Review: Oliver Brewing Co Balls to the Wall APA

I love beer and I love food. I’m a simple creature, really. I also love cooking and few things go better with food prep than a cold beer. In this case, I had plenty of time for beer as I was braising a small pork shoulder with some apple cider vinegar. This would eventually become some beautiful pulled pork with a spicy-sweet bbq sauce.

The Oliver Brewing Co website promises “a gratifying hop punch” with this beer, so I had some expectations in place before I even tasted it. No one likes to be disappointed, so don’t get me all worked up for nothing, please, beer.

Balls to the Wall fills my glass with a rich golden color that’s slightly hazy in appearance. There’s a fluffy, energetic white head that falls away fast, leaving behind a few spots of lacing. It smells very hoppy (as promised!) in the family of something very piney and green. It doesn’t smell dank at all, but very bright and fresh, perhaps like mowed grass (which I sort of hate because it sets off my allergies, but in theory it smells really nice).

Seriously, I can’t with this green towel. I thought it was a good idea, but I was sorely mistaken.

The first taste is a hop wallop to be sure. It’s not a palate wrecker, though. It’s still very refreshing on the whole. And – good in my book – it’s not too terribly dry on the finish, so that’s a thumbs up from me. It’s honestly kind of like licking a pine tree… if it weren’t for the sap and bark and other gross stuff, I guess. Imagine with me, here.

I really enjoyed this and found it flavorful and fairly well balanced. Five out of five mugs, I’d definitely seek this out in the future.

Review: Maine Beer Company A Tiny Beautiful Something

Gilly’s always smells like bacon and is full of good beer. Of course it gives me a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings. Some of that is nostalgia-based, as I spent many happy afternoons there a few years ago when I lived in the neighborhood. But is memory really all that reliable? How much can we trust our senses when viewing something through the lens of nostalgia?

I initially had this beer in 2015 and loved it – thank goodness for Untappd! Maine Beer Company’s A Tiny Beautiful Something set me down a path of pale ales that I might have otherwise ignored. I can’t point to one beer for sure, but this was definitely part of the crack team that got me to where I am today. It features El Dorado hops, which are a pretty young varietal, and which were fairly new to the scene in 2015, when I first learned about this beer.

It pours a rich gold, maybe slightly hazy. There’s one finger of white head, which shrinks away very slowly. It smells like a green garden with floral and piney hops. There are also scents of orange peel and something slightly earthy.

The taste is light and bright. It’s a little malt sweet, but it leans more toward caramel and orange than it does rich, brown sugar. I get some faintly peppery hints as it warms up. There are melon or berry notes that linger and, while there’s a slightly bitter note on the back end, it’s a very clean finish. It’s as good as I remember. Maybe we can trust in nostalgia after all. Five out of five.

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!

Review: Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale

It was Howard County Restaurant Week, I had a night off, and I was craving steak – the stars had aligned for me. I asked a few friends to join me for a lady date dinner, but, in my truest fashion, I arrived about 30 minutes early. Time for a beer? Time for a beer!

Centre Park Grill in Columbia, Maryland, has a decent beer selection and an excellent range of whiskeys and bourbons. Trust me, I love bourbon, but I was in a beer mood. I was even seated before my reservation time, so I didn’t have to sit at the bar (though I would have, even though it was near the front door on a cold night). Which is more depressing: sitting alone at a restaurant table or sitting alone at a bar?

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Elysian Bifrost Winter Pale Ale pours a hazy, orangey gold with maybe one finger of fluffy, foamy head. There’s some lacing to be found, but its staying power isn’t the greatest I’ve ever seen. The smell here is a lot of wet grains or cereal up front with some floral hops in the background. And I may be hallucinating some very faint citrus, but honestly I was second-guessing myself on that the whole time.

This beer leads with malty sweetness, which quickly fades into piney hops. There might be traces of coriander or nutmeg at work here, but just barely. This isn’t a strongly spiced winter ale. There is, however, a quick from that 8.3% ABV. The finish is just a tad dry, very gentle, and then ends on a sweet note. It has a robust mouthfeel and fairly low carbonation.

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Extremely drinkable, I do declare! But definitely seasonal, which is sad. I’d have this pretty frequently if I could find it. I’d absolutely buy this and keep it around at home for cold winter days.

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: Port City Brewing Essential Pale Ale

Port City Brewing, based out of Alexandria, VA (right next to Washington, DC for those not from the area), is the very model of a reliable, simple brewery. It doesn’t go crazy or try to show off. They offer five flagship beers year-round as well as a few seasonal and one-offs – and they are all genuinely solid beers. Would I call any of them exceptional? No. But if I want a pale ale or a porter that’s going to be a sure thing, I know that I can turn to Port City.

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Essential Pale Ale is an American Pale Ale and not an IPA (APAs have a relatively even hops-to-light-malt ratio while IPAs are happier by nature) and does reflect that style well. This is a mild beer that still packs a punch of flavor, but doesn’t overwhelm the palate. It’s a great pairing with almost any food.

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This beer pours a slightly hazy honey gold with a short white head that fades and leaves a little lacing behind. The smell is yeasty and maybe with a little citrus – it is balanced and inviting to me. At first taste, it is very mild. Almost more like a pilsner than what I think of as a pale ale. Not much bite, not much in the way of strong hop or malt flavors, and not really sweet, either. It’s pleasantly bready with just a hint of sweetness.

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Based on everything I’ve just written, this beer sounds… bland. But it’s not! While mild in nature, it is really very flavorful. It’s balanced, as a pale ale should be, and it never relies on a hoppy punch in the face as many IPAs do. I recommend it highly, especially if you’re scarfing down a easy burger or other American comfort food.