Review: Captain Lawrence Barrel Select Green

Can I just say: the soundtrack at Gilly’s is always so, so good (even on the days where one of the bartenders gets a wild hair and plays nothing but Phish – this is rare, but it does happen – be warned). There’s always lots of classic rock or indie playing. This day, the siren sounds of David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream were a treat for my ears. I love that song and it even inspired a short story of mine (heyyyyy anybody want to buy a 6,000 word time travel/Weird West tale?). Anyway.

The Captain Lawrence Brewing Company brings us the Barrel Select – Green, a sour ale with a nice flavor to it. This beer is a blend of several brews, which are being aged in Italian oak barrels, some for up to three years. It sports a low IBU (bitterness rating) of 15 and a moderate ABV (alcoholic percentage) of 6.5%. The taste, however, isn’t quite what I had expected.

I had this in a 10oz tulip glass at Gilly’s (I love those 10oz pours so that I can try even more beers!). It’s an faintly orange  golden color that is very appealing. It is slightly hazy in appearance, but I can’t be confirm on the brewery’s website if this beer is filtered or not; other reviews talk about its haziness as well, so this is a feature, not a bug. It has a very small, whitish head with a few streaks of lacing to be seen. There’s not much nose to it. This isn’t necessarily an indicator of flavor, but I do tend to like sours/wild ales that also have a sour smell to them. This does not have that, though it smells faintly of green apple to me.

Upon tasting, there is no sour punch. I was bracing for one, but this didn’t deliver – not much of a surprise considering the lack of a strong smell. It is, however, gently bright and fruity. It’s crisp. It feels more like a dry cider than a beer to me. The carbonation is pretty high on this one. It’s refreshing.

This could be a very enjoyable beer for someone intimidated by too much sourness in a beer. It might go over well with dry cider drinkers. It’s very drinkable and wonderful for warm weather. Three out of five glasses, mostly because I was looking for a greater saturation of flavor in this one.

Review: Old Dominion Grapefruit Pale Ale

Old Dominion Brewery started life as a humble brewery in Ashburn, VA, way back in 1989 (this is fairly old by craft brewery standards, considering that much of the craft movement didn’t gain traction until the 2000s). They lovingly crafted beer and sodas for many years, supplying the Mid-Atlantic with reputable products in bottles and kegs. In 2007, they joined up with Fordham brewery out of Annapolis, MD – and in 2009, the breweries consolidated and moved their base of operations to Dover, Delaware. These two breweries are partners with the Rams Head Tavern in Savage, MD, who keeps several of their beers on rotating taps at all times.

I was meeting friends for dinner at Rams Head one April evening and, as per usual, I was heinously early. I grabbed a pint of this Grapefruit Pale Ale, their summer seasonal, which had just premiered earlier that week. Worth noting, I really don’t like trying to snap pictures of my beers in this venue because the lighting is so dark and kind of red-orange saturated. It doesn’t make for good photography.

This is (probably) a pretty, honeycomb gold color (again, those lights make it hard to tell) with a fluffy, off-white head on its beery shoulders. There’s plenty of full-bodied lacing remaining inside of the glass as the head settles. The nose is faintly hoppy, fairly grainy, and with some light notes of citrus fruit in it.

The bartender described it as “bright” and I agree: it’s very easy to drink and nicely crisp. Now, I don’t really usually like grapefruit anything, so this beer was kind of a risk – but it paid off. It’s great served cold on a warm day. It’s a little piney and reminiscent of an IPA in that way. The finish is a little dry (probably the number one complain that I make on this blog…), but not so dry that I’d never get this again. I think I would order it in the future, especially to support local craft beer.  Four out of five frosty mugs!

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.

 

Review: Fordham Route 1 Session IPA

So what the hell is a session IPA? Generally, it’s an India Pale Ale that clocks in at no more than 3 or 4% (though some folks call beers with an ABV of up to 5% a session). The origin of this beer style and its name are murky at best, but I most like the story of it being part of a daytime drinking “session” that British workers could enjoy in the WWI-era factory jobs they held. This Fordham beer might be a little high on the ABV scale for a session, then, since it’s at 4.5%.

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Fordham Brewing Company is a Delaware brewery that partners with a local-to-me tavern, Rams Head (another review for another day). I wouldn’t call it local, but it’s not coming from too far away, so it gets some brownie points for that. I’m trying to look it up on Fordham’s website and not seeing it, so I’m concerned that this beer has been discontinued. Uncertain at this time.

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Poured from a bottle, this beer is a medium golden hue with a fluffy white head that has staying power. The nose is hoppy and maybe a touch floral. It’s sort of a mellow smell, kind of biscuity. It’s highly carbonated (which is easy to tell when it’s poured into a glass), but is smooth and relatively light-bodied in general.

It has a blanked flavor with some hops over a backdrop of lightly toasted malts. There’s orange peel at the front that mellows into a nice, piney finish.

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If I hadn’t been so tired that day from moving boxes and unpacking, this might have been my couch-assembling beer. Instead, it was my very crushable Gilmore-Girls-watching -while-sitting-on-the-floor beer.

Review: Evolution Craft Brewing Company Lucky 7 Porter

Evolution Craft Brewing Company is based in Maryland, so I guess it’s local – but it would be about a two hours’ drive. I like a good road trip as much as anyone, but it would take a pretty special brew to get me to deal with I-95 traffic for very long. So I guess when I say that I want local beer, that I mean just a little more local than that. I’m spoiled. It’s true.

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Poured from a bottle (just a single, bought in a boil-your-own-six-pack setup) into a pint glass, it’s a an opaque red-brown color with a short, cream-colored head that slowly fizzles out. It does leave some nice lacing behind on the glass.

I deliberately let it warm up before drinking it because I really wanted to smell and taste it properly and really get something from it. I also warmed up my new apartment a little by watching Blues Brothers (one of my favorite movies) and by hanging my beer cap map – and, yes, I know a lot of those caps are in the wrong places; I just have too many east coast caps that are all vying for the same spots in the map.

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This nose on this porter is toasty, nutty, and filled with roasted malts. There’s notes of chocolate and coffee there as well. The first tastes are a bitter dark chocolate with very faint hints of sweet caramel. It’s a solid porter, though perhaps a little dry for my tastes.

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When I poured it, it looked like it was very carbonated, but it was a pretty smooth mouthfeel and easy to drink. With a moderate ABV of 5.8%, it could easily start a night (since it isn’t too strong-tasting) or easily finish it with its smooth flavor and dessert notes.

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.

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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!

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Photo by @stunim of Instagram

Beer Review: Southern Tier Old Man Winter

Winter. I do not like winter. Every year, as spring and summer and fall go by, I seem to overlook how bone-shakingly cold it gets. Absence makes the heart grow… forgetful? Winter always slaps me across the face and surprises me with the first cold snap of the year. Today, I had to stop for gas while driving home from work and it was so cold and so windy that I very much needed something to warm me up.

A snack of salami and manchego and a beer sound like just the right way to enjoy watching an episode of Critical Role (a web series that follows a group of voice actors in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign – yes, I am exactly that kind of a nerd). I opened up a Southern Tier Old Man Winter, a winter ale, and got nice and cozy with my heat turned way up and a blanket draped over my shoulders.

This beer is a handsome brunette color with a light cream colored head made of fine, smooth bubbles, which is about one finger tall at its highest. This falls quickly enough, but leaves a lot of lacing behind when it does. It’s a good-looking beer and it smells warming to me, like brown sugar or honey. I’m not detecting any spices, but there are smells that speak to a rich, malty characteristic.

The first taste is like a scotch ale and there’s some decent alcoholic heat to this beverage. Clocking in at 7.5% ABV, this should come as no surprise. Still, it’s very balanced and inviting and it’s just a hair sweet. There’s a nice, clean finish without any problematic dryness. It’s roasty like dark cocoa or perhaps just a touch coffee-ish; there’s something that’s a hair bitter, but – again – it is very well balanced.

This is a very enjoyable sipping beer for a cold winter’s night. I’m so glad I bought a six pack to enjoy this month. A definite five out of five. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Review: Burnside Brewing Company Sweet Heat

Back to local Oregon beers with this one. In fact, this one was brewed only a few miles from my home base in Portland, OR. Burnside Brewing Company is based in the heart of Portland and runs a 15 barrel business, allowing them to make a few flagship beers along with some regular experimental brews, 7 days a week.

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Sweet Heat was a suggestion from James, my host for my Portland stay. He said that this was one of his favorites from Burnside, so I knew I had to give it a try. What kind of a guest would I be if I turned down his hospitality? So we split a 22oz bomber of this brew while we both did some work on our respective computers and, I have to say, it really grew on me from the first sip onward.

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Sweet Heat is an unfiltered wheat beer that’s made with apricots and dry-hopped with Jamaican Scotch Bonnet peppers. Poured from a 22oz bomber bottle into a pint glass, it was a pale golden yellow (not hazy, though) with minimal white head. It has a sweet nose (you can really smell the apricots) and makes for a sweet few first sips, too. There is a touch of tartness from the fruit, but it is mostly just sweet (though never cloyingly so) with a heat that really starts to build up.

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That sweetness begins to mellow after about half of a pint and that’s when the heat of the Scotch Bonnets really starts to kick in. It’s a heat that lives in the back of the throat, hot but never overwhelming to me. I really like spice, though, so I may be a touch biased on this one. Scotch Bonnets clock in at 100,000 – 350,000 units on the Scoville Scale (the standardized measure of spiciness for peppers). By comparison, a jalapeño pepper ranges from 2,500 – 8,000.

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This beer is exceptionally well-balanced in my mind. The sweetness is never overwhelming and the heat builds but doesn’t numb or mess with the taste of the beer. It remains light and refreshing throughout the entire drink, even in spite of the spice. I’ve had a lot of spicy beers before and few have remained this enjoyable to drink over the duration of the pint. I think this one is a summer seasonal, so it may be hard to find for a few months. But be sure to add it to your to-buy list for the next time it rears its head.

 

Review: Against The Grain Citra Ass Down IPA

Maybe it’s a little odd that I went to Oregon, seeking local beers, and ended up buying one from Louisville, KY. But hey, weird things happen… and my beer selections during this Portland trip continue to get weird.

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Ciara Ass Down by Against the Grain brewery is a double IPA that comes in a can. When I saw the name of it as I browsed the beer selection at Belmont Station, I giggled to myself and moved on. But then I doubled back to that beer and decided to give it a go. I’ve learned from some experimental, small-batch, single-hopped beers that I really like the flavor profile of Citra hops.

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Ciara hops are a relatively new varietal on the market. Introduced in 2008, they are a hybrid of a number of different hops. They’re very strongly citrusy and tropical in taste.

Poured from the can to a pint glass, Citra Ass Down was a beautiful medium golden yellow color with a delicate light tan head that dissipate quickly, leaving some lacing behind. It had no strong nose that I could detect, maybe because it was quite cold when I poured it. It was floral and sweet, with the Citra hops standing front and center, as they should be.

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It’s a Double IPA, so it had a higher ABV than a lot of the other beers I’d been drinking. At 8.2%, it was very easy to drink, which is maybe its great danger. The Citra hops keep the taste light and never too sweet and heavy like some DIPAs. I have to say, though, from experience: this beer does not pair well with candy corn.

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But then, what does? I spent Halloween night sipping on Citra Ass Down and watching old episodes of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? together with my friends – a really perfect way to spend some time.