History is littered with hard sells like “elect Mitt Romney” or “enact congest pricing” or, when I was 16 years old: “Please touch me.”
However, it was ridiculously simple to convince six men to guzzle their weight in beer and embrace bromance.
“Ditch the ladies,” I said. “It’s a boys-only brewery adventure.”
Sold. Statewide, more than 40 New York breweries await in towns a short train ride on NJ Transit from NYC. Like Pearl River, home to Advil manufacturers Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and Defiant Brewing Company. Though brewmaster owner Neil Acer cranked up his kettles in fall 2006, his tasty brews (like hoppy Muddy Creek Lager) rarely leave Pearl River. So, in our misguided minds, visiting Defiant was like frolicking in a drunkard’s forbidden Garden of Eden.
After the train deposited our testosterone troupe in Pearl River, we headed across the rusty tracks to a white warehouse: Defiant’s convenient headquarters. “Can we get a tour?” I asked cellerman Ben Blowers, a skinny, goateed guy with wire-rim glasses, earrings and lengthy fingernails.
“Here it is,” he said, gesturing to gleaming tanks and kettles, metal pipes and whirling doodads, lining the long room tall enough to fly a kite. Taped to the white cinderblock wall was a bearded angel cradling a sudsy mug. Now that’s my idea of heaven—if Jews had a heaven, I mean.
We sat at a blond-wood bar big enough for a high football team and pondered our liquid attack. Any mug of über-fresh beer (dispensed directly from storage tanks, not kegs) costs $3.25, and wine-size corked bottles filled with one-off oddities are $9.
“Uh, I’ll try the Belgian Abbey,” I said.
“Don’t have it,” Blowers replied.
“But it’s there,” I said, pointing at the chalkboard near the ceiling.
“It’s hard to climb on the tanks and erase things,” Blower explained.
Excuses, shmixcuses. We instead sampled the creamy stout; malty, chocolaty porter; caramel-esque Irish amber; and our favorite, the easy-drinking Muddy Creek Lager.
“Another, please,” a quick-drinking friend said, draining his ration in two gulps.
Yet these libations were as unique as Natty Light compared to the corked novelties. “We’re not the next Sam Adams,” Blower explained, “we’re an artisanal brewery.” Damn straight. The Lambchop Raspberry (containing 300 pounds of ’berry) was funky and sour, sunburn-pink and not cloying, while the double IPA was a baby smooth, bitter blast. My fave, the Belgian Tripel 3, was sweet, spicy and strong as Andre the Giant, with subtle notes of peach.
“I am,” I mumbled, “officially buzzed.” It was 6 p.m. Brooklyn beckoned. We lurched to the train while Aaron, ever the considerate enabler, bought 24-ounce Budweisers for all.
“Why waste money when you’re wasted,” he surmised.
We drank greedily and discussed offal so volubly (“You can spoon up brains like custard.” “Penis doesn’t belong on a stick.”) that we drove fellow riders into neighboring cars. Alcohol, I suspect, doesn’t make me as droll as I imagine.
The train ride home took us through New Jersey where our beer vanished: destination Penn Station. Smart men would’ve let their livers clock out. But since our common sense was anesthetized, we zigzagged to Chelsea Piers. It housed Chelsea Brewing Company’s inaugural Manhattan Cask Ale Festival, conceived by cask evangelist Alex Hall.
Quick tutorial: Cask ale is warm, unfiltered beer that contains live yeasts and low carbonation. They’re as complex and flavorful as fine wine—sippers, not instant inebriants. Not that most bargoers cared. Befitting Saturday night, Chelsea Brewing was ass-to-elbow with men wearing backward baseball hats and women painted like slutty clowns. People were raring to get fucked up and hopefully fuck. We elbowed through heaving throngs and reached a clutch of sedate cask lovers.
“Taste the nuance,” said one khaki-wearing gentleman, passing his cup to another.
Ah, beer geekdom, how I love your gentle ways. We acquired Blue Point’s grassy Spring Fling, Troëgs’ floral Hop Back Amber Ale and New England Brewing’s Wet Willy, a 10-percent Scotch ale “that’s like drinking straight liquor,” Aaron decreed. It was so lip-smackingly scrumptious, we ordered rounds that rapidly multiplied. The night should’ve died there, pickled as a Kosher dill, but I had one final dreadful idea in a day lousy with ’em.
“Let’s party with the motorcycle gang,” I urged, escorting our wobbly crew homeward to my local black biker bar in Brooklyn, where we drank jet-fuel-proof rum mixed with milk and created lasting memories that lasted only until our eyes flickered shut.