In light of ska/punk/power-pop band Five Iron Frenzy’s new album “Engine of a Million Plots” landing at #3 on my 2013 Top Ten, I decided to reach out to FIF bassist Scott Kerr, who, as the frontman of Yellow Second, wrote my favorite record of the aughts. Given my thorough enjoyment of the entire Yellow Second catalog, there was little chance I wouldn’t be enamored of FIF given Scott’s involvement (he co-wrote 11 of the album’s 12 songs), and as expected, I wasn’t disappointed.
1) What happened to Yellow Second? You guys released my favorite album of the entire decade back in 2005. Are you still on good terms with the former members of the band?
Thanks, man. We are definitely on good terms. Those guys are among my closest friends. As for what happened to the band, we just seemed to reach a dead end. YS just could never gain enough traction. As proud as I was of the songs, we didn’t have enough success to make it viable. I also turned 30 in 2005, and my wife and I had put off starting a family while I was on the road so much. It was just time to move on.
2) Both Five Iron Frenzy and Yellow Second are routinely identified as “Christian rock” bands, although according to Wikipedia you left FIF back in 1998 due in part to a renunciation of Christianity. Yellow Second’s debut, “June One,” didn’t come out until 2000 — how did YS still carry the “Christian rock” tag? While it may not be fair, being categorized as such would seem to be something of a barrier to appealing to a more widespread audience.
My reasons for leaving Five Iron were not well known at the time, and I often wrote about my former faith in Yellow Second, albeit somewhat obscurely. And what I wrote was seldom negative. I mourned it, really, and for a time even came back to a place where I loosely identified myself with Christianity again. Many if not most YS songs dealt with the cognitive dissonance I felt between what is rational and the traces of belief that persisted in spite of that. Not to mention Floodgate Records, which released Altitude, was known primarily as a Christian label. All that to say, it’s not that surprising that the band would still be associated with that world. In hindsight, I don’t know if that was really a hindrance or not. If anything I’d say my abstruse, self-absorbed reflections on religion don’t make for good, relatable power-pop lyrics. Haha.
3) Following “Altitude” and the dissolution of the band, it seems you went on something of a musical hiatus. What made you decide to rejoin FIF? Did you do anything musically from 2006 through 2011?
During that time I wrote a handful of YS songs, a couple of which we released alongside the remix/remaster of Altitude in 2012. I also wrote a number of songs and song fragments that had no home in a particular band. I never stopped writing, though I was definitely a lot less prolific during those years. My kids, work, etc, became more of the focus, but I’m always thinking about music.
I rejoined Five Iron as an excuse to reconnect with my old friends. I grew up with these guys (and girl). That’s really as far as it went at first…just practicing together and reminiscing about old times. Honestly, the thought of making a new record and playing shows again made me kind of nervous. I imagined our differences in worldview might make for an awkward collaboration, and I wondered how interactions with fans would be as well. It’s actually been great, though.
4) Aside from playing on the record, what are your contributions to “Engine of a Million Plots?” Did you co-write or write a number of the songs? Yellow Second devotees can hear the unreleased title track from “Altitude” repurposed in the second half of “Zen & the Art of Xenophobia.” Are there other snippets from compositions meant for YS that made it onto this record?
Yeah, I wrote the music for 11 of the 12 songs on EOMP. Dennis wrote the other one, and he also composed some of the horn parts on other tracks. Reese writes most of the lyrics, which often necessitates some give and take with vocal melodies. I also wrote the lyrics for the album closer, “Blizzards and Bygones”, which was originally going to be a Yellow Second song, and contributed a few words here are there on some other tunes. There are other musical fragments from older unreleased songs (some of them YS, some not) that I cannibalized for this record as well, probably nothing you would have heard, though.
5) In Yellow Second you were the lead singer and guitarist, but in FIF you handle bass duties. How is it not being the frontman? Do you have a preference?
I sometimes miss singing more than just bgv’s, but not really the other aspects of being a frontman (e.g. between-song banter, etc). I do enjoy playing bass as much as guitar, though.
6) What are your favorite tracks off of the new record?
I can honestly say I like them all. My favorites change. Right now probably “So Far”, “Someone Else’s Problem”, “Into Your Veins”, and “Blizzards and Bygones”.
7) What are some other 2013 releases that have blown your mind?
Haha. I don’t know if these “blew my mind”, exactly, but some of my favorites include:
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Charli XCX – True Romance
Paul McCartney – NEW
The Flaming Lips – The Terror
The National – Trouble Will Find Me
Yeah Yeah Yeah’s – Mosquito
8) Since not everyone releases new albums every year, who are some of your other favorite artists?
My favorites of the last few years:
Metric, Rival Schools, Ladyhawke, Tame Impala, Marina and the Diamonds
9) You have hinted to me in the past that Yellow Second might put new music out at some point. The last bit of information the Internet has on this is on your Wikipedia page, which states that “In 2011, John Warne of Relient K joined Yellow Second and they are now working on a new album.” Please give us an update as to whether there might be any chance of a new Yellow Second album in 2014.
Yeah, there’s not much going on right now. We played a show (opening for Five Iron) in August, which was fun, but that’s all we’ve done recently. There isn’t really a plan to do another record at this point. You and about 12 other people will be disappointed to hear that, I’m sure. :)
10) Aside from a possible Yellow Second reunion, what are your other musical plans for 2014?
I’ve started writing for the next Five Iron record, and we will continue to play shows and possibly do a couple of short tours.
“Every year I seem to say the same thing with regards to there being less good new music than ever for me to compile an annual top ten list from, although that is primarily a function of the fact that as I’ve gotten older, gotten married, started a family, etc., my life has grown ever busier, leaving me less time to seek new music out. Additionally, it’s only natural for one’s taste in music to continually evolve, and as a result albums I thought I might have enjoyed at one time haven’t quite been getting the job done.”
The above is how I kicked off last year’s Top 10 albums list. And those words rang even truer in 2013, which was probably my least-new-music-filled year of existence since I became a rabid devourer of preposterously catchy tunes following the life-changing release of 1994′s “Dookie.” In fact, one of my highest-ranking listens from 2013 didn’t even come out in calendar-year 2013 — oh well. Even more unfortunate, now that I have eschewed NYC for suburban Houston life I have to rely solely on my car for transportation everywhere, which means I’ve been listening to music more frequently than ever before! Oh, the irony. Still, I am nothing if not a slave to tradition, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give huge props to the 10 terrific artists below that helped carry me through many a long jog/highway commute this year.
10) The Nines (self-titled) – Not as strong overall as 2007′s “Gran Jukle’s Field,” but any new music from Steve Eggers is always welcome.
9) Secret Friend: Time Machine – Power-pop supergroup albums can be exceptionally hit-or-miss, but thankfully Secret Friend came through with arguably the strongest collaborative album in the genre since LEO’s “Alpacas Orgling” in 2006. Predominantly sung by the always-welcome Willie Wisely, Time Machine’s batch of tunes is a breezy, easily digestible set that hits all the right power-pop hallmarks without being overly devotional or derivative.
8) Sleigh Bells: Bitter Rivals – I loved 2011′s “Comeback Kid” but the rest of “Reign of Terror” sounded mostly like noise for the sake of noise. “Bitter Rivals” makes good on the promise shown on the previous record with a brisk set of tunes boasting enough hooks — and the always mesmerizing, dreamy vocals of Alexis Krauss — to keep things interesting until the very end.
7) Jackdaw4: Dissectitude – Among the finest purveyors of 21st-century power-pop, Jackdaw4 sadly disbanded this year, but not before giving us another terrific hook-laden album, filled with the Jellyfish-style baroque pop power-poppers know and love.
6) Dot Dash – Half-Remembered Dream – This was a breath of fresh air, and I almost would’ve missed it if not for a brief mention on Aaron Kupferberg’s essential PowerPopaholic.com. “Half-Remembered Dream” feels like a friend you’ve known for years, kicking off with “Here’s to the Ghosts (of the past)” and rifling through its 10 ultra-melodic tunes so quickly that you wonder where the album went — in the best way possible. Interestingly, the band’s Bandcamp page describes their sound as “post-punk-pop,” which I’m not sure is a genre I’ve ever heard of, and so I was expecting this to perhaps be a bit more up-tempo, but it is very much a traditional mid-tempo power-pop album. Really top-notch stuff here throughout.
5) Pretty & Nice: Golden Rules for Golden People – This was easily the most unique album of the year for me, reminding me to an extent of Electric Guest’s “Mondo,” even though stylistically it is a very different album. There is something about the way this band arrives at its melodies that was intoxicating, and their distinctive songwriting sets them well ahead of the pack. Highlights include “Stallion & Mare,” “Q_Q” and “Yonkers,” but really the entire record is an energetic breath of fresh air. Also, the video for “Q_Q” has a Whataburger in the background, which is awesome.
4) Lorde: Pure Heroine - “Royals” has been the single of the fall for me, and this record will undoubtedly be on every mainstream critic’s year-end best-of list, and there’s a good reason why: it’s really great. “Pure Heroine” is so self-assured it sounds like the work of a 20-year industry veteran, and yet somehow was co-written by a 16-year-old phenom. Every now and then an album comes along that seems to perfectly capture a mood or a feeling — in this case I would describe it as a mix of both gloomy and optimistic — and with the unfettered production and relatively minimalist arrangements, New Zealander Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor really nails it here. Nearly every song on this album could be a single; that’s how good it is.
3) Five Iron Frenzy: Engine of a Million Plots – This ’90s ska/punk band reunited for its first album of original material in 10 years, and churned out a catchy masterpiece. I was not familiar with any of their previous work, but I am quite familiar with bassist Scott Kerr’s, the frontman of gone-too-soon power-pop beasts Yellow Second and author of my favorite record of the aughts. Given Kerr’s involvement there was little chance I wouldn’t like this record, and I was extremely pleased to find that the songwriting is top-notch — no surprise given that Scott co-wrote 11 of the album’s 12 songs — with hooks aplenty, huge power-pop-punk energy, smart arrangements (while the brass section plays a key role in the band’s sound, it also doesn’t overwhelm it) and outstanding musicianship. Things kick off in high gear with “Against of Sea of Troubles” and “So Far,” and the band — led by a tour-de-force vocal performance from lead singer Reese Roper — never lets up, lending a blissful feeling of endless infectiousness to the proceedings. There are also a couple of neat easter eggs for Yellow Second fans — the incorporation of a previously unreleased YS song into the second half of “Zen & the Art of Xenophobia;” and album closer “Blizzards & Bygones” was originally written by Kerr for Yellow Second, and is unmistakably his.
2) You, Me & Everyone We Know: Entire Catalog - I first discovered YM&EWK at the end of last year, stumbling across the “A Great Big Hole” EP on Bandcamp. I subsequently wore the title track out like nobody’s business this year. The sad tale of singer Ben Liebsch’s rise and hard fall with his bandmates (all of whom eventually quit due to Liebsch’s alcoholism; he has been sober ever since) is laid bare in one of the most preposterously catchy three-and-a-half minutes you’ll ever hear. The awesomeness of “A Great Big Hole” forced me to dig up YM&EWK’s entire catalog, which unfortunately only consists of one full-length — 2010′s “Some Things Don’t Wash Out” — and a handful of EPs. The good news is that Liebsch has cleaned up and is hard at work on a new LP, while continuing to produce EPs to tide fans over in the interim. I really can’t stress enough what kind of achievement “Some Things Don’t Wash Out” is. In any other year it would have been an easy choice for my album of the year; one of the only things keeping it out of the top slot is that it came out three years ago. That, and Wyatt Funderburk made an all-time record for the ages. Still, “Some Things” will go down as one of my favorite records of all time — I certainly listened to it enough times this year. It seems crazy to say, but Liebsch & company somehow seemed to rewrite the playbook on absurdly catchy pop-punk, both channeling their various influences while putting their own unique spin on what can be a pretty limiting genre. Pop-punk records are a dime a dozen, but when they come with this much innovation, bombast, guts, hooks and gut-wrenching, leave-it-all-on-the-field pathos — seriously, I’ve never been one to listen to music for the lyrics, but I was utterly riveted by Liebsch’s various tales of woe throughout this LP, despite the words being completely unrelatable to my own life – you can’t help but pay attention, and hope that a talent like that continues to be nurtured. It’s rare to come across a record with the punch-in-the-face adrenaline-pumping opening trifecta of “Shock & Awe,” “Losing Weight for You” and “Livin’ th’ Dream,” and it doesn’t end there. Not even close. The entire album features hugely hooky earwork after earworm, with the only misstep being “James Brown is Dead.” Anyone who went through a huge jeans, buy-every-album-Fat-Wreck-Chords-put-out-even-though-99%-of-them-sucked long-haired skater phase in the mid-90s owes it to themselves to get their hands on this record, but it’s no blast of nostalgia — this is the sound of pop-punk for the 21st century.
1) Wyatt Funderburk: “Novel & Profane” – In 2005, my musical life changed. I discovered both the aforementioned “Altitude” by Yellow Second and an EP called “Greetings from Mount Rockmore” by a band called Second Saturday. All five songs on “Rockmore” were utterly mind-blowing (“Arianna” and “The Fox” are still among the catchiest songs of all time), and I immediately sought out whatever else I could find from the band. That turned out not to be much outside of their debut LP, issued a year prior. While I wore the hell out of “Rockmore’s” five tracks, I waited patiently for new music from the band, even contacting frontman Wyatt Funderburk to let him know how much I enjoyed his work and how eager I was for more. Funderburk teased us with “In the End,” a tantalizing demo on Second Saturday’s MySpace page, but it was not to be. Fortunately for music-lovers, Wyatt managed to carve out a successful career co-writing and producing some of power-pop’s biggest names – including Kurt Baker, whom he joined on tour last year — so he didn’t completely disappear, never to be heard from again like so many others, but it seemed for a time that we might never hear original Funderburk compositions again. Until now.
“Novel & Profane” kicks off with a 40-second cut of classic Funderburkian harmonies and wistfulness with the longing “Wondering,” which tees up “Summer,” probably the most pure power-pop song on the album, not to mention one of my favorites. “Summer” is a brilliant showcase for Funderburk’s mastery of the art and beauty of both classic pop songwriting and the unconventional: ultra-catchy verses? check. Ridiculously catchy bridges? Of course. However, the craziest part about “Summer” is that it kind of just keeps going with very little acknowledgment of the chorus — the chorus is in there, and catchy as hell, but Funderburk drops so many musical earworms into this song that you can almost miss it. Madness. “You Know What to Do” slows the pace down but not the hooks; “Mandolin” ramps the pace back up with what is probably the fastest, most pop-punk-style song I’ve heard from Wyatt; and “Feeling Good Tonight” is probably the best alt-country song I’ve ever heard, at least until the album nears its close with “North on 65.” The album hits another high point with the emotional ballad “Nights Like This,” a song that perfectly anchors the album and represents a true closing to the first half if this were an actual physical record with Side A and Side B. “Side B” kicks off with “Love Will Lead the Way,” which was selected as the first single, although it’s a bit too by-the-numbers for me (which is likely why it was chosen to try to get Wyatt in front of the widest number of people. I know how it goes). Still, even an ever-so-slightly less compelling effort on this album is still stocked with the requisite hooks. The synth-driven “Try to Be” is perhaps the perfect space-rock love song, and will wind its way into your brain in mere seconds; “Never Seen the Sun” sounds like it should’ve been the 15th song on “Rubber Soul,” and “Right Now” and “If I Ever Wanted Easier” are just straight-up slices of pure power-pop hypercatchy euphoria that bring the album to an incredibly satisfying close yet want you leaving more, much more. And in addition to world-class songwriting, Wyatt’s singing on this record is as fantastic as ever. I think it’s probably implied that the vocals are great by virtue of the no. 1 ranking, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge an overall outstanding vocal performance, highlighted in part by some killer high notes at the end of “Feeling Good Tonight,” and that extra-long hold in the coda of “Nights Like This.” Epic stuff all around. Hats off to Wyatt Funderburk for crafting one of the purest examples of power-pop songwriting and craftsmanship I have heard in long time, and hopefully it won’t be another near-decade between releases.
I recently found myself captivated by a Beer Advocate discussion entitled “At this very moment, what is the best brewery in Texas?” and as I find the topic both incredibly interesting and important, wanted to also post my response to that thread here as well:
“Best” is so, so subjective, and will change on a dime the next time a local brewery puts out an amazing or shitty beer. Of course, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t love organizing, categorizing and making lists of things, and I am as guilty as the next when it comes to enjoying subjective rankings. But it’s important to keep in mind that, like anything else, tastes continually evolve, and the brewing process itself — particularly among newer breweries, which Texas is replete with — can be highly volatile. I have the utmost respect for the brewers that have the temerity to dump an obvious bad batch, tweak a recipe (for the better), or consistently turn out a world-class example of a style.
The ranking of “best” is also tricky because your own personal preferences are going to come into play. While I’m sure everyone enjoys a wide variety of styles, I’m almost always going to view what I consider the best breweries through the lens of their hoppy beer portfolio. So while I have a ton of respect for a brewery like Jester King — who is almost certainly the most innovative in the state — they don’t make a single beer that I absolutely love (though I have not had AR yet, and that could very well change things). But, I’m glad as hell they exist, and you couldn’t have a conversation about best in the state without including them.
Quality control — both on the part of brewers as well as bars/retail establishments — freshness, and time spent on shelf aren’t issues unique to Texas, but certainly play a role in my assessment of certain beers as well, and something that I think occasionally gets lost when reviewing beers. If your first experience with a given IPA is a six-month-old version of it, then of course you are going to think it sucks (see pretty much everyone not located in Santa Rosa who tries Pliny the Elder for the first time).
Since moving down to Texas I’ve seen several local breweries take some huge steps forward, though ultimately I find a lot of the core beers somewhat lacking. As a hop head, there’s almost no reason for me to ever buy Karbach’s Hopadillo when fresh Sculpin is sitting on the shelf (unless I’m not in the mood to get gouged that day :)). I also find Hopadillo to be a very different experience on tap. I was excited for Weekend Warrior to get canned and hit year-round, but the sixer I grabbed tastes muted compared to the batch I tried last winter, and I’d imagine Karbach probably had to adjust the recipe to scale up, perhaps sacrificing some of the flavor notes I recall really enjoying when it was draft-only.
Yellow Rose seems universally agreed upon as the best IPA brewed in the state, and I was going to end this post with a statement to the effect of “once Lone Pint starts bottling/canning this thing, Texas will finally have a must-have packaged IPA,” although in noting some of the struggles I’ve experienced elsewhere — not to mention needing to monopolize entire Mosaic crops to satisfy demand — I’m not sure packaging Yellow Rose would actually be in Lone Pint’s best interest, at least from a QC perspective (financially, of course it would).
Back at the beginning of the year I took a look at The Top-Rated Beer Advocate American Double/Imperial IPAs by State, The Top-Rated Beer Advocate American IPAs by State and The Top-Rated Beer Advocate American Pale Ales by State (and then further broke those down into New York and Texas lists). As noted in those posts, I selected those styles for my data set because they are the three I gravitate toward most frequently.
Fast forward to six months later and those lists are a bit out of date. However, rather than relive that nightmarish process again, this time I identified the top IIPAs, IPAs and APAs from each of the 10 regional Top 50 lists Beer Advocate tracks — New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont), Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C.), South (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee), Great Lakes (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin), Pacific (California, Hawaii), Midwest (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota), Southwest (Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas), Mountain (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming), South-Atlantic (Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia) and Northwest (Alaska, Oregon, Washington) – as well as what percentage of the Top 50 for each region the IIPAs/IPAs/APAs grouping was responsible for. The data yielded 129 total beers, though it is important to note that this is not a set of the 129-highest-rated overall IIPAs/IPAs/APAs on Beer Advocate, but rather a cross-section of the top-rated beers in those categories limited to the regional Top 50s [spreadsheet available here].
Interestingly, despite the West Coast’s development of and reputation for world-class double IPAs, the East Coast no longer plays second fiddle and hasn’t for some time. Of New England’s Top 50 beers, a region-leading 48% are either DIPAs, IPAs or APAs, followed by the Mid-Atlantic region, with 32%. The Pacific region doesn’t check in until 5th out of 10, with 30% of its list comprised of the pale ale triumvirate. Granted, there are a handful of factors at play here — in New England’s case it’s being almost singlehandedly propelled by Vermont, which is of course home to the highest-ranked double IPA (and overall beer) in the world in The Alchemist’s Heady Topper as well as Hill Farmstead, which boasts a brewery-high 7 DIPAs on the New England Top 50 (and 6 of which are among the Top 20 American Double/Imperial IPAs that comprise this 129-beer sample). That said, New England Brewing Company has also established itself as one of the finest brewers of hoppy ales on the East Coast, with its Coriolis Double IPA (22nd in New England, 32nd in the overall 129-sample list), Gandhi-Bot Double IPA (46th in New England, 70th overall), Fuzzy Baby Ducks IPA (7th in New England and currently the highest-rated IPA in the world right now) and Supernaut IPA (44th in New England, 67th overall) all in New England’s Top 50. Another factor is that in addition to myriad outstanding DIPAs, the Pacific is also home to some of the beer world’s most highly regarded Imperial Stouts and Wild Ales, which is partially why the Pacific Top 50′s percentage of IIPAs/IPAs/APAs isn’t higher than 30%.
This chart shows the shares of the 129-beer sample by region, and basically tells the same story as the previous graph. Given Colorado’s and Oregon’s substantial contributions to beer culture, it’s surprising to me that there aren’t more highly-rated DIPAs/IPAs/APAs hailing from the Mountain (7%) and Northwest (3.9%) regions. The Mountain region doesn’t check in until #74 on the overall list, with Odell’s Myrcenary DIPA; though the Northwest does have two of the Top 20 DIPAs in Boneyard’s Notorious Triple IPA and Hop Venom.
And the above pie chart is another chart that shows just how much Vermont (a state-high 13.2%) is dominating the hoppy ale segment, though California is of course the only other double-digit state, at 11.6%.
Some stray observations:
- It’s been an amazing year for Peekskill, which deservedly earned the Governor’s Cup for Best Craft Beer in New York State at the TAP New York Craft Beer & Food Festival back in April for its Higher Standard Imperial IPA. Higher Standard checks in at #32 on the Mid-Atlantic list (86th in the overall sample), but more importantly for New Yorkers, that ranking makes it the highest-rated double IPA brewed in New York state. Those familiar with Peekskill’s superb offerings won’t be surprised to learn that head brewer Jeff O’Neill is also responsible for the best-rated American Pale Ale brewed in the state, with Amazeballs coming in at 21st on the Mid-Atlantic list, and 77th overall. And another O’Neill creation still reigns as the Top American IPA in New York State, Ithaca’s Flower Power IPA (though it wouldn’t surprise me to see O’Neill eventually best himself in this category and earn Peekskill the NY state IIPA/IPA/APA triple crown with the tremendous Eastern Standard IPA).
- Ocean, New Jersey’s Kane Brewing Co. has emerged as among the top breweries in the Garden State, with three entries on the Mid-Atlantic list (not to mention the only entries from New Jersey): Head High (#23), Double Dry-Hopped Galaxy Head High (#18) and Overhead (#30).
- Moving south to my adopted homestate of Texas, it’s exciting to see 8 beers making the Southwest Top 50, with Karbach’s Hop Delusion (#12 on the Southwest list) and Austin Beerworks’ Heavy Machinery DIPA (#15) coming in as the top two American Double/Imperial IPAs brewed in both the state of Texas and the Southwest region (and 98th and 100th on the overall list, respectively). Lone Pint’s Pioneer Yellow Rose has unsurprisingly become the best-rated IPA brewed in the state of Texas, though top IPA in the Southwest region belongs to La Cumbre’s phenomenal Elevated IPA (#3 in the Southwest). (512)’s IPA also made the list, coming in at #39 on the Southwest Top 50.
“What are those full bottles in the garbage can.”
“Those are one of the best double IPAs in the world.”
“Why are you throwing them out.”
“They are old.”
“The bottled-on date is from two days ago.”
“I know. After one day they don’t taste right; the flavor starts falling off at about hour 23.”
I ran this past Saturday’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park at a 7:02 minute/mile pace — a personal best — good for a net time of 43:35 and 372nd place out of nearly 6,000 runners.
Pretty proud of this accomplishment, especially as it came in my last NYRR-sponsored race before our big move to Houston.
A year ago I manually compiled a ridiculous amount of data to analyze my craft beer drinking habits and also celebrate the enjoyment I have derived from the ability to log every beer I consume thanks to Untappd. Sunday, April 28, 2013, marked two years since I logged my very first beer into Untappd, and 1,887 total check-ins and 1,252 uniques later, I finally signed up to become an Untappd supporter so I could own my data.
As such, I present to you in chart form some highlights from the two years I’ve spent enjoying some of the greatest beer in the world:
Three Floyds wins by a landslide; may have had something to do with the fact that I shipped three cases of FFF beer to myself in NYC from Chicago this past winter. I seldom choose Brooklyn these days; a lot of that tally was built during my first few months on Untappd before I started branching further out. Same goes for Dogfish Head, a brewery at one time I greatly admired but who I now feel has been surpassed by a great many. And Stone and Sierra Nevada round out the top five, which makes sense to me as they are arguably the top two “large” craft brewers in the business, although Lagunitas is very much in that conversation as well. I don’t have a set definition for “large,” for these purposes I guess I would define large as a brewery in the Brewers Association’s Top 15.
At this time last year, I had consumed beers brewed in 31 out of 50 states. I managed to knock nine more states (and Washington, DC) off the list, and so the only states I still have yet to drink a beer from are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and West Virginia.
American IPAs made up 22% of all beers consumed, followed by 15% for DIPAs and 11% for American Pale Ales. There are a lot of ”0%” entries in that chart, but in most cases it means I only had a handful of a given style, but it was a small enough amount that it rounded down to zero.
My obsession with Zombie Dust ensured that it would overtake Brooklyn Lager as my most-consumed. Two other beers have remained in the top six since last year — Ruination and 90-Minute IPA, although that is more due to the fact that I was on an insane mission of seeking uniques out for much of the year rather than substantial consumption of either.
My Top-Rated Beers, or the 33 out of 1,252 (3%) that have merited a rating of 5 out of 5
|Barrier Brewing Company||Money IPA|
|Bear Republic Brewing Co.||Cafe Racer 15|
|Bear Republic Brewing Co.||Racer 5 IPA|
|Bear Republic Brewing Co.||Racer X|
|Flying Dog Brewery||Single Hop Imperial IPA (Citra)|
|Green Flash Brewing Co.||West Coast IPA|
|Hill Farmstead Brewery||Abner|
|Hill Farmstead Brewery||Edward|
|Hill Farmstead Brewery||Ephraim|
|Hill Farmstead Brewery||Susan|
|Kern River Brewing Company||Citra|
|Knee Deep Brewing Company||Hoptologist DIPA|
|Knee Deep Brewing Company||Simtra Triple IPA|
|Lagunitas Brewing Company||Hop Stoopid|
|Lawson’s Finest Liquids||Fayston Maple Imperial Stout|
|Lawson’s Finest Liquids||Paradise Pale Ale|
|New England Brewing Co.||Gandhi-Bot|
|Pipeworks Brewing Company||Ninja Vs. Unicorn|
|Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.||Hoptimum|
|Ska Brewing||Modus Hoperandi|
|Stone Brewing Co.||Enjoy By 09.21.12 IPA|
|Stone Brewing Co.||Enjoy By 12.21.12 IPA|
|Stone Brewing Co.||Stone Ruination IPA|
|Stone Brewing Co.||Stone Ruination Tenth Anniversary IPA|
|Surly Brewing Company||Furious|
|The Alchemist||Heady Topper|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Alpha King|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Arctic Panzer Wolf|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Dreadnaught|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Gumballhead|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Michiana Power|
|Three Floyds Brewing Company||Zombie Dust|
|Tired Hands Brewing Company||California Uber Helles|
Back in November 2011 I wrote a piece entitled The Best Places to Buy Craft Beer in New York City, which to this day remains the post that brings more people to this site than any other. Given the ever-evolving and expanding craft beer landscape in New York City, along with a deeper knowledge repository that has refined my own purchasing habits — not to mention having recently completed the “State of the NYC Craft Beer Scene” panel — it seemed time for an update.
With apologies to the likes of The Pony Bar (the best beer bar in New York City, for my money) and the borough of Brooklyn, for simplicity’s sake I’m limiting this list to stores that would identify as retail first and on-premise consumption second, and to Manhattan-only, as I’m just not familiar enough with the Brooklyn bottle shops to author knowledgeable recommendations (though I hear great things about Bierkraft, Beer Street and Breukelen Bier Merchants, among others). By the way, all of the locations in the post have been collected into a custom map I made on Foursquare. Enjoy.
The Crème de la Crème
Good Beer (422 East 9th Street). Good Beer was the first of the Manhattan bottle shops, and it remains the bottles-to-go/drafts-to-stay hybrid by which all others will be judged. Owner David Cichowicz is one of the nicest guys in the business, and his shop has everything a craft beer connoisseur could want — a selection of bottles and cans as far as the eye can see, with superb customer service and an amazing staff helping cultivate a warm, inviting vibe that has made it an ideal spot to imbibe the latest and greatest. Good Beer’s prices are eminently reasonable; beer flights of anything from the bar’s 11 taps available (for only $8!); and growlers and grumblers from any establishment fillable. Good Beer should be any beer lover’s first stop when it comes to bottle shopping in Manhattan.
Top Hops Beer Shop (94 Orchard Street). Ted Kenny’s offering on the Lower East Side is everything Good Beer is, but in reverse, as the drinking-on-premises component takes center stage thanks to a huge 20-tap-deep bar greeting patrons the moment they walk in, with the beer-to-go in the rear of the store. Ted’s commitment to beer freshness might be unparalleled, as almost everything for sale sits in unlighted refrigerators, not to mention the fact that the huge chalkboard behind the bar not only tells you when a given beer was tapped, but the last time the tapline was cleaned. Top Hops offers well-priced beer flights, an assortment of meat/cheese snack plates (and free pretzels), the ability to drink a beer from the refrigerator on premises for a $2 capping fee, and of course, growler/grumbler fills.
Alphabet City Beer Co. (96 Avenue C). The most recent entrant into the bottle shop scene, Zach Mack’s paean to craft beer strikes perhaps the moodiest (in a good way) chord, with somber lighting, a huge wooden communal table in the back and old-fashioned leather couches and chairs lending a more traditional Alphabet City bar-like feel — it just also happens to sell beer to go. ABC Beer Co.’s modest number of refrigerators means it has fewer to-go offerings than its brethren, but the tap list is always excellent and offers half-pours for those looking to try a few different things in one sitting without getting overly tipsy.
City Swiggers (320 East 86th Street). By virtue of location I’ve spent more time here than at any of the other shops, and City Swiggers truly is a craft beer diamond in the rough Upper East Side sea — while some craft beer is available at Fairway up the block, there’s no other store within miles of City Swiggers offering the beer-to-go-and-stay concept that owner Alan Rice has nurtured since November 2011. Swiggers has a tremendous selection to choose from; offers beer flights made up of any four of its 16 rotating taps; fills growlers/grumblers; and allows bottle consumption on premises, for a $4 capping fee. Like the previous three stores, there’s little cause for concern when it comes to beer freshness; anything worth drinking isn’t going to sit on the shelves for very long.
Best of the Rest
The Beer Room at Whole Foods on the Bowery (95 East Houston Street). One of the most robust craft beer selections in the city, this place has pretty much everything. The only reason I don’t have it in the upper echelon is that customization is a bit more limited. There is a certain selection of 12-ouncers that can be bought on an individual basis, but you can’t make a custom six out of anything you want.
New Beer Distributors (167 Chrystie Street). Once upon a time, I thought New Beer might be the best beer store in the city, due primarily to sheer volume — the place has almost literally everything, and at prices that are hard to beat. However, this is probably not the best place to do your IPA shopping. For other, less hop-forward beers, it’s still worth your while.
Beer Table Pantry (87 East 42nd Street, inside Grand Central Terminal). Superb selection for such a small store, but the pricing can be a tough pill to swallow at times. However, it’s totally understandable given the location, and there’s really no other bottle shop in the general vicinity. They also have four rotating taps for growlers.
Best Yet Market (2187 Frederick Douglass Boulevard). A store that claims to have “the largest craft beer selection in Manhattan,” I’ll admit I was seduced by Best Yet the first time I went. They certainly have an impressive selection; however, they could probably stand to upgrade in the quality control department (cough cough, six-pack of Ruination with an enjoy-by date of August 3 still sitting on the shelf in mid-November, cough cough). Still, you’ll be hard-pressed to find another store with a comparable selection within miles of Best Yet.
Growler Station (26 West 8th Street). I’ve somehow never been here, but have kept tabs on their rotating tap list, and they certainly seem to know what they’re doing.
Malt & Mold (221 East Broadway). I’ve only been once, and it doesn’t have a monster bottle selection, but it has enough interesting offerings both in glass and on tap to be a worthwhile stop on anyone’s NYC craft beer tour.
Other Places to Buy Craft Beer in Manhattan
Duane Reade Brew York City Growler Bar (52 East 14th Street)
Duane Reade Brew York City Growler Bar (2069 Broadway)
Duane Reade Brew York City Growler Bar (2148 Broadway)
Fairway (240 East 86th Street)
Fairway (2127 Broadway)
Fairway (2328 12th Avenue)
Flair Beverages Beer Distributor (3857 9th Avenue)
On Tap at Whole Foods (10 Columbus Circle)
Whole Foods Upper West Side (808 Columbus Avenue)