Bad To Good
By Bobby Bush
This is the third and final installment covering our first trip to Baltimore and, actually, the
state of Maryland in pursuit of beer.
Our trip almost ended on a sour note. After driving way too long on this Sunday
morning, we finally found Champion Billiards Sports Cafe in the northern town of
Towson, not Baltimore as our brewpub list had it. I should learn to call for directions.
Part of a chain of spots bars, Champions, which includes the Looking Glass
Brewery, opened in 1996. The facility hides at the back of a strip mall off I-95, behind a
crazily busy Home Depot. After all the hassle of getting there, we were looking forward
to a good beer and a peaceful lunch.
I should have known when I read the sign explaining that Champion was a 24 hour
operation (it no longer is), that our quest for calm and tranquillity would go unanswered.
Sports displays hung from every wall. State-run keno games flashed their colorful
displays. And actually the pizza and burger were good.
We ordered a sampler tray to quench curiosity. Whether it was the Grid Iron
Golden or Derby Brown Ale, each brew held the same sulfury smell. Noting that it was
probably due to the detergent or rinsing process used in cleaning these small glasses, we
quickly tasted through the low-body Red Line Ale, thin and aroma-less Three Putt Pale
Ale and sour Bitter. The Palooka Porter was practically sulfur on sulfur, so we switched
to the guest beers. Thank goodness Hempen Golden Ale and Harpoon IPA were on tap,
though they were served in 14 oz disposable plastic cups. Pretty classy!
We had a word with the innocent barmistress about dirty glasses and headed for
the door. Key in the ignition. Doors locked. Without looking back we declared
Champion Billiards the new champ in the country’s worst beer contest.
With plenty of time before our late afternoon flight, we decided to detour west of
the city on our way south in order to visit two brewpubs in Ellicott City. Out on the main
highway, Bare Bones Grill & Brewery is one of those typical family rib places. But this
one added a brewery in mid-95. Though we had little time to tarry, we did partake of two
of Bare Bone’s six brews. Tiber River Red had a nice hop flavor with no aftertaste, while
the IPA was strong in hop flavor, leaving a long lasting tingle on the tongue. From the
brewery at the far end of this long island bar, also came Patapsco Valley Gold, Blueberry
Wheat, Old Ellicott Ale and Savage Mill Porter. Maybe another time.
Asking directions, it took a few minutes to travel to the old downtown section of
Ellicott City, which appears to be one of those quaint off-the-beaten path towns trying to
instill the spirit of tourism where once stood an aging mill town. Amidst gift shops and
Christmas stores, right on Main Street, we found an oasis in Ellicott Mills Brewing
Company. Open since the Spring of 1997, like Baltimore Brewing Company, Ellicott
Mills brews only German-style lagers. Owner and brewer Martin Virga schooled and
apprenticed in Germany, working for Kaiserbrauerei, a medium-size family-held
In what once served as a lumber yard building, Ellicott Mills’ shiny copper brewery
can be seen from the street. There are 140 seats for dining upstairs, cigar bar in the
basement, but we followed our standard routine and slid up to the bar. Checking our
watches, we apologized to the attentive bartender and zeroed in on two selections. At
5.1% the Alpenhof Dunkel, dark red in color, was smooth and lagery with a tinge of
hoppiness slightly off-setting a fruity mouthfeel. Stronger at 6.7%, the Alpenhof Maibock
was light-bodied and winey. Low in bitterness but not sweet, we preferred Baltimore
Brewing’s version tasted the day before. We said our good-byes to the staff, leaving a
Dunkel, Hell and Marzen behind, and set out toward the airport. Another glorious
weekend of beer and loafing had come to an end all too soon. Thanks for joining us.
Seven brewpubs, six of them memorable- be sure to put Baltimore on your travel
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush