Tuesday, October 11, 2011

New York Pub Crawls -- Part II -- Rattle n' Hum

I had been to Rattle N’ Hum once before in 2009 and was eager to return as the previous visit was quite literally life-changing—but that is another story for another time. The place was packed with all sorts of folks and all sorts of drinks. A couple suits, some army guys, small groups of friends and many college football fans. The fans were split evenly between the two teams so there was always some sort of rise coming from half the room as the game played out. The live music was a nice addition to the mix of noises as well.

One thing I especially liked about the places I visited was the detailed menus and this establishment was no exception. At Rattle N’ Hum I decided to follow ‘Patrick’s picks’ -- printed daily with pointed prose on presentation and perfection and selection of beer.

Patrick (the picker) was not present. Patrick can pick from a proper patch of prize beers but I should point out that Patrick’s picks were precisely three pints. How professional! The marks of a true critic are passion and discretion not peccadilloes and precarious indecision. A critic should also not pick piddling or middling trifle.

I will proceed to prattle on the evening’s tipple:

Sweet – very vinous, pungent, reminiscent of Welch’s grape juice from childhood when I first smelled this one. The word ‘grape-y’ appears in my notes. A sour note leaves me curious about exactly how this beer was produced. I make a note to do more research.

Further research reveals that the brewery is called Strubbe and the beer shares a name with the brewery’s hometown of Ichtegems —the brewery is not named for the town as I initially assumed from the menu (it appeared at Ichtegems ‘Grand Cru’). The website lists an Ichtegem Oud Bruin as well as an Ichtegems Grand Cru. I can only assume that the Grand Cru is a more potent version of the Oud Bruin. The menu lists the beer I had at 6.5% while the website lists the Oud Bruin at 5% even. Likely, this means the Grand Cru is simply a different blend of the young and old beers that compose the Oud Bruin. Unfortunately, while the website lists a Grand Cru, it does not go into further detail. You’ll just have to trust my detective work on this one.

Flemish Sour Ales are fascinating from a production standpoint and will throw your mouth for a loop if you have never had one. A reasonably common one to get a hold of in North America is Duchesse deBourgogne. It might not get you on the plane to Belgium, but it will get you thinking about spontaneous fermentation and one day you might get spontaneous enough yourself to buy a ticket to that great land.

Spontaneous fermentation is the practice of letting fermentation begin naturally from whatever yeasts and bacteria are there in the air or in the storage vessels you are using. This may sound like madness, but if you are working in a brewery that has been in operation for hundreds of years and isn’t in the habit of dusting its rafters you pretty well know what is going to end up in your wort. Souring bacteria are part of this mix.

The beers are aged and blended with younger beer to hit the right note of dryness and sourness. Souring and blending isn’t confined to the Belgian beer tradition. Ron Pattinson has given a wonderful accounts of the practice of vatting (aging) porter in England (read his books for more!). Imagine a bit of that funk in your favourite black beauty, eh? Germany also makes use of tangy flavours in the Berliner Weiss style of wheat beers. I recently had a versionat Bar Volo – it is one of their House Ales.

Left Hand holds a special place in my heart. I have had precisely one glass of their delicious Milk Stout and have passed up a few chances to have it again since in order that I might preserve the memory of that delicious, sweet black silk. One day I’ll cave but until then please allow me the perverse pleasure of self denial. There’s some sort of joke/lesson here about a platonic ideal but we’ll pass over that for the time being…

Left to Patrick’s mercy I was excited for the chance to have their tantalizingly named Imperial Stout.

The bitterness was potent and reminiscent of cocoa. There was enough juiciness to keep that cocoa flavour in check preventing it from being too dry, harsh or unpleasant. A bright scent of raisins rises up and slowly fades away into the finish. It didn’t wake me up, but nor did it put me to sleep. The effect of the beer was a poor test for determining if I was dead or not but aside from that it was rather tasty. I left the vexing question of my vital signs behind and proceeded to the next of Patrick’s picks.

Another Belgian beauty, though my notes on this were rather short. Seems unfair for such a nice beer. The beer was creamy, richly flavoured of caramel and had a creeping, rising bitterness to finish it off. I thoroughly approved and a desire to pat Patrick on the back (as well as to make a pun about this action) was creeping up on me too.

It was time to move off on my own and make my own pick and I chose

My only note of substance on this beer was that it boasted the thickest and most stubborn head of all the brews thusfar.

I’m afraid to say that while I did enjoy this beer its enjoyment was blunted by the enjoyment of a beer that came before it. There was some smokiness in there, but it was rather mild by my measure after having to contend with the previous monster. This would be a totally different beer if you drank it, say, for breakfast. Any logical evaluation of Patrick’s picks would have positioned the Imperial Stout last.

I suppose if I had to have my full enjoyment of a beer robbed from me I could be content with the cause of that loss being another great beer I had enjoyed minutes prior.

A thanks goes out to Alexandra, my bartender, for being as chatty as one can with a stranger in a crammed Manhattan bar. Cheers, kudos  and chau to you and the Rattle N’ Hum team. Perhaps next time Patrick will have the presence to be present for a pat on the back.

It was time to wander over to The Ginger Man

1 comment:

  1. Having a little fun in the third paragraph are we? Glad to see you are productive in your fb vacay. Keep the stories coming. -Warren