Talking Heroin, Fame, & ‘The Heroin Chronicles’ With Author Jerry Stahl

It’s ridiculous out there. It’s so cold that I saw a cab driver explaining something to a potential fare and his middle finger froze. It’s so cold that my lawyer put his hands in his own pocket. OK, OK, I’ll stop. It’s hard to get people to go anywhere when it’s like this. January and February can be rough on clubs and bars and such – especially in a world where homes have so many ways to entertain: thousands of TV channels, the World Wide Web, and other etceteras I cannot mention in a family column. 

Tonight I will brave the weather but stay in Brooklyn. Jerry Stahl, the author of Bad Sex On Speed, will be reading from his new book: The Heroin Chronicles. According to Zoe Hanson, my fierce friend who contributed to this book, Jerry is… the man. The event will be early, at 7pm at Word in Brooklyn, 126 Franklin St. Brooklyn Brewery is providing it’s product. The tome is available on Akashic Books. If you can’t make it tonight, they’ll do it again tomorrow night at St Mark’s Bookshop, also at 7pm. The crowd that gathers to hear these tales will be super hot and smart and cool…all those things noticeably absent at most joints in town. Dress warm, juice up on some yerba mate, and join me. 

I asked Jerry Stahl a few questions.

Was heroin ever chic? Is it always chic? Does it give the users a certain badge – a certain credibility – or is it just a very bad thing?
Heroin involves a lot of puking on your shoes. And, I think we can all agree, nothing says ‘chic’ like shoe-puking. I never bought into the heroin chic thing myself. I mean, a real dope fiend has to try not to look like a dope fiend, or risk being busted. So anybody who actually wants to look that way is either a poser, in a fashion spread, or Keith Richards. Keith is the exception that proves the rule – plus, he always had the dough for lawyers who could get him off, or a judge who figured setting a charity concert was better than sending him to jail.

On the other hand, an old-time needle jockey once told me how he went to see Charlie Parker in New York, and hours after he was supposed to go on, when the crowd was ready to split, an announcer stepped up to the mic and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Parker is just pulling down his sleeve….”  Which – I can’t lie – sounds pretty goddamn glam. But the truth is, "Bird" was probably backstage wiping puke off his shoes.

Are the stories chronicled success stories or screams or what?
I would describe them as successful screams. Or, in the immortal words of Jonathan Swift, “crawling is performed in the same position as climbing.” I have no idea how this applies to your question, but it’s a great quote, and – if you kind of squint – it does sort of apply

Is a junkie always a junkie, even after the using is chronicled in the rooms/at meetings?
Well, junkies are like veterans. They all share that wartime experience, but not all of them are still living in the jungle 20 years after the war’s over. 

Rest In Peace, Brooklyn Monster Ale, and Cat

It was a fairly long time ago when I moved to Williamsburg, back when people were worried about the Y2K bug and Prince noticed a major uptick in one of his early-’80s hits. Restaurants like Oznot’s Dish and Plan Eat Thailand (sic) flourished, Galapagos was located on North 6th Street where it belonged, and up on North 11th, a scrappy brewery named after the borough was taking some risks and making some groundbreaking beers. Among the first, and boldest, was Brooklyn Monster Ale, which shared a name with the brewery’s cat, Monster. I don’t know which came first, but both are gone now. Monster the cat passed away last year, and today, the brewery announced that it will no longer produce Monster Ale. I’ll miss them both. 

Monster the cat was a ubiquitous presence at the brewery, and I spent many a Friday night in the Tap Room watching him climb up on the walls above the beer-token booth, silently judging all who entered. It was like the Gong Show every night with Monster. People would try desperately to get Monster to play with them, some even bringing cat toys to get his attention, but it rarely worked. Having grown up with cats, I knew the best way to get Monster to like me was to ignore him. It worked, he’d occasionally rub my leg, or put his head up to be petted. The fact that I had just ordered a sausage pizza may have been a factor.

Monster the beer was one of my main entry points into the world of barleywines. It was strong, malty, and well-balanced, and my girlfriend, who would later become my wife, was also a fan. Every year we’d buy a case from the brewery, saving those last bottles as spring arrived. It was a fine beer to sip from a wine glass on a winter night, taking cues from Belgian monks and American beer geeks alike.

Those who still possess a few bottles of Monster would do well to cellar them (or, absent a cellar, just hang on to them). Nuanced flavors build in the bottles over time, and no two years’ releases are the same. But when it’s gone, it’s gone. Brooklyn has plenty of other high ABV beers like Sorachi that are a bit more user-friendly, and they probably want to keep their ideas fresh by developing something new. 

But 1999-2013 will be remembered as the era of two beautiful monsters. Here’s to remembering them fondly, and looking forward to what comes next. 

[Related: BlackBook New York Nightlife Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Victor on Twitter]

This Week’s NY Happenings: Manhattan Cocktail Classic, BBQ Blowout, The Pines

FRIDAY: The Cocktail Classic Shakes and Stirs Citywide
The fourth Manhattan Cocktail Classic drops this weekend, celebrating mixology across four boroughs, five nights, and dozens of venues. Catch a buzz and some knowledge as Middle Branch hosts an Ode to Eau, Booker and Dax show off techniques and technology, and Huckleberry Bar serves spirits made with Brooklyn pride. There’s plenty more on offer, including an Industry Invitational at the Andaz Fifth Avenue; get on the highball as tickets are going fast.

The Manhattan Cocktail Classic runs from Friday, May 17th through Tuesday, May 21st, at venues like Booker and Dax (207 Second Ave., East Village). To learn more about the bars, check out the listings in bold above at BlackBook Guides. Photo by Belathée Photography.

TUESDAY: BBQ Blowout
Greg Bresnitz and the Snacky Tunes crew return for another series of summer barbecues. This year’s inaugural blowout sees Brooklyn Brewery peeps serving Middle Eastern bites and Summer Ales at Good Co.

BBQ Blowout starts at 7pm, Tuesday, May 14th, at Good Co. (10 Hope St., Williamsburg). Advance tickets are $10 and include a beer and a plate of food. To learn more about Good Co., check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SATURDAY: Beyond The Pines
Gowanus charmer (no, that’s not an oxymoron) The Pines puts their leafy backyard into play with a cider bar and a menu of outdoor exclusives. Look for the likes of cheese, clams, and Wagyu steaks grilled over a wood fire.

Backyard at The Pines (284 Third Ave., Gowanus) opens Saturday, May 18th. To learn more about The Pines, check out its listing at BlackBook Guides.

This Week’s NY Happenings: The DeKalb Classic, Meatball Slapdown, ‘Mad Men’ Premiere

TONIGHT: No-Fooling April Cocktails For DeKalb Ave.
Spring has sprung in Fort Greene, with glasses being raised tonight for inaugural cocktail competition The DeKalb Classic. Local faves like Madiba, Roman’s, and Chez Oskar will be throwing down for best bartender and cocktail crowns. Cornerstone’s entry (pictured) is barkeep Chris Rue’s St. Rue, a bright blend of Greenhook Gin, St. Germain, and lemon, with a vernal sprig of mint. You’ve got a month to track down the five cocktails and place your vote, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity.

The DeKalb Classic kicks off tonight, April 1st, at 5pm. Cornerstone (271 Adelphi St., Fort Greene) is among the five participating venues. Tickets are $50 and the event runs through the end of the month. To learn more about the restaurant, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

THURSDAY: Meatball Madness
Look for an all-out meatball royal battle as local superstars like Buttermilk Channel, M. Wells Dinette, and Prime Meats square off for sphere supremacy at the Meatball Slapdown. Ted Allen is among the celeb judges; host Brooklyn Brewery will keep the suds flowing.

The 4th Annual Meatball Slapdown at Brooklyn Brewery (79 N. 11th St., Williamsburg) starts Thursday, April 4th, at 7pm. Tickets are $50 for all you can eat and drink, with the proceeds going to charity. To learn more about the brewery, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

SUNDAY: Hamm And Whiskey
Where better to catch the premiere of Mad Men season six than a swank, Midtown lounge? Whiskey Park will do the honors, with themed cocktails, a trivia contest, and guests decked out in their swinging ’60s best.

The Mad Men viewing party at Whiskey Park (100 Central Park So., Midtown West) starts at 8pm, no reservations required. To learn more about the bar, check out the listing at BlackBook Guides.

Be the first to know about the latest openings & events in NYC by signing up for the weekly BlackBook Happenings email & downloading the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android.

Jameson Black Barrel Tries to Reinvent the Beer-and-a-Shot

Having a beer with a shot on the side is a great way to get started on an evening of drinking. It’s the total package of alcohol in just two glasses, the heat and power of the whiskey acting as the yang to the beer’s cool, refreshing yin. While there’s no question that the combination is potent, I’ve always seen it done in a mellow context. The lone publishing assistant popping into the local on the way home, reading a manuscript at the bar as the sun’s last rays filter through the windows. The long-suffering cubicle mates who desperately need a bonding session, but don’t have time for a proper bender. Looking to get trashed? That’s what Jägerbombs are for. This is about easing into the evening. As for the beer and shot, the whiskey tends to vary, but the beer is almost always PBR. Well, the refined palates of Ireland’s Jameson distillery think the combination is in need of an upgrade, and I agree. They came up with a few alternatives, which pair Jameson Black Barrel Select Reserve ($35) against a selection of today’s most interesting beers. I tried them all, and added my own as well. Here’s how it worked out.

Pairing 1: Jameson Black Barrel with Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask Oak Aged Beer

I just wrote about this beer, which brings together Scotland and Ireland in one bottle. The beer’s a Scottish stout, but it’s matured in oak barrels that previously held Irish whiskey, so the flavors are already married. The pairing is a smooth ride, with the woody spice of the whiskey mixing with the vanilla maltiness of the beer. It feels very appropriate, like cousins meeting at a family reunion.

Pairing 2: Jameson Black Barrel with Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout

I’m a fan of everything that comes from the Brooklyn Brewery, and their Dry Irish Stout is one of my favorites. It’s also extremely well-named: If you like the chewy darkness of a stout like Guinness or Murphy’s but wish they’d tone down the sweet edge, it’s for you. When you pair it with the Jameson Black Barrel, you get a meeting of extremes. Usually the shot comes before the beer, but in this case I like sipping the beer first, then the whiskey. It’s a dry, chalky start with a sweet caramel finish. I love the contrast. Of all the pairings on this page, these are the two farthest apart, like going from a cold pool to a steam room. The flavors start muted and then build to an explosion. Tick tick tick tick boom. 

Pairing 3: Jameson Black Barrel and Sixpoint 3Beans

This pairing feels tropical, and seems to hold the promise of the wildest party. The slight banana note of the whiskey mixes with the coffee flavor of the beer, making you want to get up and move. It’s a dance floor filler.

Pairing 4: Jameson Black Barrel and Left Hand Milk Stout Nitro

As opposed to the Brooklyn Dry Irish Stout, this pairing is as close together as beer and whisky get. It’s perfect harmony, tasting almost the same no matter the order in which you consume it. Each makes the other go down easier. The aroma’s amazing too, like two different types of fine leather. Classy.

Pairing 5: Jameson Black Barrel and Captain Lawrence St. Vincent’s Dubbel Belgian-Style Abbey Ale

This is my contribution to the pairing game, and I’m happy with how it turned out. Abbey ales tend to have an elevated alcohol content and sharp flavor profile, and in this case they work well with the whiskey. The herbaciousness of the beer melds to the bite of the whiskey, making it extra thinky. The combination of the cloviness and fruit notes of the beer with the smokey caramel experience of the whiskey gives it an almost Asian feeling. There’s an exoticism to this pairing. It might not work for the after-work sports bar crowd, but foodies and drinkies into experimenting will find a lot going on. This ought to be on the drinks menu at Spice Market

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols]

Hey Beer World: Stop Worrying and Embrace the Growler Already

I love everything about growlers, those sturdy 64-ounce jugs that you can refill with the draft beer of your choice at an increasing number of shops around the city. I love the name, of course, which either stems from a history of surly exchanges between thirsty beer-drinkers and stingy beer-sellers, or from the rumble in the bellies of hungry factory workers awaiting their daily ration. I love the environmental benefit: every time you reuse a growler, that’s six glass bottles that don’t need to be made, recycled, or disposed of. But most of all, I love having draft beer – the highest expression of beer – in my home, as opposed to having to go to a bar. I love growlers so much that I can’t imagine anybody not feeling the same way, but apparently an anti-growler faction exists in the beer world. 

I learned of these anti-growler people this morning, as I perused an email from nice-things purveyor Kaufmann Mercantile. They’ve just rolled out a new type of growler, a handmade ceramic version (pictured) with a gasket-lined flip top for a super-tight seal, and included a nice editorial wrap-up of the latest news in Growler Land. (Who knew retail companies were creating editorial divisions? Oh, right.) The article pointed out that the Brooklyn Brewery‘s brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, is not a fan. “Growlers are basically beer destroyers," Oliver told Bon Apetit. "They’re often unsanitary, and the refilling process mixes in a lot of oxygen–the tiniest amount of oxygen kills beer so quickly. Then, if you walk across the street in full sunlight, with a clear growler, the beer will skunk before you get to your car.”

That last part’s a bit of hyperbole, no doubt, but I get his point. Beer’s a delicate product, and once it’s been exposed to air, it gets skunky fast. Not walk-to-your-car fast, but fast enough. And he’s a beer maker, so he doesn’t want people to judge his beer in anything less than its ideal form. Fair enough. I guess we won’t be seeing growler service on North 11th Street in Williamsburg any time soon. 

But based on my own extensive experience with growlers, I don’t see things that way. Once a weekend (and sometimes twice) I walk from my apartment near the corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street in Brooklyn to The Ploughman, which is at Seventh and 15th. (Beer Table does growlers too.) I’ll fill up my growler with something great (last time it was Harpoon Munich Dark), head home, and enjoy delicious draft brews with my wife and possibly a friend or two who drops by. That growler will be empty within three hours, max, and every drop will taste like it’s fresh from the tap. That’s just how it works. 

On rare occasions, there will be a beer’s worth left in the growler the next day. It might be a bit flatter, but I’ve never found second-day growler beer to be skunked. Perhaps that’s because we tend to choose higher-alcohol brews, which last longer. It might also be because we own a refrigerator. But in any case, I’ve "growled" almost every week for three years, and have never been disappointed. 

So why does Garrett Oliver not like growlers? Well, it might be a bit of a control issue, which I understand, but his beer can be mishandled in other ways too. For example, bars don’t always maintain their keg lines and equipment very well, and any beer geek will tell you that dirty lines produce nasty beer. Does the Brooklyn Brewery do Guinness-style surprise inspections of the bars that serve its beers on draft? (Seriously, do they? I have no idea.) And can it control the cleanliness and appropriateness of the glassware being used? Apparently, standard pint glasses are also bad for beer

But, again, I believe his hesitance to embrace the growler comes from a good, beer-loving place, so let’s just establish a few growler ground rules before we proceed.

  • Always make sure your growler is clean and dry before filling.
  • Always consume the beer in your growler on the same day it’s filled, preferably within three hours.
  • If you suspect that the draft lines at your beer purveyor aren’t completely clean, call 311 and report them to the mayor or something.
  • If you have beer left the following day, you can drink and enjoy it, but you can’t write a Beer Advocate review based on it. That would be like writing a Yelp review of a restaurant based on leftovers, and people would never use Yelp to unfairly bash a restaurant.
  • If you consistently have beer left over the next day, either learn to drink your fair share, or switch to a half-growler (32 ounces). Yes, they exist.
  • Learn how to take care of your growler.

The point is, you’ve got to take good care of your beer. Keep it clean, keep it fresh, keep it chilled, and use the right glassware. And once you’ve done all that, relax and enjoy it. This is beer we’re talking about. Nobody should make too much of a fuss over it. That’s for wine. 

A very basic growler will cost you five bucks, and you can usually buy them at the same place you fill them. The Kaufmann Mercantile growler goes for $67, which is steep, but it’s the nicest growler in the world. And keep in mind that you’ll use it over and over again. (For me, it costs between $11 and $18 to fill up my growler with awesome beer.) Amortize the growler cost over a year of beer drinking and that’s nothing.

Kaufmann also sells bottle brushes to keep the thing clean, but they have yet to offer the growler accessory I truly crave: a nice, handheld wooden caddy to carry two growlers at a time. I’m imagining a partitioned thing based on the design of an old timey tool box. You see, some people have trouble finishing a whole growler in one night. I have the opposite problem. 

[Related: Kaufmann Mercantile official site; Listings for The Ploughman, Beer Table; BlackBook New York Guide; Follow Victor Ozols on Twitter; Spiegelau Creates New IPA Glass; Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery Does the Unthinkable: Puts Good Beer in CansWine Kegs, Growlers, and Plorks: Let’s Hear It for the Evolution of Booze Containers]

Brooklynites! Write A Song About the G Train, Go to Swedish Music Festival for Free

Looks like everyone wants a bit of Brooklyn after all. Over the weekend of August 31st, Swedish promoters Debaser and Brooklyn Brewery are partnerinhg for Brooklyn, Sweden, a two-city weekend festival in Stockholm and Malmö showing off some of Brooklyn’s most well-known and well-liked artists, including Maluca, The Hold Steady, Blonde Redhead, Dum Dum Girls, Widowspeak, Au Revoir Simone, DIIV, Prince Rama and Cults. (The question, of course, is whether or not Sweden, Brooklyn, in which the likes of Jens Lekman and First Aid Kit hang out at the Knitting Factory for a weekend, or something.)

If this sounds like something you’d be into but have no means of getting over to Sweden for a weekend, and you can write songs, you may have an in. Brooklyn Brewery is having a contest to send one lucky and intrepid BK artist to the festival if they write the best song about or inspired by the "sluggish" but "stalwart people mover" known as the G Train. 

If you think you can do better than the Red Hook Ramblers’ klezmer-meets-Randy-Newman-esque "G Train Blues," by all means, take the challenge. Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. on July 24th, then it’s up to voters on Facebook to decide who gets flown to Sweden and put up at the Story Hotel in Stockholm the weekend of the festival. So get those pens a-writin’.

New York Opening: Wythe Hotel

A new book by Jack Hitt tipped me off to an anecdote from 1778, wherein Ben Franklin visits the palace of Louis XVI to ask for support for the Revolutionary Army. He shows up at the gates wearing not the powdered wig and frilly sleeves customary to Versailles, but a coonskin cap and a brown fringe jacket a la Daniel Boone. Ben was hammin’ it up for the Frenchies, playing the colonial fool. When we talk of restoring our country to what the founders intended, we should look to Franklin, forefather of irony, original snarker. Now ask, what could be more in line with the history of American cheek, circa 2012, than a posh hotel in a gutted Williamsburg factory? One with XL twin bunk beds, each outfitted with mini TVs. 

The new Wythe Hotel’s “Band Rooms” come in 4 and 6 person arrangements. The option is pragmatic: you don’t want to share a bed with someone, just the cost of a room; square footage in desirable neighborhoods is pricey, bunk beds are efficient; and if you’re young and vivacious, you should be out at Brooklyn Bowl or the Brooklyn Brewery, not sleeping. The Wythe does, of course, offer plenty of luxe options for those with bad backs and thick wallets. They didn’t invent the bunk thing, either—they’re keeping in line with the Ace Hotel/Bowery House/Pod/Nu Hotel tradition of waxing nostalgic for the less-is-more, rustic-cabin-meets-freshman-dorm aesthetic. 

The appeal of bunks mat extend well beyond the rational. Novelty is fun. It flatters the imagination. There’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little pastiche, especially if it keeps you away from the sterility of a Hilton Garden Inn. If anyone wants to scoff at a band of bearded fellows in ironic getups walking into the lobby of this Williamsburg palace, at least recognize that these hipsters are, historically, in pretty good company.

Replace Four Loko with Naturally Caffeinated Beer

So, Four Loko was banned, and I couldn’t care less. Not that I’m in favor of the government deciding what adult citizens should or shouldn’t put in their bodies. It’s just that the drink never appealed to me, what with the fact of it being so gross. But for those already mourning their Four Loko buzz, even as they continue to nurse their Four Loko hangovers, never fear, there are other options. Consider fun-looking, naturally-caffeinated beers, like the fantastic new Brooklyn Brewery/Stumptown coffee collaboration, Brooklyn Intensified Coffee Stout.

Even if these coffee-beer hybrids get banned too, you can always go old school, and simply mix caffeine and booze yourself. Whatever happened to good old Irish coffee, rum and coke, and vodka and red bull? And yes, I know that Four Loko had as much caffeine as six cups of coffee, not one. But seriously, if you really need six cups of coffee to get you going, you’re better of doing hard drugs.