28 November 2008

The Owl Bar

The Baltimore Sun's Sam Sessa ("Midnight Sun") has a post on the wonderful place all of us beer geeks keep passing up in order to go across the street to the Brewers' Art:

The Owl Bar. In the former Hotel Belvedere at Chase and Charles Streets.

Yes, the bar, as well as the lobby you pass through to get there, is a freakin' time capsule, although the beer selection now reflects modern drinking sensibilities, with a good selection of micros. If you haven't been there, you must go. Now. Before someone manages to turn it into a modern nightclub or a sushi bar. Dress properly; I feel out of place in sneakers there. Bonus points for a fedora and trenchcoat. And check out what may be one of the last phone booths in Baltimore while you're there, before the phone companies render the last of Superman's changing rooms to the history bins.

(For any phone historians keeping track, I believe Baltimore's last actual free-standing phone booth--a three-sided box with a door or one in a past life, not a phone stand or kiosk--sits on the south side of Wilkens Avenue just west of Hilton Avenue, outside St. Agnes Hospital. I'd welcome reports of any others in the region; the last one in the metropolitan DC region, in Clarendon, Va., was removed earlier this year.)

Resurrection in Bottles at last!

Volker Stewart of the Brewer's Art had asked me to keep the details on this quiet for a while to save potential embarrassment, because thay had production/distribution delays, but seeing as the Baltimore City Paper has started running ads for the stuff..........

The bar's trademark and flagship elixir, Resurrection Ale, will debut in 750-ml bottles on December 16th at the "usual" retail and bar locations around the area. It's being brewed and bottled, along with its siblings Le Canard and Ozzy, at Sly Fox in Phoenixville, Pa. I'll be surprised if there aren't "sneak previews" at some venues before the 16th, particularly the Brewers Art holiday beer tasting on Dec. 6th (though opening bottles of that stuff where the draft is made seems to be totally missing the point!).

So You Have To Drink Before Eating Turkey?

I heard several media reports (radio, Baltimore Sun, et al) reporting--for the first time that I've ever heard it--that the day before Thanksgiving is either THE busiest/biggest drinking day of the year or one of the top drinking days.


Excuse me, but: wotthehell? How come nobody gave ME this memo?

You can't be serious. Bigger than Christmas? Bigger than New Year's Eve? Bigger than Stupor Bowl Sunday? Bigger than Amateur Drunken Irish Idiot Day, or the day of the parade for that occasion?

Sorry, folks, I need convincing. Methinks the news media was the victim of yet another scare-mongering press release from Mothers Against All Drinking--err, Against Drunk Driving.

Although, truth be told, in my driving on Turkey Day, I was positively stunned at the number of liquor stores I saw open late into the night in southern Maryland. And I did speak with a relative who is better in touch with a younger demographic than I am. She said, "Makes sense..... you have a whole bunch of young people,freshly 21, home from college or wherever else for the holiday, in town early on Wednesday night, nothing to do but go out with their high school buddies and catch up. And, you know, some people just may need a couple drinks to be able to deal with their parents or other relatives...."

Okay, maybe if we count drinking at home. But out at bars?

Any others out there that can come up with statistics--or the MADD press release? Tom? Lew? Greg? Anyone?

Online search uncovers a debate last year on the topic.


22 November 2008

Blob's Park Update

I stopped by Blob's Park in Jessup en route to a memorial service today. Long story short: Renovations are continuing apace, and the only hold-up is how fast the county issues the various and sundry permits. The new owner puts the odds of being open for the planned New Year's Eve celebration at "50-50".

21 November 2008

Beer Joke of the Day

courtesy of Geekpress:

An infinite number of mathematicians walk into a bar.
The first one orders a beer.
The second orders half a beer.
The third, a quarter of a beer.
The bartender says "You're all idiots", and pours two beers.

20 November 2008

Rare Beer Notes

JWLees Harvest Calvados cask (a wooden pin on the bar): the ambrosia you expect. Just shut up and order this, and dig for the apple cider character.

BFM Abbaye de Bon Chien and La Mandragore: Had AdBC a while back with the brewers when they were here--a funk-fest, interesting but too tart to be fun for me. The Mandragore is, according to the label pasted on the tap handle, a dark ale on lees, "smoked and roasted, sweet and full-bodied"..... I call false advertising. It's ridiculously light-bodied for 8.0%, a good hint of smoke but almost wiped out by the tart Belgian palate. Call it a tart Belgian rauchbier.

Southern Tier Creme Brulee: Thought I had this, obviously not. This is what I would expect if you made a vanilla/chocolate liqueur and watered it down. The flavor--caramel, vanilla bean, and lactose sugar in a milk stout--is terrific but smacks just a bit too much of artificial flavors, like a trashy schnapps watered down.

Smuttynose Brett & I 7.0%: quite nice and drinkable for a Belgian Strong Pale. VERY smooth and tasty, just enough Belgian to be interesting but a good bitter finish.

Birra de Borgo Genziana 5.5% Italian saison w/ coriander & gentian: a nice spicy summerweight, not sure anyone could I*D the spices but delightfully "green" (think cucumber/lettuce, not raw beer) and almost Thai in character. Bring me a hot Indian curry with this!

Dogfish Head Palo Santo: They say brown ale, I say porter, extra dark. VERY woody and creamy, sort of sweet with a tannic edge that leans vegetable or astringent. Stone fruit, cherry-laced expresso, leaqning towards barrel-aged stout that isn't bourbon...... maybe red wine or port? Would I have more? Hell, yes, but only in the right frame of mind and palate.

Dogfish Head Theobroma 10% brewed w/Aztec cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, honey, chiles and Annatto (fragrant tree seeds, it says--go ahead and internet-search it yourselves): pale amber, almost bright. This is yet another case where I think Dogfish went crazy for crazy's sake. It's a good beer, and were I drinking it in Mexico or even arid Arizona I might wax eloquent, but here and now it disappoints. Maybe it has something to do with the cold weather outside for the past week or so? This would work excellently in Frisco Grille in the summer, but not here and now.

18 November 2008

Rare Beer at Max's Thursday

The final list for Max's "Rare & Obscure Beers" Thursday beginning @ 5 PM:

George Gales Prize Old Ale
JW Lees Harvest Ale Aged in Calvados
De Regenboog Catherine The Great
BFM Abbaye De Bon Chien
BFM La Mandragore
JW Lees Harvest Ale
Southern Tier Choklat
Southern Tier Creme Brulee
Smuttynose Brett & I
Smuttynose Jack Daniels Porter
Smuttynose Oak Aged Barleywine 2005
Great Divide Espresso Yeti
Dogfish Head 120 Minute
Dogfish Head Theobroma
Dogfish Head Palo Santo
Dogfish Head Pangaea
Allagash Victoria
Allagash Black
Birra De Borgo TE
Birra De Borgo Genziana
E. Dupont Organic Bouche Brut 2007
Samichlaus Helles
Piccolo Birrificio Chiostro

16 November 2008

Baltimore Beer Week: What do YOU want to see?

Now comes the brainstorming.

We've announced the coming Baltimore Beer Week below--next October. About all we definitely have are the dates. We also know that the Brewers Assn. of Md. will hold its annual Oktoberfest on Saturday the 10th, and that the SPBW is slated to hold its annual Chesapeake Real Ale Festival on Oct. 17th. In theory, we can push the week to include Friday the 9th and Sunday the 18th.

What other events would you like to see?

The idea is to push the envelope as far as we can get away with. The bare minimum would be just what you'd expect: hearty participation by the brewpubs and the prime local beer bars (Max's, Mahaffey's, Ale Mary's Baltimore Taphouse, Metropolitan, Muggsy's, Grand Cru, etc.). It's fair to expect a beer dinner or three, maybe many at many venues--maybe even beer dinners at places that don't normally do beer....... Sushi and beer? Indian food and beer? Vegan food and beer? Beer and steaks? Beer and the farmers' markets? But best of all, even the smallest corner dives in the city should be persuaded to get a local-beer tap on for the week.

One of my suggestions was to do a banquet-style dinner with as many of the "pioneers" of the craft-brew renaissance as we could gather: Hugh Sisson, the British/Oxford guys, Bill Oliver, Volker Stewart, Jim Lutz, and the like. There could also be other dinners for other themes: extreme beers, vintage beers, and the like. The only problem that I forsee is that none of the surviving beer halls, with the possible exception of the under-renovation Blob's Park in Jessup, are really that suitable for a beer dinner with speakers, much as the Brickskeller in Washington D.C. has perfected over the decades. (The former Baltimore Brewing Co. would have been perfect..... *sigh*...) Soneone who shall remain unnamed floated a perfect alternative: the Baltimore Museum of Industry. It fits the theme of the venue, they have the room, and they cater events. Hmmmmm......

Anyone want to do a breweriana show? Maybe the Sunday after the Oktoberfest?

Regional homebrew expo?

Special beer for the week? Sort of on the lines of the BAM Sticke Alt they had for this year's Oktoberfest, but more for more venues. What style should it be? (Personally? I'd prefer a bottle-conditioned or cask best bitter, akin to the old original Wild Goose Amber or Snow Goose, but I have obvious prejudices....)

Come on, folks. Comment away so I can pass on your ideas! (Well, the practical ones, anyway.)

"They're crazy and they're kooky......."

We all know it as the "Addams Family Mansion." Or maybe the "Munsters' Mansion." (Well, those of us old enough to remember the TV shows do, at least.)
The 1887 American Brewery (originally the Wiessner Brewery) and surrounding buildings on Gay Street in eastern Baltimore have been under renovation by developers and the city for several years now, a process prolonged by decades of severe neglect and deterioration. This afternoon, the city "celebrated" a milestone in the renovation with the completion of exterior renovations to the building. (Basically, it was a photo op for mayor Shiela Dixon and her political cronies--how else could they drop references to the recent presidential election and get a crowd chanting "Yes we can!" repeatedly?)
The iconic Brewhouse building will be occupied by Humanim, a non-profit human services agency, which expects to relocate 200 staffers to the building and hire an additional 50 locally. The renovation and restoration is incorporating a few token elements of the brewery's design and function, similar to the fashion in which the Power Plant on the Inner Harbor incorporates details such as the smokestack flues and boiler shells in the Barnes & Noble bookstore in the building. The total estimated cost of the renovation is slightly over $21 milion, being paid for with a dizzying array of tax credits, grants from foundations, city money, corporate donations, and the like. a separate bottling building, of utilitarian industrial design but somehow also on the National Register of Historic Places along with the Brewhouse, will be separately developed beginning in 2009.
There was a block party for the locals and interested folks (in the raw and cold wind today, this writer may well have been the only "outsider" present other than other media, politicians, and developer reps). Free hot dogs, popcorn (regular or caramel), and sodas (what, no beer?).

12 November 2008

The Parkside: Kids Welcome!!!

Finally, the other beer-friendly project in Northeast Baltimore is open. And it's good news for a LOT of beer fans.

A kid-friendly beer bar. Seriously.

Located at 4709 Harford Road, just north of Harford and Moravia in the Lauraville neighborhood, The Parkside is an odd project, the work of ex-Brewers Art employees Chris and Colleen Cashell and Vickie Johnson. Let's see, it's a bar, it's a restaurant, it's a bakery, it's a market, it's a carryout, it's a kid's playground, it's a deli....... have I left anything out? The closest I can come in character/feel to the place is a scaled-down version of Franklin's in Hyattsville, the combined brewpub/"general store"/liquor store.

The establishment sort of sneaked open earlier this month, and is still not quite up to speed--the bakery, deli, and market end is only semi-stocked so far. The bar is attractive, with the bar surface itself looking like a bowling alley lane ("It's not a bowling alley; it just looks like one," said Chris, proud of his handiwork). The bar has six draft lines so far, two reserved for Brewer's Art products and the other four to rotate according to availability and whim (Troegs Dopplebock and Victory Hop Devil on as of today), plus an impressive bottled beer line-up along with some limited (for now?) wine and good spirits.

The feature that sets this place off from all the others is a fenced-off play area for small children. This is not only for the benefit of the owners' children, but for all children of patrons. The venue is designed to be children-and-parent-friendly, a concept all too rare in the American alcohol-retail business where the mantra, thanks to Puritanical American attitudes about booze, is "No Children!" There's even a Sunday brunch. (Note: the play area closes at 8 PM, and you do have to mind your children--no dropping them off as child care.)

The website, including hours, menus, etc.: http://www.theparksideonline.com/ . As with the rest of the place, still a work in progress.

I don't have what we Scots call "wee bairns," but I know plenty of folks who do, including my sister and several beer aficionados. It's simply unrealistic to expect someone to bring his wife and small kid(s) to a place like Max's, The Brewers Art, or even the "family-oriented" brewpubs like Red Brick Station. I want this place to succeed, if only to offer the "family men" a night out.

Parkside Fine Food and Spirits on Urbanspoon

11 November 2008


The official announcement:

October 9-18, 2009!

Featuring the Brewers Assn. of Md. Oktoberfest beer festival, the Chesapeake Real Ale Festival, and many beer events in between!

MARK YOUR CALENDARS! BE THERE OR..... well, I'll drink your beer, then. >;-D

[Drop me a line if you're interested in participation, sponsorship, etc.--I'll forward you to the right committee members.)

01 November 2008

Wild Goose Pumpkin Patch and Snow Goose--and a vintage Snow Goose!

It took considerable effort, but I finally located a sixer of Wild Goose Pumpkin Patch Ale at Shawan Liquors, and a day or two later the first of the 2008 Wild Goose Snow Goose.

Pumpkin Patch: I had a fellow beer writer insist that he just didn't care for pumpkin beers, any of them. I encouraged him to seek out this option and report back to me. I'm still awaiting comment from him, but as for us:

Lovely bright amber, decent head retention, malty and vaguely bakery-reminiscent nose (pie crust?) with delicate spice notes. This is really a spiced ale with those distinctive cinnamon, ginger, clove, allspice, and nutmeg notes (yes, that's the classic pumpkin pie spice combination). The label says it has pumpkin in it, but truth be told, if you don't tell someone they well may not figure it out. And that's what I like about this-it's still beer, not pumpkin with some beer thrown in like some of the pumpkin beers out there. (Although my wife found herself partial to Cape Ann Pumpkin Stout.....) 6.0% abv, 28 international bittering units. This could make a lovely winter warmer. And speaking of that...........

Snow Goose has long been a personal favorite of mine, dating back to its first batch in 1993. It was originally a richer, maltier version of Wild Goose; with some of the primitive equipment and lack of filters at the original Cambridge brewery, it inadvertently became a bottle-conditioned beer. Even when it first came out, I recognized the high malt content and bottle conditioning as a potential beer for aging, and laid down several bottles beside the Thomas Hardy's Ale bottles in hopes of coming up with something good.

Does it keep? I took my last 1993 bottle to the "reopening of Wild Goose" party (basically the fourth rebranding of the old Blue Ridge brewery) in Frederick two years ago, when old Goose partner Jim Lutz was brought back in by Flying Dog as VP-Sales for their newly-purchased eastern brewery (soon to become their only brewery). Jim proceeded to drag the brewers back into the brewery's lab along with me and my bottle, and opened it up to pass it around, proclaiming "That's what we need to be doing, that's what we need to aim for!" Yes, it was old, quite a bit stale and oxidized (well, come on, they used green Beck's bottles back then!), but the flavors were all there, nicely mutated into almost a lightweight Thomas Hardy's.

And 2008's version? 6.3%, 30 IBUs, says the label. (Both labels have been recast to fit a new label image for Wild Goose that's been shipping for several months; thankfully, both seasonals feature at least a token appearance of a version of the original flying goose graphic, and the Snow Goose features some appropriate dustings of snow; they're nice, but I will miss the ever-changing art of the original versions, and most especially the goose-in-a-pumpkin-patch one.) Pours dark mahagony and bright (nope, dammit, no yeast lees in the bottle) with rich head retention. A dry malty nose with a solid bit of roast there. Flavor: Very malty, dry, and biscuity, properly English, and lurking behind all that roast is that fruity ale yeast character that in the past has almost resembled fruit cocktail juice flavor. The hops linger in the finish. I'm almost anticipating a snowstorm outside as I finish this--that's how much the flavor has been conditioned into my DNA by now. Overall impression: a quite drinkable winter warmer, light enough on body to not demand a blizzard and fireplace but still hearty and dynamic. It'll never get anywhere among the disciples of the "extreme beer" movements, and that's largely why I dismiss such rantings as testosterone-driven folderol.

And now, for a special treat for the readers here--okay, for me, definitely, for you it depends how much you like living vicariously through me--out comes a dust-covered green bottle of 1994 Snow Goose!

Upon pouring, the vicinity fills with a nose of malty butterscotch! Heavens, I keep forgetting! Huge head, takes several pours to fill the glass and decant it. A deeper, slightly more opaque red, rich head retention. Nose depends on who's sniffing; a Beer Judge Certification Proram panel could go miles with some of the "off" scents and flavors of damp cardboard and diacetyl (hey, nobody planned this beer to be aged this long!), but I get notes of sherry and raisins, maybe a hint of tawny port, amidst a complex fruit cocktail. Flavors of light butterscotch, crystal malt, and stone fruit. My wife suggests that it smells vaguely like Samichlaus. Upon further sipping, the buttery notes of Ringwood become more prominent. The overall flavor and mouthfeel is hideously complex--like a watered-down Thomas Hardy's, as if someone designed a 6%-ish beer to totally offend a Bud Light or Natty Boh drinker. The overall finish is sweet and almost cloying, but still good in retrospect--and a final hint reminiscent of peat smoke (and I have a homebrewer friend who tosses peat into the fireplace now and then, so I know the real thing).

I polish off the last sips of the 2008 Snow Goose, and it seems like a total waste, like chugging a Sam Adams shot following a J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.

Please, Jim and Wild Goose/Flying Dog, I beg and implore you: go back to bottle-conditioning this damned beer, or at least start throwing us lowly peons a few firkins of this ambrosia. And if possible, stop filtering the character out of this Snow Goose, please!

More on Blob's Park

The Annapolis Capital newspaper has more on the pending reopening of Blob's Park in this article from about a week ago.