Gut Instinct: Captain-ing a Sinking Ship

100_1990 “You look like you received a gangland beating,” my girlfriend says, tsk-tsking my ground-meat palms, grapefruit right knee and limp to rival an arthritic grandpa’s.

“Too mush delishiness,” I mumble, pantomiming falling off my bike and crashing to the pavement. “Too mush…”

“I know, I know.” She sighs, a parent whose kid has disappointed again, but whom they must still love. “Didn’t you eat enough pork?”

“Pork!” I shout, as the day’s details fuzzily appear, like a Magic 8-Ball answer: Outlook not so good.

Disaster was predestined. I’d organized a field trip to Pleasantville, New York’s Captain Lawrence, the metro region’s finest microbrewery. From the spicy Belgian-style Liquid Gold to the ferociously hoppy Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA, these wondrous beers make me proud to be a New York drunk.

My crew’s plan was to catch the 10:48 a.m. train. By 10:45, only two friends had appeared. “Just one last platform check,” I told my pal Julie, busy chewing a Bergen Bagels everything. I stepped outside, just as the doors clammed shut. With my bike and bag inside.

Julie futilely poked the emergency button as the train slithered off, maintaining eye contact as if we were family members separated by war. I caught the next train, trying not to strangle tardy stragglers. We’d initially planned to ride around Pleasantville’s gurgling reservoir, but I was feeling foul. “Beer. Now,” I growled, leading our crew to Captain.

Today was the brewery’s third anniversary party, an occasion commemorated with roasted pigs and lakes of beer. The Captain (well, brewmaster Scott Vaccaro) let guests scamper around the crowded, high-ceilinged complex, slurping crisp Freshchester Pale Ale and ogling shiny objects. “Meet our brand-new bottling line,” Vaccaro said, waving a hand across the gleaming, conveyor-driven gewgaws that sanitize, fill and cap up to 3,000 12-ouncers an hour. “Watch this,” Vaccaro said, sending a bottle through the whirring machinations. We watched, silent and slack jawed, wowed by technology’s contribution to inebriation.

Not that we needed help today. “We’re double-fisting,” said Julie, a friend whose floss-thin waist belies her quenchless thirst for beer. We slumped to a tent, scoring a seasonal espresso stout that reeked of fresh-roasted java, minus the bitterness. The Brown Bird ale was smooth and nutty, with a refreshingly grassy finish, while the Sunblock was wheaty summertime refreshment.

“Now it’s time for piggy-piggy,” Julie said, procuring several double-decker pulled-pork and brisket sandwiches. They’re piquantly sauced and taste profoundly of smoke, which is billowing profusely from a smoker. With boldness awakened by beer, I slumped forward, hoping to grab underappreciated pig parts.

“Sir, do you have any spare ears? Or perhaps some cheeks?” I asked the bald, aproned swine tender. Such crunchy, tasty bits are often forsaken for juicy rump meat. “Only if you like it well done.” “Oh, I do.” “Come here.” He lifted the smoker’s lid, revealing a pig licked by flames too often, too soon: Skin and charcoal shared the same color.

“Now that,” I said, “is sad.” Men have been stripped of spatulas for lesser transgressions. “I know, man,” the BBQ guy commiserated, closing the lid on the travesty.

Instead of offal, I retreated to our table with a cup of cask-conditioned Freshchester, aged with dried peaches. It recalled French-kissing a perfume bottle. But the afternoon’s highlight, the extra-hopped Belgian-style Xtra Gold, would remain untapped till Freshchester was finished. “Kill it,” the beer-drenched pourer had pleaded, as if the cask were a mortally wounded animal. I disappeared the beer into the bushes.

What are you doing?” inquired the muscled doorman, incredulous that anyone dared dump beer.

“It tastes like liquefied potpourri,” I replied, weaseling away. Fifteen minutes later, in great part to my unscrupulous friends, the Freshchester cask kicked. The Xtra Gold was tapped, spraying foam across the eager hordes, across my smudged eyewear. “Thanks for your help,” the beer pourer said, passing me a cup of hazy, zesty Xtra filled with green hop nibs, like pureed marijuana.

I glugged with gusto, relishing the pungent, weed-like aromatics. Then I exhausted another cup. Or maybe I didn’t, as a dark, muffled curtain drew across my consciousness. For those lucky souls who possess restraint, open bars are strolls in the park. Lack an off switch, like I do, and open bars invite ruin. Post-Xtra, my afternoon passed in a montage of poor decision-making: Buying a growler of pale ale. Stealing toilet paper. Wobbling to the train. Draining the growler. Reaching Brooklyn. And then stupidly pedaling home, whereupon I kept my appointment with gravity and ground as unforgiving as the hangover to come.