Review: Gilly’s Craft Beer & Fine Wine

Disclaimer: Gilly’s used to be My Bar. Capital M, capital B. Mine. I lived about a 10 minute walk from it and went there way more than is probably healthy, both to drink and to write (while drinking). I don’t live there any longer, but I still always stop by for a pint when I’m in the area. So I’m probably biased toward the place, but it had several years to really win my affection.

They’re both a bottle shop and a beer and wine bar with 19 rotating taps. Additionally, they sell genuinely delicious sandwiches and cheese plates if you feel like snacking (although the sandwiches here are for more than a mere snack – they’re significant). The staff is always knowledgeable about their beers, and even just beer in general, and always give out plenty of sample tastes upon request.

oliver-intrigue-in-tangiers-001

Last year, they joined up with Untappd and became a verified venue and now use a large screen TV and Untappd software to keep a live list of their beer menu. Gone are the days of printed menus and sharpie lines through the kegs that had kicked! If you check in at Gilly’s using Untappd, your user name and icon appear on the screen as well – a sort of digital territory marking for beer nerds, I guess.

I started with a spiced beer, Oliver’s Intrigue in Tangiers. I asked a little about it and learned that this brew was a collaboration between Oliver Brewing Company and Charm City Meadworks, both Baltimore local businesses. This beer is “brewed with orange blossom honey and gently spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander and star anise.”

It pours a nice ruby brown color with a little off-white head that falls quickly and leaves lacing behind in its wake. I noticed very little nose, perhaps because the pour was so cold. Maybe I get a hint of a citrus smell, but I didn’t notice any spices on the nose.

The first taste is a brown ale with a slight peppercorn hint at the back of the throat. It’s lightly sweet, but not too malty. I’d say that there’s a slight tartness to it. I don’t find it at all dry or bitter and there’s a sort of heat to it that feels alcoholic. The drier finish becomes more apparent as this beer warms. It’s light and crisp with low carbonation. Easy to drink, but not as remarkable or distinct as other spiced beers I’ve tried.

I also splurged on a 10oz pour of a $16 sour beer from Belgium. The Brouwerji Alvinne Cuvee Freddy was a treat. It pours a beautiful, dark brown, ruddy color, quite opaque. No head at all on this pour. It has a really sour and funky smell to it and the taste is an amazing puckery sour! Honestly, it’s one of the best sours I may have every had – and for that price, it better be!

brouwerij-alvinne-cuvee-freddy-001
Photo by @stunim of Instagram

Craft Beer Beginnings

Beer as a part of pop culture is nothing new. It’s been deeply tied to sports culture for decades and plays a big role in poker nights and movie nights everywhere. The idea of a cold brew paired with some kind of entertainment is etched deeply into our American brains.

Frat parties and beer chugging didn’t originate with the 1978 movie Animal House, but the parody of Greek culture popularized the idea of wearing a bedsheets toga while shotgunning a beer. Cheers let us know that there’s somewhere where everybody knows your name and where you can get a cold brew. Budweiser dropped memorable commercials full of clydesdales and people shouting waaaazzzzup at one another during big events like the Super Bowl.

craft-beer-beginnings

The thing is, most of these examples come from an era before the craft beer movement was even a twinkle in most brewers’ eyes. Generally, frat parties, Super Bowl parties, and neighborhood watering holes have featured – and continue to feature – sub-par swill from the biggest brewers and distributors in the world. These watery, additive-filled beers are best served icy cold (so you can’t taste them) and drunk quickly (so they don’t get warm, so you can’t taste them) while paying attention to something else.

But there’s been a shift in the past 20 years, and an even more rapid progression toward craft brewing and wide distribution in then past 10. It was only in 1982 that Hilton Harvest House in Boulder, Colorado, hosted a mere 20 breweries (serving only 35 beers) for the first Great American Beer Festival. Today, the annual event features more than 2,000 beers. I’d call that a turning point in the trends of what really mattered to beer drinkers.

craft-beer-beginnings-002

The Boston Beer Company was founded in 1984 and, better known as Sam Adams, it revolutionized the kind and quality of beer that was being made readily available to drinkers in the U.S. While it is now debatably too big to be called a “craft brewery” any longer, it was undeniably a huge influence on the movement as we know it. Love it or hate it, the Boston Beer Company shaped the way we drink today.

craft-beer-beginnings-003
Photo from phillymag.com

The United States is now home to over 4,000 breweries and that number is growing every month. Not all will survive. Business is booming for craft beer, sure, but it’s not sure thing. Remember: closings are a sign of competition and not necessarily a problem or a brewing “bubble” that might soon pop. Competition is good. It’s healthy. It pushes those businesses that do survive to be better, smarter, and more dedicated to their craft.

Still, let us raise a glass to fallen friends (and fallen breweries) and hope that we can all be as hard-working and successful as those who continue to thrive.