Graft Cider: Where Secrets Lie

While I fully intend to review a wide variety of ciders, the fact that 50% of my current submissions have focused on Graft Cider undermines those intentions a bit. I’ve only recently become acquainted with Graft, but their wide variety of unusual offerings has piqued my curiosity and I find myself searching for their ciders whenever I’m out shopping. So when I recently stumbled upon “Where Secrets Lie” at my local co-op, I was really excited.

Not only does Graft feature unusual flavors, they focus just as much creativity on their labels as they do on the production of their cider. The “Where Secrets Lie” label presents what appears to be the same characters from their “Endless Fields” label, a rural 19th century couple engaged in what at first glance seems to be a romantic boat ride. But a closer look reveals a disturbing scene in the depths of the water beneath them, where a skeleton and a sunken boat lie submerged for all eternity.

 

The playfully dark scene depicted on the can contrasts nicely with the light and fruity nature of the cider. This is a wild yeast fermented beverage, which imparts to it a very dry, traditional farmhouse cider quality. When I poured it, I was instantly struck by its maroon color, which matches the label almost perfectly. It’s fairly effervescent and the bitterness of the cider can almost be smelled as well as tasted. Although its ingredients include “hibiscus, rose petals, lavendar [sic], (and) pink sea salt,” I had trouble discerning them. I think they mostly serve to contribute to the maroon color of this cider and provide only a very slight floral overtone. The somewhat heavy bitterness and moderate sourness mask whatever other more subtle flavors might be present here. There’s also a lingering aftertaste that’s mildly cloying and unpleasant, similar to the aftereffects of a dose of grape Robitussin. At 6.9% abv, this cider is moderately potent.

I wanted to enjoy “Where Secrets Lie”, but it’s inspired and promising ingredients ended up failing to impress. Although this may not have been my best experience with Graft Cider, I’ll definitely be checking out their many other products. I appreciate a company that’s bold enough to take risks in the name of creativity even if it may end up being at the expense of sales.

2.25/5

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Super Bowl Party Etiquette

It’s that time of year again. Everybody is getting ready for the Pats vs Eagles. Even if you’re a casual fan of football, you’re still looking forward to Sunday. Now, some of you may not be looking forward to the game itself, but more the party/gathering for it.

Right now, if you don’t have plans to watch the game on Sunday, you’re probably rushing to make plans with your friends. Whether you’re hosting or attending, there’s always an etiquette to Super Bowl parties, and that’s what this article will cover.

1. Have food and drinks ready for your guests

This rule basically applies for most viewing parties, but it’s a staple for the Super Bowl. The coverage goes on for 4+ hours, and that kind of TV consumption works up an appetite. If you graciously volunteered to use your home as the Super Bowl headquarters, there needs to be food and drinks.

Keep in mind, this doesn’t mean the host has to break the bank on finger foods and dinner. Having an assortment of chips and dips is always a great default, and it shouldn’t cost more than $30. Also, depending on how much you’re willing to spend, pizza is always perfect for this occasion. If you buy it right before the game, it’ll usually last until the end. If you’re only planning on serving finger foods and apps, let that be known to your guests, so they plan accordingly.

When it comes to alcohol, a case of beer is always a good choice. There’s no need to get any fancy craft beers, as something cheap will go fine with pizza and chips. If alcohol isn’t something your guests will be consuming, there’s no harm in picking some soda.

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That’ll do

Now, I understand this can be costly for the person hosting, but don’t worry, there’s options on how to cover this. Just because you’re hosting, it doesn’t mean you have to purchase everything. There’s absolutely no harm in assigning food/drink duties to your guests. After all, the host is giving up his/her home on a Sunday night. This brings me to my next point.

2. Ask your host what he or she needs

Like I mentioned before, someone is giving up their home on a Sunday night for a party, so bring something with you. Not everybody is swimming in pools of cash, so as friends we should all chip in. Also, this allows for more variety in snacks and drinks.

If you’re someone that’s only an acquaintance to the host, this rule applies to you more than anybody else. Nobody likes seeing someone they barely know mooch off the party they threw.

3. Don’t invite people without the host’s permission

There’s not much to this rule, because it’s common courtesy. Your host may be looking to keep the party low key, and they have the right to do so. Also, if your host  hasn’t extended an invite to people outside of the guests that are already confirmed, you probably shouldn’t ask this question.

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Not everybody wants their living room to look like this

4. Respect the game!

There’s two parts to this rule, and first is to keep the talking to a minimum while the game is on. The whole purpose of this party is to watch football, and it can’t be enjoyed if others are screaming about topics that are unrelated. With that being said, adding bits of your own game commentary is usually welcomed. If you and some others want to have an off topic discussion, there’s nothing wrong with getting up and walking to another part of the house/apartment to have it. In this case, if you’re fortunate enough to have a large house and multiple TVs, you may want to consider having the game on in multiple rooms.

The second part to this rule is all about keeping the insults about football away from the party. Chances are, most people are hear to enjoy a football game, and that’s not easy if someone continues to crap on the sport. Even if you’ve been dragged to a party by your spouse or friend, keep your negative comments to yourself. As someone that’s had people come over and insult wrestling during Wrestlemania, I can tell you that it’s incredibly irritating.

5. Leave at timely manner

Hey, it’s a Sunday, people have work in the morning, so make sure you leave on time. I get it, people have been drinking and are having a good time, but every party has to come to an end. As someone that’s hosted parties for other events and Super Bowls, there’s nothing more that I hate than having to drop hints for people to leave. It’s an awkward position to put the host in.

If you’re the host and don’t want the party to go on after the game, let that be known to the guests. The party is only going to go on if the host doesn’t say anything. Not everybody at your party is aware of your work schedule, so just be up front about it.

6. Don’t drink and drive

I’d hope this is common sense for most people reading, but make sure you or your friends don’t get behind that wheel intoxicated. Your lives are more important than getting your car home the same night. Always plan ahead, and make sure you have safe transportation to and back from the party.

7. Have Fun!

It may sound like there’s a lot of rules for a Super Bowl party, but that’s with every party ever hosted. As long as mankind has been holding get-togethers, there’s always been an expected etiquette for both guests and hosts. However, this doesn’t mean we have to be robotic when hanging out with our friends.

Make sure you cheer when your team scores a touchdown, or boo when the play is in review. It’s okay to heckle your friends once your team wins, or even throw a small fit when your team loses. Why not make a wager with the others at your party? It’ll sure be fun to win a couple bucks at the end of the night.

Anyways, just make sure having fun is your first priority for this Sunday.

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If everything goes right, this will be your party on Sunday

I hope I was able to educate some party throwers and goers for this weekend. If you feel like I’ve missed anything, please share it in the comment section.

Also, I’d like to thank Aaron for giving me this platform to write on. Hopefully this will be the first of many sports articles I’ll contribute to Beards & Banter!

Buffalo Whiskey Fest

Last weekend was the very first Buffalo Whiskey Fest, an event that sold out super quick.  I had never been to a whiskey tasting event before, so it was a pretty cool experience, with the obvious annoyances one would expect.  The event packed in around 1300 people into the Hotel Lafayette, a gorgeous rehabbed classic hotel in downtown Buffalo, NY.

The event was about $35.00 plus taxes and fees, and I would say definitely worth it.  Each ticket got you unlimited tastings, a free whiskey glass, one free Manhattan, and one Old Fashioned.  I really had no idea what to expect because you could essentially go to this thing and get completely inebriated.

I found the real challenge to be trying to get as many samples in as possible, while trying to gauge where your sobriety is.  I would taste and spit the samples that weren’t any good, but after 10 or so, you start to feel it quick.

The first sample I had was the single barrel 4 Roses, which was a bad move because it was so outstanding, that nothing could touch it in terms of quality and flavor all night.  It was incredibly smooth, no burn, and you could really identify the flavors in it.  It was an impressive whiskey for sure.

One observation I gathered from this event was that there is an explosion of distilleries in the area.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely cool, however you could see that many of these places seem to be rushing out their product.  In the end you have a bunch of whiskey that burns and is more like moonshine.

The Yamazaki 12 year was probably the second most impressive.  It was my first taste of Japanese Whiskey.  This seemed to be universally praised by festival goers throughout the afternoon.

I would give the third best to the Russell’s 10 Year.  This was the last one I sampled so my taste buds were shot, but it seemed to go down nice and had some great flavors.

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With this many people crammed into this space, it became obvious quickly when the majority of people started losing their peripheral vision.  Going from table to table involved bouncing off of multiple glassy-eyed people.

Overall, The Buffalo Whiskey Fest appeared to be a huge success.  I’m not sure I would go to it again, but I see the appeal.  It was pretty cool being able to go in and sample all those distilleries as it will make my next trip to the liquor store more productive.

Cheers!

Vince McMahon and The XFL: No Chance In Hell?

If there is one thing Vince McMahon has, it’s balls.  Those who don’t follow wrestling may look at him as a complete joke, but if you take a look at what exactly he’s done in his career, it’s actually really incredible.  By doing this, you get to see exactly when he started growing giant balls.

Without going into too much detail, Vince McMahon grew his wrestling empire by taking insane chances, and breaking every rule in the book to get there.  Back in the early days of pro-wrestling, everything was done in “territories.”  Each area of the United States was run by different wrestling promotions.  Typically, these territories were respected and for decades these rules were never broken.  It was the general understanding among all promoters.  In the 1980’s, this all changed.  McMahon decided to break these rules, running shows in the same towns as other promotions while also signing their talent.

McMahon has never been afraid of competition.  This can also be proven by looking at “The Monday Night Wars,” where he was forced to defend himself when Ted Turner decided to go head to head with him in the mid-90’s.  I was lucky enough to experience all of this at the time it was happening, as this was most likely the highlight of McMahon’s incredible career.  McMahon was the clear underdog during this war, as Ted Turner has an endless stream of capital and his own television networks.  At the time, most fans thought he would lose that war, and for a while he was.  In the end, not only did McMahon win, he bought the company that tried to destroy him and put it down like Old Yeller.

In 1999 McMahon and NBC joined forces to create a product that would piggyback off the success of Pro-Wrestling and NFL Football; both were huge at the time.  The plan for the product was to use the same scoring system of the NFL, but rougher, less rules, and combine off-field elements like kayfabe involving sex and violence.  The XFL was going to tout itself as “real football” and feature players and coaches wearing microphones on the field, off the field, and in the locker room.  As ridiculous as this all sounds today in 2018, back then it made perfect sense.  McMahon reached the pinnacle of his success with the “Attitude Era” of wrestling, which was rooted in tasteless storylines, extreme violence, questionably racist dialog, and everything else that would send today’s P.C. cultured youth into cardiac arrest.  It’s clearly what people wanted back then, so he figured it would work with football.  That wasn’t the case.

The ratings for the first game were higher then they ever imagined, but fell sharply once the viewers saw the overall product.  The presentation and the talent on the field differed greatly then what fans were used to seeing in both the NFL and College Football.  The connection to professional wrestling was also turning people off.  It was just not something anyone was willing to take seriously.  Overall, it was a complete joke and was over after the first season.

Fast forward to 2018.  The NFL’s ratings have been declining steadily.  The first week of NFL playoffs this year saw a 16% drop from last year, which is about 5.8 million viewers.  NFL games are still the most watched sports on television, but the trend is still a concern.  So what is the reason for the continued loss of fans?  I don’t think there is a specific reason, but a multitude of reasons that hit a spectrum of people differently.  All of this is causing them to do something else on Sunday.  Whether it’s because of “taking a knee,” or the refusal to penalize those who did, or the increased length of the games due to the gratuitous amount of penalties, or the quality of the officiating, or the inconsistency of the rule enforcement, or Netflix, or simply not liking the fact that we are all watching men destroy their brains.  The list runs on and on, just like that last sentence.  What we could be seeing is a window of opportunity.  But is that window big enough to let in someone with gigantic balls?

On January 25th, Vince McMahon made history by announcing the revival of the XFL, which basically sent the internet into a frenzy.  This time, separating the brand from the WWE, stating that the company will be now owned by McMahon’s “Alpha Entertainment.”  This is an obvious attempt to help distance the product from wrestling.  The problem isn’t going to be the name of the company that owns the XFL, its the man that owns it.  Vince McMahon IS professional wrestling.

This revival of the XFL was presented much differently though.  McMahon was not assuming the role of the circus promoter. He sat there presenting a product that sounded somewhat reasonable if you were able to get past the stench of it’s past failures.  What was promised this time wasn’t football mixed with 90’s wrestling.  What was presented this time was a product that was seeking to capitalize on all the things that currently continue to tarnish the NFL.  McMahon promised more action and fewer rules.  He also stated that the XFL was looking to create a safer product, which I’m not sure is possible to achieve with fewer rules.  Vince stated that fans want shorter games with less interruptions.  He also said that in the XFL, “quality of the human being is going to be as important as the quality of the player.”  A direct shot at the NFL which is riddled with players that have criminal records, guys that hit women, and a league that continued to let a guy play who murdered dogs.  Players with something as simple as a DUI will not be able to play in the league.  He also addressed the current overblown controversy of “taking a knee” and stated that players will be expected to respect the National Anthem.  Vince stressed that this time around would be much different.  With the original XFL, the time wasn’t there to prepare and to get it right.  This time he says he has two years to get it right, getting experts in all areas, and closely listening to the fans.  Most importantly, there will be no crossover between the XFL and the WWE.

As stated earlier, when the announcement was made, the internet was sent into a frenzy.  Can this work?  The consensus amongst most fans is, “No.”  Some fans can’t get over how big of a disaster the first season of the XFL was.  Other fans are skeptical when McMahon states that he’s going to “listen to the fans.”  With wrestling, Vince does the complete opposite of that.  He promotes wrestlers that a majority of fans do not enjoy watching and he continues to have a three hour wrestling show when fans have been begging for two hours.  But after thinking about all of this, and initially mocking the idea, I think it has a shot.

With the continued loss of viewers in the NFL, those fans are still out there.  As Vince stated in the press conference, there is a significant off-season with the NFL which offers room for another product.  Do I think the XFL can go head-to-head with the NFL?  Absolutely not.  Not now anyway.  With the current state of the NFL and the growing list of things that continue to make the game worse, the XFL actually does have an opportunity to try and change the game.  If there truly is a way to simplify the game, to make it safer, and make it more exciting, then he is on to something.

There are so many costly lessons learned from the first XFL season, that it is possible to build on that while also capitalizing on everything the NFL does wrong.  You have to remember, the ratings for the first game were there and I have no doubt they will be there this time as well.  The real challenge though is captivating that audience, presenting them with a strong professional product, and not something that looks like porn.  It is easy to mock Vince McMahon (I do it myself), but one must not forget what the man has built in his career.  As off-the-wall as he is, he is still possibly the greatest promoter of all time.  At a time where technology and social media allow endless opportunities for any idea, anything is possible.  I won’t count out the success of the XFL.

Neither should you.

 

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Woodcock Brothers Brewing Company: India Pale Ale

I remember going on a wine tour years ago and ending up passing through Wilson, NY.  At the time I had never had any Woodcock beers, and I also hadn’t heard anyone really talk about them.   Well, the brewery was fantastic, and the beer was surprisingly delicious!  I’m not using “surprisingly” in an insulting way (I probably could phrase that better), I just hadn’t heard anyone mention their beers before.  I still don’t really.  With that all being said, Woodcock Brothers beer is very underrated.

This India Pale Ale is refreshing.  At a 6.5%, it is extremely balanced, allowing me to sip it casually while fighting with my family members about politics.  My biggest problem with this beer is that they don’t date the cans.  You can’t put “drink fresh” on a can with no date.  How am I supposed to know?  I gave it a shot as it was on the shelf with some other delicious options, all dated fresh.

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When I say this beer is extremely balanced, I mean that in a good and a bad way.  The good is that there isn’t anything wrong with this.  It has an acceptable amount of hops, citrus, and malt.  When the can is first opened, you get just enough of that fresh smell that you want in an IPA.  And then you taste it…

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If this beer were a little cheaper, I’d say it would be a great beer for outdoors on a summer day.  If this beer were cheaper, I’d say this would be a great beer to mow the lawn with.  The problem is that it comes in a 4 pack of 16oz cans, priced as if it’s something special.  That is where it falls short.

Overall, this India Pale Ale can’t hang with the other 4 pack IPA’s on the shelf right now.  In a market that is currently flooded with choices, this would not be one I would make again.  3/5.

**This review in no way reflects my experience at the brewery itself.  My experience there was fantastic and the beers on tap were fresh and delicious.  Definitely check it out if you are ever weirdly in Wilson, NY.**

BlackBird Ciderworks: Dry-Organic

Having lived my entire life around the city of Buffalo, NY, I can attest that it has received more than its fair share of disparagement over the years. It’s long been the home of perennially uncompetitive sports teams, wildly mismanaged city government, highly segregated populations, failing school systems, and most notably, the chicken wing and beef on weck “sandwich”. But in recent years, Buffalo has shed it’s former identity as a failed city and has seen a renaissance, becoming the vibrant, architecturally interesting, quickly growing city that it was over a century ago. As a result, many new businesses have sprouted up, including a shockingly high number of craft breweries. While mostly producing a wide variety of beers, several cideries have popped up amongst their malty cousins. While located a bit outside of the city, BlackBird Ciderworks is one of these companies and I’m delighted to say that the wide variety of ciders they produce are invariably well crafted and creative.

BlackBird’s “Dry-Organic” cider is aptly named as it is just about as dry as a cider can get. The first and most notable taste is the distinct bitterness of the cider. But that bitterness quickly levels out and leaves a pleasant, fruity aftertaste. According to the can, this flavor is a hint of pear, though I’d be lying if I said I could distinguish this from the mild sweetness of the organic apples. This is a still, full-bodied cider with a relatively high ABV of 6.7%, though it is so smooth that the higher alcohol content is easily unnoticed. If a cider can be classified as distinguished, this would hit that mark. I plan to wallow in the pretentiousness this cider affords, lounging by a fire while listening to the dulcet tones of a classic Lester Young album. Outstanding.

4.75/5

Lawson’s Finest Liquids: Sip of Sunshine IPA

I remember a few years ago, I had had this on tap as a “special” at the old Blue Monk in Buffalo, NY.  It was pretty fantastic, and at the time probably one of the best IPAs I had tasted on the East Coast.  Fast forward to a few months ago, the first batch was distributed here in our area in a 4 pack of 16oz cans.  Beer geeks were running all over town, fully erect, searching every store for it, and taking photos of their achievements as if they were banging models.  Like any sane person, I waited until the second batch was delivered, literally 2 months later, where now it is openly mocked as being old news.  Treating beer as fashion is embarrassing.  Write that down.  A vivid reminder of why I detest beer geeks.

This beer isn’t cheap. at $14.99 a six pack, depending on where you live, you may have a few better options.  In Buffalo, we are blessed with many top notch breweries not only making some of the best IPA’s I’ve had, but you can get them insanely fresh.  The date on these cans was January 2018, so it was indeed fresh.

This beer pours a bright golden color with a medium head.  Instantly you are hit with aromas of citrus, tropical fruit, and pine.  There is a bitter fruity flavor with just the right balance of malt.  With an ABV of 8%, this is an outstanding beverage.  Upon further research, this beer holds a 100 rating on ratebeer.com.  To say this is anything short of fantastic, is simply trying too hard.  I this is something you can get in your area, I highly suggest it.

Another extremely well done IPA out of Vermont. 4.7/5