Happy National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.

Aristocrats Prefer Their Cookies Medium Rare.

As I waited for my modem to connect me to the worldwide web today there were a few thoughts for posts going through my mind.  How about a Phillies live blog?  The Fightin’ Phils, dodging thunderstorms in pursuit of that elusive 3rd straight win.  But there’s a moratorium on Phillies posts here.  Even this might be a violation, so the Phillies are out.  Then  in a moment of egomania I thought about discussing my world-class fantasy baseball team.  It’s quite a force, and even if only half the people in the league have logged into their roster–winning makes me feel special.  My early season lead is already one of my top-5 career fantasy moments.  Dan Okrent sent me an email that said, “Nice Draft.”  That’s the level I was operating at, but fantasy is boring.  Especially fantasy baseball.  That’s NBA playoff level boredom (Go Sixers!) right there.  So, with nothing to talk about, it’s either take the day off, or post about cookies.  I think it was a pretty obvious choice.

I don’t know when everything starting getting its own “day,” but every day there is a celebration of something if you look hard enough.  It could be National Velcro Day, or National Toll Booth Operators Day, but it’s never, ever just a Tuesday.  Tuesdays are sh*t.  I imagine that’s why we force these “holidays.”  Some are more significant than others.  I feel like National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day is under the radar.  If I was in charge of such things, I’d say, “Hey trees, no hard feelings, but you’re bumped for Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.  Arbor Day isn’t moving the needle.”  Considering how much I love chocolate chip cookies, it’s surprising how little I know about their storied history.  A three paragraph blurb really caught me up.  Allow me share…

Everyone has a chocolate chip cookie recipe.  They’re all pretty much the same.  In fact, I am such dedicated chef of calorically robust foods, that I have a chocolate chip cookie recipe bookmarked on my computer.  That’s pretty chubby.  But, wouldn’t you bookmark a recipe called, “Best Big, Fat, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies?”  That’s what I thought.  Chocolate Chip cookies inspire a quest for an always greater cookie, but you often come back to the original.  As far as I know, to this point in my life, there’s not a better chocolate chip cookie recipe than the one that exists on the back of the Nestle Toll House package.  What I didn’t know was The Toll House Inn is an actual place…

Let The Cookie Nostalgia Waft Over You

The chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1937 (by accident) in this building by Ruth Wakefield a cookie enthusiast and die-hard Hoyt Wilhelm fan*.  Can you imagine a world without chocolate chip cookies?  I surely cannot.  Apparently Ms. Wakefield believed the chocolate would just melt into a mess in the oven, but when they didn’t–Hello Best Seller!  Ready for the bad news?  The Toll House Inn burned down (fittingly a kitchen fire) in 1984.  In its place stands a Wendy’s and a Walgreens.  I cried.  Cancel the pilgrimage to Whitman, MA.

Other Chocolate Chip Cookie Facts:

  1. Betty Crocker (Not a Real Person) featured them on her radio show in 1939.
  2. Ruth Wakefield sold the Toll House name to Nestle.  She got free chocolate for life.
  3. It is the official cookie of Massachusetts
  4. Cookie Was Originally Called the “Chocolate Crunch.”
  5. Cookies were popular care package request among MA born G.I.s in World War II.

My Top-5 Chocolate Chip Cookie Making Tips:

  1. Use Real Butter.  If you’re on a diet–don’t make cookies.
  2. Beware Dark Cookie Sheets–They’ll burn the hell out of the bottom of your cookies.
  3. Don’t Over-Chip–The cookie to chip ratio must be maintained.
  4. Freeze Some–You’ll eat them just a fraction slower.
  5. Take them Out of the Oven right BEFORE you think they’re done.  The last bit of cooking occurs outside the oven.

All right, I expect everyone to now run out and get some supplies, check the pantry for brown sugar.  At the very least stop at Wawa on the way home and get a Toll House chipwich, which is the best commercial incarnation of the Chocolate Chip cookie.  I probably won’t make any today, but this weekend?  Who knows?  I might fire up the apron and get wild.

*undocumented.

 

The Inevitable Pride Game and Other Things.

There Will Be No Tone-Setting Checks From GIroux in Game Five.

Are the Flyers playing for pride tonight or do they actually have a chance in this series?  Down 3-1 to New Jersey, and down Claude Giroux, the team could certainly be in better position.  I hope that this isn’t a pride game, because the Flyers have a poor history in such affairs in my revisionist memory.  I remember completed sweeps, embarrassing losses, and getting ousted on home ice.  When all that’s left is pride you’re usually woefully outgunned.  It doesn’t seem like that should be the case with this series.  The Flyers transformed themselves from fringe contenders to a legitimate threat with their throttling of Pittsburgh.  The series with New Jersey has exposed many flaws–likely too many to overcome.  So, if you sit down to watch the action tonight and the Flyers are getting beaten to every puck, if the Devils get out to an early lead–I’m afraid you’re watching a pride game.  Prepare for the worst.  

***

Is Charlie Manuel killing the Phillies?  I’ve done my share of lamenting on Manuel.  If you’d like a different voice, here’s a post and long line of comments complaining about Cholly over at Beerleaguer.  It’s hard to rank this season’s, or even this last week’s most troubling losses.  The bullpen seems to be the newest cause for concern, but last night every button Charlie pushed was wrong.  It might be superficial to blame Charlie, but his decisions are the ones in front of us, and he always gives plenty of room for his doubters.  Much of this season has been about the Phillies’ small margin for error, and you wonder if Charlie is the right guy to be pulling the strings in these tough situations.  Last night Charlie fell back in love with the bunt.  

In the 7th and 8th innings the Phillies got their first two men on base.  In the 7th he took the bunt off for John Mayberry and the struggling OF failed to move the runners.  The inning later ended on a Hunter Pence double play which was supplemented by Shane Victorino’s weekly abortion on the bases.  In the 8th, after a Wigginton leadoff single, Manuel opted to bunt the team’s most productive hitter, Carlos Ruiz.  When the Mets botched the bunt the Phillies were 1st and 2nd with no outs for the 2nd consecutive inning.  At this point Manuel bunts Placido Polanco, one of the team’s hotter hitters who had blasted a double earlier in the night.  

Polanco got the bunt down, but behind him were Freddy Galvis and the pitcher’s spot.  OK, you thought, he’s going to pinch-hit for Galvis.  Nope.  I guess this is a spot where Manuel wanted to show faith in Galvis (but couldn’t you argue he didn’t show faith in Polanco to not GIDP).  He has a couple of big hits this season, but he’s also hitting under .200.  He hits very few fly balls deep enough to score Ty Wigginton.  Galvis tapped back to the mound.  After that came the signature Charlie move where he wastes his better bat off the bench.  He sends Nix out only to see the pitcher get changed and then he’s left with call-up Eric Kratz as his last chance to get the big hit.  Kratz struck out.  For whatever reason, Manuel always seems to be one step behind the other managers.  He bites at the easy jump in a checkers game, only to set up his opponent to go crisscrossing over a half-dozen checkers.  

It’s certainly not all Manuel’s fault.  Hunter Pence could have hit a sac-fly.  So could have Galvis.  And Papelbon got hit hard in the 9th anyway, but maybe Papelbon doesn’t look as rusty if he’s protecting a 1 or 2 run lead.  Also, Charlie is responsible for Papelbon’s rust.  After the game he seemed almost unaware that it had been a week since Papelbon pitched.  

I think the biggest adjustment for Phillies’ fans this year is how the team has played in close games.  They’ve already lost a half-dozen games in the 9th inning or later and in the past the Phils always scratched out those tight wins.  They had the reliable bullpen.  They came up with the unsung hero.  Not this season.  It’s turned what should probably be a team that’s a few games over .500 into a last place team that hasn’t been able to win three in a row.  The troubling thing is, even if the Phillies start playing even better, you don’t envision many comfortable wins on the horizon.  Can this bullpen, this bench and this manager still win the close ones?  

***

Wouldn’t it be nice if the Phillies had an uber-prospect?  A wunderkind?  With the promotion of Bryce Harper, I suppose it’s time for a new prospect obsession.  How does the name Dylan Bundy sit with you?  Bundy and his obsessive health/workout/long-toss habits were recently featured in a Sports Illustrated piece.  Bundy was drafted in the 1st round by the Orioles last summer and has quickly become the prize of the Minor Leagues.  He did not allow a hit in his first 13 innings of work.  He’s struck out 25 in 17 innings.  He still has a 0.00 ERA.  Opposing hitters are 1 for 50 off him.  That’s not a typo.  They’re hitting .020.  As a high-school senior (last year) he was 11-0 with a .20 ERA and 158 Ks in 78 innings.  Before games he often stretches out his long-tossing regimen to 400 feet.  Long toss has been phased out in many organizations, but young phenoms like Bundy are helping to revive the practice.  The Orioles still have Bundy on a strict pitch count, however, but you wonder how much longer they’ll be able to keep Bundy toiling in the Sally League.  

***

I meant to post this yesterday as my Derby follow-up, but it slipped my mind.  Perhaps you heard that I’ll Have Another took home the rose blanket.  For accuracy, that’s I’ll Have Another (cookie) not I’ll have Another (Vodka wave the Cran-Wand).  That’s the owner’s story, anyway.  The shame of the Derby is, it’s just become a spectacle.  Unless I’ll Have Another threatens the Triple Crown no one will remember this horse a couple of months from now.  What will we remember–Tom Brady’s dazzling sartorial choices, of course.  Should have known he’d go no hat.  Ultimate power move.

 

Tom Looking More Like Gisele Every Day.

This Stuff Happened — 4/10/12

Guillen Faces 5-Game Suspension; Scorn of a City.

Despite Ozzie Guillen’s decision to return to Miami on his off-day to give a conciliatory and apologetic press conference, the Marlins have announced Guillen will be suspended for five games without pay.  The suspension stems from comments attributed to Guillen in an interview where he said he loved and respected Fidel Castro.  The reaction in Miami, which has a significant Cuban population, has been that this is the worst thing Guillen could have said.  While nationally we may not understand the significance the reaction in Miami has been swift and severe with many calling for Guillen to lose his job.  Guillen seemed genuinely remorseful in his press conference today, but whether his relationship with the city and fans can be salvaged remains to be seen.  It’s not often that baseball gets tied up in such a political web, but Guillen’s comments are not completely without precedent.  Toward the end of her time with the Reds, owner Marge Schott commented that Adolf Hitler was, “good at the beginning, but just went too far.”  Eventually MLB intervened with Schott, removing her from day-to-day operations with the Reds.  At the present the commissioner’s office seems satisfied with the Marlins’ suspension.

***

Did you know colleges had chess teams?  I sure didn’t.  Maybe a club?  Nothing against chess, but my understanding was that most chess was played online and in sweet tournaments like I saw in Searching for Bobby Fischer.  Well, apparently there is a college chess championship and it has been won for two consecutive years by Texas Tech.  Bringing the school the glory that Bobby Knight and Mike Leach could not, Susan Polgar turned her chess squad into a national power.  The twist is, Polgar and her entire team are packing up shop and heading to Webster University in St. Louis.  St. Louis is an epicenter of chess in the United States (another fact I was unfamiliar with) and Webster has offered to roll out the red carpet for national champs.  The team jumped at the offer of full scholarships, and Texas Tech will be forced to rebuild.  I wonder if John Calipari is available to help with recruiting.

***

Some Phillies talk?  General baseball chatter?  It looks to me that Cole Hamels might become the story of 2012 for the Phillies.  Obviously the questions about the offense remain, but Hamels and his contract situation is an issue that will shape the direction of the franchise.  I thought all along that the Phillies would re-sign Hamels, because that’s what they do–sign pitching, but before the season kicked off there was the first talk of Hamels ending up elsewhere.  Then after the game yesterday Hamels showed some signs of frustration with the Phillies’ offense and the way the team has played around him in the last couple of seasons.  If Hamels shows a tendency to return to his early career petulance, and the Phillies struggle this season, there might be no choice but to let Cole walk.  Take that money and start thinking about really getting younger and helping the offense.

Statistical Oddities from the 1st Week of the Season:

1.  Barry Zito:  1-0, 0.00 ERA.  Zito tossed a 4-hit shutout in his season debut.  OK.  Way to live up to that contract for one game, Barry.  Speaking of contracts, the new 9-figure man, Matt Cain sports a 7.50 ERA after his first start.

2.  David Wright:  .583, 1 HR, 4 RBI.  Wright is leading the red-hot Mets to an improbable start.  The question will be how long can the Mets hang around and if they don’t, what would Wright bring at the deadline if he was having a solid season?

3.  Jeff Samardzija:  1-0, 1.04 ERA.  Samardzija, the noted WR from Notre Dame has had trouble finding a role with the Cubs.  Now a starter, he was throwing in the mid-90s into the 9th inning in his season debut.

4.  Starlin Castro:  4 SB.  Castro is on pace for 162 steals.  Since he’s my fantasy baseball SS, I’m pleased.  The question is, if pitching keeps on rolling, will we see a rise in SB, could we eventually approach the glorious days of the mid-80s when a 100 steal season was possible?

5.  Mariano Rivera: 0-1, 13.50 ERA.  Rivera blew a save on Opening Day, setting the Yankees up for an 0-3 start.  Of all the elder Yankees, Rivera is probably still the most important.  Good news is, Mo bounced back with a scoreless inning against the O’s.

Alternate Final Fours — Best Craft Beer States.

Tap Envy.

Disclaimer before I start:  I’m not really a beer snob.  I have my preferences. Who doesn’t?  But there are times when that preference strays very far from a trendy craft brew.  This past Saturday, great drinking holiday that it was, I entered a bar and someone was nice enough to buy me a drink.  When they asked what I wanted, I said, “American light beer.”  Of course, that means Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light.  It made no difference.  At that point in the evening, another beer with more than 4% alcohol would have exacerbated what was already going to be a solid hangover.  I’d been sucking down robust ales all day, time to throw it in neutral and coast back to the station.  So with that professed love for Bud Light, and with an admitted distaste for most stouts and porters–I’m going to weave through my favorite beer states.  This is one man’s opinion.  I’ve hardly scratched the surface.  Feel free to re-educate me with some jargon, hidden gems, and anything else beer related that I should know.  I won’t change my mind, but I always appreciate the input.

Honorable Mentions:

Delaware:  Even my craft beer tastes run mainstream, so if you say Delaware, pretty much all I know is Dogfish Head.  But, that’s quite a good place to start.  Dogfish has a massive selection of brews and I’ve only tried a few.  I know that every fall people go wild for their Punkin Ale.  I don’t do pumpkin, so I can’t elevate Dogfish or Delaware into the main ranks.  Sorry, Small Wonder.

Michigan:  Michigan has over 80 breweries.  I have not tried them all.  But, I’ve had a few and I am a big fan of Bell’s Brewery.  The pride of Kalamazoo.  Their Two Hearted Ale is probably the best beer I’ve tried in the last year.

Massachusetts:  I’m not sure if Sam Adams (Boston Beer?) still qualifies as a craft beer.  I think they at least deserve some credit for their contribution to the industry.  And, I think Sam Adams makes good beer.  I prefer Harpoon, though.  That’s really good stuff.  It’s always my go-to choice when dining at Abe & Louie’s with the illustrious JCK.

The Top Four:

4.  Vermont.  The only brewery I’ve ever visited was in Vermont.  Of course, it was Harpoon.  Does Vermont gets partial credit for Harpoon?   No matter which state gets credit, I can recommend the Harpoon Brewery for a nice lunch outing.  I’ve lost my Harpoon IPA  t-shirt, so if you’re there, go ahead and pick me up a spare.  That’d be great.  Anyway, the closer you are to a state, the easier it is to get their craft beer, and so I’ve been able to sample many beers from Vermont’s 21 breweries (pretty impressive total).  There’s Magic Hat, Otter Creek, Long Trail and Switchback to name a few.  Vermont has successfully penetrated the Wegman’s market (always key) and even though the first beer I ever tried from Vermont (Magic Hat #9) did not blow me away, my tastes have changed a bit.  At that point I was drinking mostly Natty, so I’ve since gone back to Vermont’s ales and been pleasantly rewarded.  Something about cracking a Vermont beer makes you feel a bit rustic, and back-to-nature.  Good times.

3.  Oregon:  I’ve got to include Orgeon because the Pacific Northwest takes craft brewing seriously.  In consumption, breweries per capita and other pertinent brewing metrics, Oregon belongs in the top-4.  I don’t want to be too married to my own region.  I am an east coast, occasionally Miller drinking fraud, though, so don’t expect any real keen insight into Oregon’s brews.  What I can tell you is that Oregon’s beer festival is the largest gathering of craft brewers in the country, and that would certainly make a hell of a trip.  The most well-known craft brewery in Oregon is perhaps Rogue?  Rogue Dead Guy Ale is a very memorable name, but they have a massive number of offerings.  Aside from Rogue, I’ve seen some  Widmer Brothers around, but the real trouble is finding Oregon’s vast selection on the east coast.

2.  Pennsylvania.  I’m not sure what kind of reputation Pennsylvania has on the national scene as far as beer is concerned.  We love to drink beer, and I know many people inexplicably love Yuengling lager, but we’re not talking Yuengling, even if they consider themselves a large craft brewer.  At one time, Philadelphia was one of the great macro-brewing cities (Schmidts!) and I think it’s come back strong as a home to craft beers.  Of course, my experience drinking PA beers far outweighs any other state, but I think my bias remains in check.  I actually went to college about two miles from the Lancaster Brewing Company and almost never set foot in the place.  Too expensive.  Too far to walk to, but I’ve since been back and they make good beer there.  Pennsylvania also has Yards, Victory, Sly Fox, Stoudts, Troegs, and all of those should more than make up for the presence of Rock Bottom.   If you are impressed by Yuengling, you really should give some of PA’s smaller breweries a chance.

1.  California.  I don’t like ranking California #1 in anything, but it’s just so damn vast and full of heavy hitters–I’m not sure how you would arrive at a different conclusion.  For me, the discussion starts and stops with Sierra Nevada.  It’s my favorite beer.  It’s been discussed here repeatedly. There are three or four other varieties they make aside from the Pale Ale (Celebration, Summer, Ruthless Rye) that I also find quite enchanting.  In even more exciting news, the Pale Ale is becoming available in cans.  I’m not sure what to make of the can movement, but I’m pretty sure you could serve up a Sierra in just about anything and it would taste spectacular.  I still mourn the loss of ESB, but I await its triumphant return.  Some day.  Since this is my list, Sierra Nevada would have won this contest all by itself, but there are countless other fine California breweries.  Some I’ve sampled and enjoyed include Stone, Lagunitas, Anchor, Left Coast, and it goes on and on.

All right, fill me in your favorite beers–for those times when the Coors Light keg is kicked.

Reviving an Old Classic.

It is Award Season.

So, they announced the Oscar nominees this morning.  I did not get the call.  I keep thinking someone is going to adapt the blog into a screenplay, but no.  You can sum up the nominees by saying, “Clooney, a dog, blah, blah, blah, The Help, Woody Allen.”  Everyone got that?  Good.  Make your selections.  What we’re doing here today is something far more important.  It’s a tradition that arose in the beer-soaked loft apartments of Lancaster, PA.  We’re going to award the condiment of the year–2011.  No supporting roles need apply.  This is one trophy, everyone else goes home, just like sports.

Origins of the Award:

Awards, at least in this sense arise because a person (or group of persons) feel the need to show appreciation.  Sometime during my college career I felt the need to stop taking condiments for granted.  I was living in a golden age of condiments, and nowhere was this more evident than during a trip to Fuddruckers.  I think Fuddruckers is a dying brand, but a decade ago it sat atop the Mount Olympus of fast-food chains.  I’m not sure what their business model was–Perhaps kill them with cholesterol?  And, if that failed, try condiments.  The condiment bar at Fuddruckers was (is?) a celebration of excess.  And, it’s all gratis.  The first time you walk in and say, “Is that free hot cheese?”  That’s a life-changing experience.  I came from the Roy Rogers “Fixin’ Bar” School of condiments, which means I appreciate when an establishment leaves you to your own devices.  This was a new level, though.  The selection.  The premium quality Heinz products.  It was a dipper’s dream.  So, living in this condiment rich environment, it only felt natural to award a Condiment of the Year to celebrate our ridiculous bounty.  A short-lived tradition was born.

Past Champions:  Ketchup: (1999, 2003-2006, 2009).  BBQ Sauce: (2000).  Caesar Dressing: (2002).  Salsa: (2010).  Honey Mustard: (2001, 2007-8).

2011 Finalists:

  1. Ketchup
  2. Honey Mustard
  3. Tabasco
  4. Salsa
  5. BBQ Sauce

Criterion:

1.  Consistency.  It’s important to be able to walk into any restaurant and get the condiment you are looking for.  Some yahoo back in the kitchen, mixing up his own “special sauce” can be a bad thing.

2. Versatility.  You can’t be a one-trick pony.  Maybe you’re a person who likes to bathe in cocktail sauce, but how often are you really using it?

3. Innovation.  Has anyone breathed new life into the condiment recently?  A new usage, a new flavor profile.

4.  Signature Pairing.  Does the condiment have one food where no other condiment can take its place?  Or failing that, how many pairings does it dominate?  Chips, for example, are solely salsa’s domain.

5.  Current Form.  Sometimes a condiment can just “get hot,” and streak to the title.  See: Caesar Dressing in 2002.  Caesar rarely makes the finals, but that year everything just fell into place.

The Results:

5th Place:  Tabasco Sauce.

This is my ode to impartiality.  I am not a Tabasco Sauce user, but I don’t want to ignore its popularity.  It has a very loyal fan-base.  And, it’s undisputed strength is its versatility.  It goes on everything.  Eggs, pizza, chicken, a bloody mary–you name it.  And, in recent times Tabasco has tried to broaden their appeal with hotter and milder varieties.  Clearly, they weren’t going to ignore the Chipotle craze.  That said, I think the Tabasco wave has crested.  Never a champion, it was lucky to hold onto a top-5 spot this year.

4th Place:  BBQ Sauce.

BBQ Sauce will always have credibility, because there is an entire cuisine called “BBQ.”  Depending on your part of the country this means different things, but it often comes with a signature sauce.  And, no condiment has benefited from the boutique sauce craze like BBQ.  In my fridge right now I have a Bacon Chipotle (again) BBQ Sauce.  Is it good?  What do you think?  Of course, it is.  It’s hard to believe that at one time you’d walk into the store and it’d basically be Kraft, that fiery orange crap, or Bullseye.  Now, there are 1.5 million varieties.  Perhaps too many varieties?  BBQ sauce has a consistency problem, and it just didn’t peak at the right time this year.

3rd Place:  Ketchup.

Ketchup is like a pitcher who throws 105 miles an hour.  Why bother with a little spinning breaking ball when you can just blow everyone away?  The Ketchup/French Fry pairing will forever be Jordan/Pippen, Montana/Rice, Ruth/Gehrig–whatever analogy you want to make, you can’t overstate the importance of ketchup on french fries.  Of course, it’s hard to dress up ketchup.  You won’t be seeing Bacon-Chipotle ketchup anytime soon–I don’t think.  I went to a trendy steakhouse once last year and they had cheesesteak egg rolls with a “spicy ketchup,” but that’s about as risqué as you’ll get with the godfather.  I’ve got nothing bad to say about ketchup, it just wasn’t the year.

2nd Place:  Salsa.

You know what’s amazing about salsa?  It really isn’t bad for you!  That flies in the face of more traditionalist thinkers, but the delivery system is where you get into trouble with the salsa.  The chips, the quesadilla, the tacos–not that healthy.  What I like about salsa is that it goes so well with cheese.  Melted cheese in particular.  If you’re eating something with melted cheese, there’s a decent chance it needs salsa.  My main problem with salsa is chunkiness.  But again, I’m trying to put aside my own beliefs.  I don’t like a chunky salsa, but everyone–literally every other person alive–wants giant chunks in their salsa.  I have to live with that–except when I’m eating Momma 3-Putt’s homemade picante sauce.  It’s not chunky, and it’s delicious!

The 2011 Champion:  Honey Mustard.

Welcome back to the winner’s circle old friend.  First of all I’d like to thank Ken, Heinz and all other makers of proper honey mustard.  I’d like to give a shout-out to the chicken finger.  I’d like to acknowledge all the people who make their salads unhealthy by drowning them in funny mustard.  What a year, what a year.  The only thing holding honey mustard back from piling up even more titles is the countless number of people who don’t know how to make it.  I can tell, just by looking, if a honey mustard is going to be good.  And, nothing is more frustrating than getting an order of fingers with sub-par honey mustard.  Inexcusable.  But, I think more people are getting an understanding of what makes this condiment so delicious and we’re riding an uptick of consistency.  Don’t be afraid to explore its versatility either.  Last night I had a little grilled ham and cheese.  What’d it need?  Some Ken’s.

A Reluctant Confession.

Looks Like a Refreshing Glass of A&W.

I think a lot of people associate Fall with beer.  Nine out of the ten leading alcohol experts I know would say that a nice seasonal brew is the official drink of the season.  I suppose this all goes back to Oktoberfest?  What I don’t know is if there are actually special beers in Germany for Oktoberfest or if brewers around the world just make the special beers in tribute to the occasion.  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is, with beer becoming so specialized, the prevalence of the Autumn Microbrews, Oktoberfests, Pumpkin Whatevers, and Nut Ales is impossible to ignore.  Here’s my confession:  I don’t really like them.

It’s strange because I consider myself a beer drinker.  It is far and away the alcoholic beverage that I partake in the most, and I’m not the guy that drinks Miller Lite and only Miller Lite.  I even take pride in saying that I’m not real picky about beers, any beer will do, but with all this new variety, I find that isn’t the case.  Fruit?  Don’t want it in my beer.  So, take your strawberry blonde elsewhere.  And, this recent pumpkin trend isn’t to my liking either.  I read descriptions about a beer and they say, “It’s like a pumpkin pie in a bottle.”  Is that supposed to be a good thing?  I’d rather drink Bud Heavy than liquid Pumpkin Pie.  And, these Pumpkin and Thanksgiving offerings are just too much, aren’t they?  Even their fans seem to think that one or two in a sitting is about the limit.

And, I’ve never really been a fan of the Brown Ale.  I remember way back in my early drinking days when I had my first Newcastle.  Newcastle was a very recognizable brand for a new drinker because of that logo, and every single college age male at the time had a Newcastle pint glass for whatever reason.  Anyway, at that point I think I thought I was supposed to like Newcastle.  It was premium, where I was used to drinking Keystone Light.  Of course, I’d eventually find actual beers that I did like, but I choked down a few Newcastles in my day before I realized I could comfortably say that it tasted like a donkey’s hind end.

I was at one of these bars with hundreds of beer options not long ago and the draught board was dominated with Fall selections.  Where to go, where to go?  I ended up on the Sierra Nevada Tumbler you see above, because when in doubt, Sierra is usually a safe play.  (Apparently they also make a Fall selection called Estate Ale, which I’ve never seen) If Tumbler was half the beer that Celebration Ale is, I’d be one happy customer, but when the waitress returned, I knew immediately I was screwed.  The telltale color.  So brown, so disappointing.  And, of course, so nutty.  That’s another flavor I can’t deal with in my beer.  I’m very bad at describing what I like in a beer, but I know what I don’t like. Pumpkins? No.  Berries?  No.  Limes?  No.  Cool, Refreshing Mountain Streams?  Yes.  And, of course, Nuts? Absolutely not.  Keep your nuts out of my Ale, Sir.  That is all.

What’s Your Favorite Drinking Game?

Quarters Never Looked So Classy.

Last night Roy Halladay looked like a man in need of a beer.  Right after they pumped about six IV bags into him, I would have prescribed a Bud Light.  In honor of that, I thought it would be a good time to discuss drinking games.  I don’t really drink enough to play drinking games anymore, but in my head I would still be awesome at all of them.  Bouncing a quarter into glassware is like riding a bike.  Maybe I’ll rank at the end, but first, let’s just discuss.

I’d break all drinking games into the following categories:  Cards/Quarters/Balls&Cups/Chugging.

Chugging:

Chugging is the laziest, but perhaps the most honest of all categories.  All drinking games to some degree are designed to get people drunk, but these games don’t make any apologies.  There’s very little fanfare here.  Very little equipment or accessories needed.  I’m talking about Boat Race, or Power Hour, Case Race…things of that nature.  I did a few power hours in my day.  The most memorable was played with Beast Ice.  I arrived 10 minutes late, chugged a 16 oz can to “catch up,” and then finished the game.  After the hour, I announced I was “fine,” got up from the table, wobbled, and then had to sit in the corner to “gather myself,” for about an hour.  Good times.

Cards:

There are probably hundreds of drinking games played with cards.  The card scene I feel like is constantly changing.  I bet the young kids out there are doing things I’ve never hear of.  For me, you really only need to know how to play 3 drinking games with cards.  They serve every occasion.  You want to get drunk in a hurry?  Play Gauntlet.  Six cards on the table and the other person has to play high/low and run the board.  Drink if you miss and start over.  Brutal simplicity.  Then, there’s Circle of Death (Kings).  It’s kind of complicated, but very participatory.  I think it’s the best game for mixed company or a large crowd.  And, of course, the grandfather of all card games is A-hole.  As you might remember I spent my pathetic formative years playing A-hole without even knowing it.  I prefer A-hole among close friends and played at a leisurely pace.  If you want to be militant and wasted, play something else.  Also, it’s the rare drinking card game that you can actually argue takes some skill rather than just blind luck of the draw and a willingness to make a donkey out of yourself.

Quarters:

I think there’s a point in everyone’s life where they walk into a kitchen, look at the counter, and think to themselves, “that’d be perfect for quarters.”  Finding the right surface for quarters is key.  Like with the cards, you’ve got hundreds of variations on the same games.  The best thing about all quarters games is that they are purely games of skill.  There is no luck in bouncing a quarter.  Let’s be clear about that.  Classic quarters games include, Anchor Man, Baseball, and Speed Quarters.  I think Speed Quarters is probably my favorite, because you can gang up on one person at the table.  There’s something incredibly satisfying about stacking someone in speed quarters.  The worst thing about quarters is, if you are really good…you hardly ever drink.  Bring a social.

Balls & Cups:

This category is essentially made up of Beirut, Beer Pong and Flip Cup.  Beirut you throw ping-pong balls into a pyramid cup formation (rules from there vary greatly).  My stock Beirut rules are:  2 balls, hit them both get them back, rearrange the cups, no blowing, no picking, elbow rule, bouncing is embarrassing but allowed, and there’s always a retaliation shot. In terms of actual Beer Pong, played with paddles–not my style.  Maybe I like playing straight-up ping-pong too much. It’d be like playing drunk knockout or something, some games should be left alone.  Flip Cup is the other granddaddy. From my experience you usually either went to a Flip Cup college or a Beirut college.  Flip Cup is much easier to set up, not quite as disgusting,  faster, and still requires some skill.  I didn’t go to a Flip Cup college, so I usually dismiss it, but I understand the appeal of Flip Cup.  It’s kind of like understanding why Europeans like soccer.  It’s just not necessarily for me.

Rankings:

  1. Beirut.  Despite its many limitations and massive equipment/space demands there is still nothing as satisfying for me in terms of  level of competition and intoxication as a nice, well run, Beirut Tournament.
  2. Speed Quarters
  3. A-Hole
  4. Flip Cup
  5. The Gauntlet

I know this was a very cursory explanation, so I’d love to hear about games I’ve missed, rules I’ve butchered, or just a few classic drinking game stories.  One last note on drinking games:  Every single person thinks they are the best at one game and “knows someone” who is the best at another.  The first one is simple enough.  I think I am the best at Beirut.  You might be a Flip Cup person, whatever.  But, no one walks around thinking they are awful at all drinking games.  And, for the other category, it’s more of a one-upping.  If someone brags about a game that you can’t dominate, you’ll go to the “friend story.”  Say you’re getting hammered at quarters.  The natural response is to say something like, “I went to college with a kid who could hit a Snapple bottle from across the room.”  What you’re really saying there is, while you might be losing this particular game, your circle of friends would still win the drinking game Olympics and that’s really the basis for any college kid’s self-esteem.