Bar and Beer Review: Mully’s Brewery

Located in a little industrial park in Prince Frederick, MD, Mully’s is nestled along the Patuxent River in a sleepy little area. There’s farm land all around with signs announcing fresh eggs , plants, and herbs for sale every mile or so. After Sunday D&D, I followed my DM’s big old pickup truck to his favorite brewery so I could buy him a drink for his upcoming birthday. I’d had quite a few of Mully’s beers since the DM often has growlers from them for us to enjoy during play.

I enjoyed a flight of six of their beers that day and went home with one of their flagships: Patuxent Pale Ale, which is easy drinking while still flavorful. The Shucker Stout was sturdy, but unremarkable. The Jack Straw IPA was a little hoppier than I liked, but well-crafted. They were out of a pepperjack ale of some kind, so this broke my heart a little. Their Belgian strong dark ale was really well-executed.

There is limited seating, some of which faces large windows into the brewery, where massive stainless steel tanks ferment away in the next room over. Pints were all $6 each and, also for $6, my flight was an exceptionally good deal. There’s also a good deal of charming wall art around the small place. I will likely go back again in the future after some game days.

As far as one beer in particular, I especially liked the one-off JedIPA. It was a nerd beer for a nerd day, which is right up my alley. It’s a fairly cloudy, deep golden color with no real head (but a bad growler pour on my part might be responsible for that). It’s hoppy, maybe a touch floral, and a little bit sweet-smelling. There’s a pretty sweet taste up front with moderately hoppy, fresh green (but not piney/resinous green) flavors. Never dry and easy drinking.

Both JedIPA and Mully’s Brewery earn a five out of five mugs even though it’s nowhere near my house!

 

Review: BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse

Let’s be 100% honest here: it doesn’t matter which of the BJ’s locations I was at because they’re a chain and chains strive for consistency above all else. Not that that is inherently a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a big key to success in places like Starbucks (notice how they all look pretty much the same no matter where in the country or world you are?) and other big companies. BJ’s has 192 locations in 24 states. They’re pretty sizable. But the good thing? They don’t feel too much like a big chain.

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I’ve been to a few Happy Hours here and the deals are good: $1 off drafts, $2 off select appetizers, and half price 4″ deep dish pizzas. There’s always a selection of their 11 house beers/cider plus a bunch of guest taps. This is the sort of place with something for everyone.

I started with the Nutty Brewnette as I was in the mood for a brown or amber ale. Something slightly sweet. It was rainy and cold and an IPA just didn’t feel right. This beer is a medium chocolate-brown with just a little light passing through around the outer edges of the glass. It comes with a little over a finger of foamy, cream-colored head. This fades quickly, leaving slight traces of lacing behind. It smells nutty, toasty, sweet, and with a hint of cocoa maltiness to it. The taste is sweet on the palate, but it is easy to drink. Not overpowering in any way. Clocking in at just 5.9%, this is a balanced brew that’s not too heavy on alcohol/heat like some browns I’ve tasted can be.

BJs Nutty Brewnette

The Jeremiah Red was next (see? I just wasn’t feeling straight up IPAs that day). This is called an Irish Red Ale, which tends to be a little sweet, but with some hoppy dryness that almost comes off like tea sometimes can. This beer arrived a medium red-amber with golden hues, through which light passes pretty well.

Jeremiah Red

I think I take a lot of stock of this whole light thing because I had an ex who said that a sign of a good beer was one that was totally opaque. He was a stout drinker through and through and rarely strayed when it came to style. I’ve since opened myself up to tons of different beer types and don’t really have a litmus test for “good beer.” Other than that I like it, that is.

Anyway, Jeremiah Red has almost no nose, in part because it’s served quite cold (as all BJ’s beers are). There’s maybe  a whiff of something bready there. Its taste starts sweet with a nice hop finish. There’s caramel and brown sugar sweetness throughout this thing. At 25 IBU, it’s not really bitter at all. Very middle of the road. It stands up to food and I feel like anyone could enjoy this with a meal.

Pizza

Bar and Beer Review: Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD

Here’s another bar and restaurant, tucked neatly into my back yard. Yes, readers, I am still on a quest to find My Bar. Will Rams Head Tavern in Savage Mill, MD fill that opening? That’s debatable. It has some highlights, but it doesn’t really have the right vibe for me to feel comfortable there all that often. For one, it’s pretty big. It’s a three story restaurant with many tables and a bar on the main floor, more tables upstairs, and then a basement pub all the way downstairs. I’m usually a fan of cozier set ups than that.

The food is decent, though maybe a few dollars more than I generally like to spend. I’ve only been there on weekends, so I haven’t been able to take advantage of any happy hour specials (which include $3 draft beers and some free appetizers on weekdays from 4-7). Their house beers come from Dominion and Fordham Brewing in Delaware.

I grabbed a seat at the bar ahead of some friends (I’m chronically early everywhere) and was taken care of by the bartender, Mike, who I quizzed on their relationship with Fordham. As he explained it, neither Rams Head nor Fordham owns one another, but that they sort of grew up together in the Annapolis location and are now considered partner businesses.

They look like they carry at least six Fordham beers at any given time, plus about a dozen guest taps. The manager, whose name I didn’t catch, told me they have “hundreds” of bottles. Now, I’m a draft girl most of the time, but I may need to explore this in the future. Plus, on the first Thursday of every month, a new beer is released and a promotional pint glass is part of the deal (first beer is $5, you keep the glass, and refills are $2).

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My friends and I feasted on crab dip and Old Bay dry rub wings that night and, I have to say, the food was solid.

Fordham Wisteria Wheat

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This draft beer pours a clear yellow straw-like gold, so I figure it must be a filtered wheat beer. No head was present when I got this beer, but there was some mild, creamy lacing. The low light may have obscured the color of the lacing (and maybe even the beer a little). Mike said its taste trends toward banana and clove, which I like very much in wheat beers.

There’s a definite bread or grain smell with some light banana notes. There’s also a yeasty zing to the scent. It has a very light and crisp taste that mellows into banana bread and clove, just as promised. I would call it very crushable.

Crash Zone IPL

Rams Head Crash Zone IPL 001

This beer looks like an amber with a rich, creamy-looking head. There’s not much nose here, maybe a little hoppy, with some sweet grains. It smells like an amber to me. And it tastes a bit like a hoppy amber as well. The aftertaste is a little dry to the point where the finish of this beer makes me want a tall glass of water or something else on my palate. I tried a sample and I wouldn’t order a full pint.

Gypsy Lager

This is perhaps their flagship beer as well as the one I am most familiar with. I also happen to really like it. It’s solid. Pours a light golden brown. It’s clear with minimal head. It’s a very easy drinking beer. It’s mild, crisp, and refreshing when cold. Even after warming up a bit, it’s still really solid. Not impressive or special, but a genuinely good go-to.

Fordham IPA

Here’s a short review for you (because I didn’t care for it and also because I was enjoying my night with friends and not taking many notes at this point): it’s too dry and bitter for me. There’s a very dry finish. As it warmed (and as I got more inebriated), it became a little less overstated and a little more drinkable.

 

Bar and Beer Review: Olive on Main in Laurel, MD

I wanted to spend my afternoon off having lunch and a beer somewhere while running errands and Yelp suggested to me that Olive on Main might be a good choice. After waiting in line at the post office for almost 30 minutes, I was game.

In the second half of 2016, after my marriage fell apart, I had to uproot my life and move somewhere new. Alone. I picked a city nearer to a lot of my fiends, finally closer than I had been in years, but it was still a new life in a new place that I had to face on my own. This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone. I guess maybe I’m not alone with the birds, but they sure don’t pay rent.

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The place only has six taps for craft beer, so I balked a little. I’m a tad spoiled by craft beer bars with huge selections. Will this become my new bar? I treated myself to Burger (it would have been $6 on Tuesday, but I came on a Monday) cooked medium rare, and served with nice, crispy fries. It was a good, solid, flavorful, and presented on a tasty brioche bun. I’ll consider their well-reviewed falafel or a mezze platter next time.

Inevitably, I failed to take many pictures. Please find it in your heart to forgive me!

Manor Hill IPA

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Pours a lovely, hazy, dark golden color in a lightly frosty glass. It has a decently strong nose despite being poured very chilly. It smells floral and orange, lightly hoppy. The first sip is sweet, bright, and floral. It finishes with a pleasantly green happiness that’s sort of herbal in nature. It tastes the way that admiring a pretty flower garden feels.

Red Hook Long Hammer IPA

Another frost glass and a golden pour. No head and just a film of foam to be seen. I can’t detect any nose at all, maybe because of the coldness of the glass. I took a second, comically deep sniff (somewhat embarrassing in public) and got a piney hop note that was very faint. The first taste has grains, isn’t too sweet, and is mildly hoppy. It’s refreshing up front, but has a dry finish in the back. It didn’t overwhelm my food, but didn’t quite stand up to it, either. It gets happier as it warms.

 

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 3

I visited Jailbreak Brewery on a rainy Saturday in January to take their brewery tour. Our group of about a dozen people was met by Clay, who’s been a brewer at Jailbreak for about 2 1/2 years now. We started out in the mill room, where we learned a little bit about some of the ingredients and equipment that make up beer’s humble beginnings. I’m talking about malt and hops, some of which we got to see up close and smell.

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This room has a tiny little mill that cracks open the malt gently, but doesn’t make flour out of it. Jailbreak uses a lot of specialty malts in their brews in addition to new hybrids and varieties of hops that are coming around every year. Because of these ingredients, Jailbreak is pleased to have “a pretty full portfolio,” but is experimenting all the time.

Next, we took a stroll to the top of a large kettle where beer gets its start. Temperature, Clay reminded us all, is very important. After all, yeast are delicate little organisms that can only thrive in certain temperature ranges – and whether it’s an ale or a lager style beer determines how warm to keep a fermentation tank. The “wort,” which is the cooking beer liquid, must also be sterilized to eliminate any wild yeast that might get in and disrupt the expected beer process.

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I was curious what they did with all of their “spent” grains (I’ve been to brewpubs that use them in pizza or pretzel dough in the restaurant) and it turns out they go to a local farm as part of the animal feed. Less waste is always good!

Jailbreak is a 600 gallon operation, which is a decent size for such a small facility. While a one-way CO2 vent was bubbling away in a bucket of water, Clay told us that part of the reason for the brewery’s location had to do with the local water being a “pretty good blank slate.” He pointed out the prominent stainless steel tanks in the room, explaining a little about the process of cold crashing beers and managing fermentation temperatures. All in all, he said, it takes about 2-3 weeks from start to finish to brew a batch of beer.

I learned something strange and new! Yeast, that helpful little bacteria that ferments beer, reproduces very quickly. Generations can come and go in just a few weeks and with such a short life span, colonies of yeast is able to start to mutate over a relatively short period of time. This sounds like something exciting out of an issue of X-Men, but mutated yeast can spell bad news for brewers; it can mess with the consistency of breweries’ products and ruin whole batches of beer. That’s why many professional brewers only “pitch” (add/use) the same yeast strain 3-5 times.

We got to try a hefe that was about 2 days away from being ready to can. It was cloudy and flat as it’s an unfiltered beer and had not yet been force carbonated with CO2. It was bright, as a hefe weizen should be, but something about the mouthfeel was very strange without the carbonation.

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Jailbreak fills their kegs one at a time, so it can be a slow operation. In addition to carbonating and kegging or canning the beer, Jailbreak experiments with some barrel aging. Some of the barrel aging projects are up to 2 1/2 years old, many in bourbon barrels. Bourbon barrels are readily available to breweries since part of the regulation that governs what bourbon is that it must be aged in a new barrel. Used barrels are literal garbage to bourbon makers. The brewers are sampling all of these beers all the time because, as Clay says, they are “living, breathing things” and are unpredictable.

We moved next to the canning operation. I know there’s some controversy about canned vs bottled beers, but I don’t have any problems with cans myself. Jailbreak opted for cans 3 years ago because light can’t get in (which is good for hopped beers), the seams are sealed against oxidation, they’re more portable, good on palettes, and have a lower carbon footprint than bottles. Their can holders are also made from 97% recycled materials and have no holes to harm turtles or fish. Makes sense to me.

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Finally, after glimpsing cold storage, we talked a bit about the brewery’s past as well as its future. The owners were once bored government contractors that stirred up 2.5million to start the company – their escape – their “jailbreak” from their boring 9-5 jobs. They’re at the brewery almost every day. Looking forward, Jailbreak is going to change from the food truck model of service to opening their own in-house small plates kitchen, fast casual style sometime in June 2017. They also want to change from being open 4 days a week to being open 6 days a week, which will mean a change in their license from tap room to brewpub. They’re also hoping to start making cider as well.

Overall, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen and tasted from Jailbreak. They seem really dedicated to quality through repetition as well as trying new and experimental things on the side. They’re environmentally conscientious, which makes this grumpy old hippie pretty happy. And I liked all of their beers that I had  (well, except for the Ephemeral Vol 1 – but that’s just a preference thing for me). Maybe the customer service at the bar is a tiny bit lacking; there never seem to be enough bar tenders to take care of that whole tap room really thoroughly. Still, I can’t fault them for much. If you’re in the area, I definitely recommend swinging by.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 2

Continued from Part 1

On the Saturday that I visited for my brewery tour, I had the chance to try two more beers. One of those beers came free along with the brewery tour ticket, along with a Jailbreak pint glass. Bonus! I definitely recommend checking out the tour if you have about an hour, and I’ll be talking about some of what I learned in Part 3 on Friday the 10th.

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The first beer that I tried – when I’d arrived way too early for the tour (which I always, always do) – was their other amber ale, The Infinite. It pours a rich, red-brown color with a handsome, off-white head of about 1/2 inch. This leaves behind some rich lacing behind. It smells, to me, like caramel and some hops and maybe even with a touch of apricot as well.

The taste starts out very sweet, but then finishes dry on the palate. You also get the hops on the back end. And while I like hoppy reds and ambers, this one is maybe bordering on too dry for me. I still like it, but it is pushing its luck in my mind. It has a graham cracker-reminiscent sweetness to it – the plain kind, not that business with cinnamon sugar all over it.

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The second beer I had, after the tour had finished up, was the jalapeño IPA called Welcome to Scoville. It pours orangey gold with a very thin head that generates a little lacing over time. It smells like a broke spike of spice or heat, like a freshly cut open jalapeño pepper. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, though it’s maybe a little sweet, because it is primarily about the heat. And that heat grows as the beer warms up. There’s a sharpness to this beer that’s hot, but refreshing. Very different from smokier chipotle beers that I’ve had before.

Finally, there was a delicious steak and cheese sandwich! Jeno’s operated a food truck (parked in the handicapped parking spots, which I was very displeased about) out front, which served up a tasty sandwich that I would definitely buy again – after lodging a complaint with the brewery and the truck owners about their parking behavior.

Jailbreak Brewery Review Part 1

This past week, I spent two days at Jailbreak Brewery (which, it turns out, is really close to my house!). One day, I grabbed a few happy hour brews with a friend on Wednesday evening and then, when I learned they give tours of their brewing and canning operation, I bought a ticket and came back on Saturday. So maybe that makes me look like a bit of a lush – I can live with that! And I just moved and still need to find “my” local bar. Could it be Jailbreak? We’ll see.

I didn’t try every beer that they had available, but I did have quite a few different tasters and pints – so I’m calling this a review of the whole brewery, tour included (that will be in Part 3). And, heck, I’ll even throw in a food truck mention, too!

First point of order: $5 pints every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3-6pm. Yes, please! Notably, they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays thanks to some strange taproom-specific laws in Howard County, Maryland (which I have been having the darndest time pinning down with online research). Definitely worth at least checking out for that price.

The first beer that I tried was the Maple Ridge Amber Ale; I figured a nice, solid amber or red would be a good start. It pours a pretty golden brown color with a very clear appearance. There was no head on this beer, just a few webs of foam and a small ring of lacing on the inside of the glass, leaving behind very little lacing as I drink it down. I think I have the slightest cold – or maybe the nose on this beer is very faint? I get a little biscuity sweetness from it. No hops on the nose, which matches my idea of an amber ale profile. I don’t know if I’m smelling maple, per se, but I’m getting some burnt sugar on the nose.

The taste is malt-forward and sweet, both in the front and back of my tongue. There’s a heat that feels like it’s from the alcohol, though it clocks in at just 5.4% ABV. As it warms, it gets more bready and graham crackery and that warm sensation keeps up. That burnt sugar or maple taste hangs on, too. It’s a very pleasant beer, but it skews quite sweet.

Next, I asked for a taste of two of their IPAs: Poor Righterous American IPA and Ephemeral Vol. 1 New England IPA.

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First, the Ephemeral. It smells piney, resinous, but maybe a little sweet. There are some notes of bright orange and fruit. But wow. Wow. Holy wow, that is hoppy. It’s a palate wrecker and I just can’t do it. It’s dry and a punch in the face. It tastes like hay to me. It is not my thing at all.

Next, the Poor Righteous has a very dank, wet pine floor smell to me. Seriously, it smells like how I imagine licking the floor of a pine forest must taste. And yet, somehow, it makes me want to try doing just that. It tastes very hop-forward, very green, yet still a little dank. It has a slightly dry finish, but isn’t overly aggressive. Not a palate wrecker like its sibling, but bold and strong. I don’t know that I’d quite call it “drinkable” because it could maybe scare people off. It is hoppy, but not aggressively so.

Continued in Part 2…

 

 

 

Review: Great Divide Samurai Rice Ale

Normally, gluten-free or rice-based beers are just not up my alley. Rice is often an additive in cheap, mass-market swill and so it has, to me, a negative connotation (which is maybe an unfair attitude of mine, but that’s another post for another day). GF/rice-based beers have, generally, been fine, but a relatively unimpressive lot. All the same, I have to say that I enjoyed Great Divide‘s Samurai Rice Ale.

Now, I have to clarify: Samurai is not a gluten-free beer; barley is still used in the brewing process.

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I enjoyed this beer on draft at Noraneko Ramen in the waterfront district of Portland, OR. And let me tell you, Noraneko is an experience not to be missed. I know ramen shops are a bit popular these days, but not all of them do an amazing job. Noraneko really does. I ordered their regular  shoyu ramen with the “special egg” (a soft-boiled egg soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, if I know my ramen toppings) and the pork belly chasyu (slowly braised to perfection).  I also ordered kara age (fried chicken) and tsukemono (pickled vegetables) for the table to share.

The chicken and some of the pickles may have been a little too salty, but the ramen itself was very good. A fine portion for $9. Mild broth, not too salty, and with firm noodles that don’t just fall apart. The pork  belly was tender and flavorful and the egg was exactly right (I love a soft/runny yolk). The toppings included some bamboo shoots, green onion, and leafy greens, but the egg and meat are add-ons and will run you about $3 per item. It adds up, but it’s a great meal.

Right! Sorry ! Beer! Good Japanese food just gets me all excited.

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The Samurai was a draft beer poured into a pint glass. It was a beautiful golden color with a smallish white head. Not much of a nose on it – maybe a hint of cereal and something a little floral. It was served quite cold, so the smells may not have opened up yet. It tasted a little sweet at first, but very light overall. There may have even been a hint of something fruity to it. It was lightly hoppy, and a tad citrusy, but not “fruity” I guess. Not compared to, say, something like Mad Fox’s Orange Whip IPA.

It ended up as a very easy to drink beer, perfect for some flavorful food, which is kind of why I ordered a lighter rice-based ale in the first place.

My friend Sara ordered the Pho-style ramen bowl and an Off Color Troublesome Gose (which turns out to be a blend of two beers: a wheat yeast ale with coriander and a second beer brewed only with Lactobacillus bacteria). The Gose had a very sour nose, a zippy lemon taste, and a fairly light finish. James had the special BBQ ramen bowl (he was saddened by the lack of protein in it, save for the little scraps of what seemed to be brisket ends at the bottom of the bowl) and the Samurai rice ale along with me.

Cheers to good beer, good friends, and good food!

 

 

Review: BTU Brewery and Brasserie in Portland, OR

I’ll admit that I, personally, wouldn’t have thought to pair Chinese food with a brewery, but BTU proved to me that this is a concept that really works. Located in the Rose City Park area of Portland, BTU Brasserie and Brewery is next to a Thai restaurant by a fairly residential neighborhood. Its interior is set up, seating-wise, more like a bar that happens to serve food than it is like a restaurant, and so I couldn’t help but worry that the food would be mediocre fare, sacrificed to make the beer shine. Myself and two friends, S and J, grabbed a corner booth and got cozy with the menu.

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Photo by Rafael G via Yelp

There were eight beers on the menu at the time: the Brumanator (a strong, dark ale brewed with rye and blood orange), the Jade Tiger IPA (an American-style IPA), the BTU Lager, the Horned Hand (a dopplebock), the Imperial Red, the Wet Tiger IPA (their Jade Tiger, brewed with mosaic hops), the Ghostman White Lager, and the Buttah-Nut Gose (a tart ale made with butternut squash and sea salt).

As a team, the three of us ordered 5 of these selections and I stole a sip from each of them to taste. We also ordered a selection of food (not as much as we would have liked, which would have been all of the food on the entire menu). As a table, we shared Sichuan chicken (delightfully spicy at medium level heat), Copper Well Noodles with chicken (tofu was another option), Pork Bao Buns (like make-your-own little tacos!), and Garlic Chive Dumplings (amazing, savory, meaty, with a great dipping sauce). Most of the dishes are or could be made vegan, which is definitely a must in Portland.

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Bao Buns with Pork

The Wet Tiger IPA was my first beer of the night. An IPA brewed with mosaic hops (one of my favorite varietals), it was very refreshing and leaned toward sweet and lightly citrusy. It was maybe a little dry on the back end of the taste. A green-tasting, fresh sort of beer. I also had the Horned Hand myself, which was their higher ABV Dopplebock (8.5%, I think), and stood up well to the spicy Sichuan Chicken that we had tucked into by that point. It maybe grew a little sweet to for my palate once the food was done.

My friends ordered the Brumanator dark ale (a hint sweet, didn’t think I’d like it but I did, very dark/roasty/malty), the Buttah-Nut Gose (not overly sour, crisp, well-balanced saltiness), and the Imperial Red (smooth, slightly hoppy, not bitter, great mouthfeel and enough flavor to stand up to the spicy food).

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Photo by Chris B. via Yelp

We went on a Tuesday, which turned out to be all-day happy hour, meaning $5 dim sum dishes and $3 brews. Overall, everything was priced well, even before that discount. Perhaps more expensive than a traditional cart dim sum place, but not by very much. We stayed for two rounds of beer and talked about everything from football to writing to sewing. The restaurant grew busy around us with plenty of families with children filling it up; it grew noisy but never so loud that we couldn’t talk easily.

If I lived in the area (and wasn’t just visiting), I’d probably make BTU Brasserie and Brewery a pretty regular stop for small plates and beer. Especially with the happy hour prices, and all-day happy hour Tuesdays, it’s a wonderful local spot.