You Made Me Feel So Good Inside

Denizens Brewing Company opened in Silver Spring in 2014, well after I had left my cataloger job at NOAA Central Library. It’s walking distance from there, dang it! Although maybe it’s not a good idea to construct original authority records after a pint.

Like Union, Denizens is very versatile. For example, I’m a fan of breweries who take on the American macro style, so I snagged their PGC Premium Lager as soon as it came out. Playfully referencing PBR, PGC is named after Prince George’s County, home of Denizens’ second location in Riverdale Park. It pops open with an orange zest aroma that reminds me of how Disney likes to use smells to enhance its E-ticket rides. It has hints of honey and malt with a sweet citrus finish. It’s really everything I would want out of, say, Natty Boh. I happen to like Natty Boh and will not speak ill against it. But I also think this does Natty Boh one better.

From watery domestic to monastic tradition, Third Party is Denizens’ take on a Belgian tripel. It has a strong yeast flavor with hints of vanilla, cardamom, and orange and a touch of burnt caramel at the end. If I’m looking for a beer to help me indulge my fantasy of downing a metric ton of moules-frites at a bar in Brussels, I could grab an imported beer crafted by an obscure monastery with an eye for international monetization. Or I could just drink local, because Third Party is a credible take on a style of beer I adore.

If you were to ask me which Denizen’s beer is my favorite, I would hem and haw a bit. Lowest Lord and Born Bohemian both hold special places in my heart. The latter, as you might expect from the name, is a Czech-style Pilsner. It has a yeasty nose and a refreshing malt flavor that lingers. Born Bohemian just tastes like a classic Pilsner in every way and it is super delicious. In fact, Czechs would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this and their native, local beer. And they would probably like this more and feel so guilty about it they would cry into their next three pints of it.

That said, I am deeply in love with Lowest Lord. It has a rich body and  a hoppy tang to it without being stupidly hoppy. It tickles the back of my throat and leaves a pleasantly bitter aftertaste. I can nurse it for an hour and it holds up the entire time.

There are a whole bunch of other awesome Denizens beers. Liz Murphy of the erstwhile Naptown Pint column in the Annapolis Capital Gazette is a proponent of Southside Rye IPA and Big Red Norm, for example. But for me, it always comes back to these four. When I placed my Denizens’ delivery order during the quarantine, these are the four I ordered. They’re all special to me.

With a Strange Enchantment In My Heart

True Respite is sort of the big player in the Rockville beer scene. Even though they opened after 7 Locks and Saints Row, they’ve established themselves here pretty quickly through their knack for promotion. As mentioned, they were ahead of the curve during the quarantine by having their Bierme app cued up before Maryland’s stay at home order was put into place. But they also made a big splash when they opened because Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cut the ribbon at their opening.

True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary said during the opening ceremony that he was inspired to invite Gov. Hogan to the ribbon cutting after the governor’s speech at the 2016 HomebrewCon in Baltimore. For his part, the governor said that his popularity at HomebrewCon may have had a lot to do with his chugging a beer onstage before his remarks.

I mean, know how to play to your audience, right?

Hogan at True Respite

Of course I went to the opening. Didn’t stay long enough to see if Gov. Hogan chugged another beer, though.

Early on, True Respite had focused a lot on IPA variations. Their signature beer for me is Week Away India Pale Ale. It is the type of IPA that made me fall in love with the style in the first place. It has a red grapefruit aroma, and that carries through to the mildly bitter flavor. But there are also hints of cedar and bitter melon. All the flavors are subtle and they leave a pleasantly astringent taste in my mouth. It also has a sweetness to it, and it develops a faint candy shell finish as the beer comes to room temp. It’s lovely.

But True Respite also aren’t shy about experimenting. One of their boldest creations is Tiki Bula, a mai tai-inspired New England India Pale Ale. It takes the harsh citrus flavor that NEIPAs often have and infuses it with maraschino cherry and rum notes. The tangy pineapple finish makes it quite delightful.

And they are trying out unusual-for-America styles, too. For example, last month they came out with Bear Helles. Helles is the Bavarian style of beer that is popular in Austria. In fact, the house beer at my favorite place in the whole wide world, Fischer Bräu, is a Helles. So True Respite has a lot to live up to.

And it does the trick! Bear Helles has a yeasty, funky nose and a bright, barely opaque gold color. It’s light-bodied, almost ephemeral, and it’s sweet with a bitter, lemony tang in the back. I could judge it harshly based on Fischer Bräu, but honestly, being able to get a good Helles delivered to my house helps me get over my faint desire to fly out to Vienna the first chance I get.

As it is with 7 Locks, I don’t go to True Respite all that often. But the silver lining to 2020 is that a new option to drink local opened up, and I’m hoping that sensible heads will take charge and make sure that this option sticks around.

That’s How We Keep You In Repair

The three Rockville breweries have opened up online ordering services during the quarantine. Saints Row has been pick-up only, but both 7 Locks and True Respite have been providing deliveries. True Respite had the foresight to build an app called Bierme before the quarantine was fully in place to help brewers process online orders. It has worked so well that it has been used by breweries around the country, including Union.

7 Locks Brewing, meanwhile, is using ToastTab software to run its delivery service. Regardless of how they take my order, the upshot is that I can now get Surrender Dorothy sent to my house whenever I want. Oh yes, very nice!

Named after an infamous bit of graffiti on the Beltway near the LDS Temple, Surrender Dorothy is a rye-based IPA that tastes more like an English bitters-style ale. It has a subtle and appealing elderflower flavor that gives it depth. I usually pour it into a glass and hang out with my dog on my lap while I read or write or do crossword puzzles. Or just watch a bunch of videos on YouTube. I’m not going anywhere for awhile, and Surrender Dorothy holds up the entire time.

Another selection in my order was Paint Branch Pilsner. I adore Pilsners and am happy that local brewers are beginning to embrace them. Paint Branch was a new one for me, and I instantly fell in love. It has a sweet malt flavor, with a hint of lemon zest in the aftertaste. It’s good cold, but it also stands up at room temp, unlike some more mass-produced domestic lagers.

The last bit of my order was Raspberry Snakeden Saison. It’s aged in whiskey rye barrels and boy, does that come out when I tasted it. Sure, I got a whiff of raspberry when I opened the bottle, but the flavor was mostly of whiskey and caramel. The body was smooth, if a bit flat, but it had a lovely aftertaste of raspberry, yeast, and malt. It’s a complex and fanciful beer, and it made me happy.

And the fact that I could get this delivered to me makes me even happier. I wonder if Maryland’s byzantine liquor laws can finally be rethought after this period where they’ve been temporarily eased. Sure, there’s nothing like having a pint in a bustling pub atmosphere. On the other hand, it’s probably a lot more responsible to have your quaffs delivered to your home then going out for it. In the Baltimore Business Journal, True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary says, “I don’t think things can ever go back to the way they were but I don’t think they’ll stay the way they are. We’re probably going to find a middle ground somewhere.” Hear, hear.

When Everyone Gives Everything

I have found myself, during quiet moments in the past few weeks, vaguely longing to go back to Vienna. I‘ve been lucky enough to travel there for work, and I have always wanted to go there for a week just to hang out. I don‘t know when I will be able to make that happen right now, which probably adds to that vague longing.

I have a list of things I want to do in Vienna that I haven‘t done before. The Central  Cemetery, where Beethoven, Brahms, and Falco are buried. The Belvedere Museum, which houses Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. The Hundertwasser House, designed by the eccentric artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

And I have a list of places where I want to return. The Leopold Museum, home to much of Egon Schiele’s body of work. Grinzig, the wine neighborhood and home to the wine bars known as heuringer. The Augarten, a quiet respite in the middle of the city.

And very specifically, Fischer Bräu, which makes and serves some of the best beer I’ve ever had. Their house beer is Helles, a style of lager popular in southern Germany and in Austria. Fisher Bräu’s version is rich and creamy, with a sweet wheat flavor. It goes down alarmingly easily, and it has a mysterious lightness that convinces me that I have room for another one.

I’m always on the lookout for a lager available in Maryland that can help me imagine I’m in Fischer Bräu’s biergarten. Manor Hill Brewing’s Pilsner comes pretty close. It’s smooth and zippy with an astringent tang and a sweet, light bran undertone. It’s a cozy beer, like a well-worn pair of slippers or a nice plate of spaghetti and meatballs. I’m also a fan of RavenBeer’s Pendulum Pilsner, a sweet and malty beer with a surprising richness. Both hold up well to schnitzel or käsespätzle or any of the other Austrian dishes I’m cooking up these days.

Food is the easiest way to explore the world when I can’t travel, and sometimes I don’t even bother trying to be authentic when I can create a simulation of the experience.

Let’s say that one day, I get a craving for a Käsekrainer. It is a sausage stuffed with Emmentaler cheese that is widely found at Würstelstands around Vienna. Apparently, it is often referred to by locals as “Eitrige,” which roughly translates as “pus-filled.” This is because the cheese oozes out when the sausage is cut.

If I’m in Aldi and I get lucky, I will find Emmentaler cheese and Kaiser rolls in stock. That’s all I need, because I usually have a stash of Costco’s Kirkland brand hot dogs in my fridge. I grill and chop up the hot dogs then serve them with chunks of Emmentaler, a lightly toasted Kaiser roll, and dollops of Dijon mustard and ketchup. It misses out in the oozing cheese area and lacks any semblance of authenticity. But if I’m drinking a Maryland-made Pilsner-style beer and pretending it’s some of Vienna’s finest, then authenticity is never a part of the equation.

Another thing I try to replicate is an Austrian soda called Almdudler. It’s sort of like a ginger ale with citrus and elderflower flavors. I adore it. The closest I’ve gotten to it is mixing together Sierra Mist and Ikea’s elderflower syrup. It’s not quite right, but it will do in a pinch.

Coincidentally, one of the hotels I have stayed at in Vienna is walking distance to the Almdudler House. My work colleagues thought it was amusing that I had to stop by and take a picture. But let’s be honest, when you have a doorway shaped like a soda bottle, you are inviting tourists like me to post photos of it on Instagram.

To be honest, I can’t tell if I like Almdudler because it tastes good or because it instantly makes me feel at home when I get to Austria. Or maybe I am amused by the strange looks I get from waitstaff when I order one in my broken German. I might be reading a bit too much into that. It’s not like I ordered a Hugo.

Except for the one time I did order a Hugo. It came like this, which probably tells you all you need to know about it:

I realized as I was writing this that I have done quite a bit to recreate much of what I like about Vienna at home. I can cook schnitzel like a pro. I can buy Austrian wine locally. If I really feel adventurous, I could try to make authentic semmel at home.  Sure, I can’t immerse myself in Viennese culture right now, but I have ways to scratch the itch a bit.

And sometimes a little taste of what I love will help tide me over until I can make my way back. Someday. Hopefully soon.

 

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.