On a cold Wednesday in early February I found myself, through good fortune in the Aer Lingus Business class lounge at JFKs Terminal 5!
I had around 5 hours to kill before my next flight and had managed to escape the madness of the main terminal. The lounge had a fridge full of complimentary beverages which included a limited Choice of Beers to drink. There was a plentiful supply of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Heineken and an unknown Californian craft Lager - Racer 5 from Bear Republic
My palate discounted Heineken straight away, it's not that I dislike it that much but it gives me a stinking hangover.. I planned instead to give the Racer a try before settling into some reliable Sam Adams
Best laid plans and all that! The first Racer went down well and was followed up by the San Adams, A Beer that I have previously paid a premium for!
This time was different, I couldn't wait to finish the Samuel Adams and get back to the Bear Republic brew. Racer 5 made Samuel Adams taste weak, watery and sub par! Boston Lager is no shrinking violet, so this craft Lager must have had something special
Racer 5 has a substantial ABV for an IPA, but it was so easy to drink that I almost thought that was a typo. I drank from the bottle, so cant describe the colour, pour or head. It had a satisfying taste with a bitter dry finish. In fact, its a beer you need to try for yourself. That's the thing about beer reviews, I read a lot of them and always see the same terms used. Hoppy, dry, and piney. Some Beers just need to be drank, experienced. This is one
Brewed at 7.5% this Californian Lager Comes from Bear Republic, which like most other craft brewers, began with homebrewing. It is a family-owned brewery, located in the heart of Sonoma County, California. Which would normally be associated with grapevines and wine making instead of excellent craft beer!
It is available online in the UK, priced between £2.70 and £3.20 a bottle. Sadly I have heard that this beer doesn't travel well, so I am reticent to spend in excess of £30 for a 12 pack!
If you are in the states and come across this in a bar then you need to try it. In fact you need to find a bar or liquor store that stocks it! It's a beautiful hoppy flavoursome IPA. I don't think i have ever used the word beautiful to describe Beer before! It really is that good
This hoppy American IPA is a full bodied beer brewed American pale and crystal malts, and heavily hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial. There’s a trophy in every glass.
2009 Great American Beer Festival® American-Style Strong Pale Ale – GOLD; 2009 Colorado State Fair – Best of Show; 2006 Great American Beer Festival® American-Style Strong Pale Ale – SILVER; 2005 Great American Beer Festival® American-Style Strong Pale Ale – SILVER; 1999 Great American Beer Festival® India Pale Ale - GOLD
Having woken up with Jameson's still heating up my interiors, I managed to crawl into the shower and inject some life into my travel weary frame. Vacations can do strange things to a man and going against my normal routine at home, I felt compelled to exercise. I got some fresh Florida air as I took an early morning walk along Hotel Plaza Boulevard in the Disney Springs area of the Walt Disney World resort. Even at 0630am on an early February morning it felt like a summers day! Ok, maybe not to a local, but to an Irish Man on tour it was a World away from the chilly temp the day I left Dublin.
I hadn't originally intended to stay at Disney. However after reviewing the plan, I booked two nights in the Wyndham Hotel so that I could attempt my own version of Drinking Around the World, which is done at the World Showcase within Disney's Epcot Theme Park. DATW is an unofficial activity that involves having one or more drinks at each of the 11 countries on the World Showcase! These days a one day ticket into Epcot costs around $100 with a drink in each country costing $10 on average, which makes this challenge an expensive one.
After much thought I concluded that as cool as it would be to complete the challenge, the cost far outweighed the enjoyment. Luckily Walt Disney World has quite a few amazing bars and watering holes. The Monorail Bar Crawl is another unofficial drinking challenge. Three hotels are served by the Monorail adjacent to the Magic Kingdom park, so to complete the challenge all you have to do is take a drink in each hotel. It seemed fun but a little easy, so I decided to add some additional locations, settling on a total of 6 bars.
My Hotel choice was also based on its proximity to Disney Springs, which allowed me to avail of the complimentary Transportation services throughout the resort. Meaning every penny spent, would be spent on Booze
Having flushed the Whiskey from my system, thanks to a McDonalds Steak & Egg McMuffin with a Large coffee (Steak and Egg McMuffin, take note McDonalds UK) I began my challenge, which I had entitled, Drinking Across the World. Disney Springs, my starting point, has recently undergone a large scale redevelopment, which transformed most of what used to be known as Downtown Disney. Many of the most popular Bars have been kept along with the addition of some excellent themed eateries and drinking spots.
I started my afternoon off with a visit to Jock Lindsay's Hangar Bar. Themed as only Disney can, around a character from the Indiana Jones films, this bar is of course made to look like an Aircraft Hangar from outside. Inside it is stuffed with props and artefact's along with friendly staff.
I was greeted warmly, my drink order swiftly taken before being offered a menu and a choice of seating. As it was a little before 12 there weren't many people in the place, but it did start to fill up before I left. I chose a table on the Patio, which occupies a prime spot on the edge of Village Lake. Through a combination of ambience, sunshine and the view, I could easily have stayed here all afternoon, but then that would have defeated the purpose.
I chose a cold glass of draught I4 IPA from the Orlando Brewing Company while looking through the menu. The beer and the location was made all the better by the pictures I received of a dark and rainy day back home.
My drink was complimented by a serving of Tuna Nachos, which tasted incredibly fresh. This is a great bay, sure you are paying premium for the overall experience, but the. That's what Disney do and do so well. Sadly, I never made it back to Jock Lindsay's during this trip, but have it on the list for places to visit when I am allowed out again. Amongst its themeing and backstory It had a cool vibe with an interesting drinks menu.
Settling up the bill, I walked to the Disney Springs Bus depot and got straight onto a Bus bound for Disney's Beach and Yacht Club resorts, knowing that it was only a short walk across to my destination at the Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk is attached to the resort bearing the same name and sits a short walk from the International Gateway Entrance of Epcot. It is themed as a turn of the century seaside resort from New England and is made up of shops, restaurants and bars. The duelling piano bar "Jellyrolls" is somewhere I have long wanted to check out, but it would have to wait. I had two stops to make the BoardWalk, the first being ESPN Bar. A sports Bar containing countless televisions with sporting memorabilia and signed collectors pieces.
although I was seated quickly and served promptly by the friendly staff. I was a little disappointed by the ESPN Bar, perhaps that's due to my own expectations, however I found it to be a little lacking character and atmosphere. I didn't spend much time here, stopping only long enough to sample a Draught pour of Jai Alia from Cigar City Brewing
My next stop was a short stroll across the Boardwalk and thankfully it made up for the ESPN Bars shortcoming. The Big River Grille and Brewing Company is a restaurant with an onsite brewery. The Beer's change regularly and you can read not only about what you can have now, but about what is being worked on for future enjoyment.
With several draught beers that are brewed in house available on the pumps, I knew that a pint of each could bring a swift end to my "World" tour. Sensibly I went for the Beer Sampler, which was quickly and expertly poured by the Barman. Consisting of seven small servings of their top brews, it ranges from low content ales right up to hefty stouts. I decided to class these seven small beers as one drink, staying within the rules of the trip.
The Monk Norris Belgian Quad does in fact weigh in at 9.3%. That's not a typo or a piece of stray food on the info sheet as I first thought. I spent a good hour sipping these seven brothers, cleaning my palate with iced water in between each. Such refinement and tasting professionalism
The Rocket Red American Amber Ale was probably my favourite, although each beer had its own pros and cons. Turning down the offer of a full sized version of my favourite. I Settled up with yet another Barman and taking a beer mat as a souvenir I made my way, a little slower than before, to the Boardwalk Bus Stop. It was time to catch a ride to the most visited theme park on Earth, The Magic Kingdom.. It wasn't my destination, merely the place where the Bus meets the Monorail! I was off to Disney's Polynesian Resort. A Pineapple filled with Rum was waiting
Taking some artistic license and leaving the run of the mill stuff on the cutting room floor, I am going to zip straight to the drinking.
Now obviously I didn't wake up on the plane, but we can take it for granted that any activity from the moment I got up to the moment I boarded the aircraft, wasn't that interesting and didn't feature any booze! I did buy a copy of Time magazine at the Airport, which is something of a pre flight safety superstition that I have. Yes, I do realise that it has no bearing on the safety of the flight but its a ritual done when sober and for some reason it makes me feel intelligent.
Shortly after 10am I boarded my Aer Lingus flight which was the direct service from Dublin to New York JFK. This big green bird was gonna take me to the Super Bowl and a whole week of Beer and Sunshine. Once again I had managed to get an upgrade and turned left at the door into the Business Class cabin. Having flown this route before in the same class, a review of which can be found below, I knew what to expect...
After settling in, the crew were round with the usual selection of pre flight drinks while the rest of the flight boarded. Once again, I opted for the Champagne, which was the same brand as my previous flight. I can take or leave the bubbles but its somewhat appealing, especially when you are stretching out while reading your life supporting edition of Time magazine.
So, having sucked down a glass of champagne like a dehydrated kid stopping for a water break on a summers day, the smiling crew member was back to fill up my glass, which I sipped a little slower as we taxied out for departure.
Shortly after Departure I had my first real drink of the Vacation. I opted for a Jameson and Ginger and relaxed while the big Aluminium tube hurtled towards the good ol' USA. All in all it was a pretty uneventful flight which passed far to quickly. Its amazing how this is never the case when you fly back in Economy, its almost s if they slow down time. Once I have Shoe horned myself into my seat and had my knee caps shattered by the person in front who can't survive without reclining, the soul destroying announcement of a 6 hour flight time cant even be helped by the arrival of the drinks trolley. As its generally the impossible choice of Budweiser or Heineken! I would rather dehydrate thanks!
The first Whiskey was followed by a glass of Red from Portugal, which was consumed with lunch, along with a another Jameson and Ginger and some canapé's
On arrival in JFK, and with a now, 5 hour layover, thanks to the Captain ripping the arse out of her over the Atlantic. Slow down Man, its an open bar! I sought out the connection desk in an attempt to catch the earlier shuttle to Orlando. This wasn't possible, due in part to my checked baggage. So with some time to kill and some beer to drink, I did a loop of the bars and eateries in the terminal, which although appealing, was loud, busy and somewhat overbearing. This is where I shall admit to a committing a cardinal “Man” sin and asking for directions to the Aer Lingus Business Lounge! I wasn't 100% sure they would let me in but I intended to use my reserve of Irish Charm and chance my arm to see if they would at least take pity on me and allow me to unwind before my "Meetings", obviously
The Lounge was thankfully a short walk away within Terminal 5, about 10 steps away from the point at which I asked directions. Ok, to be honest it was directly behind where I had been standing. The big Shamrock on the door was something of a giveaway. On walking in and climbing the stairs, the noise and bustle was gone. In fact, besides Me and the hostess, there was only one other guy in there.
I quickly tucked my supply of charm into my back pocket as my Boarding pass was swiped, accepted and I was lead into the lounge and advised of the facilities. The Aer Lingus lounge at JFK is well designed with ample seating areas. The small buffet is limited to sandwiches and a few soups, however I found it sufficient for the time I spent there. You can have a meal in there dining area, but it is reserved for those passengers on the departing on the two daily flights to Dublin. It is essentially a large, well apportioned room a flight of stairs above the passenger Terminal but you instantly feel calm and relaxed when you enter.
This is where I made fast friends with IPA Racer 5! It’s a delicious Californian craft beer and was in plentiful supply in the help yourself kitchen. I tried one and moved on to an old favourite, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, which was considered the local brew in this part of the World. It says a lot for a craft lager when makes a classic taste poor and cheap in comparison. I quickly went back to Racer 5 and spent the next few hours sipping excellent beer and eating an assortment of small sandwiches.
Although a five hour layover seems like a long time, when you are drinking free beer and relaxing in brilliant surroundings, well time flies. So it was bit of a shock to find myself out in the main terminal searching for my connection, after what seemed like such a short period of time.
Having managed to find my Gate and obtained a Boarding pass for the flight, I decided to do the sensible thing and have a soft drink to counteract all the Booze. I wasn't drunk by any means but I had a 3 hour flight to contend with and didn't want to risk being marked out for special observations by a keen handling agent, who caught a whiff of Jameson's as I passed by.
I took a seat at what must be the most convenient Airport Bar in the World, situated right at my gate. This is where the "plan" was rewritten. The Barman had a copy of "Whisky & Spirits for Dummies on the back shelf, cleverly covered by an Newspaper, or so he thought. Problem was the spine of the book bearing the title was visible. Deciding to do the decent thing, I found myself ordering another Jameson and Ginger, purely to give the guy some practice. Why I accepted the kind offer to make it a double I will never know. This test of skill ended up costing me $18! Well $36 actually as I had two, just to sure he hadn't fluked it the first time… Is this the most expensive bar in New York?. To be fair The Barman mixed a tasty drink and I did ask him about the book, but for the life of me cant remember what he said. Nothing to do with Booze, that's just age for you
This is me wearing my life saving surgical mask halfway between JFK and Orlando. If you haven't got one of these, then you are at risk!
The flight to Orlando was interesting, thankfully this cheap airline doesn’t charge for drinks or snacks. It turns out I would need something strong! As I boarded and walked through the cabin I could see a couple sitting in the window and aisle seat by the Emergency exit, halfway down the plane. They appeared deep in conversation and were clearly a couple as they were holding hands and she was stroking his head. It did strike me as odd that not only did they have their parachutes on the wrong way round, but they were wearing the kids size! Its strange how alcohol can muddle with your thoughts!
I stopped by the Stewardess and asked what was going on, she was quick to point out that the airline doesn't issue parachute's, before clarifying that they were in fact wearing surgical masks. Clearly then this was some sort of quarantine, but apparently, no, they were merely protecting themselves from Germs. Ok, then! Of course, as luck would have it the free seat beside them, was mine! As you would, I began to feel a bit self conscious. Was it me? How could they have known I would be sat beside them? Actually, they might be in luck, I had six mini Burritos in the Lounge and beans always repeat on me..
As I settled in, a group of High School cheerleaders boarded the flight and took their seats around me. A Woman who seemed to be their chaperone walked the aisle handing out more Surgical Masks to each of her group. With some Dutch Courage I stuck my hand up and requested one, telling her I had left mine at home. Without batting an eyelid, she kindly passed me a mask and in one kind act undoubtedly saved me.
Surgical masks. Apparently it protects you in flight.. Protects you from Germs! I guess those folks may be onto something, but it didn't seem to occur to them that they were wearing a seatbelt that wouldn't be acceptable in a car all while hurtling along at 450mph in a metal tube, 37000ft up in the air.
But no, germs are the danger.. Its at times like these that I am glad I drink. Anyway an otherwise smooth flight was helped by a few more Jameson and Gingers, some of which Ill confess I dribbled down myself after taking a drink and forgetting about my life preserver strapped to my face. Tired, buzzed and germ free, I eventually arrived in Orlando
Thanks to Jet Blue and their excellent JFK based crew who really made the flight!
So Day 1 ended as it had begun some 16 hours earlier, at an Airport. My first night in Orlando was a dry one, although you could argue I had enough fuel on board to keep a lesser man chugging on for days.
I can say nothing but positive things about Jet Blue. Positioned as the low cost, high frills airline, I found their service to be excellent! A great crew and free inflight entertainment coupled with complimentary drinks and snacks, made for a great Ale ound experience! The pilots even left the flight deck on arrival to say goodbye to every passenger!
Remember, please Drink Responsibly! Except when on your Holidays. Its fine to be drunk on Vacation. I think this random lady at Baggage claim would agree.
Wednesday 1st February 2017
It is a day that will go down in infamy. A date so seemingly inconspicuous, that it wont register with most. However this was the day my Solo Trip to the USA was to begin. A trip that I never thought would get approved by Mrs LJ!. It was a trip that came with many a raised eyebrow, "You are travelling alone?" That was the main query and the point at which most people lost their understanding of the appeal surrounding my excursion.
As someone who enjoys their own company, to the point of being fully relaxed when alone, I couldn't see the issue. Of course, to be honest, I had never planned to do this alone. In early 2016, when the idea of a Bucket List trip to the Super Bowl began to take shape, I had a number of interested drinking buddies, who wished to take the trip. The day, in May, when I got official approval to go, I wasted no time in booking my flights. I figured it would be harder to withdraw my permission slip, if money had already been spent.
So with return flights to Orlando secured, I thought that gave any travelling companions solid dates to work off. As time ticked on, people fell by the wayside. Guys with Wives and Kids had their applications to travel turned down, some with just a withering look. My dates however, remained set, my plans were a go!