Review: The Brewer’s Art Birdhouse Pale Ale

In January, some friends encouraged me to check out a fun Baltimore-area event. It’s called Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School and it’s a combination of a burlesque performance and some life drawing time with the performer acting as model. I was lucky enough to come the night that they featured Kiki Allure, who put on several performances (one with a grinder, which was a lot of fun!) and sat for both short and long drawing sessions. There’s a small cover charge and a cash bar to enjoy during the event. I hope I can go again soon!

 

I grabbed a beer by The Brewer’s Art, a local Baltimore brewery. This was Birdhouse Pale Ale, which I hadn’t had before; I believe I’ve had their Belgian-like Beazly in the past, but this was different. Poured from a can into a pint glass (which I had to ask for because I’m a beer snob at a dive bar), this beer is a pretty gold-amber color with no head and a little lacing. Perhaps the color as I saw and photographed it was a little off due to the dim bar lighting and the warm stage lighting being set up.

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The nose is sweet, not really hoppy, and a little Belgian in profile. Sort of… yeasty. There’s no clove or banana smell to me, though. The taste is balanced and has some sweetness from the malts. I really liked it right out of the gate. I detected hops that, to me, tasted like the noble varietals. But after a few sips, there was something off about it. Something almost metallic in the back of my throat. There’s a slight dryness that picks up steam in tandem with the metallic taste. Maybe it’s a batch issue, maybe it’s the recipe, but I don’t know that I’d gamble on spending money on this beer again only to end up disappointed.

Review: Bell’s Amber Ale

I moved at the end of November after ending a relationship and setting out on my own, which mean that that month was a flurry of packing and throwing things out and donating other things and just general chaos. My whole life was in flux as I moved to another state.

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In times of madness, it’s sometimes nice to have something reliable to turn to. With my life in a series of cardboard boxes, I needed something refreshing and not too challenging to slake my thirst. After all, I’d been working hard all day!

This beer from Bell’s Brwery pours a beautiful, dark honey color into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint Glass. It has a fluffy off-white head that sticks around for several minutes and left some nice lacing behind. The nose features some roasted grains, something sweet like caramel, and maybe a little citrus or orange peel. There are hops there, but they’re really singing backup to the other smells.

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This is a very balanced beer with a slightly bitter kick at the end of the first taste. The finish comes off a little dry, but not enough to offend me. It’s pleasantly hoppy, with a malty sweetness that reminds me of toffee. I even get some hints of a crisp red apple from this beer. It’s a hoppy amber ale, which I definitely like. It has a lightweight mouthfeel with mild carbonation.

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Bell’s Amber Ale could absolutely be a solid, go-to beer for me. I recommend  it highly if you’re not feeling too adventurous and need to enjoy something refreshing.

Review: Founders Porter

My house is full of birds. No, really. This isn’t a euphemism for anything. There are seriously just a lot of birds in my house right now.

I’m currently bird-sitting for a friend, so I’ve got two more birds in addition to my usual two. That’s 100% more birds! And one of them (Stewie, the beautiful yellow-orange bird) is a screamer. My poor ears. In all of the chaos of packing up to move house and being screamed at all the time from 5:30 am until about 8 at night, I needed something reliable.

In my county in Virginia, it isn’t always easy to get the best variety of craft beer. Founders, though, abounds here. They’re a given. I hadn’t had a Founders Porter in a year or two, but something felt comfortable about this beer, which I used to drink when I clung dearly to dark beers and didn’t try a lot of varieties. Hey, I was still learning! I got better!

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I know that I loved Founder’s Breakfast Stout back in the day, but I just couldn’t for the life of me remember what impression their Porter had left on me. Well, there’s a reason for that: it’s just not very interesting.

It pours a brown so dark it’s almost black with a deep burgundy head that’s just barely there. A whiff of the beer gives off molasses, bread, and roasted grain notes. The taste is honestly a little metallic to me; this is something that I’ve noticed in a lot of porters, actually. Maybe it’s my taste buds interpreting something weirdly, but some porters taste a little like I’m licking aluminum foil. There are still hints of brown sugar and molasses on the back of my tongue. The mouthfeel is a little thin, but that’s kind of common with porters.

Generally, I’m unimpressed. I guess my inability to remember something interesting about this beer is due to it just being not interesting. 

Review: Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve

This is the story of one beer and 28,000 feet of iconic airport carpet. The Santa’s Private Reserve from Rogue turned out to be my farewell-to-Portland beer, which I drank during a rather solemn morning. I waved goodbye to Mt. Hood, illuminated by the beautiful morning sun, and retrieved my suitcase from James’ truck. It was time to go home.

And though I missed my birds terribly, I was heartbroken to have to leave a city and friends that had been so kind to me. All the same, my Portland vacation was over. I had to return home to a divorce settlement and a move to a new apartment in the following weeks. Perhaps I just didn’t want to go home to so much stress.

Anyway. Beer.

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I decided to relax before my flight with a classy 10am airport beer, as one does. I popped into the Rogue bar and restaurant that was near my gate and browsed the beer list. To be honest, at the end of a Pacific Northwest trip, I was kind of IPA-ed out. The double-hopped red ale called Santa’s Private Reserve sounded like a winner.

It was a draft beer poured into a 16oz pint glass. A beautiful, deep amber color, Santa’s Private Reserve featured a pale, off-white head that melted away and left a little lacing behind. The nose was faintly grainy. The mouthfeel was very dry to me. It was not sweet at all at first, but there was a hint of malty sweetness on the finish.

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It tasted not quite green, but hoppy and fresh in a way. At 65 IBUs (International Bitter Unit), it was a little bitter on the palate. There was something about it that was dank and resiny, but in a pleasant and not-overwhelming way. I’ve had some dank beers that taste like you’re licking the floor of a pine forest; this was not one of those at all. It featured relatively low carbonation and was very drinkable as long as you’re not expecting a sweet holiday red (the title can be deceiving).

After my beer, I trudged back to my gate and stared at the carpet for a while. It’s famous, you see, among the hipster crowd, but not for a good reason. In 2013, the previous carpet was set to be replaced with an updated look – and that look is kitschy in the not-so-charming way. The old carpet, however, was delightfully dated and kind of fun. And it’s a huge hit with hipsters and Portland natives alike. The old carpet pattern has been rebranded and put on beer labels, shoes, leggings, shirts, and even tattoos.

The changing of the carpet reflects the changing face of Portland. It’s a growing city and a lot of the neighborhoods are changing (hello, gentrification) and some residents would argue that Portland is dying. But it’s all just the nature of expanding urban landscapes. That’s reality right now. Just as the two generations before ours fled the cities to take up residence in the suburbs, so does our generation flee the dying suburbs to live in the cities.

The new, ugly carpet also hits me at a time of big changes in my life. I’m leaving a bad marriage behind and striking out on my own, living alone for the first time in my life. In a year, I hope to be trekking across the country and moving to, well, Portland. It calls to me. I think I could be happy there. And no matter what some hipsters say, I think being happy is important and not just good for an ironic laugh.

Review: Deschutes Black Butte Porter

Black Butte Porter is the flagship beer of Deschutes Brewery of Bend, Oregon. They call it “the beer that started it all.” For me, it was one of the first west coast beers that I’d ever had and so, in some way, it started a lot for me, too.

I had this beer on draft at Dar Salam, an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon.It was their only draft option (they only had one tap in the Alberta location) and it was on happy hour special, so it was an easy choice.

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It poured a dark, almost-black brown with a small, light tan head. It didn’t offer much in the way of aroma, but that may be because it was served extremely cold. Cold was fine; Black Butter Porter is a very easy-drinking beer and this temperature works just fine with it. It tasted of roasted, toasty malts. It was not dry (as some roasty porters can be) and a hint sweet. There were subtle notes of chocolate to it.

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Black Butte Porter is a strong, sturdy beer without being overwhelming. It’s an excellent, well-balanced porter that people who want to learn about dark beers should definitely try. It paired well with the strong flavors of the Iraqi food. Flat bread and a fig dip, a salad with feta and sumac dressing, a big falafel sandwich (which was delightful, by the way) – the porter held up. I could definitely still taste it after I’d eaten my flavorful meal.

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Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, several Deschutes beers are readily available in the D.C. area. They travel far to come and bring us east coasters joy. I’ve absolutely seen the Black Butte Porter and the Mirror Pond Pale Ale in local pubs out here. I’m so grateful for the craft beer movement that has made such a variety of beers easier to find with every passing year.

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I’m writing this from home, having returned from Portland a week ago (though I’m still working on a backlog of beer reviews from when I was out there) and I’m pretty determined to live out there in about a year. I’m in a very tumultuous time in my life (divorce, my own health issues, a very sick parent, job hunting), but this blog gives me something to look forward to and enjoy doing. it gives me joy. It gives me hope.