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

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.

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 1

This past week, I spent two days at Jailbreak Brewery (which, it turns out, is really close to my house!). One day, I grabbed a few happy hour brews with a friend on Wednesday evening and then, when I learned they give tours of their brewing and canning operation, I bought a ticket and came back on Saturday. So maybe that makes me look like a bit of a lush – I can live with that! And I just moved and still need to find “my” local bar. Could it be Jailbreak? We’ll see.

I didn’t try every beer that they had available, but I did have quite a few different tasters and pints – so I’m calling this a review of the whole brewery, tour included (that will be in Part 3). And, heck, I’ll even throw in a food truck mention, too!

First point of order: $5 pints every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 3-6pm. Yes, please! Notably, they are only open Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays thanks to some strange taproom-specific laws in Howard County, Maryland (which I have been having the darndest time pinning down with online research). Definitely worth at least checking out for that price.

The first beer that I tried was the Maple Ridge Amber Ale; I figured a nice, solid amber or red would be a good start. It pours a pretty golden brown color with a very clear appearance. There was no head on this beer, just a few webs of foam and a small ring of lacing on the inside of the glass, leaving behind very little lacing as I drink it down. I think I have the slightest cold – or maybe the nose on this beer is very faint? I get a little biscuity sweetness from it. No hops on the nose, which matches my idea of an amber ale profile. I don’t know if I’m smelling maple, per se, but I’m getting some burnt sugar on the nose.

The taste is malt-forward and sweet, both in the front and back of my tongue. There’s a heat that feels like it’s from the alcohol, though it clocks in at just 5.4% ABV. As it warms, it gets more bready and graham crackery and that warm sensation keeps up. That burnt sugar or maple taste hangs on, too. It’s a very pleasant beer, but it skews quite sweet.

Next, I asked for a taste of two of their IPAs: Poor Righterous American IPA and Ephemeral Vol. 1 New England IPA.

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First, the Ephemeral. It smells piney, resinous, but maybe a little sweet. There are some notes of bright orange and fruit. But wow. Wow. Holy wow, that is hoppy. It’s a palate wrecker and I just can’t do it. It’s dry and a punch in the face. It tastes like hay to me. It is not my thing at all.

Next, the Poor Righteous has a very dank, wet pine floor smell to me. Seriously, it smells like how I imagine licking the floor of a pine forest must taste. And yet, somehow, it makes me want to try doing just that. It tastes very hop-forward, very green, yet still a little dank. It has a slightly dry finish, but isn’t overly aggressive. Not a palate wrecker like its sibling, but bold and strong. I don’t know that I’d quite call it “drinkable” because it could maybe scare people off. It is hoppy, but not aggressively so.

Continued in Part 2…

 

 

 

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.

Review: Elysian Dark O The Moon ’15

Like so many wonderful things in life, Elysian Brewing Company‘s Dark O The Moon only comes around once a year. I’m a big fan of fall and all things that come along with it: crunchy leaves, cool weather, pumpkin flavored everything, and Halloween. I’m down with pumpkin. I’m on the pumpkin train to Flavortown. And I like me some pumpkin beers.

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Photo via BeermanceNW

Not all pumpkin beers, mind you; there are some real stinkers out there, but pumpkin stouts, especially, are on my to-drink list just about everywhere. This isn’t the first year that I’ve enjoyed Elysian’s pumpkin brew and it certainly won’t be the last. Noteworthy: this is the 2015 edition of the beer, not the 2016. I’ll admit, I didn’t ask Frisco’s why they had last year’s version instead of this years. I just cheerfully ordered up a beer that I remembered fondly.

Poured from a tap into a pint glass, this beer is a dark black-brown pour that no light seemed to pass through (just how I like it!). It had almost no head at all, just a touch of light tan foam. The nose is all cinnamon. Aggressively cinnamon. It’s brewed with pumpkin, pumpkin seeds, and cinnamon.

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Photo by BeerSnobChick

Tasting notes with this beer are chocolate and a dark, sweet bread. It is pleasantly autumnal in every way – color, smell, and taste. It tastes much less like cinnamon than the nose would suggest. I didn’t get a really strong punch of pumpkin, per se. The chocolaty nature of this beer isn’t sweet, it’s more on the roasty end, resembling baker’s chocolate.

As far as texture goes, it has a really good, sturdy mouthfeel. There’s weight there, which is, in my opinion, how a stout should be. I remembered this beer fondly for a reason: it’s well-balanced and full of the flavors of my favorite season. It’s not my favorite fall beer (that would be Warlock – another review for another day), but it is a sold contender.

Review: New Belgium Brewing Company Fat Tire

If you’re on the east coast like me, this is a pretty prevalent beer. It’s easy to find six packs of it, even in convenience store fridges, and it’s not hard to locate it on tap at many bars. Even if you’re at a dive bar or sports bar, which may not serve the widest variety of brews, Fat Tire is becoming a more common option on draft. For me, it’s a solid go-to beer in bars that I might otherwise be very unhappy in.

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New Belgium Brewing Company, based out of Fort Collins, CO, has been brewing since 1991. They opened a second location in 2012 in Asheville, North Carolina, a notoriously beery town. This opened up their ability to distribute in the east and southeast of the US and the beer has spread like wildfire since then. As of October 2016, New Belgium beers are available in 45 states.

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It pours a dark golden color with a slight reddish hue to it. There’s a small, off-white head that sticks around for some time. The beer smells grainy and bready to me, but doesn’t have a particularly strong nose to speak of.

The taste is malty and balanced with almost no hops at all. It’s sweet (but not cloying or unpleasant) with caramel and toffee notes. I’d say that the mouthfeel is a little on the thin side and with a higher carbonation level. It paired well with chicken breast roasted with Turkish spices (garlic, cumin, oregano, paprika, and sumac) and some roasted root vegetables. I’d say it stood up fine to some of those stronger flavors and continued to be refreshing as it warmed up.

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: Dogfish Head Namaste White

It’s always good to have things that we know we can rely on. People we trust, that pair of jeans that always fits just right, cell phone service in emergencies. One of the things that I know I can rely on is the consistently good brews that come out of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. If you’re on the east coast, you’ve probably heard of them. They’re kind of a big deal in the craft brewing movement. They’ve been doing their thing since 1995 and, if you ask me, they’ve been doing it well.

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I grabbed a six pack of Namaste White recently at my local grocery store for $9, which is a price that I sure like. They’ve been brewing this beer since 2009, but I could swear that this is the first  time I’ve seen it for sale in a six pack in a grocery store fridge.

Poured from a bottle and into a Perfect Pint Glass (how I sing the praises of thee), this beer pours a light golden yellow color with a minimal head. It smells a little bready, a little citrusy, and there’s maybe some spice there, too – it could be the coriander that I’m smelling.

It’s a nice white ale with a light mouthfeel and an overall light taste. It’s has a grain taste to it, some orange, and a little peppercorn, too. I poured and drank it pretty cold, so it’s possible that I’m not tasting a ton of the subtler flavors. It wasn’t until the beer warmed up a little bit that I started to taste the peppercorn and spice as it came forward.

I enjoyed this beer while making a green apple and cherry chutney to enjoy in the cold weeks ahead. I feasted on a grilled cheese with my freshly made chutney for dinner and really like the refreshing nature of Namaste White with the vinegary, spicy flavors of the chutney.