Baltimore’s history is awash in beer. Just 19 years after the Maryland city’s founding in 1729, beer making became Baltimore’s first manufacturing industry. In 1892, inventor William Painter patented the “crown cork”, or bottle cap, which tightly sealed flavour and carbonation into bottled beer. And in the 1930s, Charm City’s own American Can Company successfully canned the first beer, purging the horrible metallic taste of previous efforts.
But Prohibition dealt
a devastating blow to local brewers, and the city’s beer production has since
seen its share of ups and downs. In the 1970s and ‘80s, industry-wide consolidation forced local breweries to
close or skip town. Baltimore’s iconic beer National Bohemian -- or, as locals
affectionately call the cheap, watery lager, Natty Boh -- moved out and its
taps around the city ran dry. For decades old timers lamented the days when
there was a brewery in every neighbourhood.
But beer is flowing back into the city, thanks to a combination of young beer
enthusiasts, cheap real estate and the persistence of local brewers. Natty Boh
is being sold on draft for the first time in more than 15 years, and a
Marylander is working to bring its slightly more upscale brother National
Premium back to life this year. (For Natty Boh, nostalgia, not taste, seems to
be the main attraction.) More importantly, drinkers are demanding locally
sourced beers with more flavour and personality, finally giving Baltimore’s
craft brews some momentum. Baltimore Beer Week (19 to 28 October),
a celebration of craft culture in the region, is entering its fourth year. This
summer, local microbrewers will band together to open the first large-scale
brewery within city limits in more than 30 years. And there are more inventive
breweries and brewpubs in the works.
“The beauty of the renaissance here in Baltimore is that everyone is doing
something different to keep it fresh, keep people excited about beer,” said
historian Maureen O’Prey, author of the book Brewing in Baltimore.
Ask beer aficionados where to grab a drink in the city and many will list a
handful of establishments that have paved the way for Baltimore’s growing beer
scene, inspiring residents and visitors to try new brews and even create their
This beer geek’s paradise sits in the heart of the historic Fells Point neighbourhood
along the city’s Inner Harbor. There are 102 rotating drafts, five hand-pumped
cask ales and a collection of more than 1,000 bottled beers in stock. No new
beer is released from a Baltimore brewery unless it is released at Max’s
first, O’Prey said. Get acquainted with the bar’s large draft and bottle selection
of rare Stillwater Artisanal Ales, made by self-described
“gypsy brewer” Brian Strumke, a Baltimore native who wanders the globe renting
out breweries’ excess capacity to create his own limited edition batches. A
good place to start is Strumke’s Cellar Door, a farmhouse-style wheat ale
brewed with white sage. (Strumke is set to
open his own bar, Of Love & Regret, this year.) Suburban brewery DuClaw’s Soul Jacker, a chocolaty blend with a 9.5% alcohol content, is also often on draft. Or grab a bottle of the Raven, a German
lager that Baltimore-Washington
Beer Works named for the city’s favourite son, Edgar Allan Poe.
During Tuesday beer
socials with cellarmaster Casey Hard, guest experts are on hand to give
lectures, and rare and obscure
brews are available for tasting. Ever had a cold one from Iceland?
The Brewer’s Art
Baltimore’s most popular local beer is Resurrection, which is brewed in the
basement of this Mount Vernon
townhouse-turned-brewpub. The dark, sweet and slightly spicy Abbey-style
dubbel ale has a 7% alcohol content, a strength that never fails to hit newbies
by surprise. Co-founder Volker Stewart opened Brewer’s in 1996, but the house
Belgian-style beers are innovating with each season. As its draft list
proclaims, “We reserve the right to make a new beer at any time!!” For
instance, the Zodiac Ale is brewed to a different recipe during every zodiac
sign (or sometimes twice a sign), introducing additions like sarsaparilla root for
honeysuckle for Leo.
Pratt Street Ale House
Oliver Breweries, the house label for Pratt Street Ale House, gives
this American restaurant a genuine English accent. Its UK-imported brewing
equipment only uses English Ringwood Ale Yeast -- a British standby -- with
imported malt and hops. Brewmaster Stephen Jones, a Brit, even has a diploma in
brewing from the Institute of Brewing
Studies, London. Try mainstays like Ironman, a bronze and smooth pale ale with
a high alcohol content, or Dark Horse, a dark mild ale with a light body.
Anglophiles will love the cask-conditioned ales, which are unfiltered and kept
in vessels containing live yeast; these ales do not have artificial carbonation
and are poured “warm” at 54F using traditional hand pumps. After a yearlong
expansion project, the brewpub is doubling its size this April.
City Brewing Company
Hugh Sisson is Baltimore’s craft brewing pioneer. Back in 1989, he turned his
father’s bar into the city’s first brewpub since Prohibition. Then he left to
launch Clipper City Brewing Company in
Halethorpe, just seven miles from Baltimore, which is now the area’s largest
brewery and home to the famed Heavy Seas beer. Every Saturday, brewery staff
(and sometimes Sisson himself) offer tours, where visitors get an up close look
at production and a sampling of brews. Its best-known beer is Loose Cannon, an
IPA with a big hop flavour, thanks to the more than three pounds of hops per
barrel that are added to the recipe three different ways. In February, Sisson’s
stepson opened the Heavy Seas
Alehouse, a restaurant in Little Italy with two cask beers and 14 on tap.