25 January 2012

Winter Restaurant Week in Baltimore & Howard

We're halfway through Baltimore (Winter) Restaurant Week.  Also Howard County Restaurant Week.

Craft-beer-friendly Baltimore venues participating in the discounted-meals menu plan include The Brewer's Art, Bluegrass Tavern, The Owl Bar, B&O American Brasserie, and others.  In Howard County, check out The Ram's Head Tavern in Savage or Victoria Gastro Pub, among others.  (There's certainly bound to be a place that has quietly upgraded their beer selection without our notice.)

Robert Burns Night

Featured tonight at Liam Flynn's Ale House in salute to the birthday and works of the legendary Scottish bard, Robert Burn's born on this date in 1754. The evening will begin at 7 PM with a piping performance and the customary reading of "Address to a Haggis." Following will be a traditional Celtic music session and open-mike poetry. There will be a variety of Scottish Whiskies, Ales and Ciders, and for real ale aficionados, the first firkin of this year's batch of Oliver's Scottish (-style) Ale, and a firkin of Flying Dog's Road Dog Porter aged with Scottish whisky oak.  And haggis, both real and vegan, as well as tatties & neeps (mashed potatoes/turnips), and more.

If your allegiances run to stronger stuff, there's always the oft-overlooked whisky standby, Birds of a Feather on Aliceanna Street and their extensive whisky selection.

If you don't feel like making the trek to North Avenue or Baltimore, I would normally refer you to The Royal Mile in Wheaton, Md., but there are reports about that the place has been closed since 8th January, is under renovation, and/or possibly closed for good; the website for the pub shows a cryptic, enigmatic "Software upgrade in progress".  If indeed closed, sad.  There are also a few good Scottish ales to be had at other places, including at Max's tomorrow when Heather Ale's Bruce Williams returns for yet another hoisted pint or twa.

More on the traditions of the day. 

No.  Not this guy.  No.  No.


24 January 2012

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Our federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a newly-released report, says "binge drinking" (defined as "men drinking 5 or more alcoholic drinks within a short period of time or women drinking 4 or more drinks within a short period of time"; said period of time is not defined) is a greater problem in the United States than previously thought.  The proposed approaches to the problem, of course, largely involve empowering government further or allocating more government resources (i.e. spending money on government).

Reason.com's response:  "First, as noted, the length of an "occasion" is left to the respondent's interpretation; it could be "a few hours," but it might be five or six, or an entire Saturday. Second, the number Parker-Pope cites is actually the average for "the largest number of drinks [respondents] had on any occasion in the preceding 30 days" (emphasis added). In other words, it is atypical, by definition, for any given individual. Furthermore, because it is an average across all respondents, including very heavy drinkers, it does not necessarily mean most of them consume that much even on one occasion per month."

Or, as they cynically titled the essay:  "CDC: If You Drink Enough to Enjoy It, You've Had Too Much."

21 January 2012

DuClaw Anti-Venom Debut at JD's Smokehouse Sunday, and H.E.R.O. Homebrew Contest

Personally, I'm not sure it's worth shoving through a raucous bunch of football fans to sample a new beer at its debut, but more than likely some beer fans will be making a trek to a pub anyway, so......
Sunday, January 22nd, cheer the Ravens on to victory against the Patriots at JD’s Smokehouse [3000 E. O'Donnell St., Canton] and sample the world debut of the first iteration of ANTI-VENOM on cask.

ANTI-VENOM is our new series of single hopped Venom Pale Ale variants, and we’re launching it with a bang. Hopped solely with New Zealand Green Bullet hops, the first ANTI-VENOM variant boasts a refreshing tropical flavor and aroma, and crisp, bitter, lingering finish.
In addition, DuClaw is doing a second H.E.R.O. Homebrew contest.  Deadline for entries is April 18th (the day after taxes are due), and details and rules are here.

20 January 2012

An Interesting Alternate Use for Taster Racks

Spotted at Kloby's Smokehouse along Rt. 29 in "north Laurel"....  Bread Pudding Samplers.

More on the concept at HowChow.

(Bread Pudding Beer.....  hmmm.....)

The problem with Beer Advocate and RateBeer

There are folks that question the attitude of others (and, by my mentioning them, this writer) that some of the beer-rating websites, specifically BeerAdvocate.com, have been getting, shall we say, some negative attention of late.

Here's my spin on things, short, sweet, and to the point.

In any aggregation of like-minded folks, there are always a few folks that are going to carry on in exaggerated fashion, garner an undue amount of attention (typically negative in nature), and by extension cast the rest of the group or community in an undeservedly negative fashion.

At a sports stadium, it may be the guy with the "JOHN 3:16" sign, or the pack that painted their bodies in the team colors spelling out the team name and taking their shirts off in 20-degree weather to show the world and TV cameras, or the thugs that riot with supporters of the "wrong" team.

At a science fiction convention, it may be the chorus that insists on singing multiple songs in Klingon or Sindarin, or the heavyset, bearded, bespectacled guy that dresses as Sailor Moon (warning: the image at the link is not for the faint of heart).

With Christians, it's the Westboro Baptist "Church" and folks willing to shoot abortion doctors.  With Muslims, it's al-Qaeda and the Taliban.  With politics, the extremes of the Occupy Wall Street arnachists and the idiots still insisting Obama isn't an American citizen.

And among the real-ale and beer geek community, it's the Real Ale Tw*ts.

Unfortunately for the Beer Advocate and RateBeer communities, the "discussion" at said sites is becoming increasingly dominated by a certain category of beer geek/snob, around which fewer seem interested in hanging about.  It's as if a friendly beer bar with a fine selection of craft beers ended up being dominated, night after night, by a crowd of d*ucheb*gs.  The beer and food may be terrific, but the atmosphere isn't conducive to the craft or its enjoyment.  And, sadly, some misguided folks are guaranteed to walk into the "wrong" beer bar, see this audacious display, and go somewhere else to slurp Red Bulls and vodkas or Natty Boh or tequila shots instead.  And if someone goes to the manager and says "You know, those guys are a little too boisterous/physical/drunk", what should the manager's reaction be?

There's a reason I--and many others--have pretty well avoided going to BeerAdvocate and RateBeer (and even my old sentimental favorite from over a decade ago, Pubcrawler.com) except on a "need-to-know" basis.

19 January 2012

Hitachino Nest 3 Days

Regular readers here know we don't go about routinely telling them that they must try a certain beer.  Our assessment is that there's so much goodness out there that, as long as one practices proper discretion and looks in the right places, there's so much good beer out there in the Baltimore region that it's mostly a matter of personal preference, availability, and mood to find an experience far better than 90% of beer drinkers in America can readily enjoy (i.e. is it worth traveling to a venue with a cask beer simply to sample a beer on cask instead of in a bottle from a closer liquor store?  do you prefer a "hop bomb," an "alcohol bomb," or a "session beer"?).

Every once in a while, an exception occurs.  In this case, it's Hitachino Nest 3 Days.

Right at the time the Kiuchi Brewery in Naka, Ibaraki, Japan--makers of Hitachino Nest brand beers, with the familiar owl logo--was mashing a batch of its flagship weizen-style Nest Ale on March 11th, 2011, they were struck by the now-famous tsunami-generating Tohoku earthquake.  Damage to most of the brewery was limited to some loose roof tiles, about 500 smashed bottles, 212 spilled gallons of umeshu (liqueur made from ume fruit), and the bottling line.   The brewery reopened as soon as power was restored, bottling water for regional residents for free distribution and cooking up meals for local residents in its adjacent restaurant, Nakaya.

The power outage from this quake caused the mashing process of the Nest Ale to be shut down.  Over the course of three days without power, the mash started to naturally ferment, with a lactic acid cultured by the process. Hitachino completed the batch, and bottled the beer. According to B. United, their importer, there were 8,000 550-ml bottles produced, as well as a scant few 30-liter kegs.  3,000 of those bottles were allocated to North America.

Max's Taphouse tapped one of those kegs Tuesday.  It was still there tonight.  This is an incredibly complex beer for 6.5%, somewhere between a hefeweizen and a Belgian abbey.  Is it worth the (likely to be steep) price that's going to be demanded for it among beer traders and collectors?  Maybe not, but why not steer around that hype and drink it on draft instead?

More about the earthquake's impact on Japan's breweries in the Sept./Oct. 2011 issue of Draft Magazine.

18 January 2012

Stillwater Invades Scotland

Word comes, via both brewers' info sources, that Brian "Stillwater" Strumke has arrived in Scotland for several days' stay in the company of, and planned collaboration with, Bruce Williams of Williams Brothers/Fraoch Heather Ale fame.

You can pick Bruce's brain for what resulted sometime next week, when he's back in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, a video about Brian for your bemusement, courtesy of Brewmerica TV:
Brian @ Stillwater Artisanal Ale from Williams Bros Brewing Co on Vimeo.

17 January 2012

Draft Magazine's "Top 100 Bars"--The Brewer's Art and Max's (again)

Draft Magazine has selected its annual "100 Best Beer Bars in the U.S." list, and, as with last year's list, Max's Taphouse and The Brewer's Art made the list.  That's the problem with such lists--not a lot of turnover (though some are new listings).

Somebody doesn't like BeerAdvocate.com.......

.......  as evidenced by this, recently set up by someone allegedly in the Baltimore area.

No, not me.  I don't have time to care that much.  (But it means that Beer Advocate wasn't sharp enough to grab that domain for themselves just to prevent that from happening.)

16 January 2012

Burns Night(s), Punk's Birthday Bash, and more

Four upcoming events of note, three of them Scottish-themed:

Liam Flynn's Ale House is celebrating Robert Burns Night (the anniversary of the namesake's birth) on Wednesday, Jan. 25th with the now-usual weekly Celtic music session, open mic, food (regular and vegetarian haggis are promised), poetry readings, and Scottish ales and ciders.

The next night, Bruce Williams (of Fraoch Heather Ale and the Scottish Williams Bros Brewing fame) will be appearing at Max's Taphouse in Fells Point for another round of, we can safely assume, cask Scottish ales.

Bruce will also be at a 5-course, 9-beer Scottish beer dinner on Monday the 30th at Washington D.C.'s Churchkey/Birch & Barley, $73 per person:
On Monday, January 30 beginning at 7 p.m., Scottish craft brewing legend Bruce Williams, founder of Williams Brothers Brewing Company, will join us for an exceptional homage to the traditions and innovations in Scottish brewing and cooking. Beer Director Greg Engert has been working closely with Bruce to direct import some of the scarcest brews from Williams Brothers, while Chefs Kyle Bailey and Tiffany Macisaac have been working closely with Bruce to develop an inspired five-course dinner that will put a Mid-Atlantic spin on some of Scotland's classic dishes. The evening is a fantastic opportunity to meet one of craft brewing's most electric personalities. Bruce will shed light on his brews, his exceptional life, and we wouldn't be surprised if he recites some verse from Scotland's most beloved bard, Robert Burns. While the menu is still being finalized, the list of Williams Brothers brews and featured whiskeys for the evening are as follows: - Fraoch Heather Ale Matured in Auchentoshan Single-Malt Whisky Casks - Auchentoshan Valinch, Lowlands Single-Malt Scotch Whisky - Alba Scots Pine & Spruce Ale Matured in Bowmore Single-Malt Whisky Casks - Bowmore 15 Darkest, Islay Single-Malt Scotch 

At Annapolis Mall, Punk s Backyard Grill  is celebrating its third birthday on Tuesday, January 31st by hosting a local tap takeover, with nine unique and rare beers from their favorite local breweries to bring everyone a taste of what Maryland has to offer. Punk’s will also offer 10% off of all food purchases for the entire day:  
Breweries featured will include Oliver Ales (Baltimore, MD), Flying Dog Brewery (Frederick, MD), Heavy Seas (Baltimore, MD), Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Baltimore, MD), The Brewer’s Art (Baltimore, MD), Brewer’s Alley (Frederick, MD), DuClaw Brewing Company (Bel Air, MD), Tuppers’ Brewing (Bethesda, MD), and Evolution Craft Brewing Company (Salisbury, MD).

Some of the unique offerings include Bourbon Barrel Aged William’s Winter Warmer from Oliver Ales, Stateside Saison from Stillwater Ales, Lot 6 from Evolution Brewing, Kujo Coffee Stout from Flying Dog Brewery, Cask Conditioned Draft Punk and many more!

 “We’re excited to celebrate another great year at Punk’s, and in doing so, we wanted to highlight the creativity and talent of our local brewers here in Maryland,” says McCabe.  “With the recent addition of our twelve seat bar, we are excited to continue to explore the growing beer scene in and around Annapolis.”
And speaking of Max's, I probably don't have to tell anyone reading this that their annual Belgian Fest is coming up Feb. 17-19.

15 January 2012

Oatmeal = Beer?

I've come to the conclusion that oatmeal, at least in the United States, doesn't get any respect, and for the same reason beer often doesn't get respect.

Instead of a good, hearty food, what most Americans know as "oatmeal" is that instant stuff upon which hot water is poured, or which is dampened in a plastic bowl with a rip-off cover and then microwaved.  It's either maliciously bland with the consistency of wallpaper paste, or it's jammed full of sugar and a mix of artificial and "natural" flavorings.  It's often made and doled out as cheaply as possible, with a big mark-up typical of almost all breakfast cereals. And this is the product most Americans accept as "oatmeal," as it's all they've ever known called by that name.

Whereas real oatmeal, such as steel-cut oats cooked gently for a half-hour or so, is full of rich, nutty grain flavors by comparison.  And it's better for you.  But you'll probably have to go to a specialty food store to find the stuff with which to make it, or to a high-end eatery.

I suspect all we need now is an "Oatmeal Lobbyist" website ("Respect Oatmeal") and "Oatmeal Connoisseur" and "Gruel" magazines....

07 January 2012

Scots Scientists Recreate Century-Old Whisky

As reported in Popular Science:

In 1907, Ernest Shackleton and crew set out on the ship Nimrod to visit Antarctica and, they hoped, the South Pole. The good news was, the entire party survived the trip, thanks in part to the Rare Old Highland Whisky they brought to the frozen continent. But the expedition was forced to evacuate in 1909, some 100 miles short of the Pole they sought. And, as winter ice encroached and the men hurried home, they left behind three cases of the choice whisky.
In 2007, just about a century later, the whisky was found, intact, at the expedition's hut at Cape Royds in Antarctica.
The stuff was made by Mackinlay & Co at the Glen Mhor distillery in 1896 or thereabouts. Mackinlay hasn't been an active brand for a while now, but the current owner of the Mackinlay name, Whyte and Mackay, obtained a few of the precious bottles and set out to do what any right-thinking Scot would do: first, taste the whisky; and second, attempt to analyze and re-create it. The result, a product called Mackinlay's Rare Old Highland Malt Whisky, is, as of this writing, buyable in stores.
This, of course, raises two questions:

1) Given a certain Delaware brewery's a) ownership of a distillery and 2) fetish for recreating its interpretation of historic recipes based on similar chemical analysis, how long before they undertake a similar project?

2) Are any other readers here old enough to have read this and asked upon reading this story "Are those guys sure they didn't blunder upon one of those cases of Canadian whiskey Canadian Club was stashing as a publicity gimmick for years?"

06 January 2012

Sorry about that, Highlandtown......

Remember the June story announcing a new brewery for The Raven in the old Haussner's restaurant in Highlandtown?

As Emily Litella would say, "Never mi-i-i-nd!"

With the new project in Waverly, Baltimore-Washington Beer Works president Stephen Demczuk has announced that he's abandoning the Highlandtown proposal.  "Now 100% on 30th Street," he reported in an e-mail.

Specials at Alewife

Alewife doesn't get enough "love" here, so its time for a little equal time.  From their Facebook post (with a correction or two):
TONIGHT we are putting on a gravity keg of Zehendner Mönchsambacher Lagerbier; it's a Keller Bier and will not be back until next year. Next week, on Wednesday we will will have a keg of the "Big D," a collaboration of Oliver and Dawson's, and on Thursday we [will serve] the ONLY keg of  "Cedar Dales" on the east coast, there is not much of it so come down give it a try and get a pint glass.
I presume the latter refers to a cedar-wood-aged Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues; here's a review of a similar (identical?) cedar-aged Dale's.

Heavy Seas Alehouse To Open Feb. 15th

The Heavy Seas Alehouse management team has announced February 15th as their opening date--just days before Max's annual Belgian Beer Fest.

From the press release:

Chef Matt Seeber, formerly the Executive Chef at the flagship Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak at the MGM Grand for 6 years before settling in Baltimore, will lead Heavy Seas Alehouse's kitchen.
Craftsteak received numerous awards during Seeber's tenure, including the AAA 4 Diamond Award, Michelin Guide, Sante, Mobil and inclusion in John Curtas' "Eating Las Vegas: The 50 Essential Restaurants". Seeber has over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry including a term at the famed New York City Gramercy Tavern and certification as a Chef Instructor from the French Culinary Institute.

"I'm excited to be cooking focused and bold flavored food that pairs well with Baltimore's own Heavy Seas Beer," stated Seeber. "Baltimore at its core has a long standing love affair with beer and we look forward to making an impression on the scene and raising the bar on the brewhouse experience."

Vince Cassino has been named General Manager. As GM, Cassino brings with him a wealth of experience in the Baltimore restaurant arena. Former assistant GM of Sisson's Federal Hill, Cassino reunites with the team that started brewhouses in Charm City. Cassino brings an exceptional commitment to both employee and guest satisfaction that ensures a phenomenal experience for all guests.

"I'm very excited to be back in Baltimore City," said Cassino. "I believe in the exceptional quality of the Heavy Seas brands and continually promoted them even in the post-Sissons era. I can continue to do so, coming back full circle to where it all started...the great city of Baltimore."

Heavy Seas said that beer fans can help set the atmosphere at the restaurant. Those who have participated in the Clipper City Brewery tours may be familiar with the Heavy Seas Beer Blessing  invocation recited by Hugh Sisson.
Heavy Seas Alehouse is requesting video submissions by individuals performing the Beer Blessing either costumed as a Baltimore icon or in front of iconic Baltimore landmarks. Video submissions will be posted on the Heavy Seas Alehouse Facebook page where fans may vote for their favorite. The wining entrant will receive a $100 gift certificate and their video will be incorporated into the permanent video lineup broadcast at the restaurant. For full rules of the contest, interested contestants can visit