On Saturday, armed with my reporter’s pad, a trusty pen and an empty stomach, I took the train deep into Queens (a borough I love and cherish and would never trash talk ever). My friend Hayley and I had scored passes to the second annual Bacon and Beer Classic at the Mets’ Citi Field stadium, a one-of-a-kind beer festival and seasonal meetup for Future Heart Attack Victims of the New York Metropolitan Area. As two MidWesterners with a penchant for great craft beer, a taste for pork belly and a deep-seeded love for America’s favorite past time, Hayley and I were, suffice it to say, game.
I was initially curious about the festival’s timing. First off, it was unseasonably cold that night for an outdoor festival. Secondly, almost everyone I knew in the industry had gone upstate for the annual TAP New York Craft Beer & Food Fest in Albany, New York’s largest beer festival. And, with the Mets playing an important game a few transfers away at Yankee Stadium that day, I didn’t expect this Bacon & Beer Classic to appeal to baseball fans as strongly as it had in previous years. But, boy, was I wrong.
By 7:30 p.m., the festival was well underway. Hordes of eager ticket holders poured in through Citi Field’s Jackie Robinson Rotunda, proudly clad in their best cardboard six pack hats, homemade pretzel necklaces and “Life’s Too Short to Be Vegetarian” muscle tees. The Field Level was completely overtaken with revelers and vendors, crowds clustered into thick lines looping down from right field and snaking behind home plate. As we made our way further into the belly of the stadium, the smell immediately hit us, wafting in like a bacon-powered freight train and totally overwhelming our senses. It was salty, fatty, crispy, earthy, spicy and warm–everything you’d expect from hundreds of sizzlings griddles and then some.
“Jesus,” Hayley said, taking it all in. “What do you think a dog would do in this environment?”
Despite the enticing aroma, we somehow managed to wipe the drool from our chins and bypass the bacon tables, escaping down the right field seating and onto the field to check out the VIP area. Yes, the field. As a Mets fan, hopping through that waste-high gate and digging my boots into that beautiful red dirt was maybe, no kidding, one of the happiest, most exciting moments of my life. Now I’ve never gotten married or had a kid or anything like that, so let’s keep this in perspective, but I do have beer and baseball. It was perfect.
“There’s nothing like the sight of a freshly mowed Major League Field to instantly turn me into a six-year-old,” I said, gazing into the outfield. Several booths were situated around home plate, featuring exclusive bottle pours from several breweries including Yonkers Brewing Company, Flying Dog, Abita and Southern Tier. A guy passed us on our way down the third base line, leaning in to his girlfriend to whisper giddily, “I feel like such a baller!” At the Southern Tier table, rep Shane Henderson was a smiley as ever, clearly as tickled as everyone else about his coordinates.
“Yeah, I’m not sure how we got this lucky ,” said Shane, filling our small ceramic mock Solo cups with Southern Tier’s smooth, fruity 2IPA. “We just showed up this morning and were given this spot right on top of home plate! It’s pretty amazing–we were just like, ‘Uh, wow…’ We had to do an interview first thing, and it was a little awkward.”
Next door at the Abita table, it was a bit of a different story. “Pretty great spot, huh?” I asked as I offered up my empty glass for a pour of Abita’s deliciously creamy Bourbon Street Imperial Stout, a 10 percent ABV vanilla and chocolate-scented brew aged in Buffalo Trace barrels.
“Yeah, well,” he said with a wink. “Would have been better if it were Yankee Stadium, right?” Wrong, I thought, but at least your beer rules.
As expected, this wasn’t the only instance of Subway Series inspired banter we witnessed that evening. Later, while Hayley and I were sitting in the home team’s dugout, a burly man in a Yankee’s cap sauntered in to pose for photos. “Ooooh! Is this where David Wright sits!!,” he shouted in a sugar-sweet, high pitched voice. “Ooooh! I bet his ass has touched this spot!!”
“How many rings you got, buddy??” he yelled mockingly to an elderly man in a Mets cap as he climbed out of the dugout.
“Doesn’t mattah, doesn’t mattah,” said the older man in a thick Long Island accent, gripping his tasting glass. “We got the future.”
As the night wore on, though, rivalries were tossed aside and tensions were eased by the placating power of great beer and mouth-watering bacon. The multi-level festival boasted many highlights, including generous pours from local favorites like Gun Hill, Third Rail, Sixpoint, Brooklyn Brewery, Flagship, Bronx Brewery, Radiant Pig and Connecticut’s Two Roads. National breweries were also on deck, with kegs from Chicago’s Finch’s Beer Company, Wisconsin’s Central Waters and California’s stalwart Lagunitas (amongst many, many others) rounding out the lineup.
We found Radiant Pig’s Laurisa Milici and Rob Pihl stationed at the epicenter of the Field Level’s food court landing directly behind center field. The two were attempting to manage a growing line of thirsty ticket holders, made thirstier by the onslaught of salty snacks.
“It’s like crazy town busy!” said Laurisa, her hands a blur of red cups and tap handle pulls. “Even at 10 a.m. this morning, people were like, ‘Beer! Bacon! Yes!’ This venue and this company, they do such an amazing job promoting it — they sell out each of these sessions.”
Since they seemed to know the lay of the land, we asked the couple for food recommendations.
“Oh, man. There was something I had earlier, something sweet,” began Laurisa. “There are these handmade donuts over there with powdered sugar and maybe a Maple glaze or something? And like, little bits of bacon? It melts in your mouth–that’s probably my favorite thing.”
“I chewed it,” piped up Rob. “I didn’t wait for mine to melt. It was too good.”
I sipped my Gangster Duck Red Ale and looked around, my eyes finally resting on a giant blue Radiant Pig banner, featuring the brewery’s signature cartoon pig logo.
“Wow,” I said, laughing. “It just clicked in my head that you guys are perfect for this.”
“Yep–pigs, pigs, pigs! I had a pig on my nail but now it’s just a black dot… like I have marker on my finger. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts,” she said smiling, holding out a nail to reveal the remanence of her manicure. She turned back to the thickening crowd. “Can I help whoever’s next? Come on, step right up!”