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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...

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