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.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Beer Review: Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale

Tomorrow, on 3-1-2 Day, Goose Island will be releasing 312 Urban Pale Ale nationally. I had the privilege of tasting it a few days early. I'll give my thoughts below, but first a little snippet from their press release.

312 Urban Pale Ale was inspired by the success and the brewing experience from Green Line Pale Ale -- a Chicago-only, draft-only beer that supports Goose Island’s environmental and sustainable initiative. 312 Urban Pale Ale is Goose Island’s first year-round, national offering within the popular Pale Ale craft beer segment.
As with its exceedingly accessible and award-winning 312 Urban Wheat Ale, 312 Urban Pale Ale was brewed for those looking to enjoy another great Goose Island beer with their active lifestyle.
The new 312 Urban Pale Ale is brewed with Amarillo, Mt. Hood and Nugget hops, and has a touch of sweetness from the caramel malt which makes this beer highly sessionable. 312 Urban Pale Ale also has a bright hop aroma and a crisp bitterness that treads lightly, yet noticeably, in international bittering units.
So, what did I think? 312 Urban Pale Ale wasn't bad at all. The beer poured a wonderfully clear golden color with about a fingers worth of head. Aromatically, things were kind of subtle. Grapefruit (surprise!) and orange came through, but while there was a noticeable hop presence I was having trouble nailing down any other specifics. There was a particular note I kept picking up that reminded me of something in a jar of salsa. There was the softest hint of onion and a little bit of an acidic tomato thing going on. Weird, I know, but I double checked with my beer sniffing Q&A team and they agreed those aromas were present for them as well. For what it's worth, I'm not pointing these out as flaws, just relaying my experience. It wasn't off putting in any way. It just was. If there was anything that disappointed me aromatically, it was the fact that the malt played next to no role in the aroma profile.

My initial reaction upon taking a sip was "Boy, I'm glad this Pale Ale is just that and not a mini-IPA". Everything seemed to be in balance. There was a bit of what I call "hop spice" up front. It's that spicy tongue tingling thing that hops sometimes do. The finish, on the other hand, was really smooth. 312 Urban Ale is the type of beer you can drink all night and never suffer palate fatigue and for that I give it high marks. As for specific flavors, orange stood out most prominently but there were other hard to distinguish fruit characteristics going on. Malt played a small role on the finish with a little caramel creeping through. The salsa thing I referred to above in the aromatics showed up a bit in the taste as well with just a little mild onion flavor peeking through. I didn't necessarily like that feature of the beer, but it wasn't ruining it for me either.

Overall, I'm intrigued enough to want to buy Goose Island 312 Urban Pale Ale and give it a second try sometime down the line, especially if I see it available on draft. With summer around the bend I can see this being a beer that goes down really easy the warmer the weather becomes. If you get your hands on one in the near future, stop back and let me know if your experience was similar to mine.

*Disclaimer. I asked Goose Island if they would send a bottle of their new beer 312 Urban Pale Ale for reviewing purposes.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Session #85 - Why Do You Drink?

What a trippy experience. After participating in so many Sessions over the past year plus, it's now my turn to host and I decided to ask everyone why they drink? At first I thought the topic might be a little too dumbed down, but when I tried to answer the question I realized it would be a lot more complex than I initially anticipated. If someone asked me why I drink Green Tea the answer would be short and to the point. I drink Green Tea because it's slightly tastier than water and the health benefits are many. But ask me why I like to drink beer and I'm not sure I could ever really give an answer I'll be fully satisfied with. But here we are, the question was asked, and so I'll do the best I can to explain why I drink.

I drink to connect.

I drink to connect with myself. From the time I wake up in the morning until the time I go to bed at night my brain is an electric highway of racing thoughts. One thought hasn't ended and another begins. As the day goes on and my brain is filled with endless post-it notes to come back to later, there comes a time when I'm ready to slow down. I don't want to think about what I did yesterday or what needs to be done tomorrow. I want to stop and say "Hey, Doug! You're alive right now. Isn't that cool?" I've tried meditation in the past to achieve these moments of connecting with myself, and while it was cool and definitely worked, meditation is hard as hell unless you're extremely dedicated. It's a lot easier for me to sit with a beer for thirty minutes than it is to find a quiet a room and sit still for the same amount of time. And besides, my back hurts a lot less in my la-z-boy than it does trying to sit up straight on the floor. One beer and thirty minutes is all I need to relax, remember how lucky I am that my heart's still ticking, and have the added bonus of some awesome flavor when I've picked a great beer.

I drink to connect with the past. Besides beer and writing, another hobby I love is listening to classical music. It's beautiful on its own, but what I find extremely interesting is thinking about how many lives have been touched by the sounds of someone like Mozart. People have been listening to his music for over 200 years . The fact that I can connect with people whose lives have long since ended is awesome. I might not know anything about someone who lived 200 years ago, but it's comforting to know that the emotions and problems they felt then are the same that I feel today. Similarly, I can find the same connection with people who are no longer with us when I drink beers like those from Weihenstephan. They've been around since 1040. Think about that, because that's crazy. I don't know if I'm drinking the same beer that someone had 1000 years ago but that doesn't even matter. When I'm drinking a beer and dealing with whatever troubles might be going on, it's comforting to look down at my beer and know that somewhere down the line, someone else was drinking a beer and dealing with something not all that different from myself.

I drink to connect with friends. I'm a shy guy and meeting new people has never been my forte. I'm usually calculating and quiet, but a shared interest in drinking good beer has allowed me to open up and meet a lot of great people. Just two weeks ago I was able to share a couple beers with four other local beer bloggers. I would have never met any of them had it not been for beer and I can honestly say that as good as the beer was that day, it wasn't nearly as satisfying as meeting a bunch of welcoming guys who just wanted to geek out about something and share a couple laughs. It was an awesome day and I only hope that drinking beer will allow relationships like this to grow and for more to spring up in the future.

There are an endless number of reasons to drink beer and I'm sure more than a few of them will be covered in other entries for this month's Session. As for me, I will always drink to connect. Beer reminds me that I'm alive.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Padonia Ale House

This review was written by Deana

Douglas and I love to visit places with both good food and a good draft selection.  One such place that we had been meaning to visit was Padonia Ale House. This past weekend we finally made it there for dinner.  I've heard a lot of good things about Padonia from people I work with and with over 40 beers on tap plus a large bottle selection we could definitely see why. They had a nice mix between local beers and everything else and enough variation in beer styles that anyone should be able to find something they like. 

For dinner, I was in the mood for something spicy and wings sounded perfect. I loved that you could order 5 wings instead of the typical order of 10 or 12. The small batch saved me from having to talk Douglas into sharing with me. I also really liked how the wings were "sauced". It seemed like the buffalo sauce was added into the batter rather than being applied afterwards making them a lot less messy than your average wing. Because the wings weren't drowned in buttery buffalo sauce the wings were able to stay crispy but still have a good buffalo sauce presence. I would definitely order these again.

Douglas had been here on his own a few months ago, and suggested the buffalo chicken cheesesteak but since I had already decided on wings, I went with the Pulled Pork sandwich.  The pulled pork was served on a pretzel roll, which happened to be a little too well toasted for me, but the thick, slightly salty bread did go well with the juicy sweet barbecue sauce and coleslaw on the sandwich. It wasn't my favorite pulled pork of all time, but it's not something I would necessarily shy away from in the future either. 

On this particular visit Douglas had chili and a meatball sub.  The chili had a bright tomato taste, and was covered in a nice layer of gooey melted cheese. This wasn't your typical cumin, chili powder, spice fest type of chili, but seemed to have a sweeter thing going on. Perhaps chili sauce was added in, but whatever it was made for a nice change up in a bowl of chili. 

His sub was a bit hit and miss. The meatballs  had a really good flavor and the sub roll was perfect with the crusty outside and soft chewy inside.  His only complaint was that it could have used a little more sauce. Douglas seemed to think it got a bit boring to eat after awhile and could have used a little sauce added on the meatballs to mix things up and provide a touch of moistness. With that said, this was one of the neater meatball sandwiches we've eaten and our stain free pants after dinner appreciated that

If you find yourself in the Towson or Timonium area and looking for a place with good food and lots of good beer to choose from give Padonia Ale House a try. Not everything on the menu is a perfect, but the Wings, Chili, and Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak Douglas tried on a previous trip are all winners.

Price: Average
Recommendation: Nice stop for a good beer and a straight forward meal
What to Order: Chili, Wings, Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak

Padonia Ale House on Urbanspoon