Bacon feels like it’s always apropos, and it’s one of those things that seems to go along with beer so well, bacon, burgers, beer. Classic summer fare right?
In my experience, they can be put together too well. I’m a big fan of smoky rauchbiers, it’s a great style, but a delicate one. In typical American fashion, sometimes it’s over done here. Take, for example, this bacon beer I had at a Bacon fest at a German biergarten on Long Island in 2015. They’re having the fest again this year. They mention specialty drinks, but do not mention beer.
Does that look appetizing? It wasn’t. I wrote “eh” on Untappd, and “poor execution” on Facebook when I posted about it originally. It just wasn’t particularly good, and adding all the oil directly into the beer did nothing. I don’t know if this was just a beer with a piece of bacon in it, or if it had any smoky qualities that were just masked by the actual meat, but this is not a win.
As many things do these days, this experience gave me the idea of using it as a prompt for some of the text-to-image AI models out there these days. Most of these were done with DALL-E.
This one uses the bacon as a condiment. Just sort of tosses it in there, which I guess is fine. It’s floating on the foam, adding little. In a plastic cup, because that’s what I asked for, and that could definitely be a Pilsner.
Left out the plastic cup part of the prompt here, and now it’s in a nice glass, but the bacon is just free-floating in there like a fish. No oil coming off the bacon either, AI doesn’t really seem to understand the interaction here.
Switched over to instagram from food photography in the prompt, and get this gem. DALL-E can do letters, but it often fails to do whole words correctly. BACTER? BACTEN? I dunno, but it often has funny results. That’s now how bacon acts in a liquid either, just sticking up out there. Nice glass though. I dare you NOT to Instagram this if you were served it.
I think this is my favorite. Simple prompt, so it’s a black background. But it’s got an attempt at the Löwenbräu Lion along the rim there, and that bacon is..not how bacon looks? It’s like a ribbon or a sheet of think bacon. Some pieces off in the foam.
One of the fun things about these text-image models is that you can go crazy making tiny modifications to terrific results, though it does eat into your generation quotas. I just ran this one now, for one final image. Marge Simpson ala Bacon Beer. With a garnish for some reason.
Because I’m as much a sucker for a three-minute punch of guitar rock and harmony as a I am for a cold beer, I occasionally find myself visiting a blog site called Powerpopaholic to discover new music. The guy there ostensibly “reviews” singles and albums in the Power Pop genre on a scale of 10 but because he likes power pop, and the stuff he reviews has already met the conditions of the type of music he likes before he’s listened to it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him give a review of less than 7—it’s all 8s and 9s over there. It’s either really great, or really good.
I’m guilty of the same with beer. At the urging of a friend several years back I downloaded the Untappd app allowing you to “check in” every time you have a beer, photograph it, indicate where you bought it, who you drank it with, and share that info with your beer-enthusiast followers (and surely some back-end AI delivering data to ad generators and marketed to taverns and brewers). Everything is a social network today. We do things only to get credit for having done it, and wind up with personalized encouragement to do it more. By the way I have only 24 “friends” on that app. For God’s sake please follow me (springer66).
I don’t use Untappd to record every beer I have. Wait, you had 4 Budweisers, in an hour, in your backyard? Not telling. What I think it can be useful for is to track variety—both in the beers I try and the places I try them. That’s the best kind of beer anyway: evocative of the moment you drank it, the places you were, and the good times associated with it. That’s another reason my reviews of them can’t be trusted: If I feel good enough to tell the world, or at least 24 people, that I just drank a particular beer, I probably also liked it.
So when my friend Ceetar asked me to write about the beers I had on a recent trip to France, Brussels and the Netherlands on his excellent blog, I was hesitant in the sense that if you want to know anything particularly technical about the beers I had there, you’re following the wrong guy: my reviews are pretty much worthless. According to Untappd, over the 16 days I spent in Europe I had 10 different beers in 10 different cities—which between us is a huge motherf-ing lie—and all of them, according to me, scored a rating between 3.75 and 4.25. They were all good! But to the extent variety, experience and unique places count, I have a story to tell.
France: We Drank Some Beer Here
We (me, my wife and 13-year-old son) left our Brooklyn home on Friday August 16, arriving in Paris the following Saturday afternoon.
I actually don’t have a lot to say about Paris, beer wise. For one thing, I figured there I’d do what the locals do and drink wine with our meals; for another, I wasn’t much using the phone then and so didn’t actually Untappd the beers I had there. Beyond all that, we discovered France is basically closed for business in August and it was only us tourists there anyway. I’m not joking: most of the shops were closed, and a plumber to fix a malfunctioning toilet in our hotel room wasn’t even available for two days. That’s a good way to thrust oneself into local culture and a foreign tongue: puis-je utiliser vos toilettes?
We had some enjoyable beers there at cafes, though the only brand I remember was the ubiquitous Budweiser of France, Kronenbourg 1664. I can recall being hopeful that this Continental export lager would somehow reveal itself to be something special when consumed locally, as we’d experienced with the impossibly fresh and delicious lagers we drank when we visited Germany five years before, but it wasn’t really the case.
The only other beer I recall having in France, thanks to this photo we took on the luxurious Thalys train, wasn’t a homeland beer, but one originating from our next stop on the trip.
A Great Place to Drink Beer and Pole Vault
Belgium. It’s a totally underrated country. About all I knew about Belgium before we arrived came from war movies where it’s always cold and desolate with Germans shooting at you. I also knew a girl from Belgium once, and she dressed drably–not that I wouldn’t have given her the exact same impression about Americans.
But Belgium in fact was lively, fun, safe and attractive, and the weather was gorgeous: Bright blue skies, never too hot. We also had a ton of delicious beers here that highlighted both Belgium’s great tradition of brewing and also, influences from the craft movement that we hadn’t seen much of in Germany or in France.
Brussels is a gorgeous old city, plenty to do and see; not completely overwhelmed with tourists and just large enough to explore by foot. We did a little research to find where we might experience good beer and found a fantastic bar called Moeder Lambic just in time for a sun-soaked happy hour after a long day of sightseeing. Here, I had a super fresh Californication double IPA from Brussels’ L’Emeritage brewery that was dynamite. Afterwards we hiked on a restaurant called In’t Spinnekopke where I asked our waiter to recommend something to accompany our mussels and out came a bottle of Wikap Pater Stimulo, a mellow Belgian pale ale with a very cute logo.
Just outside of the central train station plaza in Brussels you’ll find a symbol of craft beer’s growing globalization—an outlet of the Brewdog franchise that grew from the Scottish beer bros who established a brand through a reality TV show. Very nice hangout for the after-work crowd, and a convenient meet-up space where our friend Otto trained in and joined us. Long story, but my wife’s parents were friends with Otto’s folks through work and many years ago, she spent a summer babysitting a then-young Otto and his brother in their home in the Netherlands. Grown-up Otto lives in Belgium now and after our happy hour (your standard Brewdog lineup that were just fine but I can I also can now find in my local C-Town supermarket), the four of us hiked to a Brussels restaurant where we ate pork products and enjoyed the less widely-distributed Karmeliet Tripel, a fruity distinct Belgian style ale that really reminded me I was in Europe.
Inspired by what I’d seen in the movie, we spent the following day “In Bruges” which just as depicted in the film was a fairy-tale like old city inhabited nearly entirely by tourists. Like American elephants we climbed to top of the bell tower where Brendan Gleason had his ultimate misadventure, had one of our better meals, and popped in a pub to down the brightly shining locally brewed Brugse Zot IPA. I spent most of the day quoting the film: “Back off, Shorty.” “You heet the Canadian.” Etc. Good times.
The next day we traveled by train to Lueven to meet Otto at his place there. Lueven is beautiful old college town that you probably know as the home city of the Stella Artois brewery, which has a giant facility along the highway and rail tracks. We checked out surrounding abbeys where for hundreds of years monks were the original microbrewers. One of these abbeys, maybe it the one pictured here but not certain, got out of the beer business some years back when it sold the recipe for its brew to the no-frills German supermarket operator Aldi. Aldi you may know is a vertically integrated retailer famous for its German efficiency– coin-released shopping carts, cashiers who also stock and sweep floors, and low priced, indifferently merchandised but high-standard food. If you buy their abbey-style beer thinking it’s some knockoff, know this: it actually originated here in the 16th century.
Lueven’s historic downtown is lined with streetside cafes fronting stunning old buildings on cobblestone streets, lots of students, and a lively town square where, on a Saturday evening, there was a rock-and-roll pole-vaulting contest going on. We grabbed some chairs, and drank strong Belgian ales (the rich, reddish La Trappe Quadrupel) while eating fried food and watching athletes from all over the world launch themselves 20 feet in the air for our amusement. A truly insane and magical evening.
A Great Place to Drink Beer and Ride Bikes
From Lueven we continued north into the warm, watery and flat Netherlands, and the tiny North Sea beach town of Petten, were Otto’s parents have a summer residence where we set up for most of the next week. Germans love the Netherlands beaches, filling “camping” fields all around with closely-packed caravans along the dikes and on one evening, whooping it up in a town-square festival complete with an Abba cover band and Amstel on tap.
In Petten we mainly drank beers from the local supermarkets—Amstel, the lager which you may know is not marketed as “light” beer in its home country, and a pilsner called Hertog Jan. They were okay. We also used Petten as a home base from which we did day trips and stop-ins throughout North Holland—some by train, others by bike, visiting Haarlem, Alkmaar, Amsterdam, Zaandam, Rotterdam, Den Haag, Uitgeest (pronounced OW-kaste), and Den Helder (which is also the name of my new Van Halen cover band), among other places, having at least one beer in all of them. I’ll speed through here as this post is getting pretty lengthy already.
I rented a bike, and can’t say enough good things about the cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands. Almost all roads have separate bike lanes, including the highways, and cycle-specific signage that makes it almost impossible to get lost. I can’t ride more than 20 miles here in NYC without constantly consulting a map (and getting doored); in Holland I found my way around the entire country never having been there and without a clue as to the language. The lanes are all flat, proceed through beaches, farmlands and forests, and thanks to the wind, you can go pretty fast. If you like to cycle, go do it in the Netherlands.
I made several long rides, catching up once with the family at Zaanse Schans, the historic “old Dutch” neighborhood north of Amsterdam you see in the all tourist films and postcards. Here I enjoyed the local roadside delicacy—a herring sandwich—and washed it down with a local micro IPA called Hoop Kaper.
In Haarlem, we had Jopen beers at lunch and later that afternoon, encountered its brewery—stunningly set in a restored church. That’s my Northsea IPA in the foreground ahead of Wifey’s beer, which I believe was a pilsner (can’t be sure of that), and the ever-present frites. Nice place!
In Amsterdam, we hung out with Rembrandt and Van Gogh, and fought off 90-degree heat with this Ijwit wheat beer in a super-cool bottle. The beer endorsed by an ostrich. Refreshing.
In Alkmaar, we visited the famous cheese market, gorging on very good gouda, saw a crazy Beatles museum, and tried this Punt IPA brewed in the far northern town of Groningen.
Like many of the so-called IPAs we had here (the Hoop Kaper, the Brand we had in Den Haag) this beer wasn’t exactly what you’d consider an IPA here in the U.S., but they’re in the ballpark in the same way you might consider Rainbow’s “Since You Been Gone” a Power Pop song (it is, only one not by a brand-name power pop manufacturer). There are no doubt some Power Pop Cops and Pale Ale Police out there who might disagree, but like I said, it’s all good to me.
We spent our last night in a hotel in Den Haag, where bringing us full circle, the toilet malfunctioned. There was beer, and it was good. But it was time to fly home.
I’m not usually a dark beer drinker – I like my beer hoppy – but on The Longest Night for the winter solstice, well, you have to put old feelings aside and try something new.
Rising Storm is a fantastic new brewery just off Exit 9 on Route 390 in Avon, NY. It’s a quick half hour ride from downtown Rochester, and only a few minutes from Mortalis, another new local place that’s quickly developing a rabid following.
The brainchild of Bill Blake and Jeff Reidl, fraternity brothers from our college days at Geneseo (although I’ve got a good eight or so years on them), Rising Storm simply brews good beer. They’re not trying to reinvent the wheel; no crazy flavors, no gimmicks. Just a good variety of styles done right. (Their first NEIPA, called The What, earned my first 5 on Untappd.)
The rest of the Barley Prose team challenged me to blog a dark beer, though, so I figured this was the way to go. Nocturnal Storm is a vanilla porter that tastes pretty much exactly what I expected a vanilla porter to taste like: a little tinge of vanilla and coffee, but very smooth and very drinkable. I’ve downed an entire crowler this evening and I’ve enjoyed every sip. It’s only 5.8% ABV, so it’s not overwhelming either, but has enough kick to count.
Bill and Jeff are adding live music in the next couple of weeks, and they’ve worked hard to develop a strong local following. Keep an eye on this little place in Livingston County that’s going to make some noise in 2019. (Tell Sully or Doupe at the bar that Chris sent you.)
Beer names get sillier and sillier, so why not take silly pictures to accompany them?
For The Birds was a hazy American Pale Ale. It was pretty typically fruity, with that hop burn from intense hopping. If hazy is your thing, you’ll like Brix City.
Nap Time is a new label, basically a brewer’s label, put out by KUKA/Andean Brewing Company in Blauvelt. This was a tasty one, despite my bad pour. Sticky resiny/dank hops and plenty of flavor. It’s an aptly named brain dance.
Barrier and Interboro are both Long Island based (okay, Brooklyn and Long Island) breweries that have been making great IPAs. Mad Fat! is Interboro’s series, and Money is Barrier’s. Money is a little more traditional, and Mad Fat! is a little more New England, but they’re both great beers on their own as well.
Bolero Snort is one of only three breweries in my giant county. (I’m available to help! Let’s get another one going here in Bergen County NJ! GoFundMe!) They’ve been skirting that Cease and Desist line for a while with topical pop culture themed, and cow pun, beers for a few years and will be opening a tap room in 2019. The beers are typically good, though I admit I don’t remember how this one tasted when I had it last Christmas.