Friday, December 5, 2014

My Role in The Beer Scene as a Beer Blogger

Earlier this week I discussed a bit about how my relationship with beer has been affected by blogging. Today, I'm going to take the topic a little bit further and focus on where I see my blog fitting within the greater world of beer.

Baltimore Bistros & Beer didn't initially start off with a heavy focus on beer. I knew I wanted to work in that direction over time, but I wasn't quite sure how I should position myself as beer blogger. When I did start writing about beer I decided I wanted to use this space as a way to learn more about what was going on locally. If there was something going on with beer around Baltimore, I wanted to talk about it here. That was the only role I was looking for initially, mainly because it felt manageable.

But like most beer drinkers I drink a lot more than just local beer and found myself wanting to talk about beer made both far and wide. Opening my blog up like that led to me looking at not just beer the drink, but beer the industry and I started noticing a lot of things that grated on my nerves. And I wrote about those topics. I didn't want to be a cheerleader blogger, the kind that only says nice things so they can get retweets from the breweries they're glowing about. I wanted to use my voice to say "Hey, I see a problem. Let's fix that". I felt good about doing that and I thought that was going to be my role in beer as blogger going forward.

But you know what? That role wore me down. I started to see myself becoming very cynical about the beer scene and noticed that my eagerness to run to the keyboard to write was happening less and less. It even got to the point where I wondered if I should even blog about beer anymore. Why focus on something that annoys me to much?

The reason I continued writing about beer was the same reason that got me started. I really do love beer. I love talking, thinking, and drinking beer. Most of all, I appreciate the relationships beer and this blog has fostered over the past 2+ years. So where does that leave my role in blogging now and moving forward?

This blog exists for me. Blogs are meant to be personal. You can talk about other subjects, but if you're not exposing a little of your soul while you're writing then I don't want to read that. I'm not writing to better beer. I'm not writing to call out breweries for throwing candy into casks. I don't care about the incorrect labeling of beer styles. I want to talk about me, the beer, and the fun I've had drinking it along the way.

This post was put together for The Session. A once a month gathering of beer bloggers across the world discussing a common theme. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beer Blogging and My Relationship With Beer

Over the past few months when I haven't been blogging about beer, I have been thinking about blogging and beer. Specifically, I've been contemplating how the former affects my relationship with the latter. Is my relationship with beer better, worse, perhaps even unchanged now that I've been writing about lagers and ales these many months now? That's the question I've been toiling with. As with most questions, I've been looking for one easy to understand answer. And as with most questions (any question worth asking that is) I can only conclude multiple answers.

Blogging about beer has augmented my relationship with beer because how could it not? How could you not come to a better understanding of what beer is and what it means to you when you're spending most of your free time consumed by that very subject. And I don't simply mean that I can sniff out hops or taste different features of malt when I'm drinking a beer. That stuff is cool, but it's something I would have come around to learn with or without a blog. What I'm talking about is that mystical element of beer nobody can quite put their thumb on. At the most basic level beer is just a drink. But beyond the base I find a drink that eases my soul and takes me to places in my mind I might not have otherwise visited had it not been for the time I set aside to slow down, sip a beer, and breath in the world. And were I not a blogger looking to log my beery experiences for all the world to see, many of those introspective moments might have been lost forever

But blogging about beer has affected my relationship with beer in ways that aren't as positive. In fact, you might say blogging has ruffled my relationship with beer. There are a lot of things about this community that I find to be flat out irritating. Hive mind on the internet has nothing on certain niches of the craft community. If you don't hate what they hate or love what they love prepare to be berated. And details, you better know them all or you don't really love beer. Oh, you think you're into craft beer? Not if you can't walk into a courtroom and argue BJCP Guidelines with the same authority a lawyer argues tax law. These aren't the type of people I typically meet face to face, but if you've spent any amount of time reading about beer on the internet, as a blogger tends to do, it's easy to start questioning what type of scene you're actually apart of. With all of that in mind, I've decided to take what I see as a negative and go the opposite direction when it comes to the words I put out in the ether. The last thing I want is to serve as a source of annoyance for fans of craft beer and so you can expect my writing to shift towards the things I love about beer and less of me focusing on the little irritants that can wear me down by letting myself be overwhelmed.

On the whole, blogging has helped focus my relationship beer. When I got into this thing I inundated myself with as much information as possible. At one point I was checking somewhere between 20-30 websites a day hoping to pick up any new information I could about what was going on in the beer world. And it worked. I learned things about beer past, present and future and really got a feel for the nuts and bolts of the industry and the hops and malt of beer. Simply put, I became better informed and that was always the goal. But I also grew to appreciate the saying "ignorance is bliss" after questionable business practices within the industry started affecting how I thought about breweries and whether or not I could support them in the future. To put it in terms of a baseball fan, I couldn't go to the ballpark and enjoy the simple delights of witnessing a homerun because I was too worried about whether or not the players salary was reasonable. I got away from the game that I loved. But now, thanks to blogging, I know exactly which facets of the beer world I love and want to spend my time with. You won't find me lost in the the numbers and details of the craft beer industry anymore. Look for me in a bar hovering on a laugh shared between two friends over a beer.

This post is part of multiple essays from Mid-Atlantic beer bloggers focusing on how we feel blogging has impacted our relationship with beer. Make sure to check out these posts, too:

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thank you. Come again!

The rules are simple.  In ten minutes put together a list detailing as many things as can think of that you'd like to show thanks for. It sounds simple but when the pressure is on it’s harder than you’d imagine to come up with a list. So, without any further adieu, here are the beer and blogging related odds and ends I’m thankful for.

  • My wife for trekking around with me from brewery to brewery always being willing to try something new.
  • Belgium for creating some of the worlds most creative and tasty beers all inside one tiny little country.
  • Germany for sticking to the Reinheitsgebot and making this Helles lover happy.
  • Friends and Family who encourage me to write.
  • Maryland breweries all too happy to welcome tiny bloggers inside their business for a closer look.
  • Beers brewed to style.
  • Brewers that say style be damned.
  • CCMABBD (Continental Congress of Mid-Atlantic Beer Blogger Doctors) for being a great group of trusted beer bloggers and friends
  • Oliver Gray for being a level headed thinker and wizards of words.
  • Bryan Roth for looking to data to backup andecdotal claims and being the first blogger I noticed doing this thankful game.
  • Jake Scholan aka Hipster Brewfus for being funny as hell and having the courage of his convictions.
  • My brother Matt for brewing beer with me despite major shortcomings in my brew game. 
  • My readers.  Because everyone likes an audience.
  • Generous restaurants and breweries who help make doing a blog like this a little extra rewarding
  • Union Craft Brewing Old Pro Gose
  • Cask Ale without cookies
What are you thankful for? Your

For more giving of the thanks check out these blogs:

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Havana

You may have noticed that restaurant reviews have been popping up less and less on Baltimore Bistros and Beer.  As recently as a few weeks ago, I actually stated out loud to my wife that I thought I was done writing about food. It’s not that I don’t like writing about restaurants, but taking pictures and notes in the middle of nearly every meal has become something I look less and less forward to each time we go out.  I didn’t want to put anymore conversations on hold while I did my blogger due diligence, because quite frankly, it’s not an ideal way to enjoy dinner. I’ve got this thing where I like to be in the moment as much as possible and while I’m definitely at one with the food, I’d rather be focusing on the people sitting across from me at the dinner table. 

And then we ate at Little Havana and tried Ropa Vieja. It was fantastic. In fact, it was so tasty that in the middle of eating their Ropa Vieja I decided to compromise with myself. If I went to dinner and had a truly exceptional experience or tasted something that really went above and beyond the norm, I came to the conclusion that it’s only right that information finds its way on to my blog. The whole point of this blog (from a food/restaurant POV) is to help give people an idea of what’s good around Baltimore and have them try new things and so that's what exactly I'm going to continue to do (just maybe in a slightly different format).

Little Havana’s Ropa Vieja is one of those food items that deserves your special attention. But does that surprise you? Slow cooked meat is a gift from the gods. If it has to sit around cooking for hours on end before it’s ready to eat you know it’s going to be good.  This version of Ropa Vieja lives up to those expectations.  The tender strands of meat are flavored with tomato and cumin and come across as an alternate to texas style chili with a heavier focus on the tomato flavor and less on the spices. But what really sets this Ropa Vieja apart is the yuca it’s nestled all over. I’m not sure if I've had yuca before, but I loved it on this night. The texture of the melt in your mouth meat and firm but creamy yucca was something to write home about (or blog about).  When the last bite was consumed, sadness poured down over me. 

But the sadness was short lived. After the Ropa Vieja was gone and my carne tacos were inhaled a piece of key lime pie magically appeared in front of me. That pie was some of the best pie I've come across in a restaurant setting. The pie itself had a uniquely creamy texture that can’t be found just anywhere and that alone had me going in for bite after bite despite the fact that I was already stuffed to the gills. And the crust was equally fantastic and almost as half as thick as the pie itself.  Creamy pie, crunchy buttery crust.  It’s not a sentence, but that says it all. Or maybe it doesn't? The flavor of the pie was also stellar. It was tart but not too tart and sweetened just the right amount creating a happy balance between the two dissonant featured flavors.

As the days get colder I can think of few things more ideal to warm me up than a plate of Little Havana’s delicious Ropa Vieja . And if it’s exceptionally cold their Key Lime Pie and the fantasy of eating it on the beach will surely do the trick. Get there soon. Little Havana awaits.

Little Havana Restaurante Y Cantina Cubana on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 7, 2014

Beer is the Gateway, Not the Destination.

One thing I've learned about beer over the past few years is that beer is the gateway not a destination. When I first started getting into this beer thing I used to travel to breweries just to say I've been there. Tasting the beer wasn't good enough for me, I wanted to be able to say "Yeah, I've been to XXX Brewery. You should get there if you have the chance." I found myself victim of the weird competitive pissing contest that develops within certain hobbies. It was never anything I took too seriously, but I'd be lying if I didn't get some sort of satisfaction when I could point out that I had been somewhere that someone hadn't.

And then I learned that beer is beer, stainless steel is stainless steel, and tours of breweries almost always seem to bleed together (a few shining exceptions exist, of course). I wouldn't say they were boring or not worth the trip, but they weren't necessarily making my beer taste any more enjoyable simply because I was drinking them on site.

The reason I travel for beer is because it opens up a gateway to experience everything else. Recently, I took my honeymoon to France and Belgium. Beer is precisely the reason Belgium made it on our itinerary, but it's not the main reason I fell in love with the country. The people, the art, the architecture, the landscape, the brought me there, everything else will bring me back. That's why I travel for beer.

This post was inspired by The Session. The Session takes place on the first Friday of every month with bloggers from all across the world getting together to discuss a single topic. This month's Session was hosted by The Roaming Pint.

Monday, August 11, 2014

One Word of Advice for the Craft Beer Newbie

It's Monday morning, the weekend has plans for the next 5 days, and you're coming down from the high of your first trip to a good beer bar. Sure, there is work to be done, but you can't get the thought of tropical fruit flavored IPA's, tart Berliner Weiss, and Peanut Butter Porters out of your mind. The boss is asking for that report you said you'd have ready for his Monday morning meeting, but you know nothing will get done until you Google "Advice for the Craft Beer Newbie" to learn more about all of the fantastically flavored drinks that rocked your world only two night ago. As fate would have it, you find yourself on this very blog and I'm offering one word of advice to you as you begin your journey into the vast world of beer.

And what is that one word advice I have for you, the craft beer newbie? Well....Craft. But this isn't a word or idea I want you to focus on. Craft is a word you should forget. Craft, in relation to beer, has meant a great many things to a great many people. It could mean a brewery that makes less than 2 million barrels per year (excuse me, 6 million), has recipes that don't include corn (scratch that, corn is just fine), and may or may not be part of a revolution depending on how righteous you want to feel whenever you reach for a beer. It's a word that has meant anything and everything and when that happens you're essentially left with nothing. 

Love beer. Forget the craft. If you really love beer and you plan on making this fermented liquid a part of your life you need to love beer for beer. You should find joy in the history, ingredients, processes, and people that are the world of beer. Or you won't and that's fine as well because it really doesn't matter. Maybe you won't give a damn what Mosiac hops provide in the way of flavor and aroma. And maybe you'll hate sour beers or IPA's and find you're only interested in coffee flavored stouts. That's cool. The point is that beer, boiled down to the basics, is simply an optional drink and you can like as much or as little of that world as you'd like.

Beer is a lot of things but it doesn't (and shouldn't) need to be serious. Don't feel intimated by some silly term like craft that only serves to confuse what really matters. If you're reading this because you're looking to take part in a revolution, looking for an identity, or to be a part of a scene then it's best you just move along. Beer was here long before "craft" and it's going to be here long after the trendy appeal dies down. If you really love this stuff and plan to make it a part of your life, then love beer because it's awesome and forget the fluff that is craft.  

This post is the first part of what will be multiple essays from a variety of Mid-Atlantic bloggers looking to offer one word of advice for those of us who might be new to "craft" beer. Check in with Hipster Brewfus tomorrow to see what he thinks. 

Day 2 - Hipster Brewfus on Patience
Day 3 - Oliver from Literature and Libation with Reciprocate
Day 4 - Andrew of Das Ale Haus says Drink
Day 5 - Bryan from This is Why I'm Drunk on Live.
Day 6 - Josh of Short on Beer wants to take you on a Journey.
Day 7 - Liz from Naptown Pint suggest you Relax.
Day 9 - Brewkeep Radio wants you to focus on you.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Session #90: Beer Fight Club

It’s Session Time and many a Session has passed since I last participated, but with local blogger Jake from Hipster Brewfus throwing down a challenge like the one detailed below I feel a duty to jump back into the Beer Blogging Friday ring.

Have you ever drank a beer that became a battle, more than an enjoyable experience? Maybe a beer that was far bigger than you had anticipated? Something you felt determined to drink, just so you can say you conquered that son of a bitch, and you are all that is powerful. Or perhaps it is something that is just so bad, all you want to do is slap it around a bit. Or maybe you were on the verge of passing out, but you just wanted that one last beer, and the valiant struggle between taste bud fulfillment and the velvety embrace of sleep that ensued.

Three years ago today my emotional pint glass was filled to the brim as I walked into local landmark Max’s on Broadway full of excitement to try a few unknown beers at their Rare & Obscure Event. Not only was I going to be drinking good beer, but I’d be doing so while rooting the US Men’s National Team on to victory as they took on our rivals from Mexico in the Gold Cup Final. Typically, I steer clear of big weekend crowds at the bar, but the chance to witness Rare US soccer achievements and taste Obscure beer was simply too much for even the most dedicated of hermits to ignore.

At the kickoff I decided to order a De Halve Maan Brugse Zot. It was going to be a long 90 minutes and much like the US team, I wanted to pace myself and make sure I had the energy to go the distance.  Smart decisions are essential both on the pitch and at the bar and early on those decisions were paying off. The US team put the ball in the back net twice and I enjoyed the simple pleasures of a well-made Belgian Golden Ale.

But then something happened. Riding high from the early goal two lead and coming to the end of my first beer I got a little over confident with my second beer order. “I’ll have the Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus”. I had never heard of it, couldn’t pronounce it, and quite honestly had no idea that sour beer was even a thing. Side stepping the crowd I gingerly made my way back to our table and sat down just as Mexico cut into the lead by taking advantage of some poor US defense. “Oh well”, I thought to myself and reached to take my first taste of the Rose de Gambrinus.

“Holy god, that’s terrible”, I said.

“They’re still winning 2-1”, Deana my girlfriend at the time replied, assuming I was talking about the game.

“No, taste this” I responded, eager to spread the evil that had just entered my mouth.  Deana took a sip scrunched her face in sour horror and silently handed the glass back shaking her head violently back and forth to let me know she would be have having no more of this Rare & Obscure freak beer.

A little time passed and I went back in for a second taste hoping that my palate might have adjusted enough to make the rest of this beer somewhat enjoyable. But it wasn’t meant to be. Rose de Gambrinus caused shivers, pain face, and much sadness at $12 misspent. This was a sour of proportions I’d never known before and I simply was not worthy. And as fate would have it, neither was the US team as they conceded an equalizer only 5 minutes after the first.

The rest of the night I sat with my glass of Rose de Gambrinus in dismay. Why did a beer like this exist? Why did I, with a list of beers 100 bottles deep, have to stumble across this one? And why was it so off putting to me? Sure, I’ve experienced beers I hadn’t liked before, but none kicked me in the balls like this one had.  I sat there, a beaten man, feeling like a failure for not “getting” what many would consider a gem of a beer. And the US team, well, they provided no solace and took their own beating as they lost a chance at a trophy with a 4-2 loss.

A few weeks later I found myself at another establishment and they just so happened to have a sour beer on tap. A glutton for punishment, I ordered it. Deana sat across from me shocked I’d be willing to put myself through this kind of punishment once again, but I didn’t want my previous experience with sour beer to be my last. The beer was set at our table and I took a sip. “That’s actually not bad”, I said with relief.  By the end of the pint, I found myself actively enjoying a sour beer.

As we drove home that night it hit me that my enjoyment of the second sour beer would never have been possible if I had never experienced my excruciating beer battle with Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. It made me stronger and took my palate to such an extreme place that almost any sour beer I’ve come in contact with since has paled in comparison. Believe it or not sour beers have become one of the styles I crave the most and every time I take a sip of a sour beer I take a second to both think about Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus, the beer I’ve hated more than any other, and say thank you for making it possible for me to enjoy a myriad of other beer I may never have tried if it weren’t for the ass whipping of a lifetime it gave me three years ago.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weekend Beerventures from Baltimore Part 3: Monocacy Brewing and Brewers Alley

Part 1 of our Fourth of July Beerventure can be viewed here.
Part 2 of our Fourth of July Beerventure can be viewed here.

We approached the end our Frederick Beerventure with a trip to Monocacy Brewing. Earlier in the spring, while attending the Cask Ale Fest at Pratt Street Alehouse, Deana and I were both quite impressed with the Brewtus Stout Monocacy sent over and we couldn't wait to find out what the rest of their beer portfolio offered.

While seeking out the brewery we ended up driving pastonce or twice due to a lack of signage. Learn from my mistake and trust your GPS. You will end up exactly where you should.  After confirming that we had arrived at the correct destination we entered the tasting room  to a cheerful greeting from the friendly bartender. Being that we arrived shortly after a brewery tour began we were one of only 4 tasters in the room which afforded us the privilege of getting a little more time to pick our bartenders brain for details about the beer.  One thing I learned of particular interest was the fact that Monocacy Brewing and Brewers Alley are one in the same. Apparently, they had to change their name due to some weird legal issues involving moving a brewery more than 1 square mile from the original location.

I wish I would have gotten confirmation while I was there, but from the outside looking in it appears as though Monocacy brand is steered more to “craft beer” offerings whereas the beers brewed under the Brewers Alley  label are much more traditional in style. With that said, all of the beers offered in the taproom are from Monocacy.  The highlights of the day was (not surprisingly) Brewtus, an Imperial Coffee Stout that’s flavored with coffee beans Monocacy gets from a business right across the street from their location. If you like your morning coffee black you'll be happy because that’s exactly how Brewtus comes across. With its bold earthy coffee tones Brewtus leaves no doubt what the star of the show is supposed to be with.

After our tour we thought about killing a little more time with a round of cornhole outside the brewery, but we decided one more trip was in order and headed over to the Brewers Alley Restaurant and Brewpub for an early dinner. Not to pat myself on the back, but I couldn't have asked for a better way to end the day. After all of the hopping around we relished the chance to finally sit down and relax. So, you’ll have to bear with me as I couldn't be bothered to take many pictures of the food at this point.

We started off with Bacon wrapped smoked jalapenos. Dude. This was the best jalapeno focused dish I’ve had in ages. The pepper was fresh, the bacon smokey and crispy, and the chicken and cheese mixture inside added a nice change of pace to the typical jalapeno popper goo usually found on menus.  A cooling cream sauce drizzled on top played the perfect counterpoint to the fairly spicy jalapeno heat.

For our main course we both kept it simple and ordered burgers. Deana went with the house burger known as the Alley Burger and I selected a Weizen Burger. Both were top notch burgers with great grill flavor.  I think I preferred the Weizen burger out of the two but only because the tangy kraut and ham it was topped with made for a somewhat unfamiliar bite when it comes to burgers.

By this point you would think we would've been ready to throw in the towel but when a fresh strawberry pie is available you don’t have a choice but to make room. No description would do justice to the pie, and really, good strawberry shouldn't need one. Flaky crust, fresh berries, whipped cream and your done.

As far as beer was concerned we didn't really go out of our way to try much at the restaurant, but I couldn't help myself when I saw they had a Gose on offer known as Bad Old Man.  It reminded me a lot of a Gose I homebrewed once upon a time as the recipe is much more traditional and not the tart lacto pucker bomb a lot of American interpretations are turning into. If you've found other Gose’s a little off-putting in the past (I love both interpretations) give this one a try. It reminded me much more of a mildly tart and salty Belgian wheat beer and is very approachable for all types of beer drinkers.

With our stomachs full and our minds tired from a full day of touring Frederick we came to the end of our Fourth of July Weekend Beerventure. If you haven’t been to Frederick I highly recommend making a trip. It’s close enough to Baltimore, beautiful and scenic, and full of a wide variety of food and drinking options. Don’t feel like you have to focus only on beer while you’re there because there are also wineries and cideries nearby to help fill your day and keep everyone happy. Frederick, you’re a heck of a place! I’ll be seeing you soon.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Weekend Beerventures from Baltimore Part 2: Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm

Part 1 of our Fourth of July Beerventure can be viewed here.

Our Fourth of July continued as I surprised Deana with a beercentric trip to Frederick.  I grabbed my camera and car keys and we set off for Milkhouse Brewery at Stillpoint Farm on one of the most beautiful days of the summer. The sun lit up the surroundings in all its glory and the sky was painted as blue as the 1980's Kansas City Royals uniforms Bo Jackson made me love as a kid.

You won’t find me excited about car rides that last longer than 3 minutes but the ride to Milkhouse Brewery, located on the way to Frederick in Mt Airy, was really something to take in and appreciate. A drive with wide open space, blue skies, lush rolling green hills, and a perfectly photogenic brewery waiting at the top of a hill will tend to help with my aversion to cars.

Considering this was our first experience with Milkhouse’s beers, we decided to familiarize ourselves with their offerings by ordering a sampler. On this particular day the sampler included Dollyhyde Summer Farmhouse Ale, Goldie’s Best Bitter, East Coast Pale Ale, 4th Step IPA, and Coppermine Creek Dry Stout. Occasionally they have a cask on hand that’s included in the sampler but we weren’t so lucky. I guess that means we’ll just have to make another drive to Frederick to get the full experience.  All of the beers were well balanced and tasty, but the standouts were the Bitter and Farmhouse Ale for me and the East Coast Pale Ale for Deana. The fact that Deana picked a Pale Ale as the standout beer in a lineup speaks volumes to the balance that Milkhouse displayed with all of their recipes. The East Coast Pale was a 5% Ale bittered to 38 IBU’s with Cascade hops grown on site at Stillpoint Farm and evoked similarities to a British Style Pale Ale.

Mid-way through the sampler Deana wisely suggested we get something to eat. We had a few more stops planned and with no breakfast in either of our stomachs food was going to be essential. As fate would have it, Milkhouse had us covered with a wide variety of cheeses and crackers available for purchase in the taproom.  Because I'm not the best at pairing beer with food I decided to trust their handy suggested pairing list. Deana ordered a full pint of Pale Ale and I was looking for more Bitter so we went with fantastic garlic cheddar trusting it would pair well with both.

As we lounged on the patio enjoying the beer and our snack something dawned on me. Most people consider beer to be a combination of 4 simple ingredients consisting of water, malt, hops, and yeast. But that overlooks what might be the most important ingredient of all when it comes to enjoying a beer. Place. Place is a special ingredient that not every beer is lucky enough to have and Milkhouse provides it like no other Maryland brewery I've visited can.  With gorgeous hills of green as far as they can see, hops growing nearby, and the big blue sky above I could have spent all day sitting with a beer reminding myself how lucky I was to sip that beer with Deana by my side.  Our trip to Milkhouse Brewery ended far too quickly, but it definitely won’t be our last. I can’t wait to head back in the fall to enjoy the crisp air and changing leaves.

Click to Read Part 3

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Weekend Beerventures from Baltimore Part 1: Union Craft Brewing and Blue Pit BBQ

It’s been awhile since I've had a Weekend Beerventure. I've been looking for a good time to hit the road again and with a 3-Day Independence Day weekend in front of us Deana and I decided to hop in the car and seek out the local suds.

The weekend started off with a trip to Union Craft Brewing. Not really a Beerventure from Baltimore, but it's how the weekend began so that's where we'll start. Depending on your disposition you might see the glass as half full or half empty, but one thing we can all agree on is that your Union growler should always be completely full. That’s especially true when Old Pro Gose is flowing through the tap system. Old Pro is tart, slightly salty, and the most satisfying local beer around during the summer months. If you've yet to get your hands on a pint of Old Pro it sounds like you need to schedule a beerventure of your own and rectify the situation.

With our growler filled to the brim and a couple pints of Union Anthem patriotically chugged Deana decided we needed to kick our Fourth of July celebration into high gear and find some BBQ. While discussing our dinner options the rain was starting to come down hard and since I've been hearing about Blue Pit BBQ located just seconds up the street from Union we decided to race through the rain and head for the BBQ. Only one problem existed with the plan. Blue Pit BBQ isn't scheduled to start serving BBQ until later in the summer. Safe from the rain and surrounded by a myriad of whiskey we decided to stick around anyway. And besides, we weren't completely left without any food options. There was a limited but enticing menu of Binkerts sausages and a cheese plate on offer.  Deana chose a Weisswurst in hopes of reliving our travels in Germany, but we both agreed that I won the Sausage Selection Extravaganza when I decided to try the Debreziner. The word debreziner was new for me, but it’s essentially a delicious mix of pork and beef meat. In other words, it’s a damn fine hot dog. Though, topped with deli mustard and a stunningly intense green atomic relish there is a reason you won’t ever confuse the debreziner at Blue Pit with an everyday hot dog. The atomic relish really lightened up an otherwise salty and savory bite and while freshness isn't a word that always comes to mind when thinking of sausages it makes for one of the more interesting condiments you’ll come across.

Surprisingly (as far as my own preferences are concerned), an expertly crafted Old Fashioned served as the highlight of the night. Blue Pit has a fair amount of craft beer on hand, but since I already visited Union and I was in a whiskey bar it only made sense to order the libation they’re known for. Knowing next to nothing about whiskey I relied on the advice of the bartender as to which variety I should select to create the quintessential Old Fashioned flavor. I went with his recommendation of Elijah Craig and waited anxiously as he went about mixing the classic cocktail. What I received was a sublime amalgamation of smooth vanilla, citrus, and smoke flavors equally doing their part to take some but not all of the whiskey burn away. In no way do I consider myself a whiskey aficionado, but I would definitely order this drink again.

Blue Pit BBQ might not have a fully functioning kitchen just yet but our visit showed enough promise to convince me that there is a lot to look forward to from them in the near future. Be on the lookout for the smoke and the meantime there are worse things you can do besides grabbing a sausage and sipping on premium whiskey.

Click to Read Part 2
Click to Read Part 3

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Huge Thanks to The Ale House Columbia

There are few times in life when all of the most important people in your life are gathered together to celebrate the marriage of you and the most important person in your world. When those times do come about all we can hope for is that those moments go off without a hitch and that everyone has a good time. 

That’s exactly what happened a little over a month ago when Deana and I started our Wedding Weekend off with a rehearsal dinner at The Ale House Columbia. Grandma’s, Grandpa’s, Sisters, Brothers, Parents, and friends all came together to have a good time, share a great meal, and celebrate the awesome that is Deana and myself. It didn't hurt that Oliver’s Ales are always on tap at Pratt Street’s sister restaurant either. 

The night was fantastic and one I won’t soon forget no matter how much the 10% ABV of Williams Sour Winter tried to convince me otherwise.  Laughs were shared between my brother and me as we traded beer tasting notes. Kisses were shared in between bites of delicious Prime Rib and Crab cakes The Ale House prepared for us. And maybe most enjoyable of all, I got to share my love for craft beer with my Grandpap as I had him try just about every beer that was put in front of me. 

The night was perfect, but it couldn't have been without the superior professionalism the staff displayed all night long. When our party showed up 30 minutes earlier than planned they didn't bat an eye lash. If a glass of wine wasn't enough they were quick to find a bottle. If your Coventry Cream was looking a little low they were right behind you with a Draft Punk. All night long they were on their game and Deana and I can’t thank them enough. 

It was a great meal shared with the most important people in our lives and it went off perfectly thanks to the staff. If you ever find yourself planning a big meal don't hesitate to consider The Ale House. They won’t let you down.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Chaps Pit Beef Revisited

It's been almost two years since my original review of Chaps Pit Beef went up. The post wasn't a bad review, per se, but it definitely wasn't as glowing as it might have been given all of the accolades Chaps has received over the years.

To sum up the original review, I stated that the sandwiches I tried up to that point weren't bad, but that I simply didn't understand why they roused up so much fanfare. And for the longest time my attitude didn't change in regards to Chaps. I never outright stopped visiting them, but it was one of those situations where visits only took place if it was absolutely convenient for me.

But then one day a light bulb switched on for me. I can't say what it was for sure that changed other than to say the meats seemed extra juicy and perfectly smoked. It was almost like visiting a new restaurant despite having been to Chaps numerous times through the years. My change in opinion was so profound that I went from visiting Chaps once or twice year to finding myself fantasizing about trips to Chaps on an almost weekly basis. One week I'd be counting down the minutes until I could sink myself into the overflowing mound of meat appropriately known as The Habbit and the following week I'd be excited to try something new such as a Reuben. Deana and I are now to the point where suggesting Chaps for dinner is met with a "didn't we just eat there".

So, what's the moral of this story? Why did I feel compelled to come full circle and make an amendment to my original review? It's as simple as this. There aren't many people out there who don't already love Chaps, but if you happen to be on the fence like I originally was let this post serve as a reminder to give them another try. They really do put out a product that is high quality and it's only a matter of finding the right menu item for your taste buds before you realize what the rest of us have already learned. Chaps Pit Beef is awesome. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Session Beers and Blogger Meetups

Geez! More than a month has gone by since I last posted. Getting married is time consuming business! I'm still not there yet, but I'm drawing near the finish line and you can expect regular postings in the very near future. While it's true that I've taken a short sabbatical from writing, that hasn't stopped me from taking little trips and discovering the best that Maryland Beer has to offer.

One such trip involved a meetup a few weekends ago with a blogger I've been following since way back before I really knew what proper beer even was. That blogger is pictured above on my right and he is Tom Cizauskas of Yours for Good Fermentables. But Tom isn't just any old blogger. Tom is a guy that has played a substantial role in Maryland's beer scene over the last 20+ years and it was a privilege to pick his brain for a few hours. He's an encyclopedia of local beer knowledge. Oh, and any time you come across Cask Ale locally it's in no small part to the efforts of Tom and the people he's worked with in the past to help pave the way.

While talking with Tom I learned an abundance about local beer history, but something beer related struck me on the ride home after our meeting that had nothing to do with our actual conversation. Our discussion lasted a solid two hours and spanned three or four beers. Not only was driving not an issue, but I realized I was able to give our conversation my full attention and that's something that's not always possible when the ABV of beers are running a little higher than I'd like.

As fate would have it, we met at Pratt Street Alehouse where there were multiple beers weighing in at less than 3.5% ABV on tap. The first beer was the DuClaw collaboration Back to Basix which is fantastic Ale made with Pale Malt and Amarillo hops. At 2.8% it maintains a surprisingly full body but played the part of the perfect session beer as Tom and I discussed Maryland Beer. Also on offer was the 3.2% Spring Session Ale. This beer is made with English Lager Malt, flaked oats and corn,and hopped with Mt Hood and Citra hops. It was the perfect beer to bring along to a conversation as Spring Session Ale was delicious but unobtrusive, just as any quality session beer should be.

One of my biggest hopes for Maryland beer is for low alcohol beers to become more and more prominent across our region. Beer is a social drink no matter the level of alcohol, but the coherency of conversations has an inverse relationship as the ABV creeps higher. High alcohol beers have their place, certainly, but so to do the little but delicious beers like Back to Basix. So, here's to another...and another...and another. Cheers to Session beer! And Cheers to Tom!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Session IPA: When Craft Beer Gets Crafty

Up until a few weeks ago I had never tried a Session IPA. The way I saw it, if I wanted to drink something hoppy I could drink an actual IPA. On days I wanted something lower ABV I could grab a wheat beer and be perfectly content. But then Stone's Go to IPA came out and I couldn't fight it any longer. I bought one and excitedly popped the bottle open the following night. It was the worst craft beer I've ever had in my life.

Originally, that's where this post was headed. I was going to tell you that Go to IPA had zero malt presence and that their hop bursting technique produced nothing but a weird sour citrus flavor. They say it produces "glorious hop qualities"; I say it creates a flavor profile that has been achieved by less than mediocre homebrewers for years. I was going to shake my digital head in disagreement like an irate Natty Boh bobblehead doll , but then I realized it might be too harsh to make an assumption about a particular beer when I've never actually had another within the "style" to make a fair comparison. To alleviate that shortcoming, I tried Lagunitas Daytime IPA (the best I've had at this point) and a few others over the past month. Most were okay given the style, but all are beers that have no reason to exist other than to capitalize on a segment of the craft beer community that will drink absolutely anything IPA related.

It's true I love to beat up Stone. This isn't the first time I've knocked on them and it probably won't be the last. But that's not what I care about in this instance. This isn't about one beer or one brewery. It's about the bigger picture. Session IPA is bad beer and it's a symptom of a larger problem I think a lot of the community ignores. Diversity in craft beer doesn't matter as much to brewers as they would have you believe. But so what, you say? People like IPA's so why is Session IPA bad beer? Well, it's not just because I've had a few and don't like the taste. I'm not a huge fan of Barleywine either, but I don't go around saying Barleywine is bad beer. I say Session IPA's are bad because the recipes don't even make sense. Regular IPA's work (American in this case) because the heavy bitterness they provide is usually, if brewed well, balanced by an ample sweet malt body. Yes, our IPA's lean heavy towards the bitter end of the spectrum, but they only work because the malt gives your palate a reprieve at the end. These Session IPA's don't work that way. We have brewers trying to give us the hop bombs we love, but are reducing the malt body in order to achieve a "session" level ABV and it doesn't jive. IPA's aren't just hoppy,something brewers all know but are happily ignoring, and yet that's all these Session IPA's achieve. Some come off as bitter hop water, and others have fantastic hop flavor but with nothing to support the finish. It's almost as if the liquid you have in your mouth evaporates on the finish at times. One second you brain is amped up for an IPA based on how hop forward the beer is and the next you're wondering if you actually were able to swallow anything the body is so thin.

The fact that we're so eager to latch on to poorly constructed beers like these speaks to the bigger issue of consumers drinking anything IPA related and brewers happily going along. Ray Daniels, Directer of the Cicerone Certification Program wondered aloud on twitter a few months ago if  "we’re creating a beer culture where IPA tyranny just replaces American Lager tyranny." After tasting Go to IPA, it's impossible not to wonder that very thing myself. What is craft beer coming to when Stone, a brewery known for criticizing big beer for putting out "fizzy yellow stuff", proudly releases a beer that on its best day is nothing more than "hoppy yellow stuff"? Taste is subjective, I get it, but bad beer is bad beer and we have to be smart enough to call brewers out when it's warranted. Now is the time to start screaming... so go ahead...I'm waiting.

Another couple of related quotes I came across recently were reported by Christopher Staten of Draft Magazine while attending the 2014 Craft Brewers Conference. The first quote scares me when I think about it in relation to Ray's quote above. Chris reported that IPA's currently account for 40% of the current craft market. It's fine if a lot of us like hoppy IPA's. It really is. I love them as well. But we don't have to love them all. We're allowed to be discerning. It's true that Stone makes great beer. It's also within the realm of possibility that they make bad beer from time to time. Knowing that they have the capability to produce top notch product, why are we so willing to accept mediocrity? I know we all want to be supportive and see the industry succeed, but all blind support does is produce a domino effect of foul beer. Brewery A puts out a Session IPA that overeager consumers love despite the obvious flaws. Brewery B sees the success and decides they want in on that niche market and puts their own Session IPA out that's even worse technically, but earns just as well all because they put the label "Session IPA" on the bottle. Before you know it, every brewery in the country is putting out their own version of a misguided style and that 40% keeps growing and we're left with an industry dominated by one umbrella style of beer and yet still claims that "craft beer is about standing up to and challenging monocultures".  If that's true why are we are so eager to accept and buy into a beer style that is so fundamentally flawed? And if we're for challenging monocultures, why aren't we more willing to challenging our own?

One the most often repeated reasons cited for enjoying craft beer is the fact that it provides variety. For a lot of us I think that's true. Many of us really do get the best craft beer has to offer. But some of us, let's call it 40%, pretty much dabble in one style of beer and one style of beer only. If you don't want to drink anything outside of IPA's I'm not going to ask you to stop. That's all you. But please, please don't just crown everything your favorite brewery releases as the next great thing. If Coors put out beers like some of the Session IPA's I've tasted we'd dog them to hell and back and ask why they're trying to dumb down the taste for the consumer. But let a craft brewer put out something as sloppy as a Session IPA and suddenly we're on to the next big thing in craft beer. Pretty crafty of the craft gang, no?

Craft beer got this far because we expected more out of beer. Now's not the time to get complacent. You have a voice and it's time to use it. We cheered our craft brethren into the mini-powerhouse that it is today. Now that we're here we have a question to ask ourselves. Do we want to be cheerleaders or do we want to be educated consumers who use their voice to move things in a positive direction. Three decades of blood sweat and tears seems like an awful lot to waste just to trade in All-Lager America for All-IPA. I thought we wanted more than that. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Celebrating International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze

Last week I was invited to celebrate International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze. Normally, I'm not a big fan of celebrating made up holidays, but complimentary pineapple cocktails were being offered and who am I to decline a friendly invitation!

Our brand new to Bahama Breeze server suggested we start off the night with a Goombay Smash. At first, I thought we were going to be taught a new move to smash Goomba's in the latest version of Mario, but in fact the Goombay Smash was a nice mix of pineapple juice, orange juice, and a healthy dose of dark rum. Next year, when you go to celebrate Pineapple Day, this is the drink to do it with.  The pineapple juice is the star of the show making the Goombay Smash totally refreshing. Initially, the rum felt a bit heavy, but after mixing my drink around a bit and allowing the ice to melt a tad the drink became dangerously easy to drink. So, be careful out there guys! It's a big drink. 

To go along with our drink we were served a variety of appetizers. The first app, and also our favorite, was the coconut shrimp. The shrimp were crunchy and breaded quite nicely. Yes, there was plenty of coconut but not so much that you couldn't taste the shrimp themselves. They were served with a citrus-mustard sauce that was a nice change-up from cocktail sauce or some of the weird sweeter sauces other restaurants have tried to pass off with coconut shrimp.

Another highlight of our appetizer session were the Beef Empanadas. They were filled with a mixture of beef, potatoes, and what looked like carrot or possibly sweet potatoes all stuffed inside delicious deep fried pastry. On their own, the empanadas were perfect savory little pockets of happiness, but the chutney served on the side played the perfect sweet counterpoint to the savory empanadas.  Deana, who came along with me to bask in the fruity celebration, was in empanada heaven when these came out.

About the time we were finishing those up the empanadas they brought another pineapple themed drink called Painkiller to the table. Painkiller was a delicious mix of coconut milk, orange and pineapple juice, a little ground nutmeg and rum. It was good but both of us definitely preferred the Goombay Smash simply because we weren't huge fans of the creamy coconut found in the Painkiller.

By that point, we could have called it a night and left full and happy, but the words Banana Nut Bread Supreme caught our eyes and we just couldn't leave well enough alone. And thank god gluttony got the best of us because this was a fantastic desert. Hot banana nut bread, fresh banana, vanilla ice cream, butterscotch brandy sauce, and a fat happy Doug. If Deana weren't making me the best birthday cake in the world a few days later, I would have been plenty happy trekking back to Bahama Breeze and enjoying this desert once again.

When all was said and done, I was very happy that I celebrated International Pineapple Day with Bahama Breeze. As a beer drinker it was nice to be reminded how refreshing a cocktail can be with the Goombay Smash and I'll never be mad at the dessert we shared. You might have to wait a year to celebrate the next Pineapple Day, but if you're in Towson and you're in the mood for a good drink and some tasty bites  keep Bahama Breeze in mind. It's good stuff.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Guest Post by Hipster Brewfus: Craft Beer We're Breaking Up

Today, we have Jake from Hipster Brewfus guest blogging. Recently Jake and I have had a few discussions about the need for more open constructive criticism within the craft beer community. It seems that so many of us only want to speak up when have something glowing to say about a beer or a brewery. Yes, it's great and necessary to heap praise on the industry when it's deserved, but if all we ever do is focus on the positive how can our opinions as bloggers be trusted? At what point will readers begin wondering if the role of beer blogging is merely to kiss ass? If we see something we don't like, what's so wrong about being honesty and saying as much? With those questions in mind, I turned to Jake and asked if he'd kindly explain the merits of being critical and not blindly dishing out compliments like a giddy 16 year old boy on his first date. So, without any further adieu I'm handing it off to Jake.

Craft Beer, we’re breaking up:

It's you, not me. I promise.

It's not fair for the both of us to continue going the way we're going. I have no real respect for you anymore. But truth be told, I don't want to leave you. I've given you some of my best years, and have formed some of my happiest memories during the tenure of our relationship. But things need to change. Things need to change for the worse.

Look, I get that everything is happy and sunshiny in our world. I get that craft beer has become a "thing" and that this "thing" should be celebrated and welcomed with open arms. I get that I should be happy for all of the goodness and warm fuzzy feelings we all have. I get that I shouldn't want to curb stomp you. But I do.

All of your overwhelming positivity is giving me an ulcer. I want to see some honesty. I want to see some passion. I want to see the shit you hate. I want to know what you can’t stand. What beers did you drink that suck? TELL US, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE JUST FUCKING TELL US! I'm sick of reading your long winded beer reviews that really don't say much. Knock it off.

The pandering needs to stop, because contrary to popular belief, negativity is capable of accomplishing things. There is value in a well thought out, constructive stream of hate. The slew of compliments paid to something that is pretty much mediocre at best, does nothing to push the brewery to do anything better. There will always be a need for criticism in any avenue of life.

Look, I’m no stranger to any of this stuff. I’m loud and drunk a lot of times. It’s mostly those times I take advantage of to tell you just what I think. I know you may not like it. I see how many of you stop following me on social media after I go on some kind of hop induced tirade about how so many of you are worshiping at the altar of wrongness (Go To IPA scores a 90 on BA?). In a world full of “amazing,” “incredible,” “quaffing,” or any other stupid words, I want to hear you say “I drank this beer from a brewery that I really like, and ITS FUCKING TERRIBLE! And here is why…”

You know what you have to gain from that? A lot.

And Bloggers, you especially. What’s with the constant stream of happiness? Is it borne out of the “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” diatribe? Do you think that if you fill your product review with enough praise that somehow they’ll see it and magically you’ll start receiving boxes and boxes of goodies from the brewery that you've sworn your allegiance to? I can promise you, it doesn't work that way. Do you not see any merit in saying critical things? Do you think the only way to do it is the Hipster Brewfus way (long illegible strings of curse words)? Because I promise you it’s not. I’m the Brodie Bruce of beer blogging.

“You're gonna listen to me? To something I said? Jesus, man, haven't I made it abundantly clear during the tenure of our friendship that I don't know shit? I mean, half the time I'm just talking out of my ass, or sticking my hand in it.”

Do not use me as an example. I am most assuredly doing everything wrong. I am the first one to tell you I’m an idiot, and have no idea what I’m doing. But the one thing I do know is I wield the power of the consumer, and used correctly, it can be a very powerful weapon. Taking tastes and preferences out of the equation, sometimes things hit the market that are just plain bad. And if you don’t speak up about it, those bad things will continue hitting the market. And that stuff happens, especially when you take into consideration the fact that our relationship is still in its infancy stages, and that new breweries are popping up at an alarming rate. And just like with people, there will be a few winners, and a whole lot of losers. It’s science.

Look, there is enough bad and mediocre stuff out there to weed through to find the good stuff. But I think it’s your responsibility, since you took a blood oath to this, that you vocally help weed out the bad stuff. You could potentially help stop a future offense. Remember kids, like the DHS has taught us, “If you drink something, say something. Unless it’s positive. Don’t say anything, there is enough of that.”
So I hope you can reach down inside, find some honest vitriol, and share it. You’re losing me day by day, and It’s breaking my heart.


Hipster Brewfus

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Brewer's Art

If you come to this blog it's because you're a fan of one of two things. You're either a fan of the Baltimore food scene or you like good beer. If both of those descriptors fit you, than Brewer's Art is an absolute must visit. If only one of those descriptors fit you, Brewer's Art is still a place you need to visit. It's just that good.

The first time Deana and I ever visited Brewer's Art was during a Restaurant Week. One of the appetizer options offered was something called Liptauer Cheese Spread. My initial thought was "Cheese Spread? Weird. You don't see that everywhere. Let's get that." We did and we were happy souls. On the day of our Restaurant Week visit they used some spicy red pepper in the spread and it was fantastic. Creamy cheese, pepper with a little bite, and some super crunchy crustini combined to make one of my favorite appetizers in all of Baltimore. More recently, we went back with my brother and sister-in-law and the spread was just as good. The main difference between our first and last visit was that the pepper used wasn't as spicy and the crustini had a sauerkraut flavor that was superb. My brother, the ultimate consumer of cheese, gave it a rousing review.

On our most recent visit, I decided to try Braised Duroc Pork Cheeks for dinner. As is often the case, I like to try things I've never had before and since I've never chewed on a cheek before I decided now (or then as it were) was the time. The Cheeks were also served with a baby Bratwurst, split peas in a cider gravy, and swiss chard. This was the perfect plate. The cheeks had the familiar taste of pork with a crunchy outer texture juxtaposed against the tender inside. The bratwurst didn't tread on any new territory, but who would want that anyway? Brats should be brats and this one was as good you could want. The spicy mustard they served on the side was a great compliment. Swiss chard was also something I had never tried and I really enjoyed the earthy flavor it gave off. However, my favorite part of the dish, and also something new to me, were the split peas. They kept a crunchy texture and the cider gravy they were served with gave them an almost baked bean like flavor that went perfect with the pork cheeks. 

On my initial visit to Brewer's Art I ordered the Steak Frites as did Deana and my sister-in-law Amy on our most  recent trip. The steak frites are delicious in their own right, but what I really want to talk about is the out of this world customer service Amy received when her steak came out cooked a little more done than she had asked for. She was feeling a little self conscious about complaining, but we convinced her that it wasn't worth fighting through a meal she didn't ask for. She let our waitress know about the issue and there was absolutely no argument. Our waitress apologized that it was over done and said she'd have a new steak up as soon as possible. A few minutes later the manager one duty stopped by the table to apologize to Amy and thank her for giving them a chance to make things right. Brewer's art displayed some of the best customer service I've seen and I'd like to personally thank them for going out of their way to make sure our table left satisfied. The meal ended up being great and left all of us happy when all was said and done. 

As far as Brewer's Art's beer is concerned, I've never had a beer from them that I didn't completely enjoy and that wasn't totally full of flavor. I've sampled gruits, their staples in Resurrection and (the now infamous) Ozzy, and on this particular night I was smitten with their Charm City Sour Cherry (flavor is self explantory) and Biere De Mars (tart red ale) . I give them major props on putting out beers that are big on flavor without ever taking your palate hostage. 

I'm sure I could sit here and come up with a fun to say "be sure you visit Brewer's Art", but I'm not even going to try. You should visit because the food is great and the beer is as good as anything else being put out locally. Visit now. Eat good. Drink great. Be happy.

Price: A little on the expensive side, but they do have great happy hour pricing
Recommendation: Must visit for the foodie and beer geeks among us.
What to Order: Whatever your heart desires. They won't let you down. 

Brewer's Art on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 24, 2014


Last Thursday, Nick Kovacic of Digital Cave Media premiered his movie Brewmore at the MICA Brown Center to hundreds of local beer fans. Heading to the event, I wasn't sure what to expect of the movie but after it was all said and done I left with a much better understanding of the incredible history Baltimore has within the world of brewing and a sense of excitement that we can get back there with the help of some very talented modern day brewers. 

Brewmore focused a great deal of its roughly one hour run time on Baltimore Breweries from days of yore. Having not grown up in Baltimore I really appreciated being filled in on all of the glorious details of our cities brewing history. It's absolutely astounding to learn that at one time there were roughly 40 breweries operating within the city borders. More impressive yet, National was producing 1 million barrels of beer per year at it's pinnacle. To put that in perspective, you could add up every barrel of beer produced by our  local craft breweries over a span of many years and still not be anywhere near 1 million barrels. 

And speaking of our local craft breweries, it was nice to see Heavy Seas, Brewer's Art, Stillwater, and Union Craft Brewing in the spotlight. I thought a little more time could have spent on the modern day stuff, but what we did get was plenty entertaining and a great way to learn about the history and personalities of the breweries you can't always get otherwise. Personally, I really enjoyed getting a feel for what Brian Strumke of Stillwater is all about in regards to brewing. I knew he brewed great beer, but prior to seeing the movie hadn't learned much about him other than the fact that he's a "gypsy" brewer. Brewmore filled a lot of gaps in for me. 

If you're a fan of our local beer scene but weren't lucky enough to be in attendance last Thursday make sure you find the time to attend their April 19th screening at Heavy Seas Brewery. Brewmore is a great celebration of Baltimore and Beer and it's not to be missed. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Session #85 Round-Up

To everyone that participated in The Session #85 I offer a big thank you. I don't know if other hosts have experienced this, but I was a bit worried my topic would be met with a lot of disinterest. But, alas, you guys showed a lot of enthusiasm for the topic and offered a lot of insightful answers. We had a few first time participants this month who I'd like to encourage to keep on chiming in in the future. The Sessions are a great way to spur creativity and meet a lot of great people. With that said let's look at the reasons people drink.

Sean Creel of BrewKeep drinks to discover. Sure, it's nice to wind down a long day with beer, but it's the artistry of beer being created and the inspiration that went into a recipe that Sean likes to lose himself in. I couldn't agree more. Discovering inspired beers with crazy flavor profiles is a great time. I'll never forget the first time I drank a Lambic and had my mind blown that beer could taste like that!

Jake Scholan a.k.a. Hipster Brewfus drinks for a myriad of reasons. He wants a beer because work and life might be beating him down on a particular day and he's just looking for a little liquid zen to keep him going. But he also enjoys revisiting a beer that sparks memories of great times in the past with friends. Beer has helped him forge relationships in states he no longer lives in and find new friends after a move to Baltimore. I can attest to the power of beer bringing people together who wouldn't have known one another otherwise. My entry for The Session features a picture of Jake and I (and a couple other cool guys) meeting for the first time a few weeks ago. If it weren't for the draw of good beer, that day probably never happens.

10th Day Publishing's Jon Jefferson has an interesting history with drinking beer. In his early days, drinking to excess was what he knew. At age 23 he realized this pattern wasn't something he wished to continue and he gave up drinking beer for the next eight years. Eventually, Founders Dirty Bastard found its way into his hands and it was that beer that helped him "learn that you could enjoy a beer as something more than just a vehicle for alcohol. The buzz became secondary." And how true is that? A buzz is nice, but having your palate pushed in a new direction is awesome. The flavor found in beer these days offers something for every palate making beer one of the most versatile drinks around. 

Das Ale Haus gave an answer that any beer enthusiast can get behind. Sure, he could tell us he drinks beer because  it's "like reading a good book, taking me out of the present and into whatever world my imagination conjures", but at the end of the day he drinks beer because he enjoys it. You won't catch me arguing with that.

Liam of Drunken Speculation reaches for a beer because he says it is a great way to speak with others who he might otherwise never have spent time with. He cites workplace meet ups known as Business Engineering Evaluation Review [read: BEER] as a prime example of beer promoting friendship and camaraderie where none may have previously existed. Cheers to that!

Something that I left out of my own reasons for drinking beer post was the desire to travel. The Beer Nut shares this interest and tries to discover different countries and nationalities through the beer that they produce. As a beer drinker, I find it quite intriguing exploring just how different beer can be depending on where it hails from. 

Tom Cizauskas of Yours for Good Fermentables likes to drink beer because when you get right down to it, beer is beer! He wraps up a very entertaining post by saying "I drink beer because I like how it tastes; I like how it makes me feel. Gustation and psychotropics. Pleasure. That, just that is why I drink beer. All else is froth." This is the kind of writing that makes me thirsty.

Byran D. Roth of This Is Why I'm Drunk takes home the "award" for being my personal favorite entry to this month's Session. His post, titled "Why I'm Afraid to Drink", bravely explores the concerns he faces with a hobby such as beer, knowing firsthand the troubles that can arise when alcohol becomes more than just a familiar acquaintance. It was the perfect counterbalance to serve as a reminder that while beer can open many doors to contentedness, there are times when it can reek havoc on lives.

Another entry reminding us not to put beer on too high of a pedestal was that of Alan McLeod, owner of A Good Beer Blog. In his words "Beer? It's a condiment. And you don't put mustard on your breakfast bowl of cereal. It doesn't make your life better anymore than sugar snap peas do. Then again...sugar snap peas are mighty fine." While I appreciate the sentiment, I believe that beer and it's moderate use go together much better than Mustard and Cereal. I think salt might have been a more appropriate comparison in that salt improves the taste of almost anything it touches, but add too much day after day and risk your blood pressure rising and your heart exploding.

Variety was the reason Tom Aguero of Queen City Drinks reaches for a beer. It doesn't matter if it's a 100 degrees outside or 0, there are beers that are suited for either occasion. And it doesn't matter what kind of palate or mood you're in, there is a beer out there to satiate your need. Smokey, roasty, fruity, tart, the flavors in beer are many and it's the abundance of choice that keeps Tom happy in beer. 

The Beer Ferret echoed similar sentiments, but it was the brewers artistry in providing so many flavors that leaves him impressed with beer time after time. As an undeniably mediocre homebrewer, I can't tell you how impressive it is seeing brewers take a few simple ingredients and turn them into something previously unimaginable. 

Reuben Gray of the magnificently named blog The Tale of Ale drinks beer but not to get drunk. Yes, he likes the way beer can lift the spirit, but it's the shared sense of community and togetherness he's looking for. I second that notion. Some of the best conversations and laughs I've had recently have been a direct result from sitting next to a stranger with a beer and sharing a good time. 

At Ramblings of a Beer Runner, Derrick Peterman finds himself running to beer for the buzz. Variety, friendship, and adventure all play a role in his fascination with beer, but it's the buzz so many of us enjoy that really attracts him. Could he make do without beer? Sure, but he'd have to change the name of his website to Ramblings of a Wine Runner and that sounds like a lot of work.

Ed at The Dogs of Beer wrote the entry that made me laugh the hardest. He doesn't really know what compels him to drink beer, but he does go on to list quite a few "beliefs" as to why beer is his drink of choice. My personal favorite reason Ed thinks beer is the drink for him? "I believe that finding out that the girl you just started dating is perfectly OK with just going out for wings and a pitcher of V-8 just does not scream "potential soul mate" enough". Ed, truer words were never spoken!

The details in and around a good beer give Sean Inman of Beer Search Party his satisfaction. "I like the tangential things like gathering at a bar or brewery. I like talking about beer issues or discussing the merits or demerits of a particular beer bust mostly, I enjoy the taste." Yep, that sounds like a beer blogger alright. If you're not having fun with the details, I can't imagine beer blogging being much fun.

Alan McCormick at Growler Fills questions the premise I set forward that beer improves our lives. He states "I'm not going to presume beer improves your life. Of course we have great fun gathering at our local breweries and swapping stories with friends over a couple of pints. It's easy to conjure up a plethora of examples of how beer is integrated into the enjoyable times of our lives. But is that the same as saying beer improves our lives?" And to answer Alan, I'd have to say it depends. If beer opened the door that allowed you to come upon enjoyable times, then yes, it was the beer that improved your life. But, admittedly, there are times where beer isn't the catalyst of our fun and it takes on more of a supporting role (if it plays any role at all). And that's something very important to note. If you are using beer as the means to improve your life, you're probably doing it wrong. There needs to be a balance and thanks to Alan for pointing that out.>

Tom Bedell has experience answering the question "why do you drink" and relays a funny story of his granddaughter grilling him about beer in the past and him turning the tables on her years later. For Tom, he drinks beer because there is so much of beer to love. He finds joy in the taste, variety, and history. And sometimes the joy of another beer is the fact that there's another beer to be had. I think that's one of the great things about beer. There are times when beer takes on bigger meaning and seems to find a connection to all sorts of things. And yet, there are times when it's just something familiar to keep you company.

Steve Pasko of Garde My Biere switched things up on us and kept his response brief with a little joke. Why does Steve drink? Because he's not an athlete or Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Champion and he wants a trophy, dammit!

Over at The Beer Site Joe Abernathy drinks beer for pleasure. But it's not the pleasure of the buzz he's after. As Joe put it "there are far more efficient liquors than beer available for that - but the same kind of pleasure one gets from, say, eating gourmet meals. Why do you eat good food, when ordinarily, unremarkable canned foods will offer you the same nourishment? You do it for the experience and the pleasure of enjoying something that elevates the senses; you do it to enhance your understanding of what beer can be." As a beer drinker, I think we all look forward to those sips of beer that make you say wow and see beer in a way you never have before. A great reason to drink beer, indeed.

Heather Vandenengel, owner and operator Beer Hobo drinks beer because it makes quite the friend. It doesn't matter what she has going on, beer is always agreeable. A post beer run, a beer to read with, a beer with friends, a beer to dissect...they're all great reasons for a beer and the beer is always happy to be there with Heather.

Oliver Gray at Literature and Libations takes us through one of those nights we've all been through with strangers, friends and acquaintances. The kind of night that starts off slow, full of meaningless banter and awkward silences, and you wondering when it will all be over. But then the beer comes out, inhibitions go down, and memories are made. As Oliver says, he's the chicken trying to see what's on the other side. 

Last but certainly not least, Boak and Bailey drink beer because they're British and it's part of the culture. Good times with friends, family, and a pint are how they get down. But what about beer invokes the urge to write about it? Well, it awakens the senses in a way that no other drink quite can. For them, beer is just plain interesting. Who can argue with that?

And that brings us to the end. If I missed  anyone's contributions, I apologize. Please shoot me an e-mail or tweet me and I'll be sure to add you in. I've spend the past half week in a cold haze so it wouldn't be a surprise to me if I've left something off. Again, thank you to every single one of you that participated. You made it a ton of fun. I enjoyed all of your answers and it was nice to be reminded that while beer is awesome it's important not to put it on too high of a pedestal.

Cheers to The Session and all its participants!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Experimenting with Beer Freshness

Over the last few years I've noticed more and more drinkers only wanting to drink the freshest beer possible.  If a beer doesn't have a bottled on date, there is a good chance these connoisseurs of freshness will pass on the dateless beer and go with something else they wouldn't typically prefer, simply because they want freshness guaranteed. Then there was me. I was always aware that hops can break down and lose their potency over time, but I had serious doubts that I needed to go out of my way to check the dates on my 6-pack. We’re talking about excellent beers made by reputable breweries so why shouldn't I trust that their beer would still be top quality as little as 3 months later?

With that question in mind, I set out to Heavy Seas Brewery with Deana and Oliver Gray of Literature & Libation (check out his reaction to our experiment here) to see if we could determine a difference between fresh beer and a beer nearing the end of its “best by” window. The new beer was Heavy Seas Loose Canon, kegged on February 17th and sampled 5 days later on February 22nd. The older bottle of Loose Canon was purchased on November 12th, 2013 and stored in my basement until the February 22nd tasting. The idea was simple. We’d look at each beer, sniff ‘em, and then taste the beers noting any differences. Oliver and I were to act as the experienced drinker and Deana represented the casual drinker in our attempt to discern if it took an experienced palate to pull out differences between the old and new beer.

Long story short, it was painfully obvious that freshness matters.  The bottled beer seemed to take on a sweeter malty profile in both aroma and flavor. The hops were there, but as Deana put it, everything about the bottled Loose Canon seemed to be muddled.  Good,yes, but muddled.  The fresh beer, on the other hand, was where it was at. It wouldn't matter if it was the first beer you've ever had or your 1 millionth, the difference was staggering. The aroma of the new beer evoked smells I've experienced as a homebrewer opening up a brand new package of hops. For those of you who have never ever homebrewed, there is an earthiness about hops that seemed to be lost over time with the old beer. Where taste is concerned, the fresh hops in the newer beer also improved the overall drinking experience. The earthiness I referenced in regards to hop aroma also helped enhance the flavor. Instead of a beer with muddled flavor, you had a drink with distinct malt and hop presence. Even the mouthfeel of the fresh beer was different as you could notice the hops prickling your taste buds with each sip.

This experiment has changed the way I’ll drink hoppy beers from here on out. It’s not that the older beer was bad. It’s just that the newer beer tasted so much more alive. The fresh earthy features the hops provided the newer Loose Canon made for an incredibly inviting drink. Brewers go to incredible lengths creating recipes that showoff all that hops have to offer and it’s on us as consumers to make sure we’re buying the beer when it’s at its peak. I don't think I'll ever buy a beer, especially an IPA, without checking dates again. From here on out, when I'm shopping for beer my rules for buying beer are simple. Buy fresh beer. Buy local beer. Drink Happy.