded ten minutes early on the orders of the portly manager, we headed out into the cool night air. This was the last cache of brews buried as it were on the ocean floor:

It seemed cheeky to call it a night early because the event was billed as 5-9, but it was probably for the best. All of the other beer stations had run dry and a small party of revelers remained at the end on the final stand. The bartender was great…he had a exuberant personality. The staff in general were friendly and welcoming.

After leaving, we wound up at some pretentious Chinese Pan-Asian Fusion joint whose meals were inflated to high society 1% costs, with my buddy and I being hat-wearing occupiers and interlopers. The staff looked at us somewhat askance but seated us because the place was hardly even a quarter full. Hard times. I was quite surprised to find a ten dollar entree of a Korean Soup bowl among the higher-priced fair. It was a seafood and spicy stew. Absolutely delightful and a wonderfully zesty and tasty conclusion to the evening. The restaurant, with a fifty foot Buddha, really won me over in the end. The bowl was beatific and zen-like. A perfect antidote of the the oil-laden bacon dishes.

Mentioning antidotes, when I came home this morning, we left D.C. in a hurry to beat the traffic, I drank a quart of raw greens:

The smell of bacon remained on our clothes on the trip home. All in all a good time. Could have been better, but it was a blast being with a buddy, getting real in a place in need of some reality…


Ommegang Sampler: Christmas Come Early

My my my.  Gaze up this Ommegang Sampler. I scored two of these yesterday at a distributor off the beaten path than sometimes has some great offerings on sale. It being somewhat secluded creates space for people like me in search of gems in them stacks of cases.

I purchased this Sampler for $ 25 apiece. I think they would be awesome Christmas gifts but I am fighting the desire to keep them as mine, mine, mine. And my wife’s (need to add that). This sampler at that price is like getting a Van Gogh at a garage sale as far as I am concerned. And, on top of three liters of beer, a glass. I faced a moral test of sorts as I was waiting in the store for 15 minutes alone when the owner on an early Saturday morning was back in the shop and could not hear my petitions for help because of a delivery truck rumbling. I could have walked out of the store unimpeded with these two packs and otherwise. 15 minutes is a long time for mischief.

Sometimes writing this blog can feel like homework. Even though I only compose one blog a week, I don’t want my writing to suck. Quality before quantity in writing and beer. Rather have one paragraph glass of tasty words than a keg of mediocre verbosity. Diminishing the homework vibe is the obvious fact that I love beer and love writing. But, again, I don’t want to suck.

Ommegang is a great brewery. I love every offering they make. I am particularly interested in the Gnomegang, a collaboration between Ommegang and Brasserie d ‘Achouffe (on the left in the photo). Seriously, a gnome love child from the marriage of two of the best brewers out there of Belgian ancestry.  Crazy.  I know Chimay is often seen as the literal gold standard but I think that rep is no longer to be taken as a given. There are rightful claims to the throne.

Two summers ago my wife and I went to the Belgian Beer Fest at the  Ommegang Brewery near Cooperstown. Man, forget baseball, it was all about the beer. I decided to sample as many of the hundred or so Belgian breweries present. In the nine innings of the event, my wife stayed in the home team’s dugout of Ommegang. I wanted to try the away teams stuff, but in the end of the game had to admit that Ommegang was the big bat at the event.

The price of admission per fan was something like $ 75 dollars so people wanted to get their fill and make the most of the event. A Belgian Beer Buffet of sorts, which then created casualties (due to high ABV) strewn in the fields like after the battle of Antwerp. Fortunately, it was a beautiful summer day and not one of those hot and humid beasts that the East Coast can throw at you like a beanball.  The misery index thus was tempered.  I had some good to great beers that day, and a few that were downright bad. I had a Belgian from a brewery in New York that tasted too fresh…like unpasteurized yogurt or cheesecake. The brewery did not time it right. Belgians, like wine, need to have some time to settle down, to mature, to develop as a complete player.

If you ever find beers past their sell date, don’t be too concerned if they are ales, and be downright happy if they are bottle conditioned Belgians. They will change and improve over time given the proper storage. Lagers, being more temperamental and diva-like, drop off quickly–even when stored in a cool environment, and particular at beer distributors rooms temps. Buyer beware. Some distributors try to sell cases past there due dates. Yet, the big breweries have little good in them that will go bad. Kind of like a BHT laden Twinkie. It doesn’t go bad. Instead, it exists in a chemically-frozen arc of time and space. Bad today, bad tomorrow. Bad a year from today. But, frightening and cryogenically the same.

Go, go, go for Ommegang. Just in time for Christmas.  No ho-hum. Pure Ho-H0-Ho!

Went South with Natty Boh

This blog could sail in a lot of different directions today…I have much brew related fodder from the feedbag in the offing.  I’ve decided to go South in more ways than one.  “Went South” is a Civil-War laden term apparently, a losing cause idiom. In this case, South means Baltimore and its environs.

Yesterday, we headed down to the B-More area to watch some football with friends. The game was Michigan vs. Iowa and Iowa pulled out an unlikely win. I had no dog in this fight technically, but my wife and one of her closest friends who was the gracious host (with her husband) both went to the University of Michigan for their MBA’s, so I was shouting “Go Blue.”  When undecided, root for the team of those in your life root for…or one can always be antagonistic and do the opposite. Not particularly wise and a losing cause in itself. Even if the team wins.

I had brought a case of Baltimore-origin microbrew to the festivities….a sample pack from Heavy Seas. It was four styles, two stellar, one very good, one so-so. The Loose Cannon is one of the best IPA/heavily hopped beers out there on the oceans. Speaking of water, here is shot of the locale off the back porch of our friends house on a river that is a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay.

Twas a gorgeous Fall Day.  The next brew in the sampler that was excellent was the Saison. It is titled the Red Sky at Night and it was quite delightful.   Both the Loose Cannon and the Red Sky at Night are big guns in the fleet of the Heavy Seas Sunken Sampler pack. The Golden Ale was quite good. It is was a 2010 GABF Medal Winner  ~  2010 Gold Award, World Beer Cup. Sometimes those awards can be a bit esoteric, like winning the Gold in Fencing at the Olympics. Because the style is defined very specifically and only a handful of brews meet the qualifications for entrance, the victory is somewhat qualified by the selectivity of entrance into the competition. Maybe that is what happened here? It is 1:18 am Sunday morning and I don’t feel like being the sleuth. The Classic Lager was OK…not bad at all, but nothing to text home about.

Which brings me to a truly classic lager National Bohemian. A Baltimore legend but one whose spirit is broken. It is a local front for Miller Brewing Company and shipped by Pabst. Every big town in the Northeast had a brewery that only the locals could love. In Pittsburgh, it was/is (sort of, I think it is now brewed at Rolling Rocks old brewery in Latrobe and not PB) Iron City. In Philadelphia, Ortliebs, and Knickerbocker in NYC. The reality is that these local beers were pretty bad. I once had a quart of Knickerbocker and it was so bad it could have killed a rat.

Natty Boh was brought to the party by one of those guys who I will probably meet only once. He knows someone, I know someone. And our ships pass another, never to cross again…or infrequently. We just don’t sail the same waters, especially if he keeps bringing Natty Boh to functions. One NB is OK to drink, to say that you did–like swallowing a gold fish, but I didn’t dare drink a second. One is like a warning shot across the bow…two, and your sinking into the swamp of mediocrity. Frankly, Natty Boh as a brand should be sunk and left to rot on the ocean floor. It was never any good as a beer but at least it was local. Now, it is a rotting and termite infested ship that merely looks local and has a mangy crew of adherents who are holding onto the past that is gone.

Why not grab some Heavy Seas instead? It is so much better and it is actually made in the Baltimore area.  One of the astounding stories about beer in America is that many of the local brands were taken out back and shot during Prohibition. After that slaughtering, the consolidation and contraction occurred on a massive scale where only the biggest whales were left swimming and brands like Yuengling just scavenged around surviving. For the record, Yuengling used to really suck taste-wise as a brand of beers. Fortunately Dick  saved the day by making the beers drinkable. He righted the ship just in time. Then, in the late 1980’s, better-brewed locals like pirates began to sail waters around the big boys…ships that were like a Carnival fleet full of fat tourists and all you can eat buffets. And, now in the 21st century, the sleeker fleets of local microbreweries are starting to tear up the behemoths meal ticket. Heavy Seas is a nemesis geared for the battle and by all appearances, doing a fine job in its campaign in troubling the waters of complacency.

May the Buds, Millers, and Coors go south once a for all. This is no longer a fanciful wish…the Big Boys know that they cannot advertise their way out of this battle with commercials of stupid men and busty girls. The beer is going to have to get better or they are going to sink. Fire away Heavy Seas, fire away.