Beer Running Baltimore: The Brewer’s Art

My last day in Baltimore, and I’m in a thoughtful, contemplative mood. I’ve spent the week representing my company at a trade show. Talking to industry colleagues, customers, and potential customers always gives me plenty to think about. In addition, sluggish economies often force companies into periods of self examination, and this is certainly happening where I work. The morning run takes me along routes established earlier this week, and I spend it reflecting on the past week.

In this contemplative mood, it makes sense that my last night in Baltimore is spent in one of the intellectual hubs of the city, the Mount Vernon Cultural District, located just north of downtown. It’s home to several theaters, art museums, music and art schools, not to mention the classic looking Washington Monument in the neighborhood center. It is also home of a small brewpub called The Brewers Art, where I’m headed for the evening.

After walking up the outside stairs through Roman columns and entering the establishment, there are two choices. Either find a place in the crowded bars in either the first floor or basement for bar food, or go to the back where it’s much quieter for various beer inspired dishes at $25-$35 a plate. All by myself, I prefer to be among all the ruckus in the basement bar than the solitude of a quiet restaurant, and eventually find a place down there.

The whole place seems to be full of twenty-somethings enjoying each others company over various Brewer’s Art beers. It’s a re-assuring scene for the future of beer. There’s a chalk board behind the basement bar where the various house beers are listed. For a brewpub with seemingly artistic pretensions, many beers have cartoonish names like Sluggo, Ozzy, and Tiny Tim. I get the bartender’s attention and start with the Beacon Pale Ale.

It’s an interesting one. A bit on the strong side, it’s reasonably balanced with toasty malt and a good amount of earthy hops. It has a bit of a fruity, yeasty character, almost like there’s a Belgian beer struggling to get out of this quintessential British style ale. I also order a sausage platter with a side order of rosemary garlic fries.

Polishing the off the Beacon Pale Ale, I next try the Monument Ale, a seasonal Belgian Ale they’ve recently brewed up. It’s pretty smooth for the style, a decent amount of malt, some light fruity notes and a similar earthy hop character found in the Beacon Pale Ale. The sausage platter and rosemary garlic fries arrive. They’ve created a nice medley of different sausages, from spicy to highly savory, with some tangy sauerkraut and pickles on the side as a good counterpoint. The fries are a little limp, but otherwise, very flavorful.

Pssst…..are you starting to get a little bored reading this as I am starting to writing it? I mean, nothing is spectacular here, it’s all just very well executed. At some point, all this “goodness” starts to get a bit tedious. Couldn’t they serve up a clunker brew here, just to change things up a little bit? I’m also straining to gracefully insert a dated, 70’s pop culture reference to “tip toeing through the tulips” into this post, having concluded the evening with a pint of their Tiny Tim Ale. Can I just say this was an interesting, slightly sweet and spicy Belgian Ale and wrap things up? Thanks.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped at a store front liquor store in Mount Vernon. By luck, they happened to have bottles of The Brewer’s Art Ozzy Ale, which was sold out back at the brewpub, so I pick up a bottle to take home. Browsing the refrigerators, I saw plenty of local craft brews I hadn’t had a chance to sample, and unfortunately, there was no further room in my luggage to take any of them home. I expect to be back in Baltimore someday, and looks like they’ll be lots more beer to explore when that time comes.

(Washington Monument photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Beer Running Baltimore: Max’s Taphouse

Baltimore is one of those cities that typically elicits shoulder shrugs. Nobody seems to really know or say much about the place. It’s the weak East Coast sister to splashier Boston, New York, and Washington. Having been there before, I understand some of the ambivalence. But spending the past week at a trade show, and making a special effort to get to know the place, I’ve got to say, Baltimore doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

One of the best ways to get to know a place is to run around in it, so Monday morning, I’m out the door of my downtown hotel room to go for a run. I’m part of the morning downtown hustle and bustle, dodging and weaving through pedestrians and cars, making my way down to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor district, where I know clearer running paths await. I’m also planning to scout out Max’s Taphouse in the Fell’s Point neighborhood, which brags about having Maryland’s largest beer selection, and has drawn raves from various online beer review sites.

I get down to the Inner Harbor and follow the running path eastward past an enormous building with towering smokestacks. This imposing building was once a power plant for the city, but now houses an ESPN Sports Zone, Barnes and Noble, and Hard Rock Cafe. Baltimore is a city that has come around to embrace its traditional brick and mortar, port city roots. While it may not be flashy, it gives Baltimore an unmistakable character. Working my way through the Little Italy neighborhood behind the former power plant, I finally make my way to the Fell’s Point neighborhood, and find Max’s Taphouse.

I stop, take a quick glance inside, and see plenty of taps. The menu lists some pretty basic brewpub fare, but I doubt many people go there for the food. Well, I’ve scouted out the place and know how to get there. So I finish up the run, set up for the trade show at the convention center in the afternoon, and then make the 40 minute walk from the hotel to Max’s for dinner.

I cannot independently verify Max’s claim of Maryland’s largest beer selection. But after looking at a list of no less than 74 taps, and a bottle list that’s really an eight page pamphlet, it’s a good bet that no other place in Maryland, or in most other states, can top what Max’s has to offer. I decide to start off with the Aecht Schlenkerla Helles, a German Smoked Helles.

Smoke is a very dangerous flavor because it gives such a great dimension to food and drink, but just a little too much smoke can easily destroy everything. The brewer’s touch here is simply outstanding with such a light style. You can sense the smoke, but the brew remains light, refreshing, and nuanced.

Now on a smoked beer kick, I decide to give Victory Rauchbier Porter a try. I’ve been a fan of Victory Brewing, and always make a point to have their beer when I’m on the East Coast. Victory Hop Devil is one of my favorite IPA’s, so have high expectations for the Rauchbier Porter. I’m not disappointed, as once again, the brewer’s touch is excellent. The smoke really adds the right dimension to the rich roasted malty goodness going on here. Smoked porters go well with barbecue, so I order the pulled pork sandwich

I finish the smoked porter before the sandwich arrives. I could order another one to pair with the sandwich, but that would deprive me an opportunity to try something else, so order a pint of Smuttynose IPA. Not a great pairing with a pulled pork sandwich in my opinion, but Smuttynose is a brewery I’ve heard a lot of good things about. I also appreciate the East Coast style of maltier, more balanced IPA’s, in contrast to the blitzing West Coast style, which hit you over the head with a bunch of hops. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

The Smuttynose IPA tap handle has a picture of two friendly old men sitting next to each other in rickety lawn chairs, apparently about to commence shooting the shit about something or rather over a beer. This IPA is like those old guys, just hanging out and in no hurry to go anywhere. It starts out welcoming, with a malty, a little fruity and slightly floral taste, and then the hops start picking up steam at a leisurely pace with a warm bitter goodness. I feel like pulling up a lawn chair and joining those guys. The pulled pork sandwich arrives as I work my way through the Smuttynose IPA. For a place where the food is an afterthought, this is a well done barbecue sandwich. Nice tangy sauce, and not too much spice so the pork flavor comes through.

Polishing off the sandwich, it is time for dessert. And yes, the right beer makes a great dessert. And it’s hard to beat Southern Tier Mokah as a dessert beer. It’s a sweet, creamy beer milk shake with plenty of rich and well blended chocolate and coffee flavors. I’ve had beers with coffee in them that taste like someone just dumped some strong, leftover coffee into the brewing vat, so really appreciate the skillful brewing here.

What else can I say? A great end to a great day of exploration through beer and running.