On the Road To Baltimore
By Bobby Bush
It's been nearly four years since our last visit to Baltimore. That was in 1998 when the Denver-based Great American Beer Festival made a flawed stab at taking their 17-year-old program on the road. Plagued by multiple conflicts with local events like air shows and horse races, the festival was poorly attended, though short lines and brewer availability was particularly rewarding. That weekend also provided an opportunity to check out the local brewpub scenery as well.
And four years later, little change in numbers or players was evident. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Thanks to USAirways, who imposes a $400 premium to fly 40 miles further north into Baltimore's airport, I landed under heavy security at Ronald Reagan Washington National and set out in a rental car. Though it only took twice as long as expected, I eventually found I-95 and headed northward, anticipating the beers of Baltimore. On this short, busy trip I hoped to find time to sample the DeGroen's branded beers of Baltimore Brewing Company, the fine Belgian-style ales of Brewer's Art, dine at Capitol City Brewing and Sisson's and enjoy the variety of popular Wharf Rat Camden Yards. From our previous visit, only The Globe, a cavernous warehouse of a brewpub, has vanished from the beer-scape. Unfortunately, Champion Billiards Cafe, which I found to be a sports bar with bad house beers, is still open near Towson.
But for now, on this interstate road trip, the first pause was in Columbia, about 20 miles outside of Baltimore. Not too hard to find, thanks to Maps On Us, Rocky Run Tap & Grill hides in a sleepy little shopping/office complex just off Little Patuxent Parkway. Arriving just a few minutes before opening bell, I notice that the door to the brewery was ajar. Peering into the steamy room, the smell of boiling malt was intense. Bags of grain were stacked neatly beside the small brew kettle. Trickles of condensation streamed down the foggy glass walls of the warm brewery room.
Watching as the front doors were unlocked, I stepped through the threshold, only to be startled by thousands - literally - of bottles of hot sauce. Every ledge and rail in the dining area was crammed with an unimaginable array of the tongue-burning, digestive system disruptive stuff. "Are these for real?" I asked to no one in particular. "Absolutely," came an unexpected reply. "We buy more all the time."
Peanuts on the bar, I waited while the bartenders clocked in, drinking a glass of cold water in anticipation of the day's first beer. Old neons and other signs promoting beers like Ballantine, Red Cap, Genny and more adorned the walls. Televisions were plentiful. Trivia played on a few.
According to manager Mike Donnelly, Rocky Run opened in December 1996. Brewer Matt Hahn has been with the company just about a year. I swished peanut essence from my mouth before starting with the carousel of beer placed before me. Billed as "western Canadian style," Bar Wench Brew was Rocky Run's lightest beer. Cloudy gold and medium bodied, it offered thin malt flavor and lingering bitterness. Not bad, though a little bold for a tricycle beer. "German style" Maple Leaf Lemon Wheat, served with a slice of that yellow citrus fruit (though I did not squeeze mine), was very clove in yeastiness with smacking citrus tartness. Big Gut Pale Ale made a clean, though malty entrance. Smooth and somewhat thin for style, light hop taste became hoppier and bitter as each swallow progress, resulting in a pleasant session drink. Mountie Red (what's this fixation with Canada?) presented a cloying roasted caramel malt flavor followed by dry bitter finish and aftertaste. Dark black in hue, Brew House Barrel Stout was heavy in roasted barley richness with slight bitter finish. Also a nice beer.
Besides the house beers, Rocky Run also served draft beers from Yuengling (the Lager was delicious), Bass, Molson Canadian, and Baltimore Brewing's DeGroen's Marzen. Food was great. I had crab balls and Blackened Chicken Nachos.
Not a bad start on the road to Baltimore. Follow along....
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush