The Shifty Fifty – An Endurance Test, Part 1

It seems a universal truth for the average beer drinker that we have all been more or less forced into drinking beer when we didn’t want to. This tends to be a somewhat common thread throughout college, where beer tends to become not only a vehicle for intoxication, but also a sort of recreational activity in and of itself.

Long and many have been the hours — for nearly any of us who have graduated to what we like to call “good beer” — that we have had to trudge through so many delivery methods of bad beer: Power hours, keg stands, beer pong, flip cup, funnels, shotguns, three-man, drinking games, card games, board games, dares, double dares, the physical challenge.

It’s a miracle, given the amount of morning-after agony these games have given us, that we ever continued to drink beer. Certainly, after a particularly sadistic number of waterfalls in some round of “Kings,” even the heartiest drinkers would understand if we had given up on the fizzy yellow stuff for good. And yet here we all are.

And with this caveman-like philistinism seemingly behind us, we had assumed that the task of trudging through unwanted beers was likely a thing of the past, that the barbarism of forced alcohol intake was a mercifully distant memory. This was, however, before we discovered the Shifty Fifty.

Shifty’s is a semi-charming, quasi-townie bar (plus a few bikers here or there) on Burnet Ave at the edges of the Eastwood section of Syracuse, New York. We have been going there on and off for the better part of 7 years, and our experiences have been … shall we say, inconsistent. (For whatever it’s worth, at least 4 of the bloggers who write on this here site spent the last “normal” evening of our lives there, watching a Monday Night Football game on September 10, 2001.)

We recently discovered that the bar was doing a promotion called the “Shifty Fifty,” in which patrons are assigned a number and a light blue card with 50 beers listed on it. When you finish all 50 beers, you receive some sort of prize, but more importantly, you receive the self-esteem of having accomplished a task. Nay, a challenge.

Fellow scribe Willie Moe and yours truly signed up for this little experiment several months ago, and decided to chip away at it over several months, hoping to finish the 50 beers within a year’s time. It didn’t seem like that much of a challenge. Fifty great beers, and we get a t-shirt or something at the end of the mission. It’s better than running a marathon or getting your PhD, right?

We didn’t foresee a couple of challenges, from an encounter with a strange (seemingly crack-addicted but not homeless) man who asked us to buy him beer several times even though I gave him a $5 bill, to some struggles with the Gimli-esque barkeep. But little did we know that perhaps the greatest struggle we would face would end up being those fifty beers themselves.

Shifty’s likes to consider this fledgling promotion a sort of “beer tour around the world,” where you can sample 43 bottles and 7 drafts of all different styles of beer. This is a fine idea, however, they may have forgotten to take into consideration that many of the “fine” beers from around the world, while celebrated in their own native countries, run the gamut from mediocre to pure and utter crap.

By this beergeek’s calculations, there are actually 31 quote-unquote “drinkable” beers (62%), or beers that we would order without a list forcing us at hole-punch. Peruse the lists below. [Note: This is, of course, my own opinion. What may be drinkable to me, might not be drinkable to others, and vice-versa. If I trash your favorite beer here, please don’t take offense. Holes punched to the left of the name of the beers in the pictures below indicate they have been “crossed off” the list.]

The front page is promising. Perhaps Spaten aside, the drafts are all safe, competent picks — with the exception of the superior Middle Ages ImPaled Ale. Of the bottled beers on the front page, only the Carlsberg and the Dos Equis Amber are beers we would thumb our noses at in regular circumstance. (Notice we knocked those two out pretty early.) So far, so good, we’d say.

The top of the reverse side is where the rubber really meets the road. Though there are a healthy number of fine offerings (the two Ithaca brews, the two Magic Hat selections, the Cooperstown Nine Man/Old Slugger tandem), the majority of these beers were not ones for which we would plop down money in a normal situation. Some, admittedly, we hadn’t tried, yet we somehow had a feeling about. (Pacifico? Grolsch? Dos Equis Special?) It was this top half that would test our mettle in this enterprise.

On the second half of the reverse side, it appeared our luck changed for the better, with a couple of old stand-bys (Sam Adams, Saranac, Sierra Nevada) and a couple of our favorites (Stone Smoked Porter, Southern Tier IPA/Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale).

You may notice that we have been efforting to save the best for last. By my calculations, there are actually only three beers remaining that we “have to try.” It’s much like when the cable company only gives you certain channels you want if you order them with some sort of multi-channel package. The three mandatory beers we have left are Dos Equis Special, Pilsner Urquell, and St. Pauli Girl. After that, we are looking at a flavor feast. At press time we have completed 28 of the beers available in this endeavor, and will provide you with part 2 when we have completed the job. Wish us luck.

Until then, some random notes and glib ratings on the “questionable” (and sometimes suprising) selections we were forced into:

Whitbread Pale Ale: Heavy yeast flavor (sure it isn’t “White Bread” ale? oh ho ho!), the yeast overshadows all other flavors. There is some pale malt. It mellows out a bit as it warms. It’s fizzy and bubbly. B-

Brooklyn Summer Ale: Smells very wheaty with orange and a hint of lemon. Nice yeast and wheat combo. Light and a bit fizzy. The wheat/orange combo is predominant. Refreshing. Thickens up as it warms. B+

Tsing Tao: Corn/rice with a slightly thick feel. Tiny hint os orange peel. Leaves a thick film. Almost a weak witbier since the wheat is what comes out most. C+

Sierra Nevada Porter: Very dark, great head. Smells sweet. Light coffee flavor, balanced nicely with the sweetness. Really balanced and great. A really superb porter. A-

Peroni: The only smell is rice and corn. Italians should stick to surrendering and stop brewing. Very average. Tiny bit creamy. Not very good. C

Carlsberg: Actually a nice head and some good lace. Looks good, tastes bland. Very not good. C-

San Miguel: Straw yellow. Smells very bland, tiny hint of orange. Interesting. Unusually creamy. Almost has a honey flavor. Cloying sweetness with every sip. Molasses? Kind of a taffy pull. C+

Lowenbrau Original: Bland yellow color; dull and clear. Mild wheaty sweetness in the otherwise dull malt taste. Kinda smooth, relatively speaking. Actually not awful. Subpar?: yes, but not awful. The wheaty taste counteracts the sharp bitterness. C+

Sam Adams Boston Ale: This is actually a seriously refreshing change from the fizzy yellow stuff I’ve been downing. What strikes me here is how smooth and butterscotchy it actually is. Decent. B-

Old Speckled Hen: Decent golden look with some surprisingly decent head. Great lace. Maybe because of the clear bottle, but it’s somewhat skunked. Pale lager-flavored malt. I have to blame the distributor for still transporting this in clear bottles. Surprisingly, there is a buttery smooth feel. C+

Negra Modelo: The color is light and clear brown. Not much smell at all. Tastes like a brown, somewhat watery. Not terrible, but again, subpar. A little roasted malty film. C+

Southern Tier – Phin and Matt’s Extraordinary Ale: Fantastic, lovely hop smell. Slight chlorine aroma, but hops cover it. Grapefruity citrus taste, sweet, love it. Sweet ultra pale, lots of hops. B+

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~ by William H on August 2, 2007.

One Response to “The Shifty Fifty – An Endurance Test, Part 1”

  1. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to have a place like Shifty’s in the neighbourhood…

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