This post was contributed by Urban Oyster co-founder Dave Naczycz.
I was recently married to a wonderful woman that I had been dating for three years.
She had been behind me 100% through the start up of Urban Oyster and into the creation of our very first tours.
She had endured my growing fascination with the world of craft beer as we launched our Brewed in Brooklyn Tour
Fortunately for both her and me, she also has had a life-long love affair with beer.
So when we decided to get married, it only made sense that beer would play a prominent role in our nuptials.
The world of wedding planning can be a soul-crushing experience for even a veteran planner, and most of the typical wedding stuff is about as creative and original as Superman 4
The options you see in most wedding magazines for dresses, flowers, cakes, and food all seem designed to create the same cookie cutter wedding – and you have to pay the equivalent of an Ivy League tuition for the privilege of doing so.
My future wife and I were not so enamored with this style of wedding, so we opted for the do-it-yourself variety where we, or a close friend or relative, personally designed most of our wedding.
The bar component at a wedding has wonderful potential for creative ideas and personalization, so I took charge of that aspect of the preparations. "
Do what you love" is my motto.
Toasting the newlyweds with German Weiss
The first decision we made about the bar was to limit it to beer and wine – for simplicity mostly, but also to avoid any raging drunk relatives or friends. A futile effort, we were later to learn.
A good friend of ours is a wine distributor, so he took care of that end, supplying us with excellent Italian and French wines.
That left the beer.
My first objective was to have some of my favorite beers from right here in Brooklyn at the wedding.
We have wonderful relationships with all three breweries here in Brooklyn, and we also love their beer.
I came up with what I thought was a nice spread of beer options: six cases of Brooklyn Brewery Beer
in bottles – two of their Pennant Ale
, two of their Lager
, and two of the Black Chocolate Stout
The first four cases are both pretty accessible beer and would be served at our rehearsal dinner.
I knew they would be loved by craft and macro beer drinkers alike.
The Black Chocolate Stout, which is an imperial stout
coming in at 10.5% ABV, was my special gift to my wife, who loves dark, sweet beers like that one.
I then turned my attention to kegs.
Two of my absolute favorite beers are not bottled: Brooklyn Blast
, which is the Brooklyn Brewery's double IPA, and Kelso Pilsner
, which is, simply put, the best craft pilsner in the U.S. in my humble opinion.
I also knew that the average beer drinker, who probably wasn’t ready for Blast or Black Chocolate Stout, would find Kelso Pilsner a lot friendlier.
Now the challenge with the kegged beer was this: our wedding was taking place at the beach where we had rented a house for the entire week.
The wedding was at the start of the week, and we would be hanging out with friends and family for the rest of the week, so I knew that we’d need beer not just for the wedding but for the balance of the time we were there.
If I got regular pump picnic taps, the beer would probably only last a day or two at the most.
That meant we needed a CO2 system for the beer.
Strangely enough my fiancé did not want to lay out the $500+ it would have cost us to buy even the cheapest CO2 taps.
So that left me looking for a way to rent a jockey box
(a tap system made out of a cooler) for the week.
Now, if you live on the west coast it seems that it is not a problem to rent a jockey box.
However on the east coast, for whatever reason, they are simply not available.
Luckily for me my friend Will Stephens at Beer Menus
had a friend willing to loan me one for the weekend so we did indeed have fresh, cold, well carbonated beer for the entire week.
The last piece of beer creativity I injected into the wedding was to brew our own beer.
I can’t recommend this enough to anyone planning to get married.
Even if you don’t homebrew yet, homebrewing is so easy and turns out such great beer and there is nothing like the feeling of serving your own beer at your wedding.
Not to mention your guests are very impressed.
We took it one step further by eliminating the champagne toast and instead doing a homebrew toast.
Elwood the dog was not invited to the wedding, but he got to contribute to making the wedding beer.
The style we ended up making was a German Weiss
, which I simply called our Wedding Wheat.
We made three 5-gallon batches, which lent a little variety to our beer as no batch is exactly alike.
It was also insurance, as our third batch ended up going bad for reasons I have still not been able to determine.
It may have been the result of an overheated mash, but I’m not certain.
However, the two good batches we had were more than enough, and they were absolutely delicious with that wonderful banana and clove quality of all German Weiss beers, and a sweet maltiness resulting from my own love of stronger beers using more malt.
We were so excited about the beer for the wedding we made little signs for each beer with descriptions and alcohol content on there so people would know what they were drinking.
Unfortunately, one of the relatives at the party took a liking to the Black Chocolate Stout and downed three bottles before we even served appetizers.
Needless to say, that guest made an early exit as that beer packs a wallop.
So much for not having liquor.
Other than that one mishap though, everyone loved the beers, and we converted a number of people to the beers we brought.
So overall, choosing local beers and making our own beer made wedding planning more fun, it certainly made the wedding better as we enjoyed quality brew all night – and weren’t subjected to Miller or Bud Light – and it provided one more memory for me and my new wife to take away from what was a wonderful day.If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for updates via email in the box above on the right (this is separate from the Urban Oyster email newsletter). For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Dave Naczycz or post a comment.
Aaron is a SODA jerk.
I set out a few weeks ago to explore the world of craft and regional sodas (see my earlier blog post
), and I discovered that these drinks were every bit as varied and fascinating as the craft beers we at Urban Oyster know and love. My post on the topic was hardly exhaustive, just a discussion of my foray into local sodas, so I asked you to submit your own suggestions for other beverages and brands worth noting. Thanks to everyone who contributed ideas and comments – here are a few of my favorites.Egg Cream
– How could I forget the famous Egg Cream?My friend Tyler,
who lives in Augusta, Georgia
, reminded me of the iconic soda fountain staple’s links to New York – the city has one of several competing claims to being the originator of the drink. Seltzer, milk, and chocolate syrup – and purists insist that only Fox’s U-bet syrup
will do – are all you need to make this egg-free delight.
I recently stopped into the Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain
(pictured above) a throwback fountain in Carroll Gardens. I had myself an egg cream (though I didn’t check the label on the chocolate syrup) accompanied by a pretzel rod – a nice treat during last week’s unseasonable heat. Located on Henry Street, the site was a long-shuttered storefront until the owners got some help from the Discovery Channel’s Construction Intervention
and completely remodeled the space into an old-timey counter. The staff is super-friendly, the decor is fabulous, and you can stop in for one of their milkshakes or sodas, or take home a selection of natural products they have for sale. I grabbed a bottle of Morris Kitchen Ginger Syrup
, which is made in small batches in Brooklyn by chefs Tyler and Kari Morris. Cindy and I made a few glasses of ginger ale with it, but we’re really looking forward to trying their recipe for Lemon Ginger Baked Chicken
Follow directions closely.
Frank's Black Cherry Wishniak
– Tyler also mentioned that his father enjoyed drinking this soda when he visited Philadelphia. Made in Philadelphia since 1885, Frank's was bought by a Coca-Cola bottler several years ago and was unfortunately discontinued. As happens with many classic brands, a company bought the Frank's product line and began producing the Black Cherry in cans in Baltimore to cash in on the market for nostalgia. The soda is available to transplanted Philadelphians across the country, though I have heard that Hank's and Stewart's are more like the original than the new knock-off, and they are available in glass bottles (for more on the history of Frank's, and to see an awesome commercial, click here
.)Boston Cooler – My cousin Brenda, who lives in Detroit, mentioned a favorite use for Vernor’s Ginger Ale – add ice cream to create the inexplicably-named Boston Cooler. Our family is originally from Massachusetts, so we both found the name of this Detroit-born float confusing, but it tastes pretty good.
Hansen’s – Matt commented on our website, “I'm somewhat surprised you didn't mention Hansen's. They have quietly grown into a craft soda powerhouse, infiltrating supermarkets nationwide. I guess that sort of makes them the Sam Adams of that market – too big to be considered craft, but not mistaken for the entrenched brands.” That is probably about right, plus the fact that the natural soda company is based in California meant it was off my radar.
Pizza and root beer.
Foxon Park & Pepe’s
of Washington, DC
(and my neighbor in Connecticut growing up) said of my distaste for birch beer, “w-w-w-w-w-w-w....you don't like birch beer? Somebody's mouth needs a sock in the gut.” I told you that people from Connecticut love birch beer, and they take it personally. That aside, I will still drink just about every other soda in the Foxon Park lineup, and just last week, I was lucky enough to get a glass of root beer to go with my pizza at Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria in New Haven (okay, technically it was at The Spot) – Pepe’s has been serving Foxon Park since the day they opened in 1925. I also learned that there is another place serving Foxon Park in Brooklyn – go to Dutch Boy Burger
in Prospect Heights for your Iron Brew fix.Sioux City Sasparilla – Pete, who recently moved to Brooklyn, told me that he remembered drinking Sioux City Sasparilla as a kid growing up near Albany. The root beer-like drink is probably the most well-known brand of a company that was once the largest seller of bottled water in America, White Rock. Founded in 1871 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, the story of the former giant helps trace much of the tangled history of soft and hard drinks. Much like the beer titans, White Rock gained its position in the late nineteenth century by exploiting rail transport and refrigerated cars to expand into new markets; when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927, he christened the Spirit of St. Louis with White Rock seltzer, it being Prohibition; and in 1944, the company was bought by National Distillers and moved to its present home in New York City.
In addition to the Sioux City line, they also make Olde Brooklyn sodas, with flavors like Bayridge Birch Beer, Brighton Beach Black Cherry, Coney Island Cream Soda, Flatbush Orange, Park Slope Ginger Ale, and Red Hook Raspberry Soda. What, no Windsor Terrace
?Galco's Soda Pop Stop – Those of you who live in Los Angeles may daily lament your misfortunes, but at least you have the opportunity to shop at Galco's Soda Pop Stop. The market has been in John Nese's family since 1897, but several years ago, he decided to start carrying small and obscure sodas. Now they carry more than 500 varieties of the most delicious and fantastical sodas from around the world, almost all in glass, and almost none made with corn syrup. This is one of the great benefits of smaller sodas that I neglected to mention. Glass holds carbonation better, and it makes soda taste crisper and more satisfying than plastic or a can. And if you have ever tasted sodas made with cane sugar and corn syrup side by side, the difference is remarkable. When I lived in Colorado, you could buy Coca-Cola imported from Mexico – sold in the classic Coke glass bottle, and made with only cane sugar, it was far superior to regular Coke.Nese runs a small business committed to supporting other small businesses. Their motto is "Freedom of choice," which recognizes that when many small, local businesses are replaced by a few large ones, we lose not only choice, buy flavor, and probably a lot of happiness, too. The words he uses to describe soda are "happy" and "smile," and his energy and passion for his products comes across in this video (again, provided by Tyler). Who knew that there were different sizes and qualities to bubbles in soda? Or that Coca-Cola made kosher Coke for Passover? Have you ever had rose-flavored soda from Romania? Or a banana soda that wasn't disgusting? He gives shout outs to a few of the sodas mentioned in my posts (Faygo and Moxie), and he discusses a New York favorite, Manhattan Special coffee soda. I can't wait for my next trip to L.A.
Thanks to all of our readers, friends and family for contributing comments and suggestions. If you would like to follow this blog, subscribe to our RSS feed or sign up for updates via email in the box above on the right (this is separate from the Urban Oyster email newsletter). For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson (email@example.com). All photos are by Andrew Gustafson.
Credit: Emma Angevine.
A couple weeks ago, while Cindy and Brian were schmoozing with the foodies on Governors Island at the Vendy Awards
, I went over to the Old Stone House
in Park Slope to watch a baseball game. Excuse me, a Base Ball
game. This wasn’t any ordinary game, but one played by rules laid down in 1864 – the Flemington Neshanock
took on the New York Gothams
in this barehanded (gloves had not been invented yet), underhanded (the pitcher had to release the ball below the waist), 54-handed (outs were called “hands,” and there are 54 in a 9-inning game) battle of old-timey hardball.
I showed up at this double-header expecting just to watch a few innings, sample some of the 19th-century ballpark snacks (prepared by Sarah Lohman, historical gastronomist and author of the food blog Four Pounds Flour
), and head back to the cool comfort of my apartment to watch football all afternoon. Instead, I found myself sweating through 18 innings in a coarse cotton uniform, batting eighth and patrolling right field and second base for Flemington.
The New York Gothams.
I was just standing near the Flemington dugout, waiting for the game to get underway, when their captain approached me and asked if I wanted to play, since they were short a player. I tentatively said, “Sure,” thinking I would look rather out of place on the field in my jeans and tee-shirt amongst men in knickers and floppy caps. But he had a spare uniform on hand, so I donned the kit and took my place in right field. As they filled out the lineup card, someone asked me for my nickname – my teammates had names like “Hammer,” “Thumbs,” and “Gaslight.” I wasn’t swift enough to come up with my own, so I was the pedestrian “Andrew” amidst the otherwise colorful batting order. I would later earn the moniker "Muffin," a pejorative for unskilled players in 1864.
Now, if you are like me, everything you know about 1864 rules baseball you learned from a skit Conan O’Brien did on Late Night
, when he visited Old Bethpage
, Long Island to lampoon the historical reenactors. I was expecting men with facial hair modeled from daguerreotypes and Abraham Lincoln-related jeers
. Instead, I got a real baseball game played by slightly different rules in slightly uncomfortable uniforms. These players travel around the east coast to play teams from New England to the Carolinas on the weekends, and they all do it for the love of baseball. As one Neshanock player put it, if the choice is between playing vintage baseball and beer league softball, this is much more fun.
Brad “Brooklyn” Shaw founded the Flemington Neshanock (pronounced nu-SHAN-uk) Base Ball Club in 2001 after reading about other throwback clubs in Smithsonian Magazine. “I read the article and found out there were actual clubs recreating 19th Century Base Ball. I love baseball and love history – it was kismet,” he said. The Neshanock are actually the second incarnation of the team, which was originally founded in the small borough in central New Jersey in the summer of 1866. But they only played for two seasons; their modern imitators have been paying them homage for 10 summers now. Other teams are scattered throughout the region, and our opponents, the Gothams, also founded about 10 years ago, are the sole practitioners of vintage baseball in the city where the game was more or less invented.
"Brooklyn" sat out the first game and instead worked the crowd, handing out flyers, explaining the rules, and talking to the handful of reporters and bloggers who had come to cover the game. As founder and team captain, he is the club’s spokesman – the other players let him handle the press and field questions on historical baseball arcana from inquiring spectators. He never hesitates to answer a question or accept an interview – he is a true believer in vintage baseball.
Meanwhile, we got down to playing. Anyone who has played baseball in a backyard, sandlot or alleyway knows that before the first pitch is thrown, you need to set the ground rules. Where is the home run marker? Where are balls unplayable? And unlike at a major league ballpark, where smacking the ball as far as you can is celebrated, hitting a ball so far that it’s gone for good incurs penalties in less formal games. Under 1864 rules, the ground rules are made even more complicated because balls caught on one bounce make an out, so rules about ricochets, deflections, and other obstacles in the field of play need to be settled as more balls are playable for outs. After much discussion, these are the ground rules we settled on for the oddly-shaped field at the Old Stone House.
Click to view larger image.
After that was set, I got a crash course in the 1864 rules of baseball
. The game is entirely recognizable to anyone familiar with the game, but certain important differences require some adjustments from the players. First of all, there are no gloves, though the ball is a little softer than a modern baseball, and catching the ball on on bounce for an out helps to reduce the sting in the fielders’ hands. Three strikes make an out (or "hand"), but three balls make a walk, and the strike zone extends from the tip of your cap to your ankles. Balls are called foul or fair based on where they hit the the ground first, not where they end up, meaning there is much more ground for fielders to cover.
These rules are just one set of many that were adopted throughout baseball’s history. Baseball was not invented in a moment of inspiration by Abner Doubleday in Cooperstown in 1839, as the myth goes, but rather slowly evolved over the course of the 19th century from a variety of games with origins in the British Isles, like cricket, and more importantly, rounders. Many versions of the game were played throughout the country, but the rules laid down by the New York Knickerbockers in 1845
became commonplace, eclipsing earlier versions, like the Massachusetts rules
, also known as Town Ball (similar to the way in which New England variants of another sport – bowling – were overshadowed by a game born in New York; see more about this story in a previous blog post
). The 1860’s was perhaps baseball’s first golden age – before the age of professionals, soldiers passed their idle time playing the game in barracks, bivouacs and prison camps during the Civil War, spreading the game across the vast country. Vintage clubs today help preserve this evolutionary history, and many even play several versions of the game taken from different periods of history.
Union prisoners in the Salisbury, North Carolina prison camp playing baseball. Credit: 19cbaseball.com. Click to view larger image.
When I took the field, with a vague idea of these new rules rattling in my head, the very first batter socked a ball clear over my head in right field and made it around the bases – an inside-the-park home run. Not an auspicious beginning to my vintage baseball career. When I came up to bat, I made a couple of embarrassing efforts that resulted in weak grounders and easy outs. Then, I finally ripped one over the shortstop into left field for a surefire hit. But I arrived at first base only to be called out. The left fielder for the Gothams had caught it on one bounce (hardly his only spectacular play of the day), so after much hemming and hawing, I went back to the dugout, still hitless. Unlike the 19th century, we can go to the video tape – someone captured that at bat and posted it on Youtube, though you can’t easily see the disputed play in the field.
In the video, you can hear the referee warning the “striker” and the pitcher before he begins calling balls and strikes. These rules are more akin to slow-pitch softball than modern big league baseball, in that they encourage making contact. The pitcher is warned if he does not throw a good pitch to hit, and the striker is warned if he lays off of hittable pitches. The message: runs and outs should be made by contact, not by drawing walks and trying to paint the corners of home plate (which is actually impossible, since home is a disc.)
Despite my poor play, we took the first game 15-11, and after a brief intermission for lunch – generously provided by the Old Stone House, a building that once acted as the Dodgers’ clubhouse before they moved across Prospect Park to Ebbets Field – we took the field again. By the second game, I felt more comfortable in the field and at the plate – my hands got used to the sting of catching, and I focused on driving balls low and hard along the turf to prevent anymore one-bounce outs.
But I could feel myself wilting in the early autumn heat. I’ve never worn a baseball uniform that was particularly comfortable, and it didn’t help that my jersey and pants were several sizes too big. The large, floppy cap that I wore kept neither the sun nor the sweat out of my eyes, and I enviously eyed the more modern-looking caps of the Gothams – but I could hardly complain about my borrowed uniform. Our uniforms were made by K & P Weaver
, a manufacturer of vintage sports uniforms and equipment based in Orange, Connecticut (the bats come from Phoenix Bats
in Ohio). On their website, they sell a “Replica 1881 Fingerless Glove,” which also would have been nice to have in the field. From our uniforms to the bats, balls, and bases, all the accoutrements were meant to resemble the 19th-century game, except our shoes. Replica period footwear is both prohibitively expensive and dangerously unsupportive, so players turn a blind eye to Nikes and Reeboks – if possible, they color their sneakers black with markers to try and maintain the illusion of the period. My red and yellow Adidas stood out a bit, but it was hard to suspend your disbelief when playing on a field of bright green astroturf.
For game 2, I had moved from right field to second base, and after a few gaffes in the field, the Gothams rushed out to a 10-1 lead. Improved fielding in the later innings, and dynamite pitching from Brooklyn – who snapped the ball over the plate with his wrist, while other pitchers mostly delivered soft lobs – helped to stop the bleeding. Tom “Thumbs” Hoepfner socked the only home run of the day, and we cut the lead to 13-6 entering the ninth. I managed a single, and quickly stole my way to third – the slow pitching motion made base stealing extremely easy in the 1864 game – before I was driven home. Another rally reduced the lead to two, but a two-out hit turned into a rundown between third and home, and we fell 13-11, splitting the series.
The 2010 Neshanock. Kneeling left to right: Jon 'Hammer' Hepner, 'Jersey' Jim Nunn, Hank 'Hitman' Hart, Andrew 'Muffin' Gustafson. Standing: Mark 'Gaslight' Granieri, Bob 'Melky' Ritter, Tom 'Thumbs' Hoepfner, Brad 'Brooklyn' Shaw, Chris 'Lowball' Lowry, Dave 'Illinois' Harris. Click to view larger image.
This is an ancient version of the game, but it reflects how far baseball has come today. Base stealing was technically permitted under 1864 rules, but the first record of anyone stealing a base was in 1863, and no one really exploited it in the professional game until the end of the century (though, as Bill James points out in his Historical Baseball Abstract
, stealing was more common in the amateur game of the 1860’s). Meanwhile in our game, we had the benefit of hindsight, as nearly every single was effectively a triple, and no one was caught stealing – my four stolen bases on the day are hardly a reflection of my speed. Similarly, traditionalists 150 years ago regarded new innovations like the curveball as “deceitful” and against the spirit of the game, yet our pitchers snapped the ball to try and make it dart and weave, or they lobbed high, Ephus-like pitches to confuse hitters. We played by 1864 rules, but with the benefit of history. The way we played highlighted some weakness of the older game (the invention of gloves was a vast improvement), but it showed that the fundamentals of baseball were basically the same more than a century ago.
At the end of the day, I was 3-for-7 with a walk, two runs, four stolen bases, and too many errors to count. Not a bad afternoon, but I'll have to improve my play if I want to shake the nickname "Muffin."The Flemington Neshanock and New York Gothams play regularly on the weekends throughout the warmer months – visit their respective websites for schedules. For more on where to see vintage baseball, visit the Mid Atlantic Vintage Base Ball League or the Vintage Base Ball Association. Special thanks go out to Brad "Brooklyn" Shaw and all the Neshanock players for letting me play with them and teaching me the ropes – I hope to take the field with them again in the future. Thanks as well to the Gothams for the spirited competition, and to all the staff at the Old Stone House for putting together this great event (check their calendar for other upcoming events). Finally, thank you to Emma Angevine and Alex Narvaez for cheering me on and taking photos of the game.For questions or comments about this blog post, please contact Andrew Gustafson (firstname.lastname@example.org). All photos are by Andrew Gustafson unless otherwise noted.