By Bobby Bush
While wandering the streets of Baltimore, I stumbled across two bottled beers produced by Clipper City, a suburban microbrewery. McHenry Old Baltimore Style Ale was copper colored and almost lager-like in mouthfeel and yeastiness. Its tingly bubbles revealed a citrusy finish. Despite its unknown gender (walks like a lager, talks like an ale), McHenry was more pleasing than the "classic British style" Oxford Class Ale. Golden hued with butterscotch maltiness and just a hint of alleged Wilamette and Tettnang hops bitterness at the finish, this light light pale ale is missing a key component: flavor. Surely Clipper City makes something more drinkable. The website (clippercitybeer.com) lists Gold Ale, Reserve Winter Ale, Reserve IPA and Oxford Raspberry, so maybe there's hope.
There was time for one more beer excursion on this truncated trip, so I lit out early, headed to the northeast quadrant of greater Baltimore to the community of Bel Air. An early Saturday lunch at an almost empty, meandering bar turned into a pleasant experience indeed. Though the sign out front stated "founded in 1906," this version of DuClaw Brewing Company began operation in 1995. Current brewer, Jim Wagner, came about his DuClaw position in a rather unusual manner. In a local homebrewers' competition, Jim won the opportunity to brew his own beer at DuClaw. In need of a brewer at the time, Jim never went home, or back to homebrewing. That was three years ago.
Today, Jim's DuClaw beers, though irreverent in attitude, are very credible in character. Dense gold, Bare Ass Blonde Ale is pils-like in hops bitterness, though longer in bitter aftertaste. Barely medium bodied, it's a nice "introductory hand-crafted brew." "Inspired by the kolsch beers of Germany," light-bodied Ravenwood is cold-conditioned and suggestively bitter in finish. Thin caramel flavor from start to mid-taste, Misfit Red is balanced with mild hop bitterness. Venom Pale Ale, an "American Pale Ale like Mom used to make," sports 36 bitter units with plenty of grapefruity Cascades hops aroma. Most of the hops impact hits at final swallow, leading to a short bitter aftertaste that converts to that certain sweetness that only Cascades can give. Dark golden brown, really almost black, Bad Moon Porter was robust, deep chocolate malty and as smooth in mouthfeel (nitrogenized) as it was complex in malt flavors.
Supposedly DuClaw is a play on the owner's grandfather's name. No one had any idea where the 1906 came from. My reference books list no such name. Regardless of history, or its lack thereof, DuClaw Brewing is a friendly place with good food (my crabcake on pretzel bread was delicious) and great beer. Check 'em out at duclaw.com.
Since my path back to downtown Baltimore was shorter going back (it's usually called "lost"), I squeezed in one more quick stop. Located at the east side of the harbor, I'd visited Baltimore Brewing Company once before. That 1998 visit of this circa-1989 brewpub brought back pleasant memories. This 2002 visit spoiled that memory. The bartender explained that the kitchen had just reopened under new management, while he was forgetting everything that I ordered. Finally with DeGroen's (Baltimore Brewing's brand) sampler beers before me, I sipped on Weizen, a Bavarian style wheat beer full of clove tastes embellished by earthy undertones. This golden ale was much more malty than expected. Marzen was flat and nasty from diacetyl taste. It was not good. More orange colored than the Marzen, Dunkles was caramel malty, medium bodied and sour in taste and aftertaste. Rauchbock did all it could to atone for its lesser siblings. Very smoky with bittersweet aftertaste, its sweet malty flavor was chased by more smokiness and a satisfying dry finish. The menu did look appetizing, but brewer Tim Sokoloski's beers had already turned my stomach. Maybe the brewery was closed for a while also.
We have one more stop in Baltimore. Come along.
This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush