The Ultimate Beer

McSorleys-light-and-dark

Staropramen

While Pilsner Urquell is the more well known Czech beer in the U.S., and rightly so, it’s pretty special, its Czech brother Staropramen might just be even better. Not just because one is a pilsner and the other lager. And not just because it’s harder to come by, and therefore more elusive and special- because it stands as well on its own as it does with food. Urquell, while terrific in both respects as well, falls a hair short by itself, because it’s so much lighter, which makes for an ideal meal companion, and drinkability, but on its own the flavor is not so impressionable that it would ever have you savoring the aftertaste. Whereas Staropramen is all of that and a bag of yum. Crisp. With a longer, more complex taste. And a much stronger finish that could put most Olympic gymnasts to shame.

 

McSorley’s Dark Ale (pictured)

For my micro brew bestie I have to give it up to McSorley’s in New York City. It’s the oldest bar in Manhattan offering up only two beers since 1854, McSorley’s Ale and McSorley’s Dark Ale (pictured). Served in biblical proportions. No seriously. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s a Noah’s ark business model. They only serve their beers in twos. And while both are great, I’m a bit partial to the dark. It has a Negro Modelo vibe about it, but with a little more ester to it. If you’re in NYC for a visit or live there, this place is a must for a glass of beer. Well, technically two glasses. Or four… Or six… They go pretty quickly.

 

Sapporo

If you’re getting sushi you have two options as far as I’m concerned. Sake or Sapporo. Screw Asahi and save the green tea for dessert. Sapporo is the perfect companion. Made remarkably smooth with the use of rice, which is perhaps part of why it grooves so well with Japanese cuisine. In fact, it goes so well, it’s almost as if it were purposefully engineered to go specifically with sushi. Well, be it the case or not, suffice it to say that Sapporo is the Sonny Bono to raw fish’s Cher.

 

Guinness

I’m not exactly sure why any other stout beer exists, because they’re all trying to be like Mike. And they all fall miserably short. Tasting like the hops took a shit in your glass. But not Guiness. Oh no. This stout manages to caress your buds in a lather as smooth as milk. But the craziest thing is that while most stouts are very heavy and highly caloric, Guinness is neither. The only nit is that she’s a temperamental brew. She doesn’t like to sit around, so make sure you’re getting your pint from a place that pours a lot of it, otherwise don’t even bother. And while the bottle and can versions are much improved over the years, they still don’t compare to the likes of a well-poured pint from the keg.

 

Blue Moon

This newest comer to the list exploded onto the scene about ten years ago and shook up the beer category so much that it needed Dramamine to recover. In fact, this Belgian Wheat is so damn good it’s the only one that I keep stocked in my house. Goes great with seafood, burgers, dogs and pizza. And while it’s often served with a slice of orange, don’t discount it as a fruity, fru fru brew. It’s just as great sans slice, and better than every other Belgian beer I’ve had.

 

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

As the only non-mass beer on the list, I feel the need to go above and beyond to say just how special this beer is. If you should be so lucky as to happen upon a tap, be sure to order it. Spare no expense, because it will pay for itself on the first sip. You have never tasted anything this special in beerhood. Forget the opulence of Chimay, although I must admit it sort of reminded of the creamy Belgian, but instead of deriving its cool from brewing it in a monastery, Kentucky pulls a trump card and brews it in actual bourbon barrels, as the name suggests. The result layers the beer with incredibly complex notes that subtly spring to life in your mouth. Balanced by a hint of sweetness, the takeaway becomes smooth and creamy. And while the alcohol content is a bit higher than the others, it’s surprisingly easy to drink. Perhaps too easy.

The Ultimate Mustard (packaged)

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Of all the condiments out there, no other add-on completes me like mustard. I mean, first of all, just think about how diverse it is by comparison to other condiments. You’ve got your spicy, your deli, your yellow, your Asian, your textured, your sweet, your alcoholic- It’s enough to give ketchup and mayonnaise a complex. But perhaps my favorite thing about mustard is that it’s one of the only things in the edible universe that I sincerely love, and isn’t highly caloric and fattening. In short, mustard is the Ultimate condiment. And within that Ultimate, here are a few Ultimates:

Cape Cod Cranberry Mustard

South of New England, this mustard can be a little hard to find. But it’s not like you need to go to any fancy store to buy it. Stop & Shops seem to be the best bet (perhaps because they are a New England based chain). If there’s no Stop & Shop close to you, it’s worth the road trip (or odering online). I say buy a half dozen jars because you will be plowing through them like Walking Dead plows through zombie extras. It’s spicy and sweet and tart all at the same time, turning every sandwich it touches into an event.

Maille

If you’re a texture lover like me- preferring crunchy peanut butter over smooth and lots of pulp OJ over no pulp than Maille is your mustard. A 260 year old seeded mustard, born in the old country (France), and packed with so much flavor it can do just about everything apart from folding the laundry. It’s awesome for grilling. For baked fish, for salad dressing, for making dips, on sandwiches, on burgers, on Donner and Blitzin! In fact, the only mustard that’s even close to as versatile as Maille, is Grey Poupon, which brings me to mustard number 3.

Grey Poupon

Pardon me, but if you don’t have any Grey Poupon you should take a glove and slap yourself across the face. It’s so easy to come by and so friggin’ good you almost wonder why any other mustard exists. And like Maille it’s incredibly versatile. Maybe even more so. If a mustard could win the Noble Peace Prize I feel like Grey Poupon would have a very strong case. But just one caveat, there is the smooth original and a seeded version more like Maille. Both are excellent, but head to head on the seeded side, I go Maille, whereas Maille also makes a smooth kind and head to head with Grey Poupon, I give it to the Grey.

Moutarde De Meaux, Pommery

This last one is MUCH harder to come by unless you live in France or New England where mustard is basically a substitute for religion. Fortunately you can always order it online from Amazon.com for those not favorably in geographic proximity. Double fortunately, Maille is VERY similar and much easier to find if you don’t feel like ordering online, booking a flight or driving to the Northeast. The only difference for me is that Pommery is a touch stronger and the seeds are a teeny bit smaller, making the texture slightly smoother. The packaging is also the best of the bunch, served in an old fashioned earthenware crock with a red wax seal (apparently unchanged, as is the recipe, since 1632).

Rain Forest Cafe

Disney’s Animal Kingdom • 505 N Rainforest Rd. Orlando, FL 32830 • (407) 938-9100 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/animal-kingdom/rainforest-cafe-animal-kingdom/
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How do you take an oversized, gluttonous, touristy restaurant and top it? Open one in Disney World! Yes, all of the diabetes inducing excess you’ve come to know and love is now available times 10 for a limited time! And by limited I mean until people have grown so morbidly obese that they wind up like the prophetic scenario at the end of the Disney movie Wall-E (#irony).

Yes, it’s almost as if they tried to make this place an actual-sized replica of the Amazon Jungle. The gift shop alone is the size of most large restaurants. The aquariums are so big you could almost take a boat out on them. And the portions? You could take a boat out on them too. Every drink is like a Super Big Gulp. And that’s without ordering a large. I can only imagine the large is when they back an oil truck full of Coke into the dining room and shove the hose down your gullet.

And the food isn’t exactly tiny either. The burgers are roughly the circumference of a salad plate and the mound of fries they come with is probably a weeks worth of fat, carbs and calories. Fortunately they also have salads, which are lighter, and are only the size of the hedge maze from The Shining.

On the plus side, it’s fun for kids. Granted the thunderstorms and screaming animals might scare them if they’re too young. On the other hand, if you’re an adult without kids and you still want to go here, I think that might actually be even scarier than the thunderstorms.

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