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.

 

Beer 101: Fermentation

I know I’m skipping around a little bit (after all, there are several steps that come before fermentation in the brewing process), but it’s kind of because fermentation is my favorite. After all, it’s responsible for some of the best-tasting things in life: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate to name a few. It’s a  crucial step, chemically, as it creates the alcohol that we all enjoy (presumably you enjoy alcohol – you are on a beer blog).

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Photo from uncommoncaribbean.com

The Basics

Fermentation, at its very simplest, is the chemical process by which yeast converts the malts‘ sugar (glucose) into ethyl alcohol and C02 gas – this yields both the alcohol content and the carbonation that make beer, well, beer.

 

We’ve explained a little bit that temperature is important for this process, depending on the kind of yeast being used and the beer style that is being made – an ale needs to be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks and a lager needs to stay at 48 Fahrenheit for about six weeks. This process creates a lot of heat as a byproduct and so the container in which the fermentation happens generally needs to be carefully cooled.

To avoid contamination by stray, wild yeasts, fermentation tanks are generally sealed off from the air with only a small vent for the CO2 buildup to exit the tank.

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The Details

I’m no chemist, so I’m not going to go into that level of detail! However, there are some interesting things that go on during the fermentation process that need to be addressed. Yeast basically works in two stages during fermentation: the primary stage and the anaerobic phase.

In the primary stage, the yeast consumes all of the oxygen in the cooled and aerated wort mixture. During this stage, sterols (which are a type of cholesterol that make up part of the yeast’s cell wall) are produced. These sterols allow the cell wall to be permeable so sugar and alcohol can move in and out of the yeast cells; they also allow the yeast to survive in an increasingly alcoholic environment

Once that oxygen is gone, the yeast moves into the anaerobic phase, during which most of the sugars in the wort are turned into ethanol and CO2. Additionally, flavor compounds like esters (fruity notes) , diacetyl/ketones (butterscotch notes), fusel alcohols (responsible for a hot or burning sensation), and other chemicals that can make or break the flavor of a final beer.

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Other Uses for Fermentation

Cacao seeds must be fermented (often out in the sun, on large tarps) before being dried and then roasted in order to create the chocolate flavor that we know.

In winemaking, fermentation begins naturally when the skin of grapes is broken and the wild yeast on them and in the air begin the primary fermentation stage, turning sugar in to alcohol.

Fermentation happens several times along the journey from milk to cheese, developing flavors and even creating the famous holes in Swiss cheese.

The workhhorse of bread making, yeast-based fermentation creates the textures, flavors, and rise in bread doughs.

Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, and more can be fermented during the pickling process, allowing natural bacteria to create acids needed to preserve foods.

 

Review: Sam Adams Ginger Beer

This was brought to me by a thoughtful friend as a housewarming gift. He arrived, winter beer sampler pack in hand, and stay for an evening of board games and card games. We consumed several of those beers that night and I admit that I take absolutely no notes, so none of those got reviewed. Oops. This was one of the remainders from that night of revelry and so I pulled it out of its box in the fridge and gave it a taste.

All right. So. Real talk. This is called ginger beer. When I think of ginger beer, I think of a spicy-and-slightly-sweet soda beverage, kind of like Goslings in the ever-popular Dark and Stormy. This? This is not what this Sam Adams drink is.

This beer pours a rich, absolutely beautiful golden color, very clear. It has a fine wisp of a white head that leaves a little lacing. It has a nose like a light pilsner, I think, but with a little hint of a ginger zip to it.

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Up front, there’s some gentle ginger and spice with a kind of soft heat to it. It’s sort of malty and balanced. No hops to speak of and it’s only just slightly sweet. I’d call it crisp overall. It has some more Christmassy spice taste as it warms up, but the mouthfeel thins a little as the carbonation peters out.

It’s not at all what I expected from something calling itself “ginger beer.” To me, ginger beer is a wholly different animal. There’s nothing wrong with this beer, but I wanted something else from it. I expected more flavor and got a beer that is, quite honestly, a little bit bland. I would most definitely not buy this beer again. I would, however, opt in for some extra bird cuddle from a little friend who I’m bird sitting.

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Review: DC Brau The Corruption

I call the DC area my home and I definitely love the craft beer scene that DC and Baltimore have to offer. One of the staples of the area is DC Brau, a brewery inside of the District, and one of their flagship beers is The Corruption. It’s their take on a Pacific Northwest-style IPA and is made with plenty of Columbus hops that bring it up to 80 IBU.

DC Brau was formed in 2009 by two local restaurant industry veterans, Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock, who saw a gap in the area craft beer market and sought to fill it. The brewery experiments a little  with beer styles and have had offered a lot of American Double/Double IPAs in the past as well as a rye beer, some Belgian styles, and a Scotch AleWee Heavy.

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I had this brew at Yard House in Springfield, VA. Yard House, if I understand correctly, is a chain of  sports bars with a large tap selection of craft beers and is owned by the same company that mans Olive Garden and Seasons 52. So it’s no hipster-owned craft beer neighborhood bar, but it does tend to sport a massive beer menu with plenty of variety.

I met a friend for lunch there one day and figured I might as well review a beer while I was at it! I have a soft spot for local food and beverage, so I opted in for The Corruption. It’s a medium golden hue with a thing, nearly-white head (maybe a little hard to tell because Yard House is quite dimly lit). The head didn’t stick around long at all in my glass and didn’t really create any lacing.

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It has a very grainy nose with plenty of hops as well. It smells a little like fresh bread to me. The taste is slightly dry and bitter – not unpleasant, but a little drier than is my personal preference. It’s a good, solid beer with plenty of flavor, but that isn’t overpowering. All the same, it is solid in the way that it isn’t exactly stand out to me, either.

It did balance well with some savory food (roasted brussels sprouts and potatoes, a Cuban sandwich, some sweet potato fries), which I only barely remembered to photograph because I was famished and it was all delicious.

Review: Boulevard Single-Wide IPA

This was my very first beer in my new apartment! I know I’ve mentioned that I was moving in the last few posts – it finally happened, chaos, boxes, and all. As of this Boulevard Single-Wide IPA, I didn’t have a couch yet, so I enjoyed this beer sitting on the floor in front of my coffee table. But, most importantly, I was in my own, brand-new place, ready to start my new life.

I also enjoyed this beer on Thanksgiving, which I did spend alone, and which did feel a little lonely. Still, I enjoyed some traditional(?) Thanksgiving hot dogs and a tasty beer to celebrate my new-found freedom. I’d already celebrated Friendsgiving a few days prior and Thanksgiving isn’t really one of my favorite holidays, so I promise it isn’t as depressing as it initially sounds!

Poured from a bottle and into a pint glass (the ones that I got in the divorce – sadly, not the Perfect Pint Glasses that I so love), this beer is a somewhat hazy, medium golden color. There’s a small, off-white head that vanishes slowly, leaving behind no lacing to speak of.

It smells hoppy and citrusy to me. Pleasantly bright.  There’s maybe also something slightly grassy about the smell – fresh, green grass. The beer is made with six varieties of hops (Magnum, Summit, Cascade, Centennial, and Citra) and is also dry-hopped for some big flavor. It’s also brewed with mostly crystal malts, so that creates a very nice and neutral canvas with a crisp finish.

The beer is a little bitter to me, but not so much so as to be offensive. It’s not super hoppy, surprisingly, and is a little piney to me. It’s not extremely flavorful, but it is well-rounded in my opinion. I find it slightly dry on the back end, though not bad in any way. It has relatively low carbonation.

It’s an easy-drinking beer that isn’t remarkable in any way, but is still tasty. It’s a good go-to. I would definitely buy it again.

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

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.

Review: Goose Island Oktoberfest

If I had to pick one beer style to drink basically forever, I think I would have to go with Märzen. It’s generally a really well-balanced brew with some maltiness, but without being sweet and without being hoppy, either. One of my all-time favorite beers is Sam Adams Octoberfest; I used to buy a few cases of it in season and then store it for the spring and summer time to enjoy then.

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Goose Island Oktoberfest sounded like a beer that would suit my needs and wants! I’ve had the Goose Island IPA a thousand times at Capitals hockey games, but I couldn’t remember for certain if I’d had the Oktoberfest so I grabbed one from my local bottle shop and brought it home in a build-your-own-six-pack arrangement.

Poured from a bottle into a Perfect Pint Glass, this beer is a nice, strong, dark golden color. It has a decent off-white head that dissipates in a few minutes’ time.  It has a very bready nose, malty and sweet, very indicative of a classic Märzen.

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It is, as this style should be, balanced in flavor. It has a slightly sweet finish with maybe a hint of apricot or orange. It has, I would say, moderate carbonation and a good mouthfeel. It’s very mild on the hops front, really more malt-forward, but not sweet, really. I drank this while eating some spicy chicken fajitas that I’d made and the beer held up just fine against those – maybe fajitas aren’t traditional Octoberfest fare, but pretty tasty none the less.

Review: Port City Ways and Means

I had to run some errands in Crystal City/Arlington a few weeks ago and ended up with some free time between two appointments. Seemed like a perfect opportunity to grab some lunch and a beer! I was right near a place I’d been once before, Highline RxR, which had a decent beer selection. I was hungry as heck and walked by their place, where an outdoor sign proclaimed that it was Taco Tuesday – they won me over so fast.

With a list of 32 craft beers on draft, Highline strikes me as a place with a lot of potential. I went to a birthday party there a few years ago and enjoyed good beers, decent food, and some of the board games that they keep in house for entertainment. It’s kind of inconvenient to get to, and in a more city-like area than I prefer (meaning I may have to pay for parking, which I take as a deep, personal offense).

I can’t remember my first choice of beers, but they didn’t have it, so the waiter suggested Port City Ways and Means, which I’d been eyeing up as well. Easy-peasey. It pours a handsome, rich golden hue that was maybe just a little bit hazy. It has almost no head, just a smattering of white across the top of the beer, which stuck around as I drank the beer down.

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It struck me as a sort of tropical, fruity smell, sweet, with a mild hop smell. I think there’s some orange in there, too. It has a bright, hoppy taste with a dry, slightly bitter finish. It tastes balanced at first, but ends up being a little drier than I prefer my beers to be. It’s bright and easy to drink, but I just don’t like that finish at all.

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I liked it less and less as it warmed up. That dryness just came forward more and more. It was a fine beer, I guess, but I wouldn’t order it again. It was refreshing, paired with an order of chicken tacos. For $8 for three beef, chicken, or fish tacos (or a selection of all three), Taco Tuesday is a solid deal.