Monday, November 21, 2011


One thing that occurred to me about the two road trips the Control and I took recently is that they followed a pattern.

This is how I go about planning it:
1) I set up a plan to best utilize our time for the optimal beer experience. I do this utilizing the "Places" section on Beer Advocate and The Beer Mapping Project website.
2) I plan the meals around the beer locations. Sometimes it's a brew pub or highly regarded place that serves something that the locale is known for.
3) I find a good beer store in the area, utilizing Beer Advocate, so that I can find some good souvenirs, concentrating on local breweries.
4) I allow for extra time in case of traffic or other unforeseen obstacles.

This is what happens:
1) We hit ALL of our marks, usually right at the time I planned.
2) We don't need much of the extra time I build in.
3) The spare time allows us to find places not in the original plan.
4) The experiences we have in these places are what wind up defining the trip.

For example, on the Newport trip we made it to the two breweries, the one brewpub, and the clam shack, and still had time left to enjoy time with the Mystic, CT locals in John's and taste "stuffies" in the best craft beer joint in Newport, Pour Judgment. The time spent in John's set the tone for the trip, allowing us to really slow down and enjoy ourselves and the whole day was capped off nicely by the entertainment of Pour Judgment. The planned stops had their merits too, but John's and Pour Judgment added a sense of discovery to the sense of accomplishment.

Baltimore was no different except that we didn't have to drive back the same day and we found three places that made us want to return…or even relocate to Baltimore.

On both trips, I planned to hit the beer store before anything else. This has advantages and disadvantages. The sole advantage is that you set a budget for the beer store and you wind up using it for its intent rather than going crazy along the way and finding you've run short of cash and can't grab that last bottle of Imperial Storm Trooper left on the shelf. But the disadvantages outweigh this. The bottles are in your trunk for most of the trip, which can be a problem. But the most compelling reason to wait is that you may taste one of the beers at the brewery and not really like it, only to find that you have a six-pack to bring home. Also, the brewery might be selling growlers or special releases and your beer budget is gone. Next trip I think I'll plan on hitting the beer store near the end of the trip.

After completing the long, arduous trek of the Delaware Turnpike (all 11.2 traffic-riddled miles of it) we stopped at State Line Liquors in Elkton, MD. We could have just as easily stopped in on the way back home as it's just a short jaunt off of Route 80. If you find yourself in this area make sure you stop at State Line. Not only can you get most of the beer brewed in the state of Maryland, but find offerings from breweries that may not distribute to your state: Buckbean from Nevada, for example. They also have a pretty extensive selection of imports, their Belgium section being particularly impressive. Expect to spend some time in there hunting as you're sure to come across quite a few items that you may not have seen before.

After that stop it was time for lunch and I've always heard about pit beef in Baltimore. One place in particular, Chaps, has attracted a rather large crowd from the Food Network, so I decided that we needed to give this local favorite a try. The menu at Chaps is long and diverse, but we were here for the pit beef. You can order it at any temperature, but rare is the only way to go in my opinion. Grab a soda and a bag of chips and hit the condiments bar. I spooned a bunch of the fresh horseradish and the barbecue sauce. After my reward of whistle-clean sinuses, we settled in for the remainder of the drive into Charm City.

Okay, when did Baltimore become Charm City? I had never heard of this until we got there. It's obviously not one of the better known nicknames like The Big Apple, The Windy City, Motor City or The Big Easy. And why Charm City? Are the people there charming? From what I can figure out the nickname was first used in 1974 as a way to attract more tourism to the city. The effort was for naught as the city underwent strikes by firemen, police officers, garbage collectors and zoo keepers right around the same time. But the name stuck, for some reason. It wasn't until the Inner Harbor was cleaned up and the National Aquarium and Harborplace were built, that "Balmer" became a tourist destination. Based on our time there, I think they've done a great job.

After we checked into our hotel we decided to stroll around Inner Harbor, but we really needed a beer, so we stopped off in an Irish Pub in Harborplace called Tir Na Nog. They have a house beer that's brewed by Heavy Seas that wasn't all that bad. The food's pretty good too, but Tir Na Nog would soon pale in comparison on every level to the places we would be visiting on this trip. This was just a jumping off spot and a place to slake our thirst. It was time for dinner.

I have a friend down in Baltimore who I met over five years ago. The common interests in craft beer and hiking sealed the friendship and I made plans to spend time with him while down there. We decided to meet for dinner at the Abbey Burger Bistro. The eclectic burger menu boasted exotic meats like wild boar, ostrich and rattlesnake, and nontraditional toppings like fried egg and peanut butter. And they even serve tater tots! What's not to love! It wasn’t just the burger menu that caught my attention; the beer selection was pretty solid as well. They have 14 taps with no NASCAR beers represented. If you want one of THOSE, then you'll need to go to the bottom of the bottle and can beer menu in the section titled "Other Beers", just above the sole near-beer offering. The upper portion of the menu features a lot of Belgian brews, which should be expected in a place with the word "abbey" in the name, but what made this establishment stand out for us was that the upstairs bar is a shrine to the Arsenal Gunners. The Control is a big fan of the Gunners, so he felt right at home. Being a United fan myself, I was relieved to find out that the owner was not present.

We finished up and headed over to Pub Dog to sample their wares. Be careful with their web site that advertises two mugs of beer for four dollars. The pictures on their site make the mugs look huge. When we got there the price was $4.50 for two mugs and the volume was probably around 10 ounces. Still, not a horrible deal but I was a bit put off by the deception, intended or not. They use three floors with a traditional bar on the first floor and one that was more reminiscent of a Chinese take-out counter than a bar, on the second. The top floor has a shuffleboard table and a bunch of twenty-somethings playing tonsil hockey. All floors are a bit crowded and the best way to describe the feel was "grunge". Although we were a bit out of place here, due to our age and bearing I could see this being a great hang-out for the college scene. But it's not a place I have any need to return to, even though the beer was pretty good.

Filled up on burgers, tots and beer we figured that the night was starting to wind down as we walked Larry back to his car, but we decided to pop into a tequila bar before we said our goodbyes. The Blue Agave Restaurant Y Tequileria has an impressive array of fine tequilas. Now if you're sitting there making a pukey face and all you've ever had was Jose Cuervo then listen up! Jose Cuervo is not fine tequila and the good stuff does not require salt and lemon to get down your throat. Don't feel bad; Larry hadn't had good tequila before that night either. I'm not sure we made a convert of him or not, but he did seem to enjoy his Galardon reposado, even though he didn't finish it. The Galardon was ordered from the Last Bottle menu, which will be your best deal. Fine tequila is not cheap and when ordered by the shot it gets even more expensive.

As in most places, we found people to talk to and the Control allowed the fairer half of a couple we met sample his Galardon, seeing that she was struggling to find something to order. What was not understood at the time was that she was perusing the wine list and the look on her face made it obvious that she was not a fan of tequila. Conveniently, Larry was parked right outside the tequileria and took his leave of us and we went in search of more beer and found something completely different…and more beer, of course.

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