Baltimore, Oh Baltimore
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