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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Drinksgiving 10: Day 3 - Gulp Fiction?

Saturday was probably our most ambitious day of the trip and, therefore, the drunkest. Allow me to provide the "Tarantino Effect" for this particular blog entry by starting at the end of the day. This is me at Back Bay Brewing, our last stop (you know, the place a few blocks from Kelly's apartment):

My typical drunk selfie.

Here's a random picture I snapped with my phone outside of Back Bay when we left. Please note that I have no recollection of taking the following picture:

I call this one "Spray-painted TV screen through inebriated eyes."

Kelly definitely seemed amused by my shenanigans, as illustrated by this photo:

Our DD with the DDs... actually triple Ds!

Aaah, the joys of having a designated driver for Drinksgiving. She loves me. Anyway, let's get back to the beginning of the day, shall we?

Things got off to a rocky start at our first stop, Bearded Bird. We arrived to find some sort of artisan market taking place, which was actually kind of cool. Most of the dozen or so vendors were still setting up their tables and displays, but we moseyed around for a bit and chatted with some of them. These friendly folks were peddling everything from hand-made jewelry to soap (Kelly purchased some of the latter). After a quick stroll around the perimeter of the tasting room, we decided to grab a few barstools and peruse the beer menu. While the chalkboard boasted about a dozen beers, we decided to share a sampler flight. As you will soon find out, I'm glad we did. Before we go any further, here's the low-down:
  • Sweet 16 - homebrew collaboration ale brewed with sweet potatoes
  • Ginga Ninja - honey ginger saison
  • Experiment X727 - "kind of sour" amber ale. Hmmmm... 
  • Neon IPA - American IPA (no details provided other than 5.6% ABV and 92 IBU)
Bearded Bird sighting at the bar.

Back in my early twenties when I worked at Boscov's, I had a friend named Dan who would always preface a negative comment about someone with, "Nice person, but..." I couldn't help but think of him and chuckle as I was forcing these beers down my gullet. The people were indeed friendly. The artisan market offered a nice connection to the local community. The beer? To be brutally honest, it was a chore to drink. To offer some constructive criticism: If you brew a beer and it's infected or clearly displays "off" flavors, don't release it to the public and try to pass it off as a "sour" beer. I feel this was the case with the Experiment X727 "kind of" sour amber ale. I know ingredients are expensive, especially for tiny mom and pop breweries, so dumping beer might not seem like the practical thing to do. Ten years ago, there weren't a dozen or more breweries all within a stone's throw of each other. Folks searching for good local beer now have the luxury of driving a few miles down the road (or in some towns, walking a few blocks down the street) to visit another brewery. This is your reputation. Don't put out something sub-par (or worse) just so you don't take a loss. Believe me, it will help you in the long run. There are breweries that I simply won't re-visit because I've been burned too many times. I used to employ the standard "three strikes and your out" rule of thumb. Nowadays, a brewery pretty much has one shot to impress me. Hell, a glimmer of promise is all that I require. And overall, I feel I'm fairly easy to please.

So I'll spare you all a critique of the beers here and just say they were "inadequate." Just thank your lucky stars that I'm writing this blog and not Brewslut. 'Nuff said, right? To put a positive spin on our visit, I kind of enjoyed the Sweet 16 sweet potato ale. Ironically, it wasn't an actual Bearded Bird beer, but rather a collaboration with a local homebrew club called Tocorzic Twin Screws Brewing. Other than a few listings on Untappd, I couldn't find any information about them at all on the interwebs. And with that, we were off to stop #2.

Outside Rip Rap Brewing Company.

Not much was happening at our next stop, Rip Rap Brewing Company. This was a typical "garage" situated in an industrial park setting. When we arrived, there were three guys who were glued to the popular sports program on TV. We snagged part of the long, wooden picnic table near the bar and plunked down our flight featuring the following offerings:
  • Marlin Spike - Berliner Weisse
  • Bilgewater - coffee stout
  • Weather Helm - IPA hopped with Cascade, Citra, and CTZ
  • Southern Cross - Belgian-style Quad
Overall, the beer was an improvement compared to Bearded Bird, but nothing was what I'd call "memorable" either. We stuck to our shared sampler flight and moved on, especially since all of the customers and staff were more interested in the game than beer chat. 

Pleeps is Rippin' and-a Rappin', sippin' and-a slappin'!

O'Connor was on my list as one of our Black Friday stops, but we changed things up a bit and did VA Beach on Friday. I'll admit I'd never heard of the brewery before, but once we arrived, I was fairly confident that we'd just landed at the biggest and perhaps longest-running brewery in the area.

Outside O'Connor Brewing Co.

I was glad to see O'Connor still had plenty of its Ibrik Imperial Turkish Stout available (leftover from its Black Friday release), as well as a few of the limited variations. This was also a stand-out of the trip, and I purchased a bottle of the bourbon barrel-aged variation to take home to share with Team D(r)INK.

We also were able to try the Ibrik variation with vanilla and coffee beans, which was quite heavy on the vanilla character. I believe there was a cacao version (which we didn't try) and a maple syrup version we would have loved to try but was sold out.

Rounding out our visit was a pair of tasty IPAs: That New New, a hazy NE-style IPA, and Muy Guapo, a DIPA version of El Guapo, which I'd just had the previous night. (Remember the piano bar? I sure do!)

Our winning streak continued at our next stop, Coelacanth Brewing. This place definitely reminded me of the various small breweries in San Diego. I immediately dug the vibe of this place, and I was intrigued by the name of the brewery. I quickly learned the correct pronunciation of the brewery's namesake: SEE'-la-canth. I'll spare you the lesson in Ichthyology and simply say that a coelacanth is basically a big ugly fish. Feel free to check out the Wiki entry. Intriguing name aside, I also appreciate the brewery's philosophy:

We're more than just another Brewery. We focus on creating unique takes on classic styles - crafting well-designed, balanced ales and authentic lagers. We don't make a bunch of hoppy beers. We don't make Pumpkin beer. We don't follow the crowd. We make our own path.

Outside Coelacanth Brewing

I started off with a sampler flight of the following four beers:
  • Passion Fruit Gose - tart ale brewed with passionfruit and Hawaiian sea salt
  • My Lady - tart Belgian ale with sour Montmorency cherries from Michigan
  • Caramel Apple Pie Porter - collaboration with Parkway Brewing using apples from Bold Rock Hard Cider
  • Kopimanis - cold-steeped coffee milk stout brewed with organic, direct trade Sumatran beans
While I enjoyed some more than others, there wasn't a dud in the bunch. The gose was super-tart and fruity; I enjoyed these beers enough to warrant a full pour of something else. Hmmm... a 10.5% barleywine, you say? I was thinking the same thing. Enter Gorgon. This bitch was as nuanced as the mythological labyrinth, an elaborate structure brought to fruition by Daedalus, the skilled craftsman and father of Icarus. (I use the term "bitch" because Medusa was a Gorgon, and who else was a bigger bitch than her? Well, maybe my sister-in-law.) OK, you might want to brush up on your Greek Mythology so you can follow along. In a nutshell, this beer was COMPLEX! To be quite honest, I'd never had a barleywine that tasted like Gorgon in all of my travels. Flavors and aromas of apple brandy, tobacco, earth, peat, butterscotch, and cocoa (just to name a few of the more prominent characteristics) came to life in this beer. Was it my favorite barleywine ever? Probably not. But was it the most complex? I could definitely pose the argument in favor of this statement. It was definitely a highlight of the trip. You know a beer is good when you can still remember how it smells after trying more than 100 beers over the course of four days. 

Happy Ffej at Coelacanth!

Next stop was Bold Mariner. I couldn't help but get "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Iron Maiden stuck in my head for a bit. Good thing it wasn't the entire song, which runs in excess of 13 minutes. After enjoying that pour of Gorgon at Coelacanth, I think I was just at the point where I needed some good music to accompany my moderate drunken state. What does that mean? Cue up the Rush, folks! I prefer playing Rush not only because they are my favorite band, but because you can really get your money's worth by playing side 1 of 2112 or Hemispheres AND piss off at least two or three hipsters or 22-year-old "Woo" girls in the process. It's also important to point out that this place liked wood, which is good. I like wood too. Wood is good. See?

Wood, Jerry... WOOD!

Speaking of wood, I was giddy to see a gin barrel-aged beer on the tap list! So much so that perhaps the sight of this gave me wood. This particular nugget was a blended whiskey and gin barrel-aged imperial coffee milk stout. That's a lot of ingredients, eh? Coincidentally, this one was named Whiskey/Gin Barrel Imperial Coffee Milk Stout. Clever, right? It was pretty tasty, but the gin presence was a bit too prominent and, as a result, the other flavors got kind of lost in the shuffle. But I'm always stoked when I see a gin-barrel aged beer on tap. I really think the botanical qualities of gin work well with specific hop varieties. The best gin-barrel aged beers I've had have all been IPAs. (That's something for all you brewers to put in your pipe and smoke. i.e. get a gin barrel!)

The other beer we tried, Shellback Coconut Stout, was a collaboration with Young Veterans Brewing, a brewery we'd be visiting later. Lots of breweries are making coconut stouts and porters (and even cream ales) these days, and this one fell somewhere in the middle of them. It was nice to try but didn't wow me as much as some others I've sampled in our travels.

Inside Bold Mariner Brewing. More wood.

Smartmouth Brewing Company, our next stop, was pi-dacked! Inside, the place had a modern German beer hall vibe with long, communal tables and a high ceiling. We found a few spaces at one of the tables near the back of the room. Up front, a solo musician playing an acoustic guitar was performing. He was quite enjoyable and played a nice version of "Eyes of the World" by the Grateful Dead, a song I regularly play in Think Tank. I found this to be tip-worthy and placed a few shekels in his tip jar. I also saw he was selling CDs of original material, which was cool. 

Enjoying the tunes and beer at Smartmouth.

For our beers, we opted for half pours rather than a sampler flight. After a pair of stouts at Bold Mariner, it was time to bask in the hoppy warmth of lupulin. I always prefer a hoppy exchange after drinking something malty, so I decided on a pour of 12 Days of Dry Hops, an IPA continuously dry-hopped for 12 days. That sounds like a lot of hops. An obscene amount of hops. Dare I say it, a ludicrous amount of hops. Well, bring it on, I say. Brewslut opted for Nonchalant Hoppy Peach Saison, which boasted equal parts citrusy hops, juicy peach and spicy, peppery yeast. Yup, there's nothing nonchalant about that combination. I decided Smartmouth was worthy of an additional libation, so I followed up a hoppy beer with an even hoppier beer, a DIPA called Notch 9 featuring citrus and pine notes. The beer takes its unusual name from the eight different notch positions on the throttle of a locomotive, each one delivering progressively more power. My palate must have been slightly out of commission after the 12 Days of Dry Hops, because I don't remember this being anything out of the ordinary. Still, I was impressed with Smartmouth, and they definitely had the best crowd of the day. (Of course, it was peak drinking hours by then... at least for most people. You know, not everybody starts drinking at 11:00 a.m. I love when places open before noon.)

We finished up our day at Back Bay. You may remember we'd previewed one of its beers on Thanksgiving evening when we first arrived to Kelly's for dinner. She was thoughtful enough to procure a 6-pack of Atlantic Ave. IPA, which both Brewslut and I enjoyed quite a bit. Of course, by the time we arrived at Back Bay, I was pretty schlitzed from a productive day of Pour Traveling. (Whoa, did I just invent a new gerund?)

Anyway, the atmosphere inside Back Bay was dark and crowded, yet somehow I felt like I was at the beach. It's hard to explain, especially with a 10-hour drinking haze wrapped around my noggin. Case in point, this picture:

My aim was a bit off, wouldn't you say?

I hadn't seen many if any smoked beers thus far on the trip, so I was immediately drawn to Toby's Dream Smoked Ale. This was a dark base beer (perhaps a Schwarzbier rather than a porter or stout, as it was a bit thinner) and the smoked malt was fairly restrained compared to more traditional rauchbiers I've encountered. Still, a smoked beer on tap means it goes into my gut.

Brewslut opted for the appropriately named Coconut Chocolate Stout. It's coconut, it's chocolate, it's delicious! We did enjoy it a bit more than the one we had earlier at Bold Mariner, but it still didn't moisten our underpants as some have done in the past.

Beer aside, I would be remiss if I didn't divulge a fun little tidbit that occurred during our visit to Back Bay. Two very attractive female servers were working the bar that evening, and I was surprised when neither of them charged me for our beers. I had thought that perhaps Kelly had picked out our tab covertly, but she vehemently denied this multiple times. I wasn't satisfied. I then came to the realization that maybe these sexy ladies thought I was just a hot piece of ass that deserved a few free rounds. Of course, that wasn't anywhere near the realm of possibility, so I remained quite perplexed. Ultimately, we came to the conclusion that we must have crashed some kind of private party Back Bay was having with an open bar. That seemed like the only plausible answer. But hey, FREE beer, right? I win! (Editor's note: My diary entry got the "hot piece of ass" story.) 

Back Bay's Bar. Sorry, no shots of the bartenders.
I ended the evening with a pour of Duck Call, because what better way to end a full day of drinking than with a DIPA? All the pros do it. This massive 100 IBU treat was concocted with Warrior and Equinox hops and did a fine job at putting the final nail in my palate's coffin. And with that, folks, it was time to stick a fork in me.

I think we got a pizza afterward, but it's pretty foggy from here on out. Pleeps definitely fared better than me, that's for sure. (If you need a reminder, simply scroll back to the top of this page.) Gulp Fiction or Gulp Non-Fiction... you be the judge. Stay tuned for the final two days of the trip, where - you guessed it - more drinking ensues. Until then...

This is Pleeps signing off!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Drinksgiving 10: Day 2 - The largest isogrammic number in the English language plus other hits!

We got off to a good start on Black Friday at our first stop, Wasserhund Brewing. It was here where I reached my benchmark 5000th unique beer check-in on Untappd. I knew it was going to happen on this trip, so I wasn't too concerned about saving a special beer for such a monumental occasion. I'd started using Untappd in November of 2012, so it took me 5 years almost to the day to hit 5000 beers. I'm no mathematician, but that's like 1000 different beers a year. Thankfully, many were shared pours or sample size servings. With that said... hooray me. Now let's move on.

Wasserhund's logo. Gotta love dogs!

Wasserhund is situated in a shopping center in VA Beach. It didn't look like much on the outside. However, the interior kind of reminded me of Pizza Port OB, so I was hopeful for good beer. We perused the menu and made our selections. I noticed a few off-the-wall offerings that sounded interesting, and I'm always up for the challenge. Brewslut and I each ordered our own sampler flight of three beers. Here's my run-down:

  • Haywire Husky - Wasserhund's signature coffee lager
  • Hop Hund - DIPA brewed with Germany's new guard of hop varietals: Hull melon, Saphir, and Mandarina Bavaria
  • Black Shepherd - porter brewed with Merlot grapes. This sucker's aura was purple!
Wasserhund brews German-style beers "with a kick," and I'd agree with that statement. The beers were experimental enough to appease more jaded craft beer fans and approachable enough for the "common man." With that said, I found all of the beers to be well-done. I've had coffee blonde ales before, but never a coffee lager. This was a bit more crisp and the coffee nose was quite pleasant. But the Black Shepherd took the gold (and turned out to be one of the most memorable beers of the day). Since it was my favorite of the three, I chose it for my 5000th Untappd check-in. We were indeed off to a good start on our first full day. I'd also like to point out that Kelly, while she wasn't partaking in any drinking, has quite a developed palate and was excited to sniff each beer we sampled on the entire trip. She was also able to offer some great insight and notes on aromas for the various beers without even tasting them. Now them's some impressive olfactory observations, right Pleeps?

Pleeps... drinkin' some fuckin' Merlot!

Our next stop, Home Republic, was right downtown in the midst of the tourist section of town. Inside, it reminded me of countless other chain brewpubs I've encountered in our travels. While it isn't part of a chain, it did have that feel - large and expansive inside with high ceilings, visible brewing equipment and an outside patio area. Once I perused the beer menu, my hopes had elevated a bit. There was plenty available, too. We decided to split two sampler flights, which afforded us the opportunity to try eight beers.

Our female server was young and "didn't really drink beer." This is a somewhat troubling statement I'm always surprised to hear uttered by a bartender at a brewery. I will go on record and reveal that one of my favorite aspects of visiting breweries is speaking intelligently about beer with the folks who brew it, serve it, and drink it. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times. Sadder still was when she served us our flights in plastic 4oz. flutes. I can't recall EVER getting a sampler flight served in plastic. Granted, these weren't plastic cups (think mini solo cups), but they didn't elevate the beer at all. It came across as cheap. Pleeps, what do you think?

Yup. Thought so, buddy. With that said, it didn't surprise me either. Perhaps they suffer from theft or excessive breakage of sampler glasses. Who knows? But it did strike me as more of a "tourist" brewery in that it lacks a regular crowd in lieu of one-time business from vacationers passing through looking for local beer. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that's what my gut was telling me. It doesn't fib too often, either.

But I digress. Honestly, it wasn't that bad. Believe me, there were plenty of other places we visited that fell below our expectations. Here's everything we sampled out of our little plastic vessels:
  • Salted Caramel Ale - brown ale with sweet caramel notes and a hint of sea salt
  • Galaxy Pale Ale - single hop Pale Ale brewed with Galaxy
  • Juice Sea Fruit IPA - IPA with fresh citrus juices
  • Azacca Rotator IPA - single hop session IPA brewed with Azacca
  • Cup of Joe - brown ale brewed with local cold brew from Lynnhaven Coffee Roasters
  • Dark Side Imperial Stout - brewed with cacao nibs.
  • PB & Oats - oatmeal peanut butter stout
  • Slightly Sour Ale - not sure what this mess was, to be honest.
I enjoyed the Salted Caramel Ale quite a bit. Kudos to the brewer for his or her ability to capture that flavor in liquid form. I thought it tasted pretty authentic. Also, Juice Sea Fruit was a pretty good citrus-forward IPA, apparently blended with various juices. The other hoppy offerings were kind of non-descript, and the dark beers were a bit too thin for my liking. Even the Imperial Stout wasn't as thick and chewy as I'd hoped.

Look at that face!

Commonwealth Brewing, on the other hand, was stellar. It turned out to be another one of those places where I wanted to try EVERYTHING! But even with a DD and an experienced liver, there were simply too many beers (around 20) on tap to try them all. Plus we still had two more breweries to hit today. So, we chose wisely. While the majority of these were sample size pours, I did get a few half pours toward the end of our visit. I couldn't help it. I just loved this place so much. Here's the run-down of everything we tried:
  • Trouvaille - Saison aged in white wine barrels for more than a year, then dry hopped with Hallertau Blanc. Nice effervescent farmhouse ale with notes of Chardonnay and barnyard. 
  • Halcyon - Blond sour ale with passionfruit and apricots
  • Sophrosyne - Saison aged for 6 months in a foeder fermented with an airborne wild yeast strain.
  • BA Dysphotic - Rich, bready dark Saison aged on wood. Spicy and tingly with a bone dry finish.
  • Big Papi - super juicy DIPA and big brother to Papi Chulo IPA. I snagged a 4-pack of these cans!
  • Marvoloso - bourbon barrel-aged Imperial Stout on nitro.
  • Marshmallow Eyes - hazy, super soft wheat IPA made with wildflower honey and a boatload of marshmallows. Yes, marshmallows! 
  • Wapatoolie - IPA with hints of pineapple, mango and tropical flavors courtesy of a carefully selected house Brettanomyces yeast strain. 
Pleeps amid greatness at Commonwealth Brewing.

Even for VA Beach, it was unseasonably warm outside for November. We decided to sit outside at one of the wooden picnic tables in the beer garden since the sun was shining brightly and provided some additional warmth. It was still a little chilly, but no matter, because the beer kept us warm and tingly on the inside. The three saisons were fantastic; some delicate, some complex, and some quite intense... or even all of the above! Brewslut and I both enjoyed the Halcyon (the fruit sour) quite a bit as well. I had noticed a handful of IPAs on the menu as well, so I asked the server for his recommendation. Without hesitation, we was quick to blurt out: Big Papi. This sucker was so good that I had to take some home with me to share with my Team D(r)INK peeps. Its awesomeness prompted me to order half pours of two other interesting sounding IPAs: Marshmallow Eyes and Wapatoolie. Both were indeed tasty but ultimately fell short of Big Papi. With that said, these IPAs were better than most we encountered during the trip.

Inside Commonwealth Brewing.

As I'd mentioned before, I typically reserve funds for a single brewery shirt purchase during a trip since I have so many (remember... beer and band shirts, folks). I made the decision (albeit a tipsy one) this early in the trip to plunk down the cash for a Commonwealth shirt. I dug the logo, which reminded me a bit of Hill Farmstead, and it was dark gray and black (my team colors) so it was a no-brainer. Here's a pic of Commonwealth's logo in "metal sign" form above the tasting room bar:

A wealth of not-too-common beers.

After a wonderful visit to Commonwealth, I felt pretty confident that I'd already found our best brewery of the trip. Bold words, I know. I mean, we still had three days to go! But it was one of those rare finds for us, one that we're lucky to find each time we take a "beer-cation." I mean, where can you go from here?

Enter Pleasure House. Let me tell you, this place was definitely not on any list of my favorite breweries. Disappointing, because I love the name Pleasure House. It sounds kind of dirty in a sexual way, like the kind of place you'd go to get a "happy ending" after a massage. With that said, I'd like to offer my exemplary beer-naming services to Pleasure House "quia gratis" and suggest the name "Sucky Sucky Five Darrah" as a Gose. Because, you know, taste kind of salty. (Editor's note: Don't forget to pronounce the name of the beer as if an Asian woman was saying it.)

Welcome to the house of... pleasure?

Pleasure House actually did have some pretty cool beer names. I'm thinking of one in particular: Squirrel Shot, which was a Belgian Quad. Not sure about its meaning; I just like squirrels. We have one that lives in a tree in our yard. I named him Dig Dug. Unfortunately, none of the beers here were memorable.

Shore Drive Dortmunder Lager - German-style "export" lager
Worthy Sir - citrusy "West Coast" style DIPA
3025 Shore Drive - straight up American Pale Ale
Tricks - pumpkin ale brewed with French saison yeast, cinnamon, ginger, and random pie spices

I seem to recall thinking the Dortmunder wasn't so bad, but perhaps it's only because I seldom see them on tap. I appreciate the style quite a bit. Even one of my early favorite Scratch Beers at Tröegs was #6, a Dortmunder lager. Like Rauchbiers, I'll typically order one when I see one on tap. Tricks was drinkable, but the others were forgettable in the grand scheme of things. Brewslut wasn't as kind, but since I write the blogs that make the whole world sing, we'll leave it at that. So, what now? Off to another brewery, of course!

Our situation improved at Deadline Brewing Project, our final brewery of the day. Not only was the beer tastier, our company was superior. The bartender (a younger guy) was quite friendly and talkative, and the slightly older couple occupying the barstools next to us were really into beer and pretty knowledgeable about the local scene. The guy in particular pulled no punches and was quick to praise (or smote) a number of breweries in the area.

Deadline sample flight (thanks Google!)

Deadline's tap list was small compared to a few of the places we'd visited so far, we decided to share a sampler flight of all four of the following beers:
  • Orange Vanilla Milk Blonde - light blonde ale brewed with lactose. Think orange creamsicle!
  • IPA - no frills, straight up IPA
  • Milk Stout - your average, everyday sweet stout
  • Maple Cranberry Stout - stout with the pleasant combination of sweet maple syrup and tart cranberries
No clever or witty names, but the beers were pretty solid here. Nothing boner-inducing; just good solid beers with a touch of experimental aptitude. The IPA was probably the weakest one. With that said, it seems like sweet beers are in Deadline's wheelhouse. From the looks of it, they are a pretty new operation, but they had a decent crowd for a Friday evening and seem to be on the right path.

Since we were enjoying the company of our bartender and new beer friends, we decided it was an opportune moment to crack open a bottle of Tröegs' recently released Mad Elf Grand Cru, a "director's cut" of the original brewed with tart Balaton cherries from Michigan. It was a rousing success and everyone enjoyed it (including the recent addition of the couple's young daughter, who'd joined us when we moved to a larger table). It was one of those times when conversation trumped photography, so sorry to say we didn't snap any pictures at Deadline. 

Afterwards, we briefly met up with Kelly's friend, Dave, and his party at the piano bar attached to Il Giardino Ristorante Italian Restaurant, which is basically right on the beach. They were just finishing up some drinks, but Dave was nice enough to offer to buy us a round. I quickly perused the tiny beer menu and we both decided on El Guapo IPA from the local O'Connor Brewing. They were on our list for another day, but it was cool to get a sneak peek at one if its flagship beers. Although Kelly's friends left after a few minutes, we decided to stick around and enjoy the evening's live entertainment. Entertainment comes in all shapes and sizes, and I'm pleased to say that we hung out just long enough to have this guy etched into our brains for all eternity.

Occupying the stool at the piano (actually I believe it was an electric piano or keyboard) was a middle-aged bloke with glasses (though definitely older than me... I mean, I'm middle aged!) providing some interesting background music for the two dozen or so patrons in the bar area of the restaurant. Being a musician, I tend to pay much more attention to live music than the average person. After a few classics and holiday numbers, my head spun completely around as I heard the opening strains of "Only Wanna Be With You" from - yes, folks - Hootie and the Blowfish. Except this wasn't the rich baritone vocal range of Darius Rucker crooning us; it was Randy Newman gnawing on some salt water taffy. He even had backing tracks that sounded like 80s synth horns and an old drum machine. In addition to the aforementioned Hootie, he also did a rollicking version of Al Stewart's "Year of the Cat." But Hootie definitely took the cake... albeit a sad, slightly disturbing, half-eaten cake that your 4-year-old grubby little rugrat stuck his fingers in after playing in the dirt for a few hours. I'm definitely glad I snagged some video footage of this. Perhaps it might even make it up on YouTube some day. You never know. I just might get drunk enough to upload it some night.

Stay tuned for Part 3 as we make the rounds in Norfolk. Until next time...

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Drinksgiving 10 - Day 1: Chicken chili, shitty beer & one really good brewery!

Sweet Jeebus! Has it been ten years already? Yes, indeed friends. It's been ten years since our maiden Drinksgiving voyage to the nether reaches of Michigan, when we traveled to the tiny village of Bellaire with our Team D(r)INK compadres Deuane and Carolyn for Short's Brewing's stout extravaganza. Since then, we've traversed the Mid Atlantic region (among other more remote destinations) for our annual long holiday weekend of brewery crawling.

Since this blog commemorates our 10th anniversary of these epic beer treks, let's do a quick recap. Here's where past Drinksgivings have taken us (plus who from Team D(r)INK tagged along):

  • 2016 - Boston, MA* > Portland, ME > Portsmouth, NH (*Dan, Kristen & Charles)
  • 2015 - Cleveland* & Chicago plus a bit of IN and MI for good measure (*Roberts; Nate and Nathan)
  • 2014 - Raleigh & Durham, NC
  • 2013 - Western PA (Pittsburgh, Erie, etc. plus a dip into NY to visit Southern Tier)
  • 2012 - Charleston, SC 
  • 2011 - Athens, OH & surrounding area (Deuane & Carolyn)
  • 2010 - Montreal, Quebec, Canada (Deuane & Carolyn)
  • 2009 - Asheville, NC (Deuane & Carolyn)
  • 2008 - Michigan & parts unknown (Deuane & Carolyn)

This year, we had originally decided to check out Columbus, OH, which has apparently been blowing up over the past year or so. However, when we discovered our long-time friend and former bandmate of mine, Kelly, had recently transplanted to Virginia Beach, we called an audible and decided to visit her instead. Not only had she offered to play the coveted (or not-so-coveted, depending on your liver) of our designated driver for the entire trip, she also opened her apartment and thus guest room to us. What does this mean? More money to spend on beer, of course! Kelly's short list of demands included providing a non-alcoholic drink for her at each stop (she'd soon be drinking an ass-ton of soda and other assorted liquor-less beverages), and me not stinking up her bathroom. She even provided some sweet "Dude Wipes" (yes, that's what they are called; if you don't believe me, Google it) and "Poo-Pourri" (another real item, folks). Trust me, she knows better from past experience. Any musician knows that a lot of unpleasant stuff happens behind closed doors at band rehearsals. When it came to our band, Brazilian Wax, my wretched ass would be one of them.

OK, let's get back on track.

If you've been reading The Pour Travelers for some time, then by now you are aware of our tradition of purchasing and consuming what we deem a "shitty beer" as our first beer of the trip. We stopped at a gas station in VA on Thanksgiving day, and while the selection was, in fact, shitty, it was limited (and therefore lackluster) in its shitiness. Begrudgingly, we decided on a pounder can of Modelo Especial. I kind of expected it to be pretty high on the scale of shititude (probably a 6 or 7 out of 10), but I was hoping for something more regional. Nevertheless, Modelo Especial it was. (Editor's note: Damn! That's a lot of shit references. I sound like my favorite drunk trailer park supervisor. RIP Jim Lahey.) 

Shitty beer #10... how will it rate?

Once we arrived at Kelly's apartment (our temporary residence for the duration of the trip), we cracked this bad boy open. It was actually worse than I anticipated. It tasted like Miller High Life with a packet or two of Sweet & Low. It boasted a saccharine-like flavor (remember Tab cola from the 70s and 80s)? Kind of like that.

Kelly was also awesome enough to slave over a Crock-Pot® (yes, it is actually a registered trademark) most of the day preparing dinner for us - a most excellent white chicken chili (some of the bangin'-est chili I ever shoved down my gullet, to be honest). It also quickly removed the taste of Modelo Especial that was lingering on my palate. Dinner aside, Kelly also stocked the fridge with two six-packs: DuClaw's Sweet Baby Jesus and the local Back Bay Brewing's Atlantic Ave. IPA. We cracked a few of the IPAs, which were very tasty and complemented the chili quite nicely. This place is so local, it's only about three blocks from Kelly's apartment! More on Back Bay in a few days. 

After a ridiculously delicious dinner, we made the short drive to Norfolk (pronounced norfuhk) to get an early start and knock off Benchtop Brewing, which happened to be the only brewery open on Thanksgiving evening. I wish more breweries would open after dinner on Thanksgiving, but I get why most don't. The place immediately struck a chord with me and ended up setting the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip. Right off the bat, the beer menu looked stellar. I literally wanted to try everything... and we did! Why not? We weren't going anywhere else that night and for the first time ever, we had a DD, our long-time friend Kelly, who'd recently moved to Virginia Beach.

Inside Benchtop's tasting room w/ Kelly's future hubby on the left.

Having traveled over the holidays for a decade, I've gotten pretty smart in scoping out places that are open on Thanksgiving. Typically, we luck out and find one place that opens in the early evening after dinner. I'm not sure why more places don't follow this unpopular trend, because Benchtop was hoppin' and boppin'. And let me tell you folks, this place set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip. Benchtop was easily in my Top 3 breweries of the entire trip, and as you will soon read, we were able to hit eighteen breweries this year. 

Thanksgiving after-party at Benchtop.

The tap selection looked stellar (see pic above) and I literally wanted to try everything! This, of course, means shared flights. The selection featured an array of hoppy to tart, with a stout thrown in for good measure. So we picked out our top eight beers, which was actually the entire tap list.
  • Mermaid's Scorn - Oyster gose (the recent winner of a gold medal at GABF. Congrats!)
  • Proven Theory - Triple dry-hopped IPA
  • Grammy's Famous - Sweet potato gose
  • Natural Juicy - "Mega dank" DIPA with Nelson and Galaxy hops
  • Silly Thoughts - Pale ale brewed with Nelson hops
  • Trial of Dmetri - a beet Kvass, a traditional Slavic fermented beverage commonly made from rye bread
  • Oaxaca Milk Stout - a low ABV Mexican mole stout)
  • Hazing Face - Pale ale brewed with Galaxy hops
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the Oaxaca Milk Stout. Kudos to Benchtop for brewing a full-flavored, medium-bodied stout with such a tiny ABV. Natural Juicy was pretty bitchin' too. Actually, everything was well done. The beet beer was a bit too heavy on the beets (and I love beets), but I appreciated trying an odd style. Both goses were well done also. Mermaid's Scorn was quite briny but worked well with the salt component of the style. 

Pleeps chillin' at Benchtop.

In addition to enjoying everything Benchtop had to offer, Graham (the bartender with whom Kelly was quite enamored), periodically broke out a few special bottles for the occasion. I mean, it was a holiday, right?  As a matter of fact, as soon as we walked in, he was handing out samples of 2017 Black Forest Resolute, a delicious bourbon barrel-aged stout from Brothers Craft Brewing out of nearby Harrisonburg. I was lucky enough to get the last pour. Sampling this decadent stout had me longing to visit the brewery. But alas, we wouldn't have time. Besides, we had plenty of ground to cover on our ambitious itinerary.

I reciprocated by cracking open a 2016 bourbon barrel-aged Impending Descent from Tröegs, which I shared with Brewslut and Graham. I also asked him to pour some for a few customers he deemed worthy. Everyone really enjoyed it, and it proved a great ice breaker for us to start mingling with some other customers. Later on, Graham shared a bottle of Sixteen Counties from Allagash, an amber-colored ale brewed using ingredients found throughout Maine's sixteen counties. Pretty cool concept, eh? I thought so.

Stay tuned for Day 2. We're just getting started. Until then...

Friday, August 18, 2017

San Diego 2017 - Part 7: Let's wrap this shit up!

Aaaah, the last full day of our trip. Traditionally, it's a day that elicits many emotions. On one hand, I'm sad to be leaving our favorite city and friend with whom I only get to visit infrequently. On the other hand, I'm typically anxious to get back into the routine of daily life at home. In all honesty, I do get a bit homesick after a while. Plus I miss playing my drums and (believe it or not) going to the gym. (During one long 11-day trip to San Diego, we actually joined a local gym and went 7 times!) Of course, I'm never in a hurry to get back to work to plow through the inevitable 250 emails waiting for me in my in-box. That's never fun. And on yet another hand (yes, I know... three hands? Well, some people think I have three hands because I'm a drummer), I get a bit nostalgic and tend to reflect back on the rest of the trip (as well as other trips), discussing with Brewslut our favorite (and not-so-favorite) beers and breweries, as well as fun stories and people we'd encountered along the way.

For our final day, it was only fitting that we revisit our favorite place in San Diego: Ocean Beach. So, it was one last hurrah at OB for the Pour Travelers until next time. First on the list? Pizza Port OB, of course! We decided to start our day off with one of PP's famous lunch special deals: a pint of house beer, generous tossed salad, and slice of cheese pizza for $7.00. Or if you aren't too keen on "food's food," you can substitute another slice of pizza for the salad.

Last visit to Pizza Port OB.
On this particular visit, I went with the Norsewoman IPA, one I hadn't had. This was another top-notch San Diego-style IPA from Pizza Port. Despite the haze craze making its way westward, I have a feeling that PP will continue to churn out these classic West Coast works of art for many years to come. I know it's what keeps me coming back!

Following the IPA, Brewslut and I shared a pint of Gimme Samoa, a delicious coconut porter. The toasted coconut really shined through in this beer, but it also boasted a nice, full chocolate character, which complemented the coconut flavor nicely. Samoas, of course, are classic Girl Scout cookies made with chocolate, caramel and, obviously, coconut. According to my trusty friend, Wiki, Samoa cookies account for 19% of annual Girl Scout cookie sales, making it the second best seller behind only - you guessed it - Thin Mints. And rightly so. Still, this beer was fantastic and served as a sweet little dessert after our lunch specials.

Pleeps says, "Gimme some more of Gimme Samoa!"

We decided to swing by Kilowatt again (our third visit this trip) to see Luke, who was working an afternoon shift that day. One could easily visit Kilowatt a few times over the course of a week and still not sample everything on tap. The tap selection was about 24 deep, which is quite ambitious (and thus impressive) for a newer brewery. We decided to conduct more sampling of a variety of beers. Here's the run-down of what we tried this time:
  • S3 Green Apple - sour apple Berliner Weisse variation of S3 (Super Sour Series).
  • Coconut Chai - coconut porter with chai tea. Kilowatt seems to dig chai tea. 
  • Snappy Cat - citrusy American-style pale ale.
  • S3 Pomegranate Sour - pomegranate Berliner Weisse variation of S3.
Tap handles at Kilowatt spell out Ocean Beach California.
I'm glad we really got to dig into Kilowatt's vast tap selection over the course of our three visits. We put a nice dent in the 24-odd taps, and they turned out to be one of our favorite new places. The OB tasting room kind of reminds me of a black light cellar where college kids used to party in the 70s. They even have a bowl of community 3-D glasses outside the restroom area so you can enjoy some psychedelic "mood lighting" and other trippy effects while you urinate or... well, the other one.

Take advantage of the 3-D glasses when you visit the bathroom... trust me!

After saying goodbye to Luke, it was off to Council. This was another place I'd forgotten about... until we got there. I remembered the name, but as soon as we arrived, I was teleported back two years to our last trip. I had one of those "oh yeah!" moments. Since we didn't remember much about Council (except for the place itself once we got there), we figured we might as well get a few sample flights. Here's the run-down:
  • Hazeas Corpus - New England-style IPA with Mosaic, Citra and Amarillo hops.
  • Questionable Advice - Another hazy NE-style IPA with Citra and Nelson hops.
  • Beatitude Pineapple Tart Saison - "mixed fermentation" tart saison with pineapple.
  • Royal Blood - Imperial red ale hopped with Centennial, Zythos and Columbus.
  • Bully Drop - Triple IPA hopped with Mosaic, Simcoe and Nelson
  • Pirate's Breakfast - Imperial oatmeal stout with coffee and chocolate notes.
  • Woofle Dust - American golden sour ale aged in foeders with apricots. Love the name!

Although Council has been brewing a wide variety of beer styles since first opening in 2014, it recently launched a new label called "The Magic Factory," which focuses on wood-aged beers. The Woofle Dust, for example, is a Magic Factory beer. I definitely dig the name, and this beer was easily one of the best of the lot.

Overall, the beers here were solid, although nothing was in the running for a "best of the trip" award. Still, it was great to revisit this place seeing as it kind of got lost in the shuffle last time. I look forward to seeing first-hand how the Magic Factory program will have evolved by the time we visit again.

Fun with blocks at Countil. Possible name for a bacon sour?

Societe, on the other hand, is one of our favorite places of recent visits. There's nothing forgettable about this place. I love how they've created this faux old-time European town filled with unique personalities, which are portrayed by their many disparate beers. Societe's "town" is filled with such characters as The Butcher, The Widow, The Pugilist, and (my favorite) The Harlot, among dozens of others. Love it!

Outside the "town" of Societe.

For our third visit to Societe, we arrived to a warm, friendly greeting from one of the bartenders and a regular customer upon setting foot inside the tasting room. I decided to capture the moment with a selfie. It even made my Instagram feed. Here's the shot.

Greeted like a regular customer at Societe!

They intuitively must have known I was famous. Who am I kidding? It was probably my goat shirt.

It's a pleasure to see how Societe has grown since we first visited shortly after they opened for business in 2012. I recall commenting on how large the space was compared to other start-up breweries. Upon looking through a window into the production area, I said, "Wow. they definitely have room to grow." Fast-forward five years, and Societe's growth is evident by the number of fermentation tanks that now occupy that once-empty cellar. I've also noticed their beer on tap at quite a number of beer bars as well as guest taps at other small breweries.

I started off with a short pour of The Bachelor with Tahoma. The Bachelor is Societe's single-hopped IPA, and there are many variations. This particular iteration featured Tahoma hops, a variety with which I was unfamiliar. The profile for this American hop variety boasts notes of lemon, grapefruit, cedar, pine, spice and pepper. After a few sips of this IPA, the dryness and spice of the cedar definitely nudged its way through the citrus and pine notes prevalent in the initial flavor.

Meet Societe's cast of characters.

We also sampled The Coachman, session IPA or as Societe calls it, "a really small IPA." The bartender also hooked us up with some of The Heiress, a solid Czech-style pilsner that was mighty tasty. Many breweries opt not to brew a pilsner, mainly because they are so difficult to brew successfully. I'm a sucker for a good pilsner, so I applaud any brewery who can produce a great one. Societe definitely has its shit together, and we've enjoyed everything about this place since first setting foot inside five years ago.

Inside Societe's tasting room.

Our next two destinations were situated in the dreaded downtown area, not far from the baseball stadium. At first, I was hesitant about visiting this area during the day, but ultimately decided that we'd give it a shot, largely because there was no game on this particular day.

First on the agenda was Half Door, one of two new breweries that had opened since our last visit. Inside, Half Door feels like a traditional European pub from simpler times when neighbors gathered at their local watering hole to discuss their daily lives over a pint. The decor echoed these simpler times, and I felt I'd been transported back to England or Ireland at the turn of the century (not this past one, the other one). The tap handles fit the vibe nicely, as all were antiquated doorknobs opened with skeleton keys like you used to see in your grandparents' house when you were a kid.

Full pints at Half Door.

I kicked things off with a half pour of Hoban House, a 6.5% NE-style IPA with hints of pineapple, peach and tropical fruit. This was a winner in my book. It was soft, velvety, flavorful and aromatic without being overly bitter. Equally impressive was the Bean Bar Mocha, a nitro golden ale with chocolate and coffee added for a creamy, roasty flavor brewed in collaboration with the local Bean Bar coffee roasters. I really want to see the "golden coffee ale" trend pick up some steam on the east coast, as it seems fairly prevalent out west. We'd first encountered several similar beers during our venture to Portland last summer. I'm definitely on-board with more of these kinds of beers!

Pleeps gets his IPA on at Half Door.

On the other end of the spectrum, Necessary Evil was a tasty sour wheat ale with raspberry and passion fruit. I'm always down for a low ABV sour beer with fruit, and this one didn't disappoint. Bearleener, another light sour, was a straight-up tart, refreshing Berliner Weisse with plenty of lemon acidity. This was an exemplary interpretation of the style, which is one of Brewslut's very favorites. After sampling these four fine selections, it seems like Half Door has both hoppy beers and tart beers dialed in. The hoppy beers were more up my alley, but I recall leaving Half Door adequately impressed and in a happy state of mind.

Just around the corner from Half Door was our last brewery of the day, Resident. I always feel a bit melancholy when I know we're at the last brewery of the trip, but this time I just felt a wave of calmness envelope me. I was loud and busy (after all, it was Happy Hour when we arrived) but I kept things laid back during this final stop. Perhaps all of the beer had slowed me down and bit and gave me an opportunity to reflect on the past few days.  Speaking of reflecting, this photo captures the sun shining through an adjacent window and splashing across the beer chalkboard directly onto the bartenders head. I just like the way it looks.

Light streams down in bright, unbroken beams...

With that said, I must admit that I didn't have very high expectations about Resident. The place was loud; not only did the sound of booming patrons' voices fill the room (again... Happy Hour), various TVs blared a variety of sports competitions. They also featured quite a bit of guest taps. Not always a bad thing, but in our travels I've found that sometimes this can be a tell-tale sign that the house beer, well, isn't very good. Still, it was our last brewery of the trip and I was going to stay positive. "Staying positive" is a trait I'm working to perfect in my advanced years... without much success, of course.

But enough of my yakin'! Let's talk beer.

First up was Die Gose, a straight-up sour German wheat beer with a citrusy tang. Everybody makes a gose these days, just like every brewery now has a NE-style hazy IPA. While I like both styles, I'd love to see more gin barrel-aged beers and blonde coffee ales, personally. I guess it's good to stay ahead of the trends as well as follow them, as there are certainly more than one type of consumer out there. Next was the excellent Vacation Coconut IPA, featuring tons of coconut and pineapple notes courtesy of real toasted coconut as well as Citra and Amarillo hops. This beer just hit the spot at that precise moment in time, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable beers of the trip. This beer was a slam dunk! And I'm not talking about a dunk from the tall white kid in high school who just barely can touch the rim. I'm talking about the backboard glass-shattering dunk you see in Game 7 of the NBA championships by Shaq.

Our final beer was Walk of Shame, kind of an ironic beer with which to end such a great trip. Well, not the beer itself, just the name. Speaking of blonde coffee beers, this one is a version of Resident's Perky Blonde Ale with coffee and cacao nibs added. To refrain on the type of extensive verbosities (is that a word?!) used to describe the last beer... I freakin' loved it! Sorry. Sometimes I just need to embrace my Polonius-like nature. Brevity ain't the soul of wit... otherwise, why are Bill's plays so damn long?! To put things into better perspective, Yngwie J. Malmsteen once uttered these wise words: "How can less be more? That's impossible. MORE is more."

Pleeps looks like he's ready for the Walk of Shame.

And with that said... 

Stick a fork in me, San Diego. It's been real.


One of the nasty side effects of traveling to San Diego is having to fly to get there. I have a love/hate relationship with airplanes, airlines and airports. On one hand, I love the convenience of flying. On the other hand, I hate the inconvenience of flying. But if you want to get anywhere in this world (i.e. travel), then you best just shut up and deal with it. Otherwise, you ain't goin' nowhere. 

I was glad to see the Stone tap room so close to our gate at the airport. This made me immediately thirsty, so we took the bait and entered. They only had a handful of beers on tap, as this was one of the smaller Stone taprooms at the airport. When we landed in San Diego this time, we just missed grabbing a beer at the much larger Stone site at the airport. There must have been twenty taps, but alas they had just closed.

I found it fitting to start my morning (it was around 9:30 a.m.) with a beer called Who You Callin' Wussie. This beer turned out to be a solid, crushable German-style pilsner with a crisp, hoppy flavor profile... just the way I like 'em! I know in the past Stone has criticized other breweries for making "fizzy yellow beers" and calling them out as "wussies," so I thought this was a funny name for its own "fizzy yellow beer." I've kind of been on the Stone hate train as of late, but I couldn't resist an airport beer. Plus we completely skipped over Stone this time around, opting for newer, smaller breweries that had opened in the last two years since our previous visit. With that said, this beer (a 20-ounce, no less) delivered and provided just enough of a depressant to allow for a nap on the plane.

Astronaut or suffocation? You decide.

Believe it or not, I actually was able to catch some zzz's on the flight to Charlotte, NC (half an hour tops, which is good for me). However, the majority of our time was spent chatting with the guy sitting next to us in the aisle seat. This made time on the plane fly by (no pun intended). After we landed, we had just enough of a layover to seek out a beer at the airport. Enter local brewery Sugar Creek. Our new friend also had some free time before his flight, so he was nice enough to offer to buy us each a pint. Can't turn down free beer! Sugar Creek Pale Ale was a pleasant, straight-up citrusy American pale ale that went down with ease. It was nice to have a taste of the Carolinas, even if we were just swinging by momentarily.

Is the glass half empty or half full?

And with that, folks, ends another chapter in the Pour Travelers' San Diego adventures. You know we'll be back in two or three years because we can't seem to stay away from this amazing place. Until next time...

Friday, August 11, 2017

What's New in Baltimore?

Aside from our recent trip to San Diego, we hadn't had the opportunity to spend a generous amount of time in Baltimore for a few years. Given its relative close proximity to Central PA and easier access (i.e. no Schuylkill Expressway) than Philadelphia's airport, we typically tend to fly out of BWI for our vacations. We were able to swing by a new brewpub called Brewhouse No. 16 as well as Max's Taphouse the day we flew out to San Diego, but that was about it. However, this weekend commenced a month-long run of no band performances and witnessed our return to Baltimore to catch Dweezil Zappa at Rams Head Live. We'd seen Dweezil there several years ago, but hadn't returned since. Needless to say, a ton of new breweries had popped up all around the city, so we had our work cut out for us. Coincidentally, Frank Zappa (Dweezil's dad) was born in Baltimore, so it was cool to make that connection. So, let's dig in and find out what's new in Baltimore, shall we?

We kicked off the weekend at Peabody Heights. The brewery itself has an old school, blue collar vibe and seems to be situated in an industrial area. For some reason, I felt like I was in Pittsburgh during the 1970s. Not that that's a bad thing, because the Steelers were the NFL team of the 70s. However, I'm not much of a sports fan, but those who are might appreciate the connection.

Upon examining the tap list, we noticed several breweries listed. However, these weren't "guest taps," but rather various off-shoots, or "sister breweries" of Peabody Heights. With that said, Peabody Heights is a self-professed "craft beer incubator" that not only produces a variety of house beers, but contract brews for such entities as The Raven, Full Tilt, Local Option and a host of others. I found this to be a pretty cool concept. Aside from the standard offerings from Peabody Heights proper, the tasting room also featured small-batch beers from Old Oriole Park Beer (classic pre-Prohibition beer), Public Works (four beers are produced under this label, which donates a percentage of its proceeds to job training in the community), and Goonda Beersmiths (a separate nano-brewery run by two of Peabody Heights' employees).

View from my barstool at Peabody Heights.

While they didn't offer a set "sampler flight," they did have 5oz. pours available for $2 or $3, depending on the beer. So we each put together our own customized flight. Here's the run-down on everything we sampled (all are Peabody Heights unless otherwise noted):
  • Flick - DIPA double dry-hopped with Citra, Galaxy, and Nelson Sauvin. I liked enough to purchase a 4-pack of pounder cans to go. 
  • Knuckle-Buster IPA (Public Works) - malt-forward traditional IPA. 
  • Trap Trap Trap Trap Trap Trap (Goonda Beersmiths) - DIPA brewed in collaboration with Wet City featuring gooseberries and black limes as well as El Dorado and Kohatu hops.
  • Sleeping with the Fishes - Imperial stout brewed with coffee, chocolate and fish peppers.
  • Cranberry Beret - Hefeweizen with cranberries. Nice Prince reference!
  • Mr. Trash Wheel's Lost Python - session IPA hopped with Citra, Motueka and Mosaic.
  • Mocha Obscuro - Imperial stout; winning homebrew recipe from the brewery's first-ever homebrew contest. 
Cute little samples!

Although I was enjoying a great conversation with the bartender, who turned out to be a fellow drummer, about Zappa and music in general, things were about to turn sour. Much to our dismay, a flock of "Woo Girls" were starting to file into the brewery for what was apparently some kind of birthday party. You know what I'm talking about when I use the term "Woo Girl," folks. These women parade themselves about town and participate in obnoxious birthday gatherings typically featuring an over-enthusiastic, self-absorbed young lady wearing a tiara or a sash, or - even worse - BOTH, in public. Unless you're the Queen of England or you've just been crowned Miss America (and don't even get me started on that charade), under no circumstances should a women EVER be seen in public wearing a fucking bedazzled headpiece! I could hear Brewslut's eyes rattle as they rolled back loosely into her skull, and the expression on her face had turned to a slightly annoyed grimace. That was our cue to start packing it in. I grabbed my 4-pack of Flick, paid our tab, thanked the bartender for a nice chat, and with that, we headed off to the next brewery.

Monument City Brewing Co.

We stumbled on a pretty cool event at our next stop, Monument City. They were holding something called "Cask Your Ballot," whereby customers purchased a ticket for $8 and received samples of five different cask-conditioned variations of an ale. Customers were then asked to cast their votes for their favorite of the lot. Pretty cool concept! For this particular venture, Monument City featured five different variations of its 51 Rye Ale with various additional ingredients such as fruit, spices, hops, etc. The base beer (an IPA) takes its name from the percentage of rye malt used in the mash (51%, obviously). The resulting beer combines the earthy spice of rye malt with citrus hop notes.

That's some sweet cooperage right there!

Here's the run-down of all five beers included with the ticket:
  • Peaches & El Dorado
  • Grapefruit & Honey
  • Orange & Rosemary
  • Strawberry & Basil
  • Blackberry & Ginger
Obviously, these are all pretty self-explanatory. Brewslut and I both cast our vote for the Orange & Rosemary version, which we felt was the most refreshing and had the nicest aroma of the lot. While the orange character was subtle, the rosemary was really pronounced both in the flavor and aroma. I almost voted for the Peaches & El Dorado version, but ultimately the rosemary won me over.

Cask your ballot!

We finished up our visit by sharing a full pour of Among the Pines, a DIPA brewed with five hop varieties for an earthy, pine resin-esque flavor. However, it was perhaps a bit too malty for my particular taste, albeit still enjoyable while sitting outside on the ramp up to the entrance. I'm usually one to sit inside (as we did during our cask tasting), but the weather was so pleasant that we decided to enjoy the fresh air.

Outside at Monument City.

Across town in Fells Point, we returned to Max's Taphouse, one of the premier craft beer bars in the country. It's the Toronado of Baltimore... when in town, you gotta stop in for at least one beer. This place has a long-established reputation for its impressive, well-curated tap selection. Even veteran, somewhat jaded beer drinkers such as ourselves should have no trouble finding at least a dozen or so beers on tap worthy of imbibing on any given occasion. After careful consideration, I decided on Union Craft's Duckpin Pale Ale, which was dry-hopped with Citra and Nelson and dispensed via beer engine. Not too shabby. I'm also not sure why I chose this, because we were planning to stop at Union the following day. I suppose I was craving something cask conditioned. Brewslut opted for Burley Oak's Bay Breeze J.R.E.A.M. (so many acronyms!), a sour ale with lactose conditioned on cranberries and pineapple. This was tart, fruity, and super-refreshing. For some reason, Burley Oak is a brewery that has eluded thus far. After trying this beer, I believe a visit in the near future is in order. Not sure where Berlin, MD is, so I'll need to consult my trusty and plan accordingly. 

Next, I spotted a gin barrel-aged Grisette from Portland, ME's Oxbow Brewing called Moon Rocks. I've recently become infatuated with gin barrel-aged beers since our trip to the other (or should I say left coast) Portland last summer. We'd been to Oxbow a few times and they make solid stuff, so I went for it. This was pretty enjoyable, although I still feel that the gin botanicals work better with hoppier beers, or sweeter beers such as a Belgian Tripel. Still, this was a nice dry, bubbly saison with hints of juniper and coriander. The wife decided on Pacific Ocean Blue, a gose from a brewery called The Libertine. This sucker was quite pungent and cheesy, like a cave-aged feet fungus. Perhaps that's a bit too evocative (i.e. nasty). We weren't familiar with this particular brewery, but a quick Google search revealed that it is situated in central California and specializes in barrel-aged wild ales using unusual yeast strains. Well, this beer definitely utilized an unusual yeast strain! It was overall a bit too cheesy for my personal tastes, but I think Brewslut liked it. Hungarian Beaver Cheese, perchance? Not as such.

The Moon ROCKS, man!

Brewslut finished up at Max's while I ducked out to visit a nearby record store called Soundgarden. One can never have too many records, right? Well, in my household, it depends on who you ask. I enjoy the hunt as much as the catch, and I was thrilled to find three Zappa LPs in excellent condition, two of which were only five bucks each. Score! I picked up a couple other random, less expensive titles as well. Meanwhile, one of my many Rush buddies, Wayne, had joined on as our third wheel, meeting me at the record store before we headed over to Rams Head Live for the concert.

I could write an entire separate blog just about the concert, but we'll leave that for another time. All I'll say is that it was fantastic! However, I must express my extreme disappointment regarding the beer selection at Rams Head Live. The last time we saw a show there (coincidentally, it was also Dweezil), they boasted a selection of beers from Fordham & Dominion, a Baltimore-based brewery. Unfortunately, Rams Head has since been bought by Live Nation and thus downgraded their beer selection to AB/In-Bev swill such as Goose Island, Shock Top, and Stella. Not surprising in this day and age of constant brewery sell-outs. Even more disappointing was the fact that the bottle selection was the same as the limited tap offerings. I could only shake my head in disgust and return to my place on the floor to wait for the show to begin. Sadly, I broke down and bought a $10 plastic cup of Goose Island for myself and Brewslut, but not without a stiff middle finger pointed in the general direction of Rams Head. Fuck you, indeed!

After the show, we convened across the street at Leinenkugel's Beer Garden for one last beer of the evening. Although the tap selection was a bit more diverse than Rams Head, it was still lacking local craft beer. After a minute or so, I finally settled on a pint of Cold Brew Coffee Lager from Saranac and we occupied the outside beer garden area for a while to chat about the show and Rush, but also to share childhood and family stories with our relatively new friend, Wayne. But all too soon the evening was over and we had to retire to our hotel for some much-needed sleep.


Since check-out time at our hotel was 11 a.m., we arrived at our next destination about half an hour early. Diamondback Brewing's tasting room is situated is a large commercial building that appeared to the campus of a sizable child daycare facility. Parking our car, both Brewslut and I were quite perplexed. We wandered around the parking lot for a bit, trying several doors that all seemed to be locked. We even tried walking around the side of the building (the wrong side, as we'd soon find out), only to be greeted by a "NO TRESPASSING" sign. Defeated, we returned to the car and noticed an establishment across the street called Barracudas Locust Point Tavern. Sweet! "Sounds like they might have beer," I thought. I was correct. They also had a restroom, which I was in dire need of visiting.

We we arrived, the inside was pretty empty; most folks were enjoying brunch on the patio. I asked our server about Diamondback, and she set us straight. But we still had about fifteen minutes or so to kill before Diamondback opened for the day, so why not have a beer? Sadly, Barracudas didn't have any draft beer available, but they did have a decent selection of local craft brews. We were able to find two beer that we'd never had before from two breweries we'd never tried before. Score! This was a pleasant surprise, as I thought I'd have to order a DFH 60 Minute or Bell's Two Hearted... not that there's anything wrong with that. I just wanted something local.

Enter Beyond the Realm of Light, a DIPA from Baltimore's own Oliver Brewing brewed in collaboration with the band Summoner and Magnetic Eye Records as part of the "Long Live Rock & Roll Series" Upon further investigation, I was surprised to learn that this brewery had been around since 1993! I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect, but man, this was a solid DIPA! Brewed and heavily dry-hopped with an assortment of exotic hops including Southern Cross, Ella, Galaxy, Pacific Gem, and Motueka, this heavy-hitter concealed its 9% ABV masterfully and boasted a rich, yet well-carbonated body and plenty of juicy hop goodness. I was all-around impressed with this offering.

Beyond the Realm of Light DIPA.

Equally impressed with her selection, Brewslut selected Nanticoke Nectar IPA from RaR Brewing out of Cambridge, MD. Its flagship beer, this IPA boasts a sweet English malt backbone with citrus hops that segue into a more assertive grapefruit and piney flavor. This was a great introduction to both of these breweries, and I look forward to trying other offerings from each in the future. I also need to check out Magnetic Eye Records in more depth, because my first glance at its website revealed some amazing album cover art that, if matches the music, will be right up my alley!

Back across the street at the daycare center, we finally unearthed the entrance Diamondback. I knew we were getting close when I saw this:

And then this:

I'm not sure what it was, but I felt an immediate connection to this place and knew I was going to love it. My instincts were right. Starting off on the lighter side of the spectrum, I began with Omar, a creamy, juicy American pale ale brewed with flaked and malted oats, and dry-hopped with El Dorado. Already off to a good start. Loved it! Brewslut ordered an 8oz. pour of Lens Crafter, an IPA hopped with Melba and Vic Secret featuring notes of pineapple, passion fruit, and grapefruit. Both beers were stellar.

My vantage point at Diamondback.

For my next beer, I decided on a full pour of Green Machine, which I'd had back in June at Max's before we our flight to San Diego. This beer Diamondback's version of a NE-style IPA. Dry-hopped with Citra and Ella for a juicy, citrus-forward flavor with a hint of ripe mango. Now what's not to love about that? Green Machine is an all-around stellar beer!  

The Green Machine. Kids my age will remember.

By this point, I wanted to try everything else. Dirty Vegas was up next, an IPA hopped with Topaz and Mandarina Bavaria. Upon further research, I found that Diamondback brewed this beer in honor of one of its biggest fans, some guy named Bruce who is a legend at Max's for being the first person to taste 2,500 different beers. Pretty sweet! This IPA finishes dry with citrus, apricot, and grassy notes. Finally, we ended with Cold Taxi, a dry-hopped lager, because why not? This Zwickelbier, or unfiltered lager, boasts a crisp mouthfeel, smooth texture, and what Diamondback calls "immense crushability." Dry-hopping with Ella and Vic Secret unveils plenty of tropical flair without a lot of bitterness.

Magic... Under Where? No... up HERE!!!

Overall, we loved the beers and vibe at Diamondback, and Megan proved to be a kick-ass "beer slinger," as they call her. We had a nice conversation with her and another customer about lots of stuff, but mostly beer. It's these types of conversations that keep us traveling around the country in the name of beer. I picked up a 4-pack of Green Machine and Megan was kind enough to throw in a few bonus cans of Two Lights and a Right, a Belgian-style IPA with blackberries. Can't wait to share these with Team D(r)INK in a few weeks! Sadly, after finishing Cold Taxi it was off to the next spot.

By the time we arrived The Brewer's Art, our free breakfast had long worn off and the pangs of hunger began to unfold. It's brunch time, kiddies! And we were in the right spot. We had been to The Brewer's Art on just one other occasion, many years back (before my blog days) when Brewslut and I spent a weekend in Baltimore. Back there, there wasn't much in the form of local craft breweries save for Pratt St. Ale House (a brewpub that still exists) and The Brewer's Art. There were some great beer bars like Max's, but breweries were scarce back then.

On tap at The Brewer's Art.

I decided to go light, so I gravitated to Choptank'd, a 4.2% ABV table saison. Light and refreshing, it complemented by brunch nicely. Brewslut, on the other hand, dove right in and ordered a pour of Zombie Buffalo, a Belgian brown ale aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. You can't get much farther apart on the beer spectrum than with these two disparate beers. For brunch, we enjoyed sharing a rye soft pretzel with "everything" spice, sweet potato brioche French toast with bourbon peach maple syrup, smoked fish hash, and local peach coffee cake. Not bad for $20 per person.

I'm sorry, but you've been Choptank'd.

After our delicious brunch, it was time to move on to our next stop. Things were hoppin' at Union Craft when we arrived. Lots of folks sat outside enjoying the weather, while many people also occupied the tasting room inside. We decided that this would be a one-and-done stop for us since we went a little overboard at Diamondback. Hey, it happens. So we went inside and got in line.

Waitin' for beer.
Union was in the midst of celebrating its 5th anniversary, so for my solitary beer, I had to go with the 5th Anniversary S.M.A.S.H. (there's that acronym again... you remember what it stands for, kiddies?) Pale Ale. This particular variation features Marris Otter malt and Chinook hops for hints of spicy grapefruit rind and pine supported with a rich, nutty malt backbone. The wife settled on the nostalgically named Fraggle Rock, a strawberry rhubarb gose that was pretty damn delicious. The color of the beer even reminded me of a Muppet. This proved to be a refreshing summertime thirst quencher.

Baltimore loves its Big Wheels.

No sooner did we sit down on a bench inside the tasting room when we bumped into our beer friends from back in PA, Brian and Alexis, who had just been across the street at the brewery we'd be heading to shortly (more on that in a bit). They joined us on the bench and we exchanged some chit-chat about both topics: music and beer. I mean, what else is there?

Chalk totem poles at Union.

By the time we'd arrived at Waverly (literally right across the street from Union), I already knew that my companion would be driving home. I was feeling the third sheet begin to wrap around my weathered noggin. Besides, I'd have over an hour to recover in the car ride back to PA. So we settled on one beer each during our visit to Waverly. Inside the tasting room, it was kind of a rag-tag setup, with a variety of seating options including a sweet red vintage wrap-around sofa in the back room. As much as I wanted to sit there, we left it for a larger party, which coincidentally emerged a few minutes after we'd arrived. According to its website, nearly every inch of the tasting room is made using recycled or reclaimed materials. You can read about this in more detail here. The walls were also adorned with some pretty cool, colorful local pop art. The Star Wars fanboy in me thought this particular one showcased some serious bad-assery:

Hey look... we're At-At Waverly Brewing Co.!

Based on the recommendation of Brian and Alexis, I chose Shelfies the Beer, a hazy NE-style pale ale hopped with Azacca, Citra and Columbus. While I give the nod to Diamondback's Omar, this beer was still very enjoyable. To be honest, I was kind of confused by the name of this beer, but some research revealed that Shelfies the Show is a beer review team based out of Baltimore, and this beer is a collaboration with these dudes. Brewslut opted for Local Oyster Stout, a collaboration with The Local Oyster. This roasty stout features the shells and meat of real Maryland oysters. Nicely done!

I'm great at taking Shelfies.

All in all, it was a productive overnight jaunt to nearby Baltimore. We discovered several great new breweries, saw an amazing concert, got to hang with a few friends, and I even was able to add to my record collection! 

Back in PA, I suppose this segment can serve as an epilogue of sorts. Of course, every trip down this way seems to end at Pizza Boy. We had both been wanting to try the brand new LegenDAIRY variation, the OJ (White Bronco) version. Man, these lactose milk sugar milkshake whatever-you-want-to-call-them IPAs are awesome! Brewslut and I loved the last one they did called LemonDAIRY, and this new orange version was equally impressive. All I can say is, "Keep 'em coming, Al and Terry!"

We also sampled the brand new Brewery Pilsner, a straight-up traditional German-style Pilsner. This is pretty spot-on for the style. I've often said there's something artfully simple about a pilsner. You can't hide behind anything. It's just barley, hops, yeast and water. Anyone can chuck 10 different hops into a lackluster base beer, or throw something into a barrel for 6 months and see what sticks. But to brew an exemplary is a monumental achievement. I will definitely re-visit this one next time. We also had a few snips of another newbie called Whatever Forever, blonde ale with Brett... lots and lots of Brett! This sucker had a bone dry finish with a huge smack of Bretty barnyard funk. Conversely, Super Tight is a crushable 3.2% ABV dry-hopped golden ale with a big citrus and grape-like aroma. There's always lots of stuff brewing at Pizza Boy, and I'm glad I've been able to visit more often these days.

So that's what's new in Baltimore, folks. Until next time...