I already gave a pretty thorough Oliver-centric roundup of Maryland beers in Bryan D. Roth’s Six-Pack Project. Those six were what I think the general beer drinking public should try for the sake of variation and exploration when they find themselves stranded, voluntarily or otherwise, near the Chesapeake.
But to honor of my fellow Marylanders out in the weird, highly-elevated wilderness of Denver, Colorado at the GABF, I put together a list of what I think are objectively the best beers from each of the breweries repping the Old Line State. Not just those few that I subjectively like, but those I think have been brewed with care and quality, that practically leap off the shelf and into your mouth, that stand a real chance of snatching a shiny medal.
Note: I am totally jealous and wish I could be there and this post is my poor attempt to participate from very far away.
1. Full Tilt Baltimore Pale Ale
This is the newest of the bunch for me, probably because it’s from one of the newest breweries in Maryland. Owned by cousins Nick Fertig and Dan Baumiller, Full Tilt brews its beer as part of a brewing co-op at Peabody Heights Brewing, which is only few flaps of a raven’s wings away from Johns Hopkins University.
Baltimore Pale Ale is impressive given that these guys (who graduated high school one year before me in 2002) only took up homebrewing in 2008, and released the beer to the public in December, 2012. For a mere five years of practice, it’s impressively balanced, harnessing Nugget, Columbus, Summit, and Crystal hops to create a piney aroma that entices, but doesn’t dominate the nose. At 6.3% ABV it’s a bit stronger than you’d expect from the incredibly clear amber ale, but any minor alcohol taste is covered by some well placed bittering hops and a puckeringly dry finish.
This american pale falls closer to an IPA in taste and hoppage than a traditional pale, but it’s still a damn fine beer. If Nick and Dan can keep up the quality, I expect great things from these guys in the future.
2. Flying Dog Raging Bitch Belgia-Style IPA
Flying Dog must have to overcome some nostalgia every time they head to GABF, as their original 50-gallon setup was located in Denver before they moved to the foothills of the Appalachians in Frederick, Maryland, in 2008. Even though the headquarters is still based in Colorado, all of the brewing is done in Maryland, and they’ve built quite a following with their local events and brewpubs. They have a long GABF history, first winning “The Best Pale Ale in America” for their Doggie Style Pale Ale in 1991.
Raging Bitch, including the PG-13 name, is a different breed of IPA. In a sea of hyper-bitter, hyper-hopped IPAs that lean heavily on the alpha acids and lupulin for taste, this “Belgian-style” IPA brings in a stronger bread and yeasty profile while still paying homage to the aggressive hopping of a true IPA.
It has that distinctive Belgian funk to it, partly medicinal, partly herbaceous. At 8.3% ABV I think “Belgian-influnced” may be slightly more appropriate than “Belgian-Style” as it’s missing the spicy sour of something I’d truly equate with a Brusselian masterpiece. Either way, it’s different and proud, which is sort of the modus operandi of Flying Dog at large.
3. Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA
I’m sort of a Heavy Seas fanboy. This pirate-themed brand is brewed by Clipper City Brewing, adding another name to the fine line-up of Charm City born beer. I live only a few miles from the brewery, have met the owner, Hugh Sisson (and a lot of his wonderful brewing staff), and by ratio, drink more beer from Heavy Seas than any other brewery (thanks to on-tap availability and the joys of Davy Jones Lager). I’ll try to remain as partial as possible.
Loose Cannon is the first Heavy Seas that ever bounced around that space between tongue and palate, back when I first found its regal purple label peeking out from the shelves of my local bottle shop. The official name is “Heavy Seas Loose Cannon – American Hop3 Ale” because they use a three pound mixture of Simcoe, Palisade, and Centennial hops per batch. The result is bitter, hoppy monster, that is delightfully complex and refreshing.
At 7.25% ABV it’s right where you’d expect a full-flavored IPA to fall, and any phenols from the extra alcohol are masked by the resinous pine of the hop triad. It’s a very dry, very drinkable beer that I often recommend to people who are looking for something approachable and still decidedly different from the boring, ABInBev gruel.
4. Evolution Brewing Lot No.3 IPA
I love Loose Cannon, but think No.3 has dug it claws into my little heart, firmly latching on like a hop-coated symbiote. The brewery – a transplant from Delmar, Delaware to the hometown of my undergrad alma mater, Salisbury, Maryland – is attached to a full service restaurant and cask-lined tasting room. In an interesting twist, Evolution produces no commercial lagers, instead focusing on various ales like their Rise Up Stout and this beautiful, buttery IPA.
Lot No. 3 throws a two pound mix of Columbus, Centennial, Cascade, Chinook, Amarillo at your face, resulting in an incredible citrus burst that somehow, despite the overwhelming eau de hop, does not destroy your tongue. The Centennials and Cascades steal the show when it comes to smell, but the Chinooks bring in the rear with a piney, spicy taste as soon as the mouth takes over for the nose.
There is something about this particular combination of hops and 2-row malts, sitting at a very drinkable 5.9% ABV, that sets my senses ablaze. Maybe it’s that local East Coast water. Maybe it’s Geoff DeBisschop’s master touch. Either way, this beer deserves recognition outside of the Delmarva scene.
5. Union Brewing Duckpin Pale Ale
The only canned exclusive on my list does not disappoint, squat aluminum be damned. This came at the recommendation of Doug at Baltimore Bistros and Beer during the Six Pack Project, and I’m so pleased he turned me onto this traditional pale ale from the third (and final) Baltimore-based brewery at the GABF. I’d been drinking their Balt Altbier, but have now seen the light, and know the real prize of Jones Falls hides inside the red and silver can.
Duckpin Pale Ale (brewed by Union Craft Brewing) is named after the oddly popular duckpin bowling – a variation on traditional bowling with smaller pins and a ball with no finger holes – which is popular up and down the East coast. There are very few (if any) duckpin bowling centers located West of the Mississippi. Weird.
This orange and amber colored ale, while not a “session beer” by purist standards, is incredibly drinkable. A righteous smoothness rides on the back of citrusy hops and a steady malt, while clocking in at a “let’s throw balls at pins all day” 5.5% ABV. I keep this in my fridge for when I have “non-beer” friends over (the list of who is dwindling, dramatically). I’ve converted more than one Miller Lite fan armed only with some bratwurst and a few cans of Duckpin.
So good luck to all my Maryland brewers out there! Bring home some gold!