Come Down From That Bough

When it comes to beer, I don’t stray too far from my adopted home state these days. Heck, I don’t even stray that far from my own neighborhood. If I can walk to a brewery, why the heck would I go to one that’s further afield? A 10 minute drive to True Respite or 7 Locks is just too far away.

And if that 10 minute drive is a daunting distance, then going to a brewery in Baltimore or Frederick is like going to the moon. It takes planning!

Fortunately, distribution of local beers is such now that I can develop a strong loyalty to a craft brewery without ever setting foot in it. For example, I’ve been a fan of Union Craft Brewing for three years almost to the day, according to a post on my old beer blog. That was when I wrote about their Balt Altbier. I don’t really like Altbier, which I usually find too bitter and too syrupy. But Union’s version was special: bittersweet chocolate flavor without being bitter, smooth and creamy without feeling like I was drinking Hershey’s syrup straight from the bottle. It was love at first sip.

So what better way to celebrate an anniversary with the one you love than by going to a special place that means a lot to both of you?

The Union Collective building is massive, with plenty of room to brew beer, have a tasting room and a beer hall, a restaurant, a creamery making fresh ice cream on the premises, a distillery, a coffee shop, and an indoor climbing park. It’s altogether impressive.

There was no Balt Altbier available, and although they had my other favorites on tap (Blackwing Schwarzbier-style lager and Duckpin IPA), I made sure to try stuff I had never tasted before.

I got a three-beer sampler and started with Divine IPA, as classic an India Pale Ale as I will ever find. It was clean and crisp and citrusy without being overly hopped. I then moved on to Michele’s Granola Porter, which at first glance, seems bizarre. But it’s really just a classic porter with a little extra oomph. It has an aroma of chocolate milk and starts off sweet before dissolving into a bitter, malty finish.

Lastly, I tried Kev’s Winter Warmer. Kev refers to Kevin Blodger, co-founder of Union and an all-around hero of mine. A lot of brewers will find their lane and stay in it. But Kevin and co-founders Adam Benesch and Jon Zerivitz brew stuff that would make even the hippest beer hipster feel like a frat boy stocking up on Natty Ice. They make an Altbier! Who else in the United States makes an Altbier?

It’s Kev’s favorite, by the way, in case you needed further reason why he’s my hero.

As for his Winter Warmer, it tasted of hazelnuts and nutmeg. Union pulled it through a nitro pump, so it had a smooth body with a toasty finish. It’s the type of beer I’d like to sip in front of a warm fire, which is an odd obsession of mine because I never sit in front of a warm fire. But I like to find beers that I would drink in front of one in case I ever do.

Needless to say, it was worth the visit. Not just for the beer, but also for the Duckpin bratwurst and the popcorn from Well Crafted Kitchen, the brown bread ice cream from The Charmery, and the nice cup of tea from Vent Coffee Roasters. If I’m going to go there, I might as well GO THERE, right?

Yes, brown bread ice cream: malt and cinnamon ice cream with Grape Nuts. I probably should have had it with Kev’s Winter Warmer. That would have been amazing.

A Chance That I’d Been Given

Many years ago, my wife discovered that there was a tiny little brewery in our town called Baying Hound. It was a scant 25 minute walk from our house and we hadn’t realized it. I quickly became a regular, but in March 2016 Baying Hound closed up shop for good.

Flash forward a year and a half later and we found out that a new brewery was opening up an even scanter 20 minute walk from our house. Saints Row Brewing threw open its doors in September 2017 and I was so excited I walked there in 15 minutes.

You see, I aspire to be a fake Englishman. Being a fake Englishman mostly involves walking my dog along a stream through a field and some woods to the local pub to have a pint, then going home to watch panel shows and complaining that no one votes for our Eurovision songs anymore.

I got the dog and the neighborhood pub  within weeks of each other, and I could even walk through a field and along a stream to get to Saints Row. Unfortunately, my dog Buddy hates literally every dog in the universe, and we have since discovered that every house in our neighborhood owns 2.5 dogs. So I cannot completely live the life I want to lead.

But, my dog’s neuroses aside, it’s still nice to have a place where everybody knows my name in the neighborhood. It’s not like I am there every night, like some sort of amiable accountant or trivia-obsessed postal worker. But I’ve established my presence enough that I can walk in and co-founder and head brewer Tony can say, “You’re going to like this one, it’s in your vibe.” And he’s usually right.

For example, they recently tapped an English brown ale called The Cabin. It’s a cozy, comfy beer, full of apple and black currant flavors with a strong, malty finish. It’s a beer you drink while curled up by the fire. The cask version adds a bit of citrus, cinnamon, and clove notes to the mix. The base recipe has a lot of room for versatility.

Not that I’m entirely predictable in my love of bitters, brown ales, and Pilsners. They also produced Careless Whispers, which in theory is a New England IPA. But the beer is finished with toasted coconut and vanilla beans, so the taste has subtle hints of cream soda and… well, coconut.

It’s a playful beer that makes me even happier that Saints Row is in my neighborhood. The fact that it is almost always packed when I stop by shows me that I’m not the only one here who feels this way. Although I am annoyed that everyone else in my neighborhood can bring their dogs without fear of canine panic attacks.

The Old Ones From the Furthest Shore

A couple of years ago, I started a blog about local beer, but with the news that LISHost is closing, I decided to shut it down. I’m not quite ready to let the beer diary go, though. Mainly because I really like this Nordic Brume from Elder Pine.

So I thought it would be fun to do monthly beer reviews on this blog. They’ll give me something light to write about while I’m formulating library science-related posts, and also give me an excuse to visit my local market Dawson’s and my local brewery Saints Row Brewing Company on a regular basis. Gotta keep them in business.

I’m a big fan of English-style ales and of Pilsner-style lagers, which means I’m not necessarily a key market for most craft brewers. Variations on IPA have dominated the taps, which is fine, but not something I want to drink on a regular basis.

But when I get a really good one, I want to sing its praises, which brings me back to Nordic Brume. Elder Pine is a brewery in Gaithersburg, and Nordic Brume is [adjusts glasses and reads the can] a “hop-saturated tribute to Kviek, a uniquely expressive Norwegian yeast.” It’s a hazy IPA made with Kviek yeast, in other words. And it is quite lovely indeed.

An old acquaintance of mine once described Guinness as “a beer that eats like a meal,” and that describes Nordic Brume to a tee. It takes me a good hour to get through a pint because it’s so rich. Plus I want to savor this for as long as possible. The flavor combines sweet mango and resiny pine with a touch of tangy lemon and orange. It’s a complex beer that wears well, especially on a cold winter night. Fire up the fake fireplace and the Nordic power metal and I’m the happiest camper in Maryland.