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: Running Up Federal Hill and Mick O’Shea’s

Day two in Baltimore, and decide to run a different route. I head down towards the Inner Harbor as before, but once there, still proceed south to Federal Hill, which overlooks the Inner Harbor district. Hill running is a great way to get a hard work-out in the middle of a run. It’s also a great way to experience the land topology, as you actually feel the ups and downs of what you are running through. There’s a small municipal park at the top of the hill, with great views of the city. It turns out this location high up above the harbor with all the great scenery was used as a tactical military location during a difficult moment in our nation’s history, the Civil War.

The first casualties of the Civil War are believed to have occurred during the Baltimore Riot of 1861 on April 19. Union troops travelling through Baltimore on their way to Washington, DC needed to transfer to a different train to complete the trip, since no direct rail route through Baltimore to Washington, DC existed at the time. Mobs of secessionists and Southern sympathizers attempted to block the troops changing trains, which escalated as the mobs started throwing large rocks and objects. Finally, panicked Union soldiers opened fire. Twelve civilians and four Union soldiers died before the Union troops made it to their destination.

That night, Union troops under the cover of darkness lead by General Benjamin Butler quietly occupied the hill, and set up a cannon aimed at the heart of the city. The city of Baltimore had long been a city sympathetic to the Southern cause, and a city so close to Washington falling under Confederate control was a major Union concern. The occupation of Federal Hill was a Union success, as Baltimore remained in Union hands throughout the entire war. So the hill I ran up that morning played a small role holding this country together.

That night, I stopped in at Mick O’Shea’s, just a couple blocks from my hotel in downtown Baltimore. As you might expect from the name, it’s an Irish bar, with plenty of dark wood fixtures, Guinness signs, and brick and mortar walls. There’s a couple of TVs inside so patrons can follow the Orioles or Ravens. Trish, the bartender greets everyone walking through the door by their first name and pours their favorite drink in a single motion. I’ve never been there before, so tell her I’ll have a Yuengling lager.

I order a Yuengling (pronounced “Ying Ling”) not because it is the oldest brewery in the United States, but because it is a great lager. Sometimes, I hear beer geeks talk about getting into lagers. Why did they get out of them? To me, Yuengling lager is a study in simplicity, with a crisp caramel malt and earthy hop finish. That’s it. It isn’t a beer that requires nine different fruits and spices to describe, and that’s why I like it.

I had a few Yuenglings over that week at O’Shea’s. There’s really no neighborhood bar where I live, and so when on the road, I sometimes adopt one for a few days. You can easily beat O’Shea’s beer selection, but you can’t beat O’Shea’s as a place for people to get together. One night, I struck up a conversation with the person next to me and turns out, he was a Chicago Cubs fan just like me, and grew up in Holland, MI. I had actually been to Holland, MI for a collegiate cross-country race so we talked a little about the town, and what it was like for him to grow up there. One of the many great things about beer is that it brings strangers together.

Mick O’Shea’s had another tasty brew on tap called Resurrection by a local brewery called The Brewer’s Art. I enjoyed this smooth Belgian style beer with a cherry-like tartness, and wondered where it came from. I ask the bartender,”I’m from out of town. Can you tell me where The Brewer’s Art is located?”, figuring it is somewhere around Baltimore, but miles away.

To my surprise, she replies,”It’s a brewpub about eight blocks up the road, you ought to go sometime.”

Just eight blocks away? Looks like I need to check this place out.