By Bobby Bush
Strung out from a long evening standing on the Baltimore Convention Center's hard concrete floor, I scooted across Pratt Street to The Wharf Rat Restaurant & Brewpub for a late night bite to eat and, of course, a beer or three. With 26 different Oliver's (that's the Wharf Rat beer brand) beers to choose from, I didn't even attempt a complete tasters tray, deciding instead to sample the three cask conditional ales and the seasonals. Wharf Rat has three antique hand pumps and four gravity pour firkins. A special cooler keeps cask ales at 50 degrees.
Crab cakes (it's a law- you must order crab while visiting Maryland) on the way, I contemplated the pint of Oliver's Best Bitter before me. This deep copper ale was warm and smooth. Beginning malty/fruity, its bitter release was delayed until the final trail of each swallow. Oliver's Export Ale, another cask offering, was stronger - 6.2% abv vs. 4.8% - than the Best Bitter, and much more bitter in India Pale Ale level.
Oliver's Christmas Ale was gone for the season, though Little Williams Winter Warmer, pushing 7.7% abv, made a big, bold statement. Chestnut reddish brown in color, topped by a whisper of brownish froth, this Scottish Wee Heavy-like brew began with deep, dark chocolate caramel flavor, eventually allowing floral hops and accompanying burnt butterscotch tastes to rise in the finish. Oliver 2001, the other seasonal, was a difficult transition from the Winter Warmer. Only after several sips were its bitter ending and tingly middle exposed. Sour finishing, the 2001 was not up to par with other Oliver's beers.
Wharf Rat was founded in 1993 in a circa-1860 historic building. The structure survived the Baltimore Fire of 1904 and is one of the city's few "cast iron" buildings still standing. Located across the street from the convention center and just blocks from Camden Yards and the Baltimore Harbor, Wharf Rat is making all the beer they can make. Brewer Steve Jones produced 2500 barrels last year in his English-built Peter Austin brewhouse. With the exception of some American hops varieties and, of course, the water, this is an all-English brewery. No lagers. No filtered beer. Even the basic malt, two-row barley, is imported from the UK.
With 26 draught beers plus the cask conditioned ales, there's no reason to be thirsty at The Wharf Rat. Oliver's beer menu follows in three categories. Draught Ales - Summer Light, Ironman Pale Ale, SW1 (South West One), Irish Red Ale, Biere de Garde, Blonde Ale. Dark Ales - Dark Horse Ale, Old English Ale, Pagan Porter. Smooth Pour (nitrogen/carbon dioxide blend) Ales - Manchester Cream Ale, Blackfriar Stout. Unafraid of competition or comparison, seven guest beers complement the Oliver's choices. They include Anchor Steam, Anchor Fog Horn, Magic Hat #5, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Rogue Dead Guy and Grant's Scottish. A nice selection of imported bottles completes the selection. And yes, Wharf Rat provides budmillercoors choices for beer drinkers sans tastebuds.
The crab cake, actually mounds of fresh crab lightly broiled, were delicious. Other food offerings included Maryland Crab Soup, Bangers and Mash, Mrs. Rooney's Chili, Shrimp Salad, Hamburger Americana, Beer Battered Shrimp, Henry VIII's Meatloaf, Sir Rudolph Guiliani (NY Strip) and the house specialty, Crab Cake Dinner. I even ate the green beans. The waitress was helpful, accommodating my foolish questions with a smile. The bar was packed, smoky and noisy. Dining area, where I resided, was almost as loud and jovial.
Baltimore hosts the National Aquarium and other interesting tourist spots. Just make sure that The Wharf Rat is on your travel itinerary.
This article first appeared in Focus Magazine of Hickory, North Carolina.
© Bobby Bush