Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Six-Pack Project: Maryland Beer

We're bringing together writers from all over the country to highlight a six-pack of our home’s native brews that best represent what our beer culture has to offer. If someone is coming to visit, what bottles or cans would we want to share? Here are the rules:

  • Pick a six-pack of beers that best represents your state and/or state’s beer culture.
  • Beer must be made in your state, but “gypsy” brewers are acceptable, so long as that beer is brewed with an in-state brewery and sold in your state.
  • Any size bottle or can is acceptable to include.
  • Current seasonal offerings are fine, but try to keep selections to year-round brews as much as possible. No out-of-season brews preferred. 

When Bryan from This Is Why I'm Drunk contacted me to ask if I was interested in participating in The Six-Pack Project as a Maryland representative I was happy to jump at the opportunity. I love Maryland Beer and the idea of giving out-of-towner's some beer advice is my kind of fun. Of course, I'm not the only person in Maryland with a blog and an interest in local beer. So, Bryan got creative and came up with the idea of a Maryland Craft Beer Fantasy Draft between myself and Oliver from Literature and Libation. A coin flip determined who made the first pick and then we snaked (the last pick of the previous round makes the first pick in the next round) our way through until we both had a full Six-Pack of Maryland Beer. Here is how the draft played out (my picks are underlined):

Round 1: 
Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber
Heavy Seas Loose Canon

Round 2:
Union Craft Brewing
DuClaw Bareass Blonde

Round 3: 
Evolution Lot #3
DuClaw Mysterium

Round 4:
Brewers Art Resurrection
Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning Uber Pils

Round 5:
Pub Dog Hoppy Dog Ale
Red Brick Station Something Red

Round 6:
Heavy Seas Great'er Pumpkin Ale
Baying Hound Lord Wimsey Mild

Let's go to the Coaches Corner where I discuss what was going through my mind when I was making these picks and give you a little background on each of the players.

Heavy Seas Loose Canon - As I said when made this pick I don't necessarily think that this is the best beer in Maryland, nor is it my favorite,but when I'm making a first round pick I'm looking for someone who is consistently going to show up each and every week. And if Loose Canon does anything it shows up. I don't have any empirical data to back this up, but in my opinion Loose Canon is easily the most readily available Maryland beer in my neck of the woods. It's on almost everyone's tap list throughout Baltimore and if you walk into a distributor that isn't carrying Loose Canon you probably shouldn't be in that store to begin with.

Loose Canon is an IPA that is Orange/Amber in color. The head is average and diminishes quickly. On the nose you're hit with floral aroma, a little pine, citrus and lemon. Sweet and malty in the initial taste, the hops gain strength through the finish and you experience all the same floral, pine, citrus notes that were present in the aroma. Best of all, the bitterness doesn't linger which makes Loose Canon highly drinkable.

Union Craft Brewing Duckpin Pale Ale - I followed up my first round pick with another IPA. Normally, I  don't like to hit the same position in back to back picks, but I had to make an exception here. In addition to putting out an all around delicious beer, Union goes out of there way to insert themselves into the local community. They host food trucks at their brewery and are currently doing an outdoor movie event each weekend. If you're visiting Baltimore for a weekend, there's a good chance Union is up to something fun. They just started canning their beer a few months ago, but if you get the chance to visit them at the brewery don't pass it up.

Duckpin pours a medium amber color. If I had to describe the beer in one sentence I'd say it's a straight forward, well balanced pale ale. It's nothing fancy, but it's always one of the freshest tasting beers around. The nose is a little piney with hints of grape fruit and orange and it tastes of the same. Duckpin isn't astringent. It's not too dry. It's just very drinkable. This beer displays the perfect amount of hops. Plenty to let you know they are there, but they never wear you out and make it easy to go back for more than one.

DuClaw Mysterium - Before I even made one pick I knew I had to have DuClaw represented somewhere in my 6. The only problem with making a DuClaw pick is deciding which one to take. Somewhere in the past year DuClaw has grown on me and you could easily make the argument that they are the best Maryland has to offer in the way of beer. Everything they make is solid and balanced perfectly. In the end, I decided to go with their Belgian Spiced Ale, Mysterium. Not only is it a beer I enjoy, but it's my girlfriend's favorite.

Normally, when I read "spiced" in a beer description I pass, but as I mentioned earlier DuClaw does a fantastic job of balancing things out.  The restraint they show with the spice, both aromatically and in the flavor is a thing of beauty. None of the spices jump out and say "Hey, you taste that? It's me, Scary Spice...your favorite Spice Girl". But just like the Spice Girls came together as five (?) different girls to perform as one solid unit of pop music perfection, so to do individual flavors in Mysterium. Most surprising, you can still taste an earthy malt backbone which is almost unheard with other spiced beers.

The Brewers Art Resurrection - This is one of those beers that you love but always find yourself over looking. Maybe it's the places I visit, but Resurrection isn't as available as some of the other beers in this list and that's a shame. It's a damn good beer and definitely deserves it's place in your Maryland Six-Pack.

Resurrection pours a sexy dark Amber color with ruby hues floating throughout.  Aromatically, there are hints of dark fruit, plums, bubblegum, and clove leaving no doubt that you're about to partake in a Belgian Abbey Brown Ale. It tastes of cherries, dark fruits, with a touch of clove and caramel on the finish.

Redbrick Station Something Red - After Oliver went with a local (to him) pick in Pub Dog, I decided to follow suit. Red Brick Station is within 10 minutes of my house and within walking distance of my place of employment. They specialize in English Style session beers and Something Red is definitely that.

Something Red pours a beautiful copper like an Irish Red should. The malt backbone here is perfectly earthy. The hops are there as necessary and it finishes a touch sweet.  Something Red is the ultimate session beer. Being that Redbrick is so close to where I work, it's a great place to meetup with my lady after work and blow of some steam. Something Red is the perfect beer to numb the day but never interrupt my train of thought when it's time to whine and moan.

Heavy Seas The Great'er Pumpkin - Now, I kind of broke the rules with this pick because it's seasonal, but I did so for good reason. This is the beer that got me all twitterpatted about craft beer a few years ago. Most likely, they'll be releasing this around the end of August so be on the lookout if you're here around that time of year.

The Great'er Pumpkin is an Imperial Pumpkin Ale aged on Bourbon Barrels. It's also the best and most complex pumpkin beer in the history of pumpkin beer. Even in a world full of pumpkin beer on top of pumpkin beer this one never disappoints. And it ages well to boot. You've got pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, oak, bourbon, great pumpkin flavor, and this awesome alcohol burn that warms you to your bones. The first time I ever tried this beer it floored me and sent me right back to the store to pick up even more. Needless to say, this is a beer you need to get your hands on if you can.

Overall, I really like the Six-Pack I put together. I've got a few IPA's, a few Belgian's, a Session Beer, and my favorite beer of all time. If I were leaving Maryland, not to return for a considerable amount of time, and this was the Six-Pack I left with to remember this great state by I'd be pretty happy. Does my fantasy Six-Pack have enough star power to take out Oliver and his squad? Maybe. Maybe not. What I do know is that any traveler looking for good beer in Maryland is in for one hell of a tasty trip.

Other State/Area Six-Packs:

Maryland - by Literature and Libation
Chicago - by Hop Brained
New York - by Once Upon a Stein
Ohio - by Queen City Drinks
Kentucky - by Hoperatives
California - by The Beginners Brew

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Casa Mia's

It shouldn't have taken this long. It shouldn't have taken me damn near 7 years of working within a quarter mile of this place to find out about Casa Mia's . Shame. On. Me.

Always on the lunch hunt, I went to a co-worker desperate for a new idea and he mentioned that Casa Mia's made good club sandwiches and cheese steaks. Sounded good to me, so I drove over and hoped for the best. And the best is just what I received.

Knowing I was going to order a cheese steak, I decided I needed to make an attempt at balance by ordering a salad. They offered their house dressing and I accepted. I assumed it would be the typical vinaigrette, but instead I sat down with a creamy dressing that offered hints of dill and lemon. Surprised by the fact that I enjoyed a mayo based dressing so much, I was happy to bring Deana back with me for dinner a few days later to try it out for herself. And boom, just like that Casa Mia's had two new fans.

 photo 82DF240D-5852-43F1-868D-64D63AC2E990-5931-000002F31FB34E06_zps149d06a2.jpg

But that's enough about lettuce. Unless you're a rabbit reading this , I'm sure you want to know about the cheese steak you're staring down in the picture above. To sum it up, it's damn good. The roll is fantastic. It's got a slightly crusty outside and soft inside that is perfect for a cheese steak. Strong enough to keep everything from sogging through, but soft enough that you aren't tugging at the bread like an animal. I chose provolone, mayo, onions,peppers and hots to go with the boatload of juicy steak they pile inside. The caramelized onions are what makes this sandwich. With all of the salty cheese and meat, the little bit of sweetness you get from the onions rounds everything out in the perfect way.

Once again, I found a gem right under my nose. I went in to Casa Mia's looking for a good lunch, but left with a new staple in my local dining rotation. Lunch, dinner, it doesn't matter what time of day it is, Casa Mia's is a great option to get tasty food without a long wait.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Great place for a sub
What to Order:  Cheese Steak.

Casa Mia's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Portside Pub

I have to admit that writing a food blog can get a bit redundant. There are times when you are going through the motions because you're talking about a restaurant that wasn't anything special. It wasn't bad. It wasn't great. It just was and it's those middle of the road visits that are harder than others to write about. But then there are visits to restaurants like the Portside Pub in Essex that remind me why I started a blog to begin with.

Recently, a reader of my blog and daughter of a local restaurant/pub owner asked me if I'd like to visit her dad's establishment. Always happy to try something new, I said yes, which turned out to be the best decision I've made in recent memory.

Upon entering we were greeted by owner Joe Bressi and his wife. They were some of the friendliest folks I've ever come across and were happy to make suggestions about which menu items we should try. I decided to go with Joe's Italian Hoagie and Deana ordered a cup of cream of crab soup and a cheeseburger.

Deana really enjoyed the cream of crab. Creamy and topped with a ton of crab Deana was very impressed with freshness of the crab. She commented a few times that the crab tasted fresh "like someone was in the back breaking down the crab" minutes before they served it. Visually, the soup had me wishing my taste buds got along better with crab because it REALLY  looked good. But you, native Marylander, with the taste of crab ingrained in your blood will be one happy customer when you sit down with this delicious soup. 

The burger was every bit as tasty. We learned that every burger is made to order with meat purchased from a local butcher. That attention to detail makes all the difference as you can really taste the freshness in this 1/2 lb meat monster. The burger was juicy and had really good char flavor. Topped with fresh condiments and housed on a really tasty roll this burger can hold its own.

And then there was Joe's Italian Hoagie. Look at that thing. Seriously, look at it. Actually, gawk at it, because that's what I did for a solid minute before I built up the confidence to attack this thing. Have you ever seen anything like that before? I sure as hell haven't. I'm always complaining to Deana that there aren't enough good Italian Hoagies around here so you can imagine how happy I was when I finally sunk my teeth into this behemoth. Everything about this hoagie is good. Not only do you get 45 lbs of meat, but the quality of meat is top notch. It's dressed with a little lettuce, a simple vinaigrette, and sweet red peppers which help cut through all the salty meat.  Oh, and the roll it resides in is quality as well.

I implore you to visit the Portside Pub. It's not the easiest place to find as it's off on a little side street. And you're not going to be blown away by some ultra trendy nouveau chique decor. But what you are going to get is awesome food at a price that is beyond reasonable and served to you by some of the nicest people around and who truly care if you leave satisfied and happy.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: If you pass this place up consider yourself an L7 wienie
What to Order: Cream of Crab soup and Joe's Italian Hoagie

  Portside Pub on Urbanspoon
Portside Pub on Foodio54

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Gordon Biersch

The second I heard a Gordon Biersch was opening downtown I was pretty pumped up. As far as I'm concerned, if every restaurant were a brewpub I'd be a happy man. And knowing that Gordon Biersch specializes in traditional German beer...well, that definitely didn't quell my excitement either.

Speaking of German beer, these guys do it right. I ordered the fleet to get a feel for everything they offered and left very impressed. Most of their beers, like the Marzen and Schwarzbier are lagers, but my favorite of their staple beers is the hefeweizen. This doesn't surprise me as I've been a hefe fan from my early days but theirs really stands out. The banana flavor, typical in hefeweizens, really comes through and makes for an extremely refreshing beer.

I had the lucky fortune of being invited by Gordon Biersch to try their Summerbrau (a Kolsch style beer) on a separate visit and I was very impressed with that beer as well. As their brewer Chris Cashell explained to me, Kolsch style beers are meant to be gulped down in the summer. Thankfully, the relatively low ABV and straight forward flavor profile make that possible. Summerbrau pours a gorgeous clear yellow and smells tart and lemony with a grainy malt aroma blanketing it all. Everything that comes through in the aromatics plays into the taste as well and combines for the perfect beer. In fact, it was so good I decided to bring a growler home with me.

But, don't let me get carried away. Gordon Biersch is about more than just the beer. They also serve up some delicious food. What you see pictured above is a plate of perfectly cooked Steak Frites. I asked for my steak to be cooked medium rare and that's just what I got. The meat was juicy and tender and I was surprised to find myself enjoying the steak sauce they swirled about. Normally, I'm not a steak sauce kind of guy but it worked really well here. The frites were also done well, althought, I did find them to be a bit salty. However, you're going to have a delicious beer sitting right there to wash it all down so the extra salt isn't as big of a deal as it might have been at another time.

Deana was the lucky winner of the brewhouse chicken. When we were doing our "what are you gonna have" conversation prior to ordering we both had this meal in mind. Ever the gentleman, I decided that she should order the chicken and so she did. The chicken was grilled and smoothered in a gravy they make using their Marzen beer. Deana found her meal to be tender and we both really liked the gravy even though we found the main flavor to be garlic and less Marzen. It should also be noted that the squash and zucchini served on the side were actually prepared well and weren't thrown on as an afterthought like I see done far too often.

For dessert....yes, we still found room....we ordered bread pudding. Man, it was the good stuff. The bread was hot, thick, moist, and gooey. I always make fun of the chefs on Chopped who cook bread pudding in the dessert round, but if I were a judge you'd never hear me complaining. Gooey bread, pecans, caramel sauce, and melting vanilla ice cream are a few of my favorite flavors and when put all together like this you've got a desert for the gods.

If you haven't made your way to Gordon Biersch yet, be sure to put it on your to do list. The food is delicious, the beer is great, and they have some great outdoor seating for this time of year. And if the Summerbrau sounds like it's up your alley, better get up there sooner than later as it's only offered seasonally.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Like Beer? Like Food? Then you should visit.
What to Order: Steak Frites, Bread Pudding, and a hefe.

  Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Session #76: Examining Our Compulsion.

It's time for  Session #76 hosted by Glen Humphries who blogs at Beer is Your Friend. This month's topic is Compulsion and how it affects our life with beer. Or as Glen states down below
Like most beer fans, I tend to buy way more beer than I can drink. I can have a fridge full, plus a few boxes of bottles, plus homebrew and still I’ll walk into a shop and buy some more. Or order some more online. Or do both in the space of a few days. Why do we do stuff like this?
When this month's Session was announced, it came at about the same time I decided to make some changes in the way I go about purchasing beer. In the past I've had up to three 5 gallon batches of homebrew bottled in the basement and a table full of craft brew I had acquired over the months. Some of those bottles I purchased myself and others were given to me as a gift. Either way, I had a lot of beer in my basement. Upstairs in the fridge I almost always had half of one shelf entirely dedicated to beer and many times that still wasn't enough for me. I'd pick up a 6 pack of something on a Friday or Saturday night and drink it over the weekend despite having a hundred different options already on site.

I was content to go on like that, just having a basement full of beer and adding to it whenever the spirit compelled me. However, I want to kick my homebrew game up to the next level and perfect my craft. The only way to do that is to brew more often. That creates a problem because I end up with a basement full of homebrew that is rather hard to drink through. I can give some away but there still ends up being a backlog of beers to drink and that's made even harder to deal with when I'm also spending beer drinking time on commercial stuff.

I was forced to make a decision. In order to to ensure that I can brew more often I had to make sure I was drinking through my batches in a proper amount of time. The only way I was going to be able to do that was to cut out the compulsory buys I had such a good time participating in during the past. I didn't want to give up buying commercial craft beer for my house altogether, so I decided that I would only purchase beers made in Maryland, Pennsylvania, DC, and Delaware. This way I was allowing myself some variation at home, but by keeping it local I significantly shortened the pot in which I was picking from. And when I was out and about the town I was free to drink any beer I wanted from anywhere in the world. Overall, it seemed like a fair trade off to me and I'm proud to say that I haven't added to my stockpile since my decision was made.

With all that said, to answer the original question why do I keep buying beer despite having a ton of beers in house, my answer is rather simple. Options. I might already have 50 different bottles to choose from but on any given night none of them might strike me as "the beer" I want to sit down with. If I add one more to the pile I'm that much more likely to be sitting down with the perfect beer on that specific night and for me that's what it's all about.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Cafe Euro

As you're all well aware, I've been on a never ending quest to find quality lunchtime spots. Thanks to a nice Groupon deal that Deana purchased we found this little Cafe tucked away in Parkville.

Cafe Euro is the perfect place to find yourself when it's been "one of those days" at the office. Inside, it feels very intimate with a few small tables and I really enjoyed the ambient electronic music they had playing. Do they live up to the title Cafe Euro? I can honestly say that it reminded me of some of the small cafes Deana and I visited on our way to and from train stops on our trip across the pond last fall and I really appreciated that.

On the day of our visit I kept it simple with a Ham and Cheese Panini and a cup of Black Bean Soup. The owner takes your order and makes your order. You have to wait a little longer, but I didn't mind. I'd rather wait 5 extra minutes for a sandwich made fresh than to have something put together knowing that the meat and cheese were sitting out in a bucket for the last hour. I'm not going to embellish and pretend that the sandwich and soup were life changing. Afterall, I had a ham and cheese sandwich and black bean soup and neither of them are very complex dishes. But with that said, they were tasty and would be able to satisfy any lunchtime visitor. 

But as good as lunch was and as relaxed as we were in the cafe what sold Deana and I on Cafe Euro was their selection of unique coffee. We ended up with a bag of apple cinnamon coffee that they freshly ground for us. It was great to wake up on weekends during the fall and start our day off with a freshly brewed cup of this stuff. I'd say it's about time I find myself back there for a little lunch and a new bag of delicious coffee. And if you're a fan of relaxing environments, good food, and great coffee you should find yourself there as well.

Price: Cheap
Recommendation: A must visit for a relaxing time and good coffee
What to Order: Ham & Cheese Panini and Coffee.

Cafe Euro on Urbanspoon
Cafe Euro on Foodio54

BBB Beer of the Week: Goose Island Sofie (2013)

It's been awhile since I've done a Beer of the Week so I wanted to make sure I stepped back in with a beer I was going to truly enjoy. I headed down to the cellar (it's a cellar when I store a beer, a basement for everything else) to peruse my options when I came across Goose Island Sofie. I didn't previously know very much about Miss Sofie, but after an extended conversation with her I think I'm ready to take our relationship to the next level. 

Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
IBU: 20

Appearance: The hazy straw color of Sofie seems very apt given that it's a Farmhouse Ale. Visually, you can't help but be reminded of the ingredients that came in off the farm or the people who made (and whom it was made for traditionally) this beer possible. Sofie is very effervescent with about a fingers worth of light bubbly head. I spotted quite a few yeasty floaters near the bottom of my glass, but as a homebrewer that type of stuff doesn't bother me at all.

Aroma: The aroma on this one was quite enticing. Initially you are hit with a tart presence that seems to permeate over everything but touches of lemon and a little bit of funky yeast can be found throughout. On the back end I found small hints of banana to round Sofie out.

Taste: You can definitely tell this is a Belgian style beer right away as the bubblegum yeast flavor makes it's presence known. I really enjoyed the mouth fell on this once as it was slightly tart, crisp and effervescent up front but quickly transitioned into a sweet and smooth finish.  Sofie was most unique in the way the flavors are layered. Typically, my experience with a beer's flavor profile seems to develop one feature after another. For example, you might notice the carbonation, followed by a floral hop hit, then by sweet malt, and finally ending up with a dry finish. With Sofie everything seemed to be going on at once. You might wonder if it was a muddled mess of flavors, but it was quite the opposite. I was able to pick up on the bubblegum and peppery notes in one area of my tongue, while simultaneously getting the tart, juicy, fruit flavor in another area. The layered flavor profile really made Sofie a fun beer to sip on.

Final Verdict: I would LOVE to find this beer magically appearing in my fridge once a day throughout the entire summer. This Goose Island Farmhouse Ale is super refreshing and works great as a summer time beer. If you've never had a night on the town with Sofie, be sure to hit her up. She's a good time and a girl you won't soon forget.