Well, if you are still with with me after reading yesterday’s confession, thanks for coming back. Rest assured that today’s post will not involve a return visit to the district of depravity we found ourselves in yesterday. No eyebrowing raising anecdotes for this one
Getting back to the AF Beer countdown, after much lip smacking, gargling & Jilly Goolden style neb sniffing, here we have it
Rolling in at number 6, by the closest of margins, is Innis & None Alcohol Free Pale Ale.
Fact is if it hadn’t been for my chequered history with Heineken, then this would have tied for 7th place.
I’m genuinely gutted that Innis and None gave such a poor showing & placed so low.. I’m quite a fan of the excellent full strength beers I have tasted from this family owned brewery based In Edinburgh.
It starts off well with a dark amber pour and a thick white head, if you didn’t see the can it came from, then it certainly has the look and style of a real beer.. sadly the taste lets it down. It’s lightly carbonated and is to be fair fairly hoppy, but that’s about it, the finish is poor and the after taste was weak and watery..
The best thing about this AF Beer is the clever play on the brand name, once you have enjoyed that however, their isn’t much inside to smile about. I hope I’m being overly harsh, maybe the top 5 were just superior to such an extent that Innis & none never stood a chance..
I got my can of Innis & none in ASDA Antrim, priced at £1..
Perhaps it’s not surprising that out of the 7 beers sampled, Heineken lands at the bottom of the pile. Truth being the regular strength version of this Dutch Classic & I do not get on. It’s not the taste so much as the way it punches my head repeatedly for an entire day if I dare to drink it.
It seems I am not alone in my opinion on this much loved lager beer.. Let’s quote some eminent bloggers from the craft beer world.
@Quareswalley - “Why drink it if you know it’s been pissed out of a European Hermits Wax
@TheDirtyHallion - “I’ve got 4 mini cans of this stuff, I have been saving them for a beer batter, as I’m sure not drinking them lol
Not much there to misinterpret, however to explain my relationship with Heineken it may be helpful to provide a little context, by way of a backstory. So what you are about to read, if you’re not here just to look at the pics, is a true story.
We have to go back to 1998 or thereabouts, that year I went to one of my very first boozy house parties, in the seaside town of Larne, Northern Ireland.
Drinking alcohol was somewhat new to me back then and in my fresh faced naivety I panicked when faced with the choice in the local offies. In my haste I selected a case of Heineken as my poison of choice, poison as it turned out was a particularly apt word.
Things went swimmingly enough, I started out sipping thirstily on my frosty cans in a dark corner of the living room, resplendent in my good trousers & best going out shirt, while numerous tracksuit clad folk, (Kappa being the label of choice for the cool kids back then, can’t remember what brand I had on), danced around the room to the oddly popular Techno and happy house music.
Not being much of a dancer, I was happy to look on from my comfy spot on the sidelines, plus I was acutely aware that my gel encrusted curtains had earlier taken me over 15 minutes to get on fleek & I was not prepared to risk my star feature for an night of Dutch fuelled, seizure esque motion on the already crowded dance carpet.
Instead I enjoyed my Heineken all the while flicking through the hosts CD collection, no streaming back then kiddies, In search of something a little more refined, a Beautiful South album perhaps, some Enya or even some Lighthouse Family.. Music with words, but also music to fit the sophisticated wine that I had noticed every other guest seemed to be drinking. After all the label did say Benedictine Monks had lovingly toiled over this seemingly popular tipple.
But to get to the point, the evening ended around breakfast time and as everyone else was sprawled out in little corners of the house, I parted my curtains, adjusted my eyes to the light & had a good stretch before quietly shaking out my pullover which I had earlier fashioned as a pillow. Picking up my almost empty beer box, I quietly made my way to the kitchen in search of a little pick me up. All the while my head rattled violently like a freshly duracelled dildo in an empty drawer.
Having ran the gauntlet of intertwined floor sleepers and fought my way through the clouds of lingering cigarette smoke, my empties & I made it to the pantry, overall happy with my hungover yet stealth like achievement though slightly disappointed not to find Richard O’Brien waiting for me with a crystal.
Flinging my empties into the bin with all the style of Kobe sinking a free throw, I embarked on a search operation of the cupboards. Door No 3 revealed both a cleanish bowl & a box of Weetabix, things looked fairly positive as I scanned the terrain for Milk.. Weetabix are notoriously difficult to eat without milk, so it wasn’t so much a personal preference as it was necessity. By now, I was feeling a tad warm around the exit doors & was also noting a slight feeling of nausea.
I needed food and water fast. Plan A of Milk was out, Plan B of dry Weetabix would possibly result in choking given my sandpaper mouth.. after a little bit of consideration I decided that was also, out.
That’s when I saw her! A little green can in the corner of the kitchen, glistening in the moisture of dregs from the empties, that coated her metallic skin. Instantly the smoky room was illuminated by the light from the bad idea bulb that had flicked on in my head. Bending down slowly, as your brain seems to bounce off your skull like cheap rubber when you are suffering, I grasped the last Heineken in my hand. As tightly as my trembling fingers would allow.
With the crack of the ring pull the can was open & despite the beery smell hitting my nose with the stench of a watery fart that went all wrong, I watched my jittery hand up end the can & the cool golden liquid coat my weetabix like a river flowing through the Sahara.. admittedly I dry retched once or twice as I soaked the flakes in the lager.
The sweats had begun In earnest & in my boozing inexperience I willed my brain to fight the sickening image of fizzling quick sand that I was pushing my spoon through and give my system something to soak up the alcohol. Quickly perfecting throat breathing to avoid the smell, I funnelled several spoonfuls of my unique brekkie into my mouth, swallowing the wet mixture as quickly as I could chew it.
I was stopped only by a voice from behind, which groggily exclaimed “Are your eating weetabix and beer, for fuck sake!” With those words my hangover seemingly increased tenfold & it was met almost instantly by that all to familiar feeling of crippling shame. As I turned around to see the owner of those words, I realised I was being judged by a chap sporting only a shell suit top and underpants with the remains of a regal king size butt stuck in his left curtain.
I set down the bowl, stepped over the now trembling remains of friends & walked off into the sunrise, never to return again.
For anyone unfamiliar, this is what weetabix (with milk) generally looks like
Of course in hindsight I can see that soaking up alcohol with alcohol soaked weetabix while trying to ignore the inner colonels command to drop torpedos 1 & 2 may not have been the greatest of plans. I was young and its experiences like this, when you are young that shape who you become. I would like to say my house partying days started and ended here, sadly that’s not the case and sadly this tale is just the tip of the iceberg.
So there you go, an insight into the beginnings of my torrid history with Heineken. You may have noticed I hardly mentioned the non alcoholic version. What is it they say about if you can’t say anything nice?...
I realise that may be harsh and completely down to my previous experience with its big brother. It’s a watery version of the real thing, I can see why some people like this and the full ABV version. Sadly even the sight of the logo takes me straight back to Larne circa 1998.
In Heineken’s defence, sort of, It was a close call between position 7 and 6...
Stay tuned for the Beer that took the No 6 spot
The 6 pack of Heineken used in this review was purchased by me, which makes it all the more annoying!
Considering it’s been an alcohol Free week, I reckon I have actually spent more time with a beer in my hand than usual.
Over the last seven days, 7 different alcohol free beers have been obtained and drained, all by me and all for the sake of research that is as scientific as Adam Sandler is funny. Well in recent years anyhow
Each day this week, I will post a beer review, counting down from dish water in a can to what many may perceive as the best of a bad bunch! But stick with it, for the beer purists out there, open up your mind & consider a little outside the box thinking.
Every beer that I report on was bought & paid for by me. Some were shit and some were surprising, either way it was money well spent, well kinda, but then my kids don’t strike me as college types anyway.
The brews that I sampled were chosen purely by their local availability & price. The neighbourhood Walmart or ASDA as they keep correcting me, had a few of these brews on offer, while the rest were picked up for their regular retail price.
As I am a highly refined chap, each beer was perfectly chilled before consumption, and consumed without food or snacks.
To whet your appetite or to increase your disdain... above is a gallery of what I drank this week.
The worst of the bunch will be revealed tomorrow.
It’s a normal, freezing February Saturday in Ireland, thankfully the fire is blazing and in a few short hours the 6 nations rugby championship returns for the third week of the 2018 fixtures. Today Is the highly anticipated Home nations clashes.
Ordinarily this would mean a day filled with beer, snacks and a lot of couch sitting, but today is different.. I will still be couch sitting, snacking and drinking, but as I announced last week it will be Non Alcoholic Beer only today.
Today marks 7 days of no booze, the first week of my off the cuff break from my beloved Magners has ended. 7 days is a long time In politics and also in sobriety... so How do I feel
Well In 2016 I took part in the Sober For October challenge, no booze for a month in aid of personal well being & Macmillan Cancer Charity. Admittedly I found that to be a very long month, in fact I took two days off during that October and had a few beers, this was allowed under the schemes rules, although it cost me a £15 donation on each occasion. So for £30 I was able to have a drink & still complete the challenge, seems expensive, but the cause was worthwhile. The Charity that is, not my indulgence.
I can honestly say that so far this break from booze has been different. I don’t have the same urge to drink or the desire to sink a few cold ones. So far so good
This has been my favourite AF Beer of the week.. more on that coming soon
I haven’t missed the taste or that instant feeling of relaxation that accompanies a few sips of your favourite tipple. I haven’t gone out of my normal routine to distract myself or fill my time.
So why is this break so different? What is placating the urge to drink? Strangely enough my break from Beer & Cider has been made bearable by, well Beer and Cider. Whether it’s the much discussed Placebo effect or the vast improvement in taste, I have found that the Non Alcoholic versions of regular beers and ciders have allowed me to ditch the addictive alcohol while enjoying my usual routine.
This could be very much a personal experience but I found that when sipping on a cold zero free beer I was feeling the same chemical reaction in my brain that regular alcohol creates. Similar tastes but sans alcohol was giving me that same chilled out feeling regular strength beer provides.
Maybe this will prove to be a short lived, only time will tell. I can report that I Amy sleep has improved, I am regularly eating breakfast, which is new for me... as for the beer belly... well the scales don’t lie, but I’ll disclose those figures at the end of the month..
Sobriety! The art of being sober, to be without alcohol... let’s not panic.. keep reading
I was met with a number of blank stares, many social media queries & enquiries as to why? Whenever I first floated the idea of taking a break from booze and switching to Alcohol Free (AF). So I thought it may be helpful to explain some of the reasoning behind this decision. A lot is being made of the drinking culture in the U.K, we hear many Doctors & mental health groups cautioning us of the dangers we face in respect of this nations drinking culture.
So I thought it interesting, when on the back of that message I found many articles to indicate that the U.K. actually appears to be on the brink of an unforeseen, ungodly & quite frankly terrifying social shift. Depending on your standpoint of course.
Are we as a nation moving away from Alcohol?
While the traditional Pint continues to suffer the craft beer revolution, which shows no signs of slowing down, what is left of the Ale supping old guard now face a further threat, a threat which they could never have predicted.
AF Beverages! Alcohol free or to be techy drinks with a max of 0.5% ABV. Beer, Wine, Cider & now even spirits substitutes.
What used to begin and end with Becks has now sired an ever expanding and most importantly, improving, product line of alcohol free alcoholic beverages (work that one out).
If you are worried about how much you drink or have been thinking, for whatever reason of cutting down, there has never been a better time to give it a go. As I have been finding out quitting booze in 2018 doesn’t mean giving up the tastes you love and know so well.
Before anyone tries to kick my soapbox from under me, I’m not attempting to preach or indeed lobby for the Sobriety community, they speak for themselves. This is still a booze review site, I am not abandoning or turning on my Craft Beer buddies or indeed the wider alcohol consuming community, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the emergence of this market & the rise in quality they bring to the bar. To that end I thought it would be interesting to embrace this vibrant booze free community and at least sample what they have to offer
Now Admittedly, I was one of the biggest cynics, sneering as I passed by the one item in the zero alcohol range... AF Beer? What’s the point? You may as well have a beer? Yet, if you take the time to check out what’s being produced in this ever expanding niche, you will at the very least be surprised.
The range of AF Beer is still the little guy in the room, but with the increasing quality and taste, he is holding his own with the giants. Those same giants have started to take notice as they too begin to cater for the zero alcohol consumer.. Brewdog, Guinness, Budweiser, just some of the market leaders that are investing in AF products.
When these guys put time and money into something so fundamentally different from their core product, then you know that there is a growing market for it.
So for the next month or so, I will be drinking only AF beverages, sampling whatever I can get my hands on, from the core beer and ciders to spirits and even dealcoholised Wines. If German Olympic Athletes are drinking this stuff after physical activity, then there must be something positive to discover and I may be able to shed a bit of my well earned beer belly.
When my Beer drinking resumes, which it will. I will be aiming for quality over quantity.
Nestled at the Southern tip of Manhattan deep within the City’s FiDi, as it’s known, lies the Fraunces Tavern Block Historical District. While this name is not as recognisable as the Big Apples countless other attractions the District was the setting for some significant moments in American history, from American Revolution peace talks with the British to the site of General George Washington’s farewell speech to his troops. The area is distinctly different to much of Manhattan and the Tavern itself is believed to be the oldest building on the Island.
On a recent layover in Manhattan I took a late morning stroll round the entire Wall Street area, enjoying the stark difference in foot traffic from Midtown & the picture perfect views of the Brooklyn Bridge that the adjacent waterfront provides. The -7 on dry land temp was enough to convince me not to ride the Staten Island Ferry but to instead take a short walk up Water Street, perhaps so called as long before the land reclamation it was on the water, stopping by number 30. Of course this address was always my destination.
As I stood across the street from 30 Water Street, NY, I couldn’t help but picture Mr Fredricksons house, that old cantankerous balloon seller from Disney’s Pixar Movie, UP. It’s A five story red brick building in a short terrace standing bravely in the shadows of surrounding skyscrapers. The Architectural equivalent of David & Goliath, an analogy that speaks perfectly for the success of the business within when compared to its current size.
The building itself is almost 200 years old but the bar it shelters has just turned 5. Yet although its only moving into long trousers, in those short 5 years The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog has already garnered more awards than most boozers ever manage & certainly more than I can be bothered to type out. It’s safe to say it’s somewhat successful but then ever since the creative masterminds behind the rabbit got together back in Belfast, their skills of drink mastery has laden them with more accolades than the Old Trafford trophy room could carry.
Of course plenty has been written about this Bar and generally by those bestowed with better penmanship than I will ever have. But now with vast expansion plans at the construction stage, it’s never been a better time to drop by. So to take a fresh approach this post is less bar review and more in-depth focus on what it’s like to spend 11 hours in the Dead Rabbit. That’s right, my aforementioned stroll was in fact 45 minutes of freezing, time killing hell that were spent pounding the sidewalks in an attempt to keep my core body temperature from shattering, all while waiting for opening time. It was bloody cold in New York the day I was there & being from a part of Ireland where we have one train an hour, I misjudged the subway schedule, arriving the best part of an hour early for a drink. So, cue walking about like an alco who is waiting for Lidl to open!
Finally 11am hit & much to the relief of the 4 Port Authority Police Officers who had been eyeing me warily as I dry humped a radiator inside the Ferry Terminal, I jogged the short distance to this!
After a quick snap of the sign, I bound my frozen joints up the steps & made for the door! I thanked the doorman who was on hand to welcome me inside, I later realised he was not actually a doorman but had merely been coming down the stairs as I got to the door, instantly the icy day was burnt off by the welcoming heat of the Taproom. With sawdust on the floor & traditional music wafting on the warm air, size is the first thing my rapidly defrosting eyes acknowledged. I had studied plenty of pictures online but only when you stand within do you realise that this really is a small, cosy intimate spot. A plus of always being is having the choice of the seats, sliding onto my stool midway along the bar I ordered a Guinness (the quality of an Irish bars, well any bars Guinness is an indicator of the overall quality of the establishment) & took in my surroundings.
Narrow in width, the Taproom is a well adorned slice of Ireland. The walls are dressed with distinctly Irish pictures and mementoes, yet there is nothing garish, nothing that over eggs the pudding by screaming Irish bar. No neon leprechauns beaming from the ceiling, instead Photographs from home litter the beams above your head while uniquely a framed copy of the 20 year old “Good Friday Agreement” stares down from its position not far from pictures of George Best & Martin McGuinness, amongst others.
As my perfectly poured Guinness settled in its glass, Annie, who had just finished pouring it introduced herself, offered her hand and asked my name, instantly making me feel as if she was glad I dropped in.
At 1105 and with only two other punters seated In Henry’s corner, Annie had plenty of time to host me & in spite of my sober social awkwardness the conversation was unforced and genuine. As I sipped the black stuff, I was enthusiastically regaled with stories of the bar, expansion, regular trips back home & even glitter covered Dr Martens.. no lie, it’s the latest must have work shoes that Annie’s daughter was describing via text from Belfast. Despite what I was thinking, it was later confirmed that despite the footwear she doesn’t infact work for the Circus.
Annie was so deep in our conversation that on two occasions she served me items requested by the two guys in the corner. My mistake came in pointing out her mistake and using two words of simple language she clipped my wings in a way that only a woman from the North of Ireland can. Suitably chastised It was then that I realised that yes the combination of the decor, theming, marketing & world class drink quality may have earned all the awards, it was the people who were the real attraction. Sure Jack & Sean has the public profile, but it was Annie & the rest of the team I was yet to meet who made the bar
As I made my way through a couple of different 9oz brews, I was joined at various stages by different Wall Street folk all dropping in for lunch before heading back to the office. Now having this as your lunch venue? That’s the definition of jealousy! Every dish I caught a glimpse of looked appealing so Ignoring my own rule of ratings cheating, I took the plunge, ordering the house Scotch Eggs & truffle fries. Unfortunately the Scotch Egg was excellent, which has totally ruined Tesco value never mind Marks & sparks version for me..
It seemed I had visited on an unusually slow day as after the lunch service the crowd stayed light for an hour or so. That suited me just fine as Open the doors of any Irish bar and Inside you will find a bunch of tourists visiting a little bit of the old country, sipping subpar Guinness, stuffing themselves with potato free Stew cos seemingly the famine never ended, or corned beef hash, another staple Irish dish that this particular Irish guy hasn’t eaten in over 20 years and even then it wasn’t hash but corned beef sandwiches in my school lunch.
All this occurs while genuine 1/16th Irish folk enquire if the solitary genuinely Irish staff member happens to know their great great grandmother who was born in County Kerry
But today, it was just me, Annie & one of her regulars. Before long I was invited down to the back of the bar to enjoy her company in what turned out to be an entertaining afternoon listening to tales of a rich life of adventure and exploration. In the greatest bar in the World I had found the company of the arguably the greatest regular in the World. Like a Long Island Lady Hemingway or Capt Tony of the Key West Saloon fame, this lady held court with effortless charm and humour, before sadly all to soon her visit came to an end.
She was shy about her connections to the bar, which go far beyond the usual regular customer backstory. To that end I won’t name her, but if you are ever lucky enough to end up in her company, you will know who she is. I may have also suggested she have her portrait commissioned, which I offered to paint, which should then be adorned upon the walls. Not sure how any Crayola masterpiece I may draw would look to be fair.
This is where the day gets hazy, as I settled into my new surroundings by the kitchen, with almost VIP access to the gentleman’s facilities, I was joined by Heinz, a German born English Hedge fund whizz kid who, having just flown in from Singapore or maybe it was Dallas, was drowning his over travelled Arsenal supporting sorrows in the first bar he found! Some people have all the luck. Heinz was like me, visiting with all his mates and it was Annie & her hospitality who hooked up 2 solo travellers to put the World to rights. As fate would have it this blossoming bromance would later choke early on as jetlag and beer combined to convince Heinz that the toilets which are adjacent to the bar where accessible only by a long staircase. In reality this wasn't the case, yet as the day got older Heinz swore he was having difficulty safely negotiating the phantom steps.
As the day got older the crowd got bigger, with those clocking off from the man arriving in for after work drinks, then every so often the serious drinking would be disturbed by a tourist with a camera, who with a desire to tick attractions off their vacation list came in to snap pictures of the worlds best bar before departing as quickly as they came. Splashing out on a drink and staying a while to enjoy the true appeal, atmosphere, of this bar, didn’t seem to be on their brass faced agenda. That’s no way to treat a bar!
By now it was around 6pm & the tab held truffle fries, scotch eggs, 1 Guinness, 1 sixpoint sweet Acton and 6 Weihenstephan.. & a secret halfun that was gifted to me only after I agreed to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement.
What was left to try in the Taproom? Well set down before Heinz & I were 2 perfectly poured Irish Coffees. It was explained how the current version, made with clontarf Whiskey was about to be changed & would soon be made with Bushmills. The Dead Rabbit is somewhat well known for this drink, which is patiently crafted backstage by bar back Ceaser long before it’s assembled for the customer. Both versions were incredible, but the Bushmills coffee pipped it, based entirely on geographical biase
Sadly Annie clocked off around 7, so with a couple of selfies taken, which in the light of day probably look like she is pictured with a beer bellied lamppost (there was a slight height difference) she left me in the capable hands of the evening shift. Around this time Heinz let those imaginary stairs beat him and he to disappeared into the night.
After a few hours of people watching the mixed crowd and topping off with some Blackthorn English Cider, which is the only black mark The Dead Rabbit conjures in my opinion. Where was the Irish Cider? A point acknowledged by the boss lady herself. I settled my tab, slipped a few bar mats into my pocket & braced by 11 hours of boozing made my way back onto Water Street for the short walk to the Subway.
My day at the Rabbit was done. The time spent within had passed in an instant and as I caught the 1 train back to Mid Town I knew I had spent my layover in New York the best way I could. I had intended to visit Black Tail a short walk across Battery Park at Pier A, the sister bar to Dead Rabbit, Black Tail is said to be an opulent cocktail venue and came highly recommended. Sadly I never made it on this trip, but it creates a great excuse to return to the FiDi, which after my long but warm day is now my favourite part of New York
This image of an empty glass had previously contained a serving of dead rabbit Whiskey, which was released on 12 February 2018, marking the bars 5th birthday. I was kindly allowed to try this prior to release. Sadly I cant remember anything other than it was bloody good
I visited The Dead Rabbit Grocery & Grog on Wednesday 31st January 2018. All food and beverage consumed was paid for personally with the exception of a shot of Dead Rabbit Whiskey & 2 Irish coffees.
These items were not received in exchange for a positive review. Let’s face it, no one reads my scribbles!
More information can be found at