From the Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito Vaults (Charlie Brown and Tragedy)

This 89tek9 freestyle was such an unlikely pairing, but it worked so well.  Let’s start with Charlie Brown…

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Charlie Brown and Busta Rhymes clearly were vying for leadership and charismatic sway during Leaders of the New School’s rather short lifespan. After they dropped their second album T.I.M.E., which was a notable disappointment, the group disbanded. Charlie Brown and Dinco D. basically fell out of the spotlight, while Busta Rhymes rose to legendary status, releasing several albums and making countless cameo appearances on albums left and right throughout the 1990s and beyond. If you ever wondered what happened to LONS from both C Brown and Busta’s perspectives, here are two great links from a few years ago:

20/20Proof

Egotripland

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When I first heard this freestyle, I thought it was Charlie Brown rapping with Nas. I was surprised to learn it was another Queensbridge native, Tragedy Khadafi. Further shock set in once I did my pre-Internet hip hop research (we’re talking mid-1990s) and realized: Intelligent Hoodlum = Tragedy Khadafi. His style changed considerably once he was resurrected as Tragedy Khadafi and appeared on tracks alongside Mobb Deep and C.N.N.  Tragedy released several albums from 1993 through 2011. He dropped his last album Thug Matrix 3 after serving nearly three years in jail for drug charges.

Enjoy!

Better Than Pliny? (The Magic 8)

I was geeking out the other day with a bartender at an Upper East Side bar. We were sharing some of our favorite India Pale Ales (IPAs) and Double/Imperial India Pale Ales (DIPAs) throughout the country. We offered up a variety of our own favorites, but both agreed that Pliny the Elder is a grossly overrated beer. It’s a great beer, but there are plenty of other amazing hoppy fish in the sea. Here are some of the IPAs and DIPAs that I spit out during our craft beer nerd-fest. One of these below was a recommendation from said bartender who mentioned that it’s his second favorite IPA next to Heady Topper. This list doesn’t include Heady Topper.  (Much is already documented about my love for Heady Topper and my multiple Heady adventures.)

In no particular order…

1.  Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Abner:

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My brother and I were in Waterbury, Vermont, looking to bring home a few cases of Heady Topper and we stumbled across this incredible beer at the Reservoir Restaurant and Taproom. We took our first sip and immediately looked at each other in amazement. One of us immediately looked Abner up on Beer Advocate and quickly realized that this beer is a big deal. I won’t say how high the rating is, just take a look for yourself. Too bad Hill Farmstead isn’t super close to Waterbury. We also promised to return home to NYC that same day. One day we will make it there for sure.

2.  Bell’s Hopslam

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NYC was devoid of anything from Bell’s for quite a long time.  When the Michigan brewery finally struck a deal to distribute its beers in New York, craft beer venues pulled out their red carpets to welcome the much-lauded brewery. Their most popular beer, Two Hearted Ale, is a superb beer. It truly was my go to beer when the local bodega began carrying six-packs on a regular basis. However, it’s the harder-to-find Hopslam that truly pleased my palate. A few bottle shops in NYC put a two bottle maximum limit on Hopslam purchases when it was first made available.  Since then, I haven’t seen it around too much. Next time I do, I plan to snatch a few up right away.

3.  Alpine Beer Company’s Duet

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You will not see this beer in bars, restaurants or bottle shops in New York.  I traded a few Heady Topper cans last year to folks out in California. I actually asked for Pliny, but the West Coast IPA connoisseur told me to trust his hop guidance and sent me a bottle of this instead. It definitely didn’t disappoint. After having Pliny a few times, I think Duet is a better-balanced and overall tastier beer than Pliny the Elder. If any of my West Coast friends are reading this, please ship me a bottle of Duet.

4. Long Trail Brewing Company’s Limbo IPA 

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I might get hate-mail by claiming this beer by Long Trail is better than Russian River Brewing Company’s mainstay. There is something special about this beer. Maybe it’s Long Trail’s use of Australian hops which tend to impart delightful tropical fruit flavors. Long Trail started using the experimental Farmhouse Pilot Brewery to brew one-off batches that became quite popular on draft. Their Limbo IPA is the first of these pilot beers to be bottled and distributed widely. Don’t overlook or underestimate this Vermont gem.

5.  Maine Beer Company’s Lunch

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The first time I had this beer was at my beloved Guilty Goose, a phenomenal craft beer-centric restaurant in Chelsea, NYC. Eddie, the super awesome bartender over there (not sure if he’s still there), was always a Maine Beer Company aficionado.  I’ve had a few of their beers, but this one… Wow! (nuff said)

6.  Proclamation Ale Company’s Tendril

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My great friend Keith not only holds a doctorate now, but also knows a little something about good beer. During our annual trip up to Providence, he strongly urged us to try an IPA by a new brewery in the state, Proclamation Ale Company. My BeerMenus app wasn’t working too well in Providence, so my wife and I decided to just go to the source to try this IPA he spoke so highly of. I hope to do a full write up of the brewery soon. Tendril certainly didn’t disappoint. It was one of the best new IPAs I’ve tried in a while. You will only be able to find Tendril in Rhode Island for now. It was so good I almost put aside my disdain for growlers to take some Tendril back home to enjoy.

7.  Port Brewing Company’s Hop-15 Ale 

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Hop-15 is another West Coast beer that is difficult to find out East. Port Brewing Company has a wonderful portfolio and this is one of their best. Admittedly, I haven’t had this one in quite a while, but my first impression was very memorable. Here’s another one to stuff into a sock, to place ever so carefully into the middle of your (check-in) suitcase.

8.  Other Half Brewing Company’s Green Diamonds

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I absolutely love the name of this beer.  You can only go so far with different catchy iterations of that dank, piney and bitter flower we love so much. Beyond a great name, Other Half truly created what might be the best Imperial IPA in New York. I’ve had amazing New York IPAs by the likes of Six Point (Resin), Barrier (Daddy Warbucks), Ithaca (Flower Power), Peekskill (Eastern Standard), and Newburgh (Hop Drop). At this moment of time, Green Diamonds is my absolute favorite IPA the Empire State has to offer.

If you have any other IPAs or DIPAs to put on my radar, please leave a comment. I’ve tried so many beers, I might have forgotten about it. As I’m wrapping this post up, I just remembered how much I love Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum. Let’s see if I can do a Better Than Pliny follow up by next year. For now, I’ll keep searching.

A Craft Beer Adventure in Providence

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I’ve been to Providence, Rhode Island so many times, but I never made a full-day commitment to exploring the craft beer scene in this lovely town. After approximately seven straight summertime visits to Providence, I finally decided to spend time digging for craft beer. Accompanied by my wife and awesome driver/great friend Keith, we jetted over to Dexter Field (Armory Park) to check out Providence Kickball: “The Greatest Show on Dirt.”  The story of a Providence craft beer adventure should rightly start here, in case you were beginning to wonder. Sean Larkin, the Brewmaster behind Revival Brewery of Providence, is head of the kickball league. I got in touch with him to chat about the Providence craft beer scene and Revival. Sean let me know he had an all-day obligation, but invited me to come down and check out kickball. I was left bewildered and utterly intrigued.  I had a feeling there would be something special happening at Dexter Field.

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We arrived and were quickly pointed towards Sean’s direction. He greeted us with cans of Narrangansett Beer (the league’s official sponsor) and broke down the history of Providence Kickball. The kickball league has been in full swing for the past ten years, with games taking place every Saturday during the warmer months of the year. In order to join the league, your team needs to have some sort of schtick. The zombie team was playing in full “walker” attire. For good measure, zombies on the sideline were even spraying members of the opposing team with (fake) blood. I could only imagine what some of the other teams wear and use as props.  Some of the other team names include Jedi Mind Kicks, Bath Salt Heroes, Cereal Killers, and Derek Zoolander Zoo.  

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In between innings, you’ll find kickball players sipping on some local brews, as opposed to Gatorade.  Sean promised me the games would be “a great example of Providence drinking sub-culture” and he was absolutely right. When Sean is not presiding over this colorful sports league, he is busy brewing some really fantastic beer. Revival is two years old and has a steady rotation of five beers, with other releases on deck.  Sean earned his brewing stripes working for Trinity brewpub and Narrangansett Brewing Company, earning 12 awards at the Great International Beer Festival. I was able to try Revival’s delicious Double Black IPA at a local craft beer bar, but more on that later. We said goodbye to Sean and made our way to Pawtucket to catch the tail end of Foolproof Brewing Company’s final tour of the day.

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We had one of the best drivers in the business, but we still missed the final tour at Foolproof. Nevertheless, the tasting room was still open, so we slid right in to catch a few glimpses of the brewery. We met Nick Garrison, president/founder of Foolproof, and briefly chatted with him and his wife. After trying a few samples and snapping photos of the sparkling brewery (it is so brand-spanking new), we said goodbye to the Foolproof crew, including Lucy, the brewery’s guard-dog.

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Next stop… What Cheer Tavern   This is a pretty simple formula:  Great bar food…awesome selection of craft beer, mostly local…laid back, unpretentious vibe. The Mooredola, where I always stay during my summer excursions to Providence, is within walking distance, so we ditched the car and walked down the block. This place is dangerously good. If What Cheer was located down the block from our apartment, I’d probably have my mail sent over there. Kudos to Sean Larkin. The Double Black IPA was pretty darn good. I wish I could have tried more Revival beers.  There’s always next summer.

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Cheers,

 

BierWAX

Southern Tier Brewing Company

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Southern Tier Brewing Company was on my list of breweries to visit since I fell in love with Imperial Pumpking a few autumns ago. Distance is the only thing that prevented me from checking them out. Lakewood is actually closer to Ohio than NYC. During my winter trip to Empire in Syracuse, my close friend Grandmaster Ben Wah proposed we hit up another upstate brewery when I visited next. I mentioned Southern Tier and he was game to take the 3+ hour ride from Binghamton to the Southwestern tip of New York State.

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My adventure began after work on Friday. I jumped on the road somewhat early, hoping to beat rush hour traffic. Apparently, rush hour must start before 2:00 on summer Fridays in NYC. It took me over an hour to get out of the Bronx. Not fun! I summoned my inner monk to just embrace my reality: bumper to bumper, stop-and-go expressway madness. Once the concrete jungle was in my rearview mirror, I was able to reach actual highway speed. I went to school upstate, so this commute was not at all new to me. I ignored my urges to pull out the GPS and used the force instead to guide the way toward Binghamton, my overnight stay. I realized I was lost when I wound up in the mountains – I never remembered such a steep and treacherous route to my alma mater. It was quite scenic, though, and I discovered a Hasidic Jewish community in the wilderness (I kid you not).

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Fast forward to Saturday morning. We wake up early to make the trek to Southern Tier Brewing Co. On the way, we find a live bait vending machine. That was definitely the oddest thing I’ve seen in a while. We also found a town with an interesting name. If we had more time, we were going to stop and ask directions to Havana to see if we could piss off any locals. It probably was better that we didn’t.

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Southern Tier Brewing Company: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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The Good

Southern Tier has some remarkable beer. Many of their key beers are rated above 90 on Beer Advocate, which is a great accomplishment. As a brewery, they have a “World Class” rating with a score of 95. Take a look: Southern TierThe brewery is modern, super slick, and just plain gorgeous.

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Even the business office looks immaculate. It’s probably the result of someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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I was able to have the first batch of Imperial Pumpking, which was just released that morning. Quite early for a fall seasonal, but I’ll take it! (Check out tap number three!)

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The Bad

I drove all the way from NYC and I wasn’t able to do a tour. The tours were at 1:00, 2:30, and 4:30. We just missed the 1:00 tour by 5 minutes. We thought we were guaranteed to attend the 2:30 tour, only to find out all tours were booked until 4:30. Apparently, you need to get tickets first thing in the morning. I just wanted to chat with someone who was knowledgable of their history and brewing process, at the very least.

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The Ugly

I would have been satisfied to chat with a Southern Tier staff member about anything Southern Tier related; however, that didn’t happen. Most of the staff members I encountered were not approachable or were just plain rude. When I asked if they were filling growlers yet of Imperial Pumking, I was answered with “Uh, that’s not gonna happen!” I also wanted to get a flight to try as many beers as possible and still make it to a BBQ later that evening. The bartender told me that none were available and didn’t know when they would be. Less than ten minutes later, two guys approached the bar and left with two flights. People travel from great distances to experience the brewery. Southern Tier management should ensure employees are equipped to interact with its customers. I didn’t take much away with me besides a few bombers and some nice photos. (Plus a very good time hanging with my great friend Wah.)

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The bottom line for me, though, is the beer. Southern Tier makes some fantastic beer. It was great to visit a top-notch brewery from my very own state, albeit 8 hours away. I cracked open one of the bombers I arrived home with and I made peace with the not so friendly Southern Tier staff as I sipped my delicious Imperial Compass. I’ll do a write up on that very soon.

Cheers,

BierWAX

A Grand Discovery (Beer Table Pantry)

With all of the craft beer spots opening up in NYC, including breweries, bottle shops, and bars, it’s easy to miss some essential fairly recent openings like this amazing little shop in the illustrious Grand Central Station. Beer Table Pantry is the type of business idea you wish you had brainstormed yourself. With a minuscule piece of probably super expensive real estate in a well traversed corridor in the Big Apple transportation Mecca, the owners are sitting on a gold mine. Catering to both tourists and daily commuters, Beer Table Pantry is designed for grab and go. New York State laws allow commuters to drink on the Metro-North, the commuter railway that links NYC with Connecticut, Westchester, and other destinations north. Most Metro-North commuters/beer drinkers were forced to purchase Bud Light, Coors, and the like for their sometimes hour or more commute home.

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Now Beer Table Pantry provides a craft beer option for those post work rides home. What better way to unwind after a day of drudgery than watching the blur of trees zip by as you sip on a bottle of Mikkeller or Evil Twin’s finest offerings. This little spot has quite a selection and utilizes every inch of its space wisely.

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Not wanting to leave empty handed, I purchased a to-go pint jar and filled up with a local IPA I have yet to try. The jars are for immediate consumption on the train.  I mentioned I was heading to Brooklyn, not up north, so they warned me about possible spillage. I didn’t lose too much by the time I got home. Let’s see how my IPA tastes a few hours later.  I might be pushing it a little bit.

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Party Boat IPA (Port Jeff Brewing Company) 

Number 6 to go, please!

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Style: American IPA

Profile: 7.7 ABV, IBU 101

Random News: Port Jefferson Brewing Co. announced Wednesday that Salvatore Barra won the ‘U Name Our IPA’ contest, naming the new brew Party Boat. Barra will receive one growler of the new IPA, which is 7.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV). The recipe was developed by brewer Jamie Partridge, and the beer will debut shortly. In honor of Long Island Craft Beer Week, the brewery also created Hopstar IPA, which they made just seven barrels of exclusively for Superstar Beverage.

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Brewery Info:  Port Jeff Brewing Company is located at 22 Mill Creek Road, within the Chandler Square walking mall. The brewery features a 7 barrel system which is capable of producing 217 gallons (about 86 cases) per brew. Beers are packaged in keg, 22 ounce and special release bottle formats for distribution throughout Long Island, NYC, and Westchester County bars, restaurants, and other retail beer outlets.

The facility opened for production in October of 2011.  Tours are available on Saturdays.

Cheers,

BierWAX

John Brown Smokehouse

Rare beer can be currency, as proven by my recent beer adventures.  After driving up to the Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and back in one day, my case of Heady Topper proved to be a very valuable commodity.  I had strangers making all types of wild offers for the coveted beer, from trades of the highly sought-after Pliny the Elder to undisclosed amounts of cash money.  A very notable Heady Topper transaction took place in Long Island City, Queens, in a smoked-meat/BBQ spot with a whole lot of character.  John Brown Smokehouse makes it to Bushwyck Craft’s top 3 places to drink craft beer during the month of April.

It really all starts and ends with Josh Bowen, the charismatic and stand-up owner of the John Brown Smokehouse.  I hadn’t heard of either Josh or his wonderful restaurant until he somehow found me on the Interweb (ha).  We brokered a deal: 4 Heady Toppers for a meal and drinks at his establishment.  I’m a sucker for brisket, pastrami and the like, so it wasn’t a hard sell.

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I decided to head to John Brown’s early Thursday evening and took a tour of Long Island City on the way to the restaurant.  Born in Astoria but raised in Flushing, Long Island City was always the outer-rim, a virtual no man’s land of factories and warehouses.  So much has changed in the past 7 years.  It was like discovering a brand new neighborhood.

John Brown Smokehouse is a serious smoked-meat joint thanks to Josh’s passion, expertise, and training. He spent two years manning the pit at Hill Country in Chelsea.  If you have ever had the brisket over there, you will want to venture out to Long Island City to see what he is up to now.  I had the burnt ends, pastrami, and pulled pork – All were amazing.  It was the sides, though, that really did me in.  Their version of corn bread is simply incredible.

Josh is a supreme pitmaster, but he has developed an affinity for craft beer in the past six months.  His selection of beers on draught did not disappoint and he keeps the taps rotating on a regular basis.  I had a great time chatting it up with bartender Pete and sampling every single beer they had on tap.  My two favorites on tap were Kuhnhenn Double Rice IPA and Founders KBS.

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As a former history teacher, I was very curious as to how the restaurant was named after John Brown the abolitionist.  I thought it was just a catchy gimmick, but there is a John Brown lending library at the restaurant and this past Sunday has been hailed “John Brown Day” in NYC.  The Smokehouse was awarded a NYC citation for its work towards preserving the legacy of John Brown.  On Sunday, two professors visited the restaurant to facilitate a talk about John Brown’s legacy.  Josh is genuinely invested in the history of the abolitionist turned freedom fighter and martyr.

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I’ve posted a few photos already of Josh’s excitement over Heady Topper.  After chilling the can for twenty minutes or so, he didn’t waste any time to QUICKLY consume the hoppy masterpiece.  I’ll end this piece with a few photos of Josh shotgunning his can of Heady.  Classic!

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If you are in NYC, definitely pass by the John Brown Smokehouse for a meal and some great beer:

10-43 44th Drive, Long Island City, New York

Cheers,

BierWAX

Torst: Love at First Sight

Tørst – 615 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint

Everything I wrote about Torst last year when it first opened is dated and irrelevant now.  In one full year of business, Torst has received plenty of accolades and much has been written about this fantastic place.  If you have not yet visited this craft beer (must visit) destination in NYC, please go now!  Whether or not the G train is working, you need to find a way to get there. Here are photos from my first visit. Cheers! -BierWAX

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NYC Craft Beer Festival “Spring Seasonals” Recap

1.  Maine Beer Company Mean Old Tom (American Stout)

2.  Bear Republic Cafe Racer 15 (Imperial IPA)

3. Otter Creek Russian Imperial Stout 

4.  Sam Adams New World Tripel (Belgian-style Tripel) – I am not usually a huge fan of Sam Adams, so I was shocked.

5.  Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (Imperial Stout)

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Cheers,

BierWAX

Trading Craft Beer Like Polo Gear

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I’m not sure if this was just a NYC phenomenon, but if you were a teenager or in your early twenties in NYC in the early 1990s you probably knew a few Lo-Lifes or Lo-Heads.  ‘Lo, for the uninitiated, is short for Polo and was what we called Ralph Lauren’s very ostentatious clothing in the early 1990s.  Ralph Lauren’s clothing between 1989 and 1993 was what many (or at least Lo-Heads) consider the golden era of Polo clothing.  All of the pieces, whether hats, button-ups, sweaters, jackets, or coats had their own names. (Snow Beach, Eagle Knit, Cashmere Teddy Bear, the Outdoorsman, Indian Head, Racing Jacket, and P-Tennis, to name a few.)  You still might catch people rocking Polo gear from 1992 walking around the gritty city.   For more info on the NYC crew from Brooklyn called the Lo-Lifes and this very unique subculture, click here.

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There were one or two degrees of separation between me and the actual crew Lo-Lifes.  I considered myself a Lo-Head and started dressing in ‘Lo from head to toe in high school.  Finding the exclusive and rare Polo “pieces” became quite an obsession.  I would often beg my mother to take a day trip to the Ralph Lauren outlet in Reading, Pennsylvania to find some pretty amazing deals and sometimes find highly coveted pieces to wear to school the following day.  My friends and I soon got hip to the game and realized we could trade our Polo gear with other ‘Lo youth throughout the city.  Another Lo-Head was, of course, easy to spot.  If you were wise, you would have your ‘Lo photo album on you at all times.  The photo album served two purposes: to document what ‘Lo pieces you had at one time and to show others what was currently available for trade.  Sometimes a trade left you with a sweater that didn’t actually fit too well.  (There were no full length mirrors on NYC subway platforms or in front of Mickey D’s on Broadway in the Village.) I’ve heard of trades that resulted in guns being pulled out and hundreds or thousands of dollars in clothing being snatched from your hands. This was serious business, indeed!

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Fast forward to 2013… I was very late to this party, but I finally made my first craft beer trade.  Google+ has a terrific Craft Beer community and this trade was the result of online craft beer networking.  I posted a photo of Sixpoint Resin in the “What I’m Drinking” section and a fellow craft beer sipper from Minnesota made a comment about wishing Sixpoint was distributed to his neck of the woods.  That’s how the deal was struck.  I looked up some beers from Minnesota that aren’t distributed to New York and the rest is history.  I will not be making this a new habit because shipping beer across the country is pricey.  I’ll throw up a review of Fulton Beer’s Worthy Adversary once I crack it open.

When your passion for something borders on the extreme, you’ll figure out ways to get more of it.  Whether it’s amassing an obscene number of P-wing hats, shirts, and jackets or stacking crates of vinyl to the ceiling, you might hear a voice in back of your head telling you that there’s still more out there to discover and acquire.  Now in my 30s, I’m hoping to have a healthier relationship with my passion for craft beer.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful wife that keeps this obsessed collector and connoisseur in check.

Cheers,

BierWAX