With about 70% of the 2017 Major League Baseball season behind us, I came across this item from Liquor.com featuring the Cooperstown Distillery. After a quick visit to the site I placed an order. A few days later I had my mitts on two bottles: one Abner Doubleday Double Play Vodka, and the other a bourbon Sal “The Barber” Maglie would love, Beanball Bourbon. I’m now ready to face the rest of the MLB season!
In the late 1990s I was apathetic about baseball. After the ’94 strike and during the “home run derby” days of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds, I was bored with baseball. I went to some games, but I did not feel a connection.
In 1999, however, I became intrigued by minor league baseball. The Altoona Curve became the AA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and had built a new ballpark, Blair County Ballpark. I convinced my girlfriend to check out a game because I’d heard that minor league teams catered to the fans with wacky between innings shenanigans. Plus, tickets were inexpensive and it was a quick drive to Altoona. We drove to Blair County and enjoyed $3 parking at their covered garage. I’m liking that so far. Once inside we found some refreshment. A Yuengling beer stand, sponsored by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (!), offered giant beers for five bucks. Really liking it now. Not a bad seat in the house, but the game was incidental to the fantastic atmosphere at the park, which is adjacent to Lakemont Park, an amusement and water park, unfortunately under renovations for this summer. Just beyond the outfield is a roller coaster, and every few minutes cars filled with screaming, waving patrons would ride past. And between each inning there were, indeed, shenanigans. The whole experience was a blast.
The dying embers of my baseball interest started to spark. I shared the experience with family and friends and attended numerous games in Altoona over the next several years. And during those years we attended other minor league games, including:
Akron Aeros, now the RubberDucks, had a great beer selection from local craft breweries.
Erie SeaWolves for Grateful Dead night. And that was some trip.
Bowie Baysox, during a Preakness weekend, their Maryland park featuring a merry-go-round just beyond right field.
New Orleans Zephyrs, now the Baby Cakes of all things with maybe the creepiest logo in baseball. Saw them after a cruise from New Orleans on a humid August night covered in Deet so as not to attract a West Nile virus mosquito.
Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field in resurgent downtown Dayton, Ohio.
Tennessee Smokies, with manager Ryne Sandberg, during a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains.
I have no idea how many future MLB players we saw. I didn’t keep score or get a program. Our basic routine was get something to drink, find our seats and watch a few innings, walk around the park for a bit then head for some food. Much of the time was spent on a seemingly endless quest to find food for my vegetarian girlfriend, but we always managed to find something. After dinner it was off to the the gift shop for some souvenirs.
Eventually we started incorporating MLB games into our vacations, including Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, during its first year. Parked on a freshly paved, not-yet-painted lot, with no attractions around the stadium, and “Beer Barrel Polka” played during the 7th inning stretch.
Arizona’s Bank One Ballpark, now Chase Field, in air-conditioned comfort during another August game. Visited Alice Cooper’stown, which helped feed my mini-obsession with souvenir glassware.
The massive, and succinctly named, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, now Globe Life Park in Arlington, on a scorching-hot “Dog Night” in – you guessed it – Arlington, Texas. Round trip shuttle bus between bar and stadium was nice, though, even for the puppies.
Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where during our first visit we just missed getting on the “Kiss Cam,” much to my regret and my girlfriend’s everlasting relief. Zero atmosphere outside GABP at the time, but now it hops with bars and restaurants. Nice work, Cincy!
“The Jake,” Jacobs Field in Cleveland, with the upper deck so steep I felt if I leaned forward another inch I’d tumble down the stairs, over the railing and onto the box seats below. Now known as Progressive Field or “The Flo.”
Angel Stadium of Anaheim, a nondescript venue in an indistinct surrounding. Close to California Adventure, which we visited the day before.
Wrigley Field. An icon. Great atmosphere, but how do that many people have off during the day in the middle of the week? As we walked through the cramped second deck concourse on our food search, there it was! Could it be? Was I hallucinating? On the concession sign: “GARDEN BURGER”. I suddenly felt like I was in a romantic comedy montage. Happy pop music plays as I point to the sign, my girlfriend looks up surprised, we both start to laugh as I order…but my reverie is broken. “What’s a garden burger?” says the concessionaire. I point to the sign again. He looks then asks a co-worker, who in turn points to an area along the wall behind them. He makes his way to the spot, opens a small door and produces…GARDEN BURGER. I have one last question. “Do you have any relish?”
Thankfully those days are over. All ballparks now have something for vegetarians to enjoy. PNC Park, home of the Pirates, is even having a vegan night! Progress, I guess.
For my birthday one year my girlfriend gave me a sample pack of Ommegang Belgian-style beer. Loved it. Ommegang is in Cooperstown, so I suggested we visit for a tour and tasting, which is really the point of the tour. And while we’re at it we could hit a couple of minor league games, says I. So we trekked to New York, saw the Syracuse Skychiefs, now simply the Chiefs, at P&C Stadium, which struck me as amusing since PNC Park had opened just a couple of years before. Anyway, it was a nice and clean, and now it’s known as NBT Bank Stadium.
Then it was on to Cooperstown. If you’ve never been there you will never get there because you have to try to get to Cooperstown. In the middle of New York state and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, we made our way there. However, when booking the trip I didn’t realize it was Hall of Fame weekend, so when we rolled into Cooperstown it was packed with tourists and baseball fans there to witness the induction. We parked in someone’s yard, with their permission and a $10 fee, walked to the town, took a look around, but did not visit the Hall. Too crowded for me, but I’d like to return some day to see the museum.
We walked back to the car and drove to Ommegang. Located just outside of town, we did the tour and the tasting. It was a great experience all around. If you make it to Cooperstown, definitely visit Ommegang. They have a “Game of Thrones” beer if you’re into the show. I’m not.
The next day we were on to see New York Mets AA affiliate the Binghamton Mets, whose uninspired name always surprised me since most minor league teams had funny or quirky names. The team must have thought the same since they are now the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. While there we did stumble across the original Dick’s Sporting Goods store, founded in Binghamton. Today’s fun fact. You’re welcome.
There were other baseball trips, both MLB and MiLB, and these memories came flooding back after learning about the Cooperstown Distillery . In addition to the vodka and bourbon, they have other baseball themed spirits, like Abner Doubleday Classic American Whiskey and Spitball Cinnamon Whiskey.
I am not a vodka expert. I’m sure there are distinct differences in taste between high-end vodka, but I’ve really only had vodka in cocktails mixed with some sort of juice or tonic, and it wasn’t always top shelf. I’ve not tried the Doubleday vodka just yet, but it comes in a really cool container.
The front slides up to reveal the bottle, which is held in place by a baseball diamond-shaped coaster to prevent shifting during shipping.
The bottle is a baseball, with raised threads and Abner Doubleday’s imprinted signature. And the bottom of the bottle is shaped like a baseball diamond!
Beanball Bourbon was something I was eager to try. The label shows the bottling date and the initials of the bottler. I couldn’t really make out the initials, but my bourbon was bottled on 11/2/16. I’m not sure if that information is helpful but it’s interesting to know.
The bottle also comes with a handy explanation of what a beanball is and also gives a brief history of the term, including a list of “well known beanballers”: Don Drysdale, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez. I think that’s a little unfair since there are certainly more than three.
The label does mention the bourbon is “Made in Indiana,” and from what I gather, is a blend of another bourbon from Indiana and Cooperstown Disillery bourbon.
When it comes to tasting I subscribe to the idea that you shouldn’t let the experts tell you what you’re tasting. As always, I’m not an expert but I know what I like, and I like this bourbon. I found Beanball Bourbon to be very smooth with smoky, almost chocolaty flavors. At 90 proof (45% alcohol) it’s not overpowering but provides a nice, warm finish. Neat or on the rocks, Beanball Bourbon is chin music to my taste buds. Highly recommended.
I’m anxious to try the other Cooperstown Distillery brands, including the Double Play vodka, and if they live up to Beanball Bourbon’s example, it will be a most enjoyable rest of the baseball season.
See you next time.