Saturday, May 1, 2010

It's Hard to Be a Saint in the Citi

As a life-long Yankees fan, I've grown accustomed to the higher standards of baseball in the Bronx. At the same time, I've grown equally accustomed to watching their cross-town rival Mets screw the pooch 99.9% of the time. So, when both opened grandiose new stadiums last year it should have been a foregone conclusion as to which would be the nicer finished product, right? Wrong. Yankee Stadium is elegant indeed, but Ebbets...strike that, Citi Field takes the cake for the best stadium in Gotham.

And the best part (for me) about Citi Field? The beer selection. While you are for the most part stuck in a sea of Heineken and Nine Dollar Schlitz at Yankee Stadium, Citi Field has Big Apple Brews, a large-ish beer stand in the Taste of the City section of the ballpark that offers about 30 different beers from around the world. Want more? Three of the eateries (from Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group) in Taste of the City offer up specially brewed beer from the Brooklyn Brewery that are available only at said establishments.

First up is the Shackmeister Ale, a pale ale brewed for the Shake Shack, an uber-popular burger joint who's original location opened back in 2004 in Manhattan's Washington Square Park. Shackmeister comes in on the lighter side of things overall, from color to aroma to flavor, but that's not a bad thing here as you should be looking for an easier drinking beer to complement your burger and fries, not overpower them, and that's exactly what this beer accomplishes. There's an overall sweetness to it from some caramel malt blending with some floral, grassy, even candy-like flavors at times. Very easy to drink and again, a nice beer to pair with your burger which, if you didn't know already, you may have to wait 45 minutes or more in line to get one. Yep. Shake Shack is that popular and it's burgers are that good.

Next in line is what was for me both the highlight beer and far and away the best food I had at the ballpark. Hell, it's the best food I've had at any ballpark. I'm talking about El Verano Taqueria and their Sabroso Ale. Once you enter the gates at Citi Field make a mad dash to this stand and order the taco combo, which consists of a pork, chicken and steak taco and each one is fantastic. As for the Sabroso, I've seen it listed as a Pale Ale by a few different places but it struck me as more of an ESB. It's got a caramel, earthy malt vibe to it with floral and grassy hops balancing things out, along with a hint of citrus. I'd even say there's a slight bit of nuttiness at the bittersweet finish to this one, which comes in with a slightly creamy mouth feel overall. Great balance all around. I thought it went fantastically well with the spicy (but not overpowering) tacos.

Finally, we have Blue Smoke Original Ale brewed for the BBQ-themed Blue Smoke. I've heard great things about the original restaurant but wasn't terribly impressed with the pulled pork offered at the game. It was a bit dry and fairly bland overall. As for the Ale, I'd have to say that it's the least impressive of the three Brooklyn ales we're discussing today. That's not to say it's bad (it's not), but one of them has to come in last and well, the Blue Smoke Ale is it. The aroma and even the flavor are somewhat faint, with caramel and grass leading the way and providing a very mild but balanced base. There's a slight juiciness and a bit of a hop kick here as well, but again everything comes across as tame. It's almost like a lighter, less flavorful version of the Sabroso. I'd call this one slightly above average.

In the end, all three of these beers are fairly similar to one another but each one strays slightly from that similar base they all seem to have and that makes for definitively distinct beers. For me, the clear winner is the Sabroso, which by the way is the only one here that is truly unique to Citi Field. While you won't be able to run down to your corner store or bar to grab the Shackmeister or Blue Smoke, they are available at their restaurants' other locations in the city. As this is the only El Verano Taqueria in operation at the moment, it's your only option for the Sabroso Ale.

Kick-ass, wildly creative beers? Nope all around. Solid, flavorful beers that pair well with the styles of food with which they are sold? Absolutely.