Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beer in the Land of Pleasant Living

Feeling like we don't seem to get that much time together these days, the girlfriend and I took a long weekend in Baltimore to relax, do some sightseeing, and check out the beer scene in Land of Pleasant Living. The last time either of us had been down there was for a field trip during our senior year of high school so we though it was a good choice, far away enough from home for it to be a trip but close enough to get there quickly.

We checked into our Inner Harbor hotel early Friday afternoon and immediately made our way down the National Aquarium because that's what you do when you're doing the whole tourist-thing in Baltimore. After a couple hours of wandering around in the dark, checking out the creatures of the sea, and trying to block out the hoards of hyper-active children running around the place a beer was simply necessary. We decided to just grab quick bite to eat on our way back to the hotel at a small and unasuming place called Peter's Pour House which was one of a few bars we found on Water Street. The place had the dive vibe going for it with a few rowdy regulars who seemed to have gotten their weekend started even earlier than us. I was quite excited to see Natty Boh on tap everywhere down there, we used to get cases of the stuff for $8.99 at Temple so it has a special place in my heart. The rest of the taps were your standard domestics except for a Flying Dog and New Belgium Fat Tire, the legendary amber ale out of Colorado that I had never had before. After years of build up and hype the beer was bound to fall flat for me the way it did. It was by no means a bad beer, lots of sweet caramel malts with a sublte citrus hop finish to round things out, but it's not something would really stand out to me if it weren't for its reputation. I was still excited to check this one off my beer-bucket list so I ordered another before we headed out.

Walking back to our hotel we made the miraculous discovery that our hotel was located directly next to the Pratt Street Ale House which happened to be home of Oliver Breweries, Baltimore's oldest running brewpub. You can imagine my delight. The weather was perfect for walking around but once we sat down the chilly wind picked up and it quickly became clear that this was going to be a one-and-done since we grabbed a table outside. With the chill in their, big dark beers were in order. I went with the S.O.B., a smoked Belgian porter brewed with Stillwater and The Brewer's Art. Despite the reptuation of brewers involved I wasn't all that thrilled with this unique brew. I just didn't find the Belgian yeast character to go well with the porter body at all, lot's of conflicting flavors that ended up being pretty sweet with little to no noticeable smoke. Meridith ordered herself The Bishop's Indulgence, a Russian imperial stout brewed with cocoa nibs and vanilla beans. This was beer I was looking for, lot's of sweet milky chocolate notes and bit of roasted coffee flavors to mix things up. The vanilla bean smoothed things out and made for a phenomenal stout that was definitely BIG without being overbearing, there was a whole lot going on but remained well balanced. Needless to say I snuck a few sips out of her glass before we finished up.

For dinner we headed over to Fell's Point which seems to be the "super-hip" part of town with too many bars to count. After many a recommendation, I knew I wanted to hit up Max's Taphouse but by the time we got there it was already packed with the Friday night crowd so we grabbed some food around the corner at Sláinte. The place had a really welcoming atmosphere and I enjoyed myself thoroughly but their draft  list left something to be desired. After a surprisingly great dinner for an Irish place we found ourself back at Max's Taphouse, a place that just has to be seen to be believed.

Boasting a ludicrous 102 beers on tap, 5 of which offered on the hand pump, Max's could be a bit intimidating to someone unprepared. By the time we got back the crowd had grown even more but I bellied my way to the bar to retrieve a draft list, this was going to take a minute to decide. My eyes wandered immediately to the list of New Belgium brews available and decided on their Clutch Dark Sour Ale. Mer really had no choice once she saw DuClaw's H.E.R.O. Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter. Clutch turned out to be all sorts of interesting, a strange blend of rich mocha flavors with a sneakingly sour finish. I didn't quite know what to make of the roasty/sour combo but it didn't turn me off completely and I was glad I ordered it. Next up was Liefmans' Oud Bruin, the true sour I was craving after being teased with the Clutch. Pleasant tart cherries and sweet brown sugar flavors but with a wonderfully oaky body that rocked my world, went down real easy so the 5% ABV was quite welcome. Mer went with another sour, the  Hopfenstark Berlin Alexanderplatz Epilogue which was a mouth puckering raspberry berliner weisse. I tried to order Dupont's holiday saison, Les Bons Voeux, but ended up kicking the keg half-way through the pour. Luckily the bartender let me have the glass for free but I hadn't though far enough ahead to know what I what I wanted as a replacement.

After brief consideration I couldn't help but order another undeniably unique sour from New Belgium, this time going with Kick which is brewed with cranberries and pumpkin. Quite acidic and funky, the cranberries definitely stood out the most along with some subtle holiday spice. The pumpkin was pretty mild, I don't know if I would have noticed if I hadn't been looking for it. I remember being surprised that it wasn't too sweet despite how much fruitiness was going on. I'd call this experiment a success. Of course there were countless other beers that I wanted to try but it had been a long day and I was feeling pretty good at that point. For some reason, the girlfriend let me go up to the bar alone to get out tab but left to my own devices I was powerless to resist the lure of New Belgium's Ranger IPA and snuck that one in before closing out. I don't know if it was just because my tongue wasn't ready for the shock of hops that night but I thought this beer was somewhat to fairly awesome! I in no way needed that last pint but I'm glad I went with my instincts despite having a rude awakening the next day.

Going against vacation protocol, I set an alarm to wake my sure-to-be-hungover-sorry-ass up in the morning because we did have a schedule to keep, Heavy Seas was expecting us for the 11 am tour which you can read all about right here. Before driving off to the tour we did get some breakfast at the hotel bar/restaurant and I normally wouldn't comment on it but it was the worst meal in recent memory. They didn't have any grapefruit which I woke up hankering for so I was immediately pissy about that. That breakfast held the title for the worst meal until later in the day when we made the rookie-tourist mistake of having lunch at the "historic" Lexington Market. Bad idea.

The rest of the day consisted of a whole lot of walking, wandering in and out of the shops and bars that make up the more...errr...civilized downtown areas. We found ourselves back in Fell's Point for dinner at Riptides By The Bay where I experienced two firsts, some Atlantic oysters and a pint of Goose Island's IPA. I was more enthused about the idea of having my first Goose Island beer than the beer itself but the food made up for that. We thought about heading back to Max's for a good nighter but I was not about to pay the cover for just one beer so we decided to minimize risk and stick to something we knew, Sláinte. Mer saw their Guinness Chocolate Creme Brulee on the menu the night before so she had her dessert with an appropriate pint of Guinness while, in a strange move by myself, ordered some whiskey. Who knows.

Not quite ready to call it a night, we got our cab to drop us off at Pratt Street Ale House before going back to our room for a real good nighter...or two. The lady went with The Bishop's Indulgence once again while I tried out their Smoke Break Porter on cask which was apparently quite tasty, it disappeared from my glass far too quickly. Seeing how Mer was still working on her's I really had no choice but to order something else so I asked for a pint of their Draft Punk which I believe was a wet hopped IPA of sorts. At this point in the night I wasn't exactly keeping notes.

Before heading home on Sunday we were planning on having lunch at The Brewer's Art but failed to realize that they open late and thus we missed on of the Baltimore landmarks that I had heard so much about. This just gives me another reason to plan a trip back down though. On our way home we stopped at State Line Liquors to pick up a hefty selection of bottles that don't make their way to Pennsylvania including some Maui Brewing Company cans!

I know this has been an obnoxiously long winded post but that is just a testament to Baltimore and their surprising (to me at least) beer scene. We never encountered any of the sort of snobbiness that often plagues this sort of travel and that alone made it a success. If you find yourself down in Baltimore be sure to look past all the great beers that come into the city and make certain that you partake in some of the fantastic beers that are being made right there.

I'll shut up now.

1 comment:

  1. I feel like you should link up 'Lexington Market' to the reviews on Yelp that we were reading. That way all of your readers know to NEVER GO THERE