Sep 23, 2018

Baltimore, Oh Baltimore

May, 1998

By Bobby Bush

As frequently as my travels take me to Washington, DC, this was the first trip I’d venture one hour up I-95 to the tempting city of Baltimore. Tempting? Yeah, this harbor town boasts seven brewpubs and, as convenience would have it, the Great American Beer Festival was in town. That wondrous fest was covered in a previous issue of FOCUS. Today we’re focusing on the area’s brewpub.

Within walking distance of our hotel, and directly across the street from the convention center, The Wharf Rat basks in the shadow of Oriole Park in the Camden Yards neighborhood. It was game day, so no sampler trays were available to help narrow our selection from among their too-many Oliver-branded beers. From an authentic English beer engine, the busy but helpful bartender poured a sultry, powerfully bitter Oliver Best Bitter. The other cask beers were Oliver ESB and Oliver Dark Mild. From the Rat’s standard beer fare, we enjoyed the lingering bitterness of Ironman Pale Ale, the chocolate roastedness of Pagan Porter and the faint fruit flavor- no aroma at all -of Oliver Cherry Blossom Ale. Nitrogen builds body and head in the “Slow Pour” brews Oliver Cream Ale and Oliver Blackfriar Stout. Time, and common sense, did not allow the luxury of full-glass tastes of all of their well-made brews. Beers like Oliver S.W.1, Scottish Ale and Irish Red Ale would have to wait for another visit.

With some foresight, management at Wharf Rat had squirreled away several of their seasonal winter brews from the previous cold weather beer season. Oliver Imperial Russian Stout pushed a strong roasted malt flavor, topped by an alcohol finishing punch. Oliver Smoked Porter was smoky in nose and flavor, but left a plasticy smack on the roof of my mouth. Spicy with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon, Oliver Merry Ole Ale was a medium body ale with bells and whistles.

The Wharf Rat makes an earnest attempt at being an English pub. A British flag adorns one window. An authentic red phone booth is in service near the front door. Beer is served in 20 oz Imperial pint glasses. A copper-plated ceiling lends to the antiquity and quaintness. In business since 1993, The Wharf Rat is a wonderful place for beer lovers. Plan to stay all day.

From there we high-tailed it over to Harbor Place to find DC-based Capitol City’s Baltimore edition. Annoyingly located right beside a Hooters and the all-Maryland Phillips Crab House, this Capitol City Brewing, open since mid-1997, over-looks the touristy harbor area. A large oval, copper-topped bar surrounded several copper-clad serving tanks from which issued standard Capitol beers. None were outstanding, but all were decent. Favorites include the medium bodied, well-balanced Amber Waves Ale and a refreshingly hoppy Whipping Post IPA. Golden Boy Kolsch, Pale River Ale, Prohibition Porter and Bull Run Bitter complete the Capitol City line-up.

Rising early the next morning, fully recovered from the evening’s festival activities, we found the large brick mansion which serves as the Baltimore Brewing Company. In business since December 1989, brewmaster Theo deGroen, a Dutchman, sticks strictly to the ancient Bavarian purity law, Reinheitsgebot, with all his German-style eponymous brews. On regular rotation from this well-equipped bar we slurped down a 5.3% alcohol deGroen’s Pils which righteously reeked with the salivating smell of Saaz hops from Bohemia. The Weizen, fermented with a Bavarian yeast culture, was brimming with essence of banana and clove. Dunkles, a Munich-style dark lager, was on the sweet side due to a healthy addition of caramel malt. The Oktoberfest-style Marzen also presented a malty body, while the seasonal deGroen’s Maibock was cloudy gold with a long white head. It’s well-balanced flavor profile made it our best-of-show.

Located close to the national Aquarium (see the dolphin show first), then spend a little time exploring the marvels of Baltimore Brewing Company.

Stick around. This Baltimore excursion will continue with More of Baltimore

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush


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