Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Weekend Beerventures from Baltimore: Burley Oak and Evolution Craft Brewing Co.

Welcome to what I'm hoping will be come a pretty regular blog feature called Weekend Beerventures from Baltimore. The idea is simple. It's the weekend and you're looking for good beer within 2 hours (3 max) of Baltimore. It could be a bar, brewery, brewpub, or distributor. If I make it to one of these destinations, I'll take some pictures and let you know if I had good time or not. Sometimes, I might try to set something up so it's more of an "official" blog visit. And sometimes,  as was the case on this visit, I might just visit with no agenda other than to taste some good beer.

This particular Beerventure was a winter weekend trip to Ocean City. I wasn't sure how many breweries I would be able to drag Deana to but I was pretty determined to make it to Burley Oak. I've heard nothing but good things about them and being that I've only sampled 2 or 3 of their beers prior to our visit I was pretty excited to get a better idea about what they had to offer. And I found out, they have a lot to offer. 

When we first arrived it was looking pretty dead. I was a little worried the snow was going to keep people in their house, but within an hour the place was full of thirsty visitors looking to get Burley. I wish I would have taken a photo of their tasting room, because it was a really cool place to hangout. It was the perfect kind of size where it's big enough that people aren't breathing down your neck, but small enough that you can feel the energy of the crowd. The bartenders were friendly, taking their time going over the different options and were right there to get you something else as soon as they noticed you were nearing the end of your pint or sampler. 

I didn't take very good tasting notes as I attempted to be a good fiance and actually talk with Deana as opposed to diligently going over each beer making sure I missed nothing. However, thanks to Untappd I can confirm that I tried their Just The Tip Kolsch, a Brown Ale called 'Merica, a Berliner known as Sour Trip, their take on a homemade Root Beer, and my favorite of the day a Flanders (not sure, but they labeled it a Sour) called Tart Attack. Oh yeah, and Deana had a SuperFun Stout on Nitro, Assawoman Amber, and a Red Ale called Rude Boy that I got to try as well. The standouts for me were Sour Trip and Tart Attack. Sour trip was the perfect amount of sour, but it still had a very earthy wheat backbone that I thought provided some balance. And Tart Attack was just delicious if you're a fan of sour cherries. There might have been snow on the ground that day, but Tart Attack had me ready for Spring. Deana was also a big fan of Tart Attack, but the SuperFun Stout on Nitro seemed to be a hit with her as well. Fans of beer with silky mouthfeel need to find this oatmeal stout when it's getting the Nitro treatment. Unreal.

At some point during all the beer tasting Brewer Bryan stopped by and casually asked if anyone was interested in a brew tour. Of course we were game and  headed into the back of the building to see what was going on. He went through the basics you hear in just about every tour, but I found it particular interesting that he started malting his own barley. A farmer in Snow Hill provides the barley, Bryan malts it, and you might have been drinking it recently if you had the chance to try Loakal Pale Ale in the past week or two. Unfortunately, I was a week early and missed out but I look forward to trying out their house malted beers as they expand their efforts into the future. If drinking local is your thing, you really can't ask for much more than that. 

Especially noticeable on our visit to Burley Oak was how involved Brewer Bryan was with everything. He was running the tours, filling pints, running the cash register, and thanking everyone for their business with a smile on his face that let you know he really loved what he was doing. It was a really good time and I'm looking forward to my next trip to Berlin. 

But that wasn't the end of good beer on this trip. I thought Burley Oak was going to be the extent of the Beerventure, but on the way out of town Deana gave the thumbs up for a quick visit to Evolution. Evo is about 30 minutes outside of OC in Salisbury and they boast one of the cooler brewery setups I've visited with a restaurant and tap room sandwiching a pretty decent sized brewery area. Unfortunately, we ate lunch before deciding we'd make our visit, but the restaurant was smelling fantastic. The next time I'm in the area I definitely want to make sure I save time and room for some food in the Public House.

However, we did have time for a few beers before we headed back to Baltimore. Since I've had Lot 3 and 6 plenty of times, I decided to pass on them and sample Rise Up Stout, their spring seasonal Sprung, and Incubator 3 and 4 (Saison and Oyster Stout). Deana choose Winter Migration (Strong Ale), Exile ESB, and Lucky 7 (Porter). There wasn't a bad beer among them, but the favorites were Incubator 3 for me and Rise Up Stout for Deana. 

Our little tasting session at Evolution was also a reminder of how drinking a fresh beer can bit vital to understanding what a beer is really intended to be about. I specifically ordered Sprung because in the past when I've had it in bottles I thought it literally tasted of nothing. Given that Evo puts out consistently flavorful beer I always wondered what was up with Sprung, but having it fresh on tap at the brewery made all the difference. Sprung was still light on aroma, but there were subtle fruit components I never experienced before with hints of apple and white grape popping in and out. 

The tour there was okay (no fault of evo's). It was the same old stuff  but we did have the privilege of being momentarily locked in their malt room. Normally, I wouldn't worry but on Sunday when NOBODY was in the brewing area it had me wondering how long we'd be in there before someone noticed we were missing. Luckily, our tour guide got us out after a few minutes of playing around with the door, but if it took a little longer I think we'd have been okay considering we had a pitcher of Rise Up Stout with us to pass the time.

We didn't get to spend a ton of time at Evo, but the time we did spend was enjoyable. The beer was good and the people working there were super friendly which is just about all you can ask for on a visit to a brewery. If you end up taking my advice and visiting, be sure to leave enough time for food.

Overall, I'd say a trip to OC (especially during off season) is a great way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. It's a few hour drive, but you have two breweries within 30 minutes of each other putting out some really good beer. Start your day early at Burley Oak and then head back to Baltimore while taking a beer detour at Evo. Taste the beer, eat some food, enjoy the company of friendly strangers, and you've had one hell of a Weekend Beerventure from Baltimore. 

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