Monday, November 28, 2011


We learn so much on these road trips and most of what we learn has nothing to do with beer. Much of it is life lessons and some of it is a combination. For instance, we learned on this trip that walking around is a real buzzkill…literally. We had a few beers at Tir Na Nog and then walked to the Abbey Burger Bistro. We had a few beers there and took a short walk to Pub Dog. Two beers there and a little walking tour of Federal Hill brought us to Blue Agave Restaurant Y Tequileria. A generous pour of tequila there put us back on the street with barely a hint of inebriation. On foot and bouncing from one place to the next is a really bad way to try to get drunk…not that getting sloppy drunk is the goal, but…

Our next stop did nothing to increase our happy level, but it did give us a moment to relax and try something we had never done before. On our way into Federal Hill to meet Larry we had passed a place called Zeeba Lounge. Not knowing what it was at the time, but finding the name interesting, we were surprised to find ourselves inside this establishment after bidding Larry farewell. The way that happened was typical of the way many off-the-cuff decisions are made with the Control and me. It starts off with the Control displaying his awesome reading skills…"Zeeba Lounge is a hookah bar. Huh." I am then forced to acknowledge that he has correctly deciphered the letters. "I see that". This is followed by a lengthy interrogation as to my interest. "Ever done hookah?" Exasperated and weak from the questioning, I manage to eke out a reply. "Nope". Coercion and arm-twisting immediately precede the use of thumb screws and water boarding. "Wanna?" Completely and cruelly broken I give in. "Sure". It's a sadistic and complex dance, but one that has served us well through the years, as it did here. It brought us into the second place that was unplanned, but became one of highlights of the trip. In case you missed it, or I forgot to mention it, the tequila bar was the first.

A doorman opens the door for you and moves the curtains aside to allow you entrance into the lounge. And it is truly a lounge: it's dark with low tables surrounded by low couches full of throw pillows and an amazing lack of smoke hanging in the air. These people know what they're doing, unlike a certain place in Jersey we tried just recently. We were directed to one of the manager's tables and she showed us why this place is so well run. Knowing we were hookah virgins, Nidia (for that was her name) walked us through all the ins and outs of smoking a water pipe. After a few test jabs she figured it would be really hard to offend us and her wicked sense of humor came forefront and made for great entertainment, even if it was at our expense at times. A hookah full of pomegranate and pistachio flavored tobacco and a few Turkish coffees and we had settled in nicely, blithely puffing away on the pipe and recapping much of what had gone on that day. Yeah, our buzz was entirely gone, but so was our sense of being tired and bloated. We left relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to find more beer. It was now off in search of the Pratt Street Ale House.

A short walk and we found it, right where it was supposed to be. There weren't a lot of people there, so we took stools at the bar and ordered some Oliver Ales. It's a little confusing as the beer is brewed by Oliver Ales and the brewpub is called Pratt Street Ale House. But they are one in the same, apparently. I never thought to ask about this while we were there and I am curious if the beer is brewed at the same location as the Ale House or not. All I know is that I did not see any brewing equipment, but that's not proof of anything. I know places that call themselves brewpubs, have brewing equipment displayed, but all their house ales are contract brewed at a local brewery. And they don't even bother to change the name of the beer! Yeah, I'm looking squarely at you, Egan and Sons. If anyone knows more about Oliver Ales and the Pratt Street Ale House relationship, please leave a comment below.

I'm not antisocial, I'm just not social…well, until I've had a few beers. I'll usually come into a bar, sit down away from other patrons and order my beer. I'll pull out my smartphone and make some tasting notes on what I have, but then after a few, something changes. The smartphone gets relegated to the recesses of a pocket and I start to engage the people around me. I don't exactly turn into the Mayor of the Bar, but I will talk to just about anyone about beer, weather, sports, whatever. This occurred in the Pratt Street Ale House and we wound up talking to a couple that were Philadelphia sports fans, one of which had his hand in a rather large bandage. The story behind it was very boring, so boring that I forget what it was, so we supplied him with a better story that involved saving orphans from various, large, wild animals while on safari.Or something to that effect.

Pratt Street Ale House woodworking
he beer here was good and very true to the English styles that they proudly purport to replicate. We both found quaffs that we enjoyed and I would recommend the Dark Horse, which is a nicely done English dark mild ale. There's nothing here that will blow your socks off, but that's not their aim. They produce nicely balanced, English-style ales and they do it rather well and serve them at the proper temperature. Another pleasure of this place is they've worked to create an hospitable environment. Yes, I used "an hospitable" just as the British would, trying to get into that kind of feel here. Unfortunately, the bar area didn't really have a fully authentic English pub feel to it. They did their best to transport you to an English pub with the building's façade, but the interior seemed a bit off. The trappings were there, brass taps with wooden-handled pulls, solid woodworking, colorful but not gaudy paint job and other brick-a-brack that an American might expect to find in a London local. But the bar itself was a bit off. It was entirely open, meaning it didn't have the enclosed glassware racks above the bar that I've come to associate with an English pub. Just my observation and one mostly shared with the Control, who actually has experience in the pubs in London, but this is not a large enough negative and more of a nitpick. It's a great place to go if you fancy a pint.

After leaving the Pratt Street Ale House we decided to head back to the hotel, but on the way back to the room we realized that it was still around midnight…far too early to call it a night when bar hopping a big city, right? Wrong, especially in Baltimore. Maybe we're spoiled living within the gleam of the City That Never Sleeps, but closing everything down at midnight seems downright ludicrous. During the day the city is vibrant and alive. The Inner Harbor has the National Aquarium, historic ships, bustling restaurants, shopping for all budgets and tastes and policemen on Segways. Now I would never condone lifting an old lady above your head and, while roaring like Conan, tossing her off the Mystic drawbridge, but I had to agree with the Control that the urge to push the overweight cop doing his patrol on a Segway into the harbor was irresistible. Get a desk job or go for a swim, tubbo! Stop wasting the taxpayers' money because you can't resist Krispy Kreme! Well, who can? Apparently the urge wasn't entirely irresistible because we didn't actually do it, but we thought mightily hard about doing it, I tell you what!We did get a chuckle trying to imagine him chasing down a perp on that thing. Do you suppose he makes vroom-vroom noises when he does?

At night the police force, sans Segways, seems to be concentrated around an area that is full of bars and nightclubs called Power Plant Live! Their exclamation mark, not mine. The street here is cordoned off and you get carded on your way through because you can roam between the bars, restaurants and clubs with open containers. At the end of the night there tend to be a lot of drunken idiots, so the cops need to be in force. But again, the end of the night is midnight! That exclamation mark is mine and was placed there in disbelief that a big city would close the party down at such an early hour. If Prince Charming is coming to Charm City to look for a princess then he better get there early, before all the women run home and turn into Sleeping Beauty and there's not even a pumpkin ale to be found.

After being accosted by the mother of a bride-to-be-the-next-day looking for one last hook up and exclaiming that she was "easy", we hastened ourselves the opposite direction and managed to find that Tir Na Nog was still serving. For some reason they're open until 2AM, God bless them! A few pints of Guinness later and we were ready to call it a day…a day made all the nicer by a nicely stocked beer store, a yummy pit beef sammich, an eclectic burger joint with a great craft beer list, an affordable brewpub for the college kids, a classy tequila bar, a comfortable, well-run hookah lounge and a brewpub serving authentic English ales. So it was time to go back to the hotel, review the photos, plug everything in to recharge and then plug ourselves into our beds to recharge for the next day. We heard there was a festival going on in Fells Point and we were going to go see what that was all about…and find some beer.

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.

Monday, November 14, 2011


I love Thanksgiving. I fucking LOVE Thanksgiving! It is the epitome of gluttony that all other gluttonous holidays presume to challenge. Halloween is good and gluttonous, but all that candy will make your stomach convulse and cause you to clean up more of the house than you had intended to that night. Christmas, a holiday that is supposed to be a high religious observation, has turned into a materialistic orgy of spending. It's a close cousin to gluttony, but doesn't have that physically revolting aspect to it. Yeah, there's a big feast, but does anyone post Facebook pictures of their plate, overflowing with the Christmas dinner? No. I guarantee I'll see at least a dozen photos where the good china is completely obscured by heaping mounds of potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce with a large hunk of turkey on top, the whole thing smothered in gravy. There might even be a vegetable or two poking out from somewhere. For gluttony, Thanksgiving cannot be beat. End of argument.

The day starts off with a parade full of lip-syncing celebrities and high school marching bands from around the country that are just learning how cold New York can get in November. And there's always the wonderful possibility that they'll lose control of one of the balloons, sending it careening into a building's façade, deflating it and smothering the creepy-ass clowns marching underneath. All this while you're drinking your coffee and having a light breakfast to make room for the Gobble Day feast. But in the afternoon, while the cooking is going on, we have football. Most years it's a Dallas Cowboys game and a beat down of the Detroit Lions by anyone and everyone. This year the Lions are supposedly a good team and facing the Packers. That could be the game to watch, at least until dinner is served. Time for food! And the food is epic: birds exceeding twenty pounds, mounds of stuffing with all sorts of mouth-watering ingredients, bowls piled high with mashed potatoes that are soon to be swimming in sinful turkey gravy, cranberry sauce (from the can or freshly made, doesn’t matter), butter-slathered rolls and don't even get me going on the desserts. I wonder if the spike in shopping on Black Friday compares to the spike in visits to the cardiologist.

All this food is awesome, but we need drink to go with the day's schedule. We have coffee for the parade…that is sacrosanct. Besides, I don't drink beer before 11AM, or is it 10AM? Doesn't matter; I need my coffee. But once the games begin it's drink on! Some households have Thanksgiving dinner early so there's no need for lunch. We still have ours close to the traditional dinner time…that's usually because I've underestimated the bird's cooking time…so appy-type snacks during the first game are served in lieu of a true lunch. Football and appies? That screams for a lager of some sort, but nothing that will weigh you down or get you so snookered that you stuff the bird with the sweet potatoes. Think of your beer selections throughout the day just like a beer tasting or sample flight. You start off with the lightest and lowest ABVs first and work your way up in ABV, body, IBU and flavor. No, I am NOT suggesting a "light" beer to start. Just wipe that out of your mind. No NASCAR beers!

I do have one rule on Thanksgiving: every beer I drink will be brewed in the US. Thanksgiving is an American holiday and drinking imports is a slap in the face of those intrepid pilgrims who fled religious oppression in Europe. So for the football games I'll probably go with a pilsner of some sort: lighter-bodied, low-ish ABV, but still flavorful. Possibilities: Full Sail Session Lager, Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, Victory Prima Pils, Troegs Sunshine Pils, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Sierra Nevada Glissade, Oskar Blues Mamas Little Yellow Pils. If I could get it where I live I'd go with the Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, but I'm probably going to settle for the Sierra Nevada Glissade.

I understand that there are so many other beers that could be mentioned for any role within this post, so I attempted to stick to those available in the Garden State.

If you love to cook, like I do, and you grew up watching Julia Child you knew that some of the wine went into the cooking and some of the wine went into Julia. That's perfectly swell when you're doing a television cooking show where a bunch of other cooks are preparing the ingredients and precooking the finished dish. In my opinion, drinking while preparing a big meal is not the best idea. You're going to have a very minor buzz from the football game beer, adding onto that while managing a very sharp chef's knife could ruin the holiday with an emergency room visit. I, for one, don't relish sitting in the emergency room, hand wrapped up in bandages, next to the moron who got his head stuck in the cavity of the turkey because he thought he could wear it as hat. Too much beer can do that and one time when I was marveling at a similar moron, I realized I was sitting next to a mirror. So, I will go well off-form here and suggest that you drink water as you cook. You'll need the hydration for the beer to come as well as to survive the heat of the kitchen as the oven does its job and every burner throws flame. Save your alcohol tolerance for the main attraction.

The cooking is done and the good china is on the table along with the good silverware and crystal ware. You know, all that stuff on your wedding registry that kept you from getting that BBQ set-up that could accommodate two whole pigs and three sides of beef. The bird is out and everything else has been put into serving vessels so that pictures can be taken. Why? I don't really know. Has anyone ever gone back and looked at pictures of the turkey from prior years? The sink and kitchen counter are nowhere to be found under teetering columns of pots, pans, utensils, cutting boards and mixing bowls. They can wait because it's time to eat! And drink, of course. I've made some mistakes in the past with pairing a beer with Thanksgiving dinner. My usual mantra is "drink what you like", but that doesn't really work here. One year I poured a strong Belgian brown. Not only did it overpower much of my dinner in flavor, but the high alcohol content, paired with the tryptophan, made it really hard for me to help with the cleanup…or at least that's what I told the Geisha. Another year I poured a DIPA, which had the same effect: could barely taste the food and it knocked me for a loop.

So this year I need to find something with a flavor that will compliment all the dishes without overpowering them and also allow me to make it to dessert in good enough shape to be able to bring another beer into the mix. I don't want to repeat the beer from the football game, as it would disappear entirely and taste like nothing against the feast, but I've learned my lesson with too much flavor. Right off the bat my mind goes to Bluepoint Toasted Lager. It has a slight nuttiness that should pair well with much of what I serve on Thanksgiving and a light enough body and low enough ABV to get me through dinner. Let's face it, with all the food we eat, one will NOT be enough. Other options would be ambers that don't bring a large hop load to your palate. New Belgium Fat Tire would work as would many of the malt-forward American-brewed Oktoberfests. I'd lean toward Weyerbacher's Autumnfest here as it's a bit lighter and approaches the American Amber Ale style more than a true Oktoberfest, but the Toasted Lager will be my choice this year.

I mentioned getting one more beer in, didn't I? Oh yes, if they can have dessert wines then there HAS to be dessert beers. I could go one of two ways here. I could either choose something that compliments most desserts, like a coffee Stout, or find a beer that is a dessert within itself, like a frambois. What did the girl at the end of Trading Spaces say? "Why can't we have both?" We could, and then we'd sleep really well, but I will probably go with just one, even though I'll discuss both here.

At the end of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, Santa Claus makes his entrance, symbolically ushering in the holiday buying frenzy. Christmas is the next holiday on the radar (along with Hanukah) and it's time to prepare. Trim up the trees, deck the halls, get your gift shopping done and prepare for that upcoming feast. So why not symbolically usher in the holiday season with a holiday beer at the end of the meal? Many of them will be released by that time and they're as varied in execution as summer beers and pumpkin ales. Some will be spiced, some will have fruit, most will be strong, but you can be assured of one thing: with the multitude that are being brewed you will find one to your liking. And you should be able to find one with the correct flavor profile to pair with whatever dessert you're serving. I have a Heavy Seas Yuletide from 2009 set aside for this year, but The Geisha will have me go out and get Harpoon's Winter Warmer (hopefully they won't be as heavy-handed with the spice this year) and I'll more than likely have more in the beer fridge to choose from. Southern Tier Old Man Winter, Weyerbacher Winter Ale, Sam Smith Winter Welcome and Saint Bernardus Christmas Ales tend to be staples and that selection gives me a nice range of beers to choose from.

But then there are those beers that are desserts unto themselves. A well-aged barleywine, an old ale or a bourbon barrel-aged stout can take the role of a snifter of brandy with ease. Belgian-style Quads are like having liquid bread in your chalice. Imperial Stouts deliver chocolate and coffee flavors with each luscious sip. If fruits are more your style then you've got options there as well. Most lambics available in this country are blended with fruit, like frambois, kriek, peche, etc, but there are some fruit beers that don't deliver the sour pucker that many lambics do. Dogfish Head Fort is a strong raspberry ale that would be delicious as a reduction over vanilla ice cream or enjoyed from a snifter. New Glarus also does a raspberry ale and one made with Wisconsin cherries. If you crave that pucker then Allagash Interlude, Ommegang Ommegeddon or Weyerbacher Rapture should do well without having to look to Belgium for the funk.

The point is that you've got many choices when it comes to beer with Thanksgiving and you can do what you want. I for one will be trying to stick the "rules" I outlined here and will now bullet point for quick reference and reminder.
- In the AM, get your coffee on…it will be a long day
- All beer should be domestic to honor this very American holiday
- Start off light-bodied and low alcohol content, especially if you're cooking
- If you're cooking, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
- Your dinner beer should not overpower the meal or your alcohol tolerance
- For dessert all bets are off…drink what you like
- Give thanks for good health, good fortune, good friends, family (good or otherwise) and great beer