24 April 2008

Yummy Smuttynose

Metropolitan Coffeehouse in Baltimore's Federal Hill is pouring another of their one-off treats this week for the Firkin Thursday: Smuttynose's IPA, 6.6%, on handpump, dry-hopped in the firkin with Simcoe hops. Now, normally I'm not a Simcoe fan--Weyerbacher's Double Simcoe a few years back left me almost wincing in semi-pain as just too "over-the-top" in more ways than one--but this works nicely. Hazy golden, rich head, outrageously distinctive hop nose--it's neither piney nor grapefruity; I'm inclined to compare it to white grapefruit, if only because I had terrific pink grapefruit with breakfast this morning, and that ain't it. Okay, call the nose grilled grapefruit drizzled with honey. Flavor: lots of hop bitterness, but well balanced between grassy notes, pine needles, dandelion, and white grapefruit. Maybe it's the cloudiness, but I get a touch of dandelion wine in the body and finish. (And yes, the thought occurs to me as I type this: how many readers of these words have ever sampled dandelion wine??) Outrageously complex and full-flavored, but dangerously drinkable. Do come and drink this richness and relish in the lovely day and beer that it is, but be careful.

Owner/manager Bruce Dorsey stops by and tells me about a couple brewpubs in Argentina he had chance to sample as part of an Argentine wine vacation. Well, bully for him--but is this Anglophile still holding it against Argentina for the Falklands War in1982? I guess not.

And how does Metropolitan manage to score such incredible firkins? They took a proactive move that I think more places should adopt.

Mixing Politics and Beer: Is There ANY Hope?

Lew Bryson's comments on the Pennsylvania primary and some beer images that popped up as a result (primarily Barack Obama quaffing an ESB sample at Bethlehem Brew Works) and the hubbub that erupted in the blogosphere at Hillary Clinton supposedly partaking of a Canadian whiskey in a photo op (instead of, say, a Kentucky or Tennessee whiskey) leads me to a somewhat obvious conclusion:

Is there really ANY booze of any kind that a presidential candidate could consume that would have nothing but a positive connotation, or at least that some twit couldn't twist or misconstrue in some fashion?

Frankly, I think Obama's photo op is about as close to "safe" as someone can come: Let's see, locally-made beverage, "working man's drink," no packaging means it's a "green" choice...... but maybe it's a non-union shop, or BBW doesn't compost their wastes, or.......

Supposedly Ms. Clinton was reported in the Philly Inquirer as being fond of Blue Moon with a slice of orange. Throw aside all the implications of "chick beer" that screams...... a Coors product, from a company run by a very ardent Republican supporter? I'm surprised that the Democratic blogosphere hasn't crucified her already (or maybe they have and I just don't pay attention to them).

But seriously, what else? Are any of us still boycotting the French because of the whole lead-up-to-Iraq thing? (I know at least one bloke that is--in more serious economic terms than just not buying a beer or wine.) Drinking at all--does that turn off the Bible-thumpers or the MADD/AA crowd? (Being a supposed teetotaler hasn't apparently hurt Bush 43 in any way that I can see.) And we're still suffering the long-term ratifications of Jimmy Carter's brother: "I have this six-pack of Billy Beer in unopened mint condition, how much is it worth?" What if a candidate ate sushi and drank sake?

German beer: Might offend those few Jews that might prove said brewery was a participant in Nazi horrors decades ago. Japanese beer/sake: ticks off Pacific WW2 vets or those carmakers displaced by Japanese carmaker successes. South African wines: will probably cheese off African-American activists, even if for no good reason. Tequila, vodka, rum, or any spirits? Probably "corrupting our youth as a bad influence."

Looks like the only choice is to go to a brewpub. That, or very local wine.

Got a better answer?

22 April 2008

City Paper Brew Fest

The 12th annual City Paper Brew Fest is this Saturday. It really needs no plug from me; it usually manages to sell out absent anything but a monsoon, and last year the line for admission to the fest wrapped completely AROUND the entire Broadway square at Fells Point. In spite of advance ticket sales.

One brewery on the list (see ad at link above) that's still an enigma for us: St. George Brewing of Hampton, Va., which despite being around since 1998 has yet to make any inroads into the Baltimore or Maryland market that I can tell, in spite of also being present at last year's City Paper fest.

I always liked the mysterious-looking, vaguely Aztec-like bird that is part of the promotional graphics. But of course, the obvious question: Given that the City Paper runs Tony Millionaire's "Maakies," wouldn't Drinky Crow (above) be a better mascot?

Okay, maybe not.

The Case Against Pa.'s Liquor Control Board

I'm a Pennsylvania native. When folks asked why I moved to Maryland years ago, one of my standard jokes was that I was getting away from Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board and its antiquated business models--beers only available by cases from mostly dusty and seedy-feeling "distributors," a bureaucratic and monopolistic State Store system, etc. I despised the fact that, to get a decent beer selection, I had to drive to visit my friends in Delaware and then duck across the state line to State Line Liquors in Maryland, then technically break the law by driving home with "foreign" beers. In a case of bitter irony, though, one of the best brewpubs in the nation (in my opinion and several others') opened in my hometown several years after my departure.

Well, fellow beer writer/blogger Lew Bryson is now so fed up with the PLCB that he went this far.

A stand-alone blog attacking the PLCB.

Up and at 'em, Lew.

07 April 2008

Federal Hill Update

A request from a reader basically kicks my posterior into updating and highlighting some new places at the same time. Specifically, I was asked about any places to drink in Baltimore's Federal Hill.

First, the new place: I was informed by Ken Krucenski, the former owner of Sean Bolan's in Federal Hill, that he and partners basically "repossessed" the former bar at 1236 S. Light St, which had been operating as Clayton's for the past year or so. It has been re-sold, this time reborn as Muggsy's. I visited the other day; if you remember the original Sean Bolan's, you'll be right at home. They've got a nice selection of craft and craft-like beers (the most unusual when I was there: Saranac Pomegranate Wheat) in both bottles and draft, and a decent-looking menu.

Next, the other new upstart in the neighborhood, Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar. Well, not really new--you've seen a mention or two on this blog already. The former One World Cafe at 902 S. Charles St. has a limited but good selection of drafts and bottles to complement its coffees, teas, and wines.

An old standby for good beer in the neighborhood is the Ropewalk Tavern at 1209 S. Charles St. This place has long had a dependably large selection of bottles and drafts, but at the same time has the distinction of being possibly the only venue in the nation to demand its removal from the popular Pubcrawler website, allegedly over a long series of (possibly politically motivated) bad reviews and their attempts to have same removed from the website. Others simply don't seem to care for the overall atmosphere in the bar; it seemingly attracts a somewhat gregarious, affluent, and "yuppie" crowd that doesn't seem to sit well with some beer consumers.

Illusions, at 1025 S. Charles St., is an interesting diversion from the usual bar scene--a magic-themed lounge serving a high-classed clientèle, as well as Magic Hat beers. Oddly, no draft beer yet, but probably one of the more interesting experiences you're likely to see in Baltimore's bars. Watch out for a weekend cover charge and dress code (no sneakers or baseball caps).

I would be remiss if I didn't mention what is technically Federal Hill's only "brewpub", the Dog Pub at 20 E. Cross St. They don't brew the beers on premises, but instead own the former Clay Pipe brewing facility out in Westminster, where they brew for both this location and a new site in Columbia, Md. They formerly served re-badged Old Dominion products before the sale of OD to Coastal/Anheuser-Busch and their dropping from the Maryland market, forcing them to "brew or die". Happy hour gives you two beers (10-0z. mugs) for $4; the beers are at least distinctive and a definite step up from macro-swill or NAILs (North American Industrial Lagers), but almost completely overshadowed by the other "players" in town. But the pizzas are terrific. (Nope, no website. Try an Internet search for more reviews.)

If you walk by 36 E. Cross St., pay tribute to the original site of Maryland's first new-generation brewpub, Sisson's. It's now two generations past, operating as Ryleigh's Oyster House, and though the old taps were still there last I looked, the place has nothing left of the original claustrophobic shoehorned-in brewery (which is now in service in West Virginia as Mountaineer Brewing, run by Brian Arnett, the last brewer at the Ryleigh's brewpub). Sisson's, of course, mutated into Clipper City Brewing Co., still run by Hugh Sisson in Arbutus/Halethorpe.