What do we know about Baltimore?
It's our charming northern neighbor. It has a decent football team. It has a crappy baseball team. It's the setting for gritty, true-to-life crime dramas. It's the setting for Food Network shows about Gen-X bakers. Apparently crabs -- caked and steamed -- and diners are a big deal, as are overrated directors and literary giants.
What I didn't know until a few years ago was that Baltimore is a town for beer lovers (yeah, take that Virginia.). There's Max's Taphouse and Mahaffey's Pub with their wonderfully long beer lineups. There's The Raven Special Lager, which is the only style of beer Baltimore-Washington Beer Works makes - and may be the only style of beer Stephen Demczuk needs to make. It's good stuff.
And then there's Clipper City and The Brewer's Art; one a brewery and one a brewpub, and either reason enough to suffer the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
To go on a Clipper City brewery tour is to follow a wandering performance. Hugh Sisson, founder of Clipper City, has done a bit of acting in his day, which becomes immediately evident when he kicks off the tour with a dramatic reading. The man's a showman.
For a mere $5, you get a glass and stack of wooden nickels good for a few pints of Clipper City or Heavy Seas beers on draft in the brewery's tasting room. As for the tour and one-man show, that's free.
Clipper City is smaller than you think. At 13,000 barrels per year, the brewery produces less than half the amount of beer as craft brewing heavyweights like Dogfish Head, Stone and fellow Maryland-based craft brewery Flying Dog. But being Charm City's southern neighbor, we don't lack for access to Hugh Sisson's beer. Good thing. I like Hugh Sisson's beer.
As is the case with many craft breweries, Clipper City began as a brewpub, sort of. In 1989, Sisson and his father Al gave Baltimore its first brewpub since Prohibition when they began brewing house beers in the back of the family restaurant, Sisson's. Looking to get into commercial beer making, Hugh left the Federal Hill brewpub in 1995 to start Clipper City. Eight years later the Heavy Seas line set sail.
The Heavy Seas beers have taken over Clipper City. Touring the brewery with Sisson, you can't miss the Jolly Roger hung over the bottling machine, the stacks upon stacks of Heavy Seas beer boxes ready to be shipped, the labeling machine loaded with labels of the upcoming Yule Tide Christmas ale (It's a Belgian triple!), or the pallets loaded with kegs full of the fantastically delicious Big DIPA double IPA. Sisson still brews beers under the Clipper City and Oxford labels, but Heavy Seas is clearly his primary line (so much so that the company will soon switch names from Clipper City to Heavy Seas).
Throughout the tour, you get a history lesson of Clipper City beer, craft brewing in Maryland and how Hugh is intimately involved with both. Hugh works the crowd, offers samples of malt and hops, and eventually leads the crowd back into the tasting room to finish cashing in their nickels. (During the week, the tasting room serves as the office for Sisson and his staff. On one side of the room is Hugh's desk, on the other side is where marketing director Kelly Zimmerman and the other staff work. Wearing a bright red cowgirl hat and pouring beers for the tour takers, Kelly told me that taps, bar and benches in between the desks stay right where they are Monday through Friday. My office sucks.)
If Sisson's was Baltimore's first brewpub, The Brewer's Art is its best. Hell, it's one of the city's best bars. I was introduced to The Brewer's Art years ago by some friends who lived around the corner. I've loved it since. The bright front bar and white-table cloth upstairs dining room and lounge serve as dramatic contrast to the catacomb bar downstairs.
Every bar should feel like the downstairs bar at The Brewer's Art. With its mixture of nooks and low lighting, it's not hard to disappear into the space. If you're feeling a bit more communal, you can grab a seat at the V-shaped bar and order one of The Brewer's Art's many house beers, or order up a sample of the lot.
Although the cave-like basement would seem like the appropriate place to stick the brewing operation, the tanks are actually tucked into a room behind the first-floor dining room. Co-owners Volker Stewart and Tom Creegan clearly have an affinity for Belgian-style beers and a knack for brewing them. From the Ozzy to the Proletary Ale, these beers could be served in Brussels or alongside a plate of moules frites at Dr. Granville Moore's (In fact, Dr. Granville Moore's could serve The Brewer's Art's beers. The brewpub's Ozzy and Resurrection are brewed and bottled off-site, and available in the D.C. area, so ... you know, get on with it.).
Whether you're upstairs or down, the brewpub's kitchen is there for you. In keeping with the nattier theme, the menu upstairs is upscale, featuring sweetbreads, Kobe pot roast and pan-seared skate. Downstairs, the menu offerings are more pub fare, including a reuben flatbread pizza, pork belly and a respectable portabella sandwich (Tip: You can order anything off the upstairs menu while enjoying your evening downstairs.)
Regardless of whether you go in for the skate or a burger, don't skip the rosemary and garlic fries. Those salty, garlic funky fries just make you want to order another Ozzy, and there's nothing wrong with that (especially when a pint will set you back about $3).
Clipper City is a great craft brewery and Hugh gives a lively tour, but to be honest, an evening at The Brewer's Art is all I need to know about Baltimore to make the trip north.
Want to see more pictures of Clipper City and The Brewer's Art? Check them out here.
I love me a brewery tour. Maybe it's the chance to see how my favorite beverage is made. Maybe it's the chance to meet the brewers. Maybe it's the beer.
It's probably the beer.
Aside from the brewpubs we have in D.C., the District is devoid of any beer makers. However, our northern neighbors have two outstanding breweries, each just a 45 minute drive away: Flying Dog in Frederick, Md., and Clipper City in Baltimore. And once you're done at the breweries, both cities offer other great destinations, including brewpubs (pace yourself).
A few years ago, my wife and I toured Scotland by Scotch distillery. It gave us the excuse to visit a number of small towns and villages, including Oban and Pitlochry, that we would've otherwise driven through or avoided altogether. I'm applying the same approach to visiting Frederick and Baltimore.
I don't know about you, but it's hard enough for me to find a reason to wander into Bethesda or Alexandria. So Frederick and Baltimore might as well be in Maine. But the promise of checking out the inner workings of two outstanding craft breweries is enough to draw me out of the District.
For this two part series, I'll first focus on Frederick, Md., and Flying Dog Brewery, followed by a look at Charm City by way of Clipper City.
Flying Dog is one of the very best craft beer makers in the country. These are the good folks who brought us Gonzo Imperial Porter, Double Dog Double Pale Ale, and Raging Bitch (not making that up), their new Belgian-style IPA. Ralph Steadman, the man who illustrated Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 , illustrates Flying Dog's beer labels. And the brewery was just named the 2009 Mid-Sized Brewing Company of the Year.
Oh, and they have a hand pump in the tasting room and will soon begin offering one-offs of their beer exclusively in the tasting room (first up: chocolate Belgian stout). People, if you haven't headed up to the brewery yet, why?
(A quick -- bitter -- aside. For the past couple months I've been working on a piece on bars in the D.C. area that have hand pumps. So I dropped a few F-bombs last Wednesday when I saw that the Washington Post had two - two! - articles dedicated to hand pumps and cask ales. Blake Gopnik and Greg Kitsock did a nice job on both articles, though Kitsock didn't mention District Chophouse in his rundown of bars with beer engines. Take that, old man! Anyway, enjoy all the shots of hand pumps I took. Damn it.)
By all rights, Flying Dog should still be in Colorado. As big a fan as I am about many of our East Coast breweries, Colorado and Oregon are the twin Meccas of American craft brewing. Until a few years ago, Flying Dog was located in Aspen, Colo., where George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre launched the company as a brewpub. In time, the Flying Dog folks realized most of their business was on the East Coast. So in 2006, they left Colorado and moved into Frederick's Wild Goose brewery, which they had purchased a few years earlier to handle their East Coast accounts. Today, the brewery produces not only Flying Dog beers, but also Wild Goose, Terrapin and a few other micro beers on contract.
You wouldn't know that walking into the tasting room. The room at the front of the brewery looks like a Ralph Steadman art bar. Steadman's paintings and illustrations hang behind the bar and around the room, while the tap line is full rundown of Flying Dog's sizable array of beers. In addition to the regular taps, the tasting room's bar has a nitrogen tap and the aforementioned beer engine. Outside, the windows are ringed by hop vines and the trellised patio almost makes you forget you're drinking in an industrial park.
For $5, Brian Arnold (left), Chet Hopper or one of Flying Dog's other staffers will walk you through the brewery and pour you five 6 ounce samples (in truth, I got six samples when Brian offered everyone a taste of Doggy Style Pale Ale straight from the bright tank). For the most part, a brewery tour is a brewery tour, so I'm always interested in the little details. At Flying Dog, it was the pairs of boots hanging off a pipe over the brewing floor. Apparently, when Flying Dog staff leave the brewery, they get to toss their boots over the pipe. You have to like that (well, that and the beer from the bright tank).
After the tour and samples, I headed into downtown Frederick. Thanks to Bryan Voltaggio, Frederick is on the foodie map. The Top Chef contestant's restaurant Volt made it into the Washington Post's Dining Guide and the chef's table - Table 21 - is booked into next year (my reservations are for April 2010).
On the day I was visiting, Frederick was holding its In the Street festival, an event celebrating the city's historic downtown. Flying Dog had three booths spread out across the festival, one of which was in Volt's parking lot. That's where I ran into Stephanie Hinote, the brewery's marketing director. She was making the rounds to Flying Dog's booths where they were passing out samples of Raging Bitch. Like the tour, the booths were manned by Flying Dog's brewery staff, including brewer Larry Pomerantz, who made the Colorado to Maryland move with the brewery, and cellar tech David Kozloski, who worked at Virginia's Breaux Vineyards before joining Flying Dog (left and right in the photo, respectively).
Why the Flying Dog roll call? Because I thought it was nice that Larry, David and the other Flying Dog folks were hanging out at the festival, drinking a few beers and pressing the flesh with their Frederick neighbors. The brewery could just have easily recruited volunteers. They didn't and good for them.
Now, Flying Dog is the big brewery and Voltaggio is the big star, but there's a lot more to Frederick. There's Brewer's Alley. If it weren't for Flying Dog, Brewer's Alley would be Frederick's destination for beer geeks. And unlike the big brewery, Brewer's Alley serves food.
The brewpub produces 15 year-round and seasonal beers and offers a menu that ranges from bar fare (burgers, barbecue, pizza) to fancier options (London broil, bone-in pork chops, house-smoked Atlantic salmon). Try the two dozen raw oyster for $20. It's tough finding quality raw oysters that cheap in this area, so take advantage of the deal.
Oh, and try the IPA. It's excellent with the oysters.
A tip from Stephanie led me a block down Frederick's main drag, Market Street, to Firestone's. Like Brewer's Alley, it offers an upscale pub menu. Unlike Brewer's Alley, it pours other people's beer. It's a good place. Try the burger and truffle fries. The fries were salty, earthy and garlicky, while the burger was big, juicy and as bloody as I ordered it. Now you could wash it all down with one of the craft beers off their beer menu, or you could get a Flying Dog draft. At this point, I leave it up to you.
So there you go: a Top Chef chef, a quaint downtown, and a great dining scene, all less than an hour's drive away. If you haven't visited Frederick yet, maybe a tour of Flying Dog and its tasting room is just the excuse you need.
Additional photos of Flying Dog and Frederick are available here.
It was a clay pot with carrots planted inside.
A tiny pot, in fact, with four tiny carrots. But upon further review - unearthing the carrots - it was much more. It was a trick for the eyes and a treat for the diners.
The "dirt" was roasted hazelnuts and reduced beer. Below it was a soft green yogurt sauce the baby carrots (they were real) were to be dipped in. A deceivingly clever dish and a good analogy for the city I was enjoying it in - Copenhagen.
A first glance, Copenhagen is like so many old European cities. Unless you're into old buildings, Carlsberg beer or Hans Christian Anderson, it's easy to overlook. Dig a bit deeper, though, and you'll find the paradox that defines Copenhagen: an old world city transfixed by modernity.
The old grabs your attention first: Rosenborg Castle, the royal gardens, City Hall, Tivoli Gardens, Amalienborg Palace. But the modern is an attention starved child. Behind Christiansborg Palace is Copenhagen's "Black Diamond" Royal Library, all angles and black glass. Across the harbor is the new glass and steel opera house. Dansk Design and Bang & Olufsen are ever present in storefronts up and down the city's worn streets. Copenhagen is a old port city interlaced with trains decked out with wi-fi.
Lunch spots, like Ida Davidsen, will serve you the traditional smørrebrød open faced sandwiches. Walk across the street afterward to Gorm for the buttery, sweet filo pastry, rosenbrod (seriously, do this). Or make reservations at Noma, the Minibar of Denmark's capital, and experience the creations of another Ferran Adria student, René Redzepi.
Walk into most any bar in Copenhagen and you'll have a Carlsberg, the hometown beer. The brewery and its products have been a staple for 150 years. However, not every bar pours Carlsberg. A select few are ignoring the mammoth brewery and joining the craft beer movement.
Like the clay pot, Copenhagen is worth digging into.
If you want to eat like the Danes then you need to eat a smørrebrød. Tradition has it that you eat these sandwiches in threes: one fish, one meat, one cheese. At Ida Davidsen, a lunch only spot in the old city, that's easy to do. Davidsen, the restaurant's chef and name sake, still works the counter in chef's jacket and hat and will walk you through the dozens of smørrebrøds she's concocted over the years. Once you place your order, take a seat and enjoy your meal there, with an aquavit and lager starter, or have it boxed to leave with you. The sandwiches are delicate, creative (caviar and crawfish tails; liver pâté, bacon and cowberry jam; pungent cheese and radishes) and delicious. Three sandwiches make a hearty meal, but they're well worth it.
Now, not all smørrebrøds are alike. A different restaurant on a different day produced smørrebrøds twice the size of the sandwiches I encountered at Ida Davidson. So it pays to ask about proportions before ordering three sandwiches at once.
Something else to consider is the pølsevogn, or sausage wagon. Like our beloved dirty-water hot dog vendors, the pølsevogns are everywhere selling sausages cheap. If you close your eyes and forget you're in Denmark, the sausages, or røde pølsers, taste pretty much like a hot dog. But in a city where a beer will cost you $10 and an open-faced sandwich $20, the $5 røde pølser makes a pretty good lunch. Order one French style and enjoy the bread tube the sausage comes in.
When in Denmark, you have to have a danish, right? Nah. But you do have to try some of the pastries. These people know how to bake a sweet treat. Whether it's the aforementioned rosenbrod, a wenerbrod staenger (a type of coffee cake), or napoleonshatte (marzipan-filled cookie dipped in chocolate), the sugary baked goods delight. Hell, try the danish too.
At the other end of the spectrum is Noma, a thoroughly modern restaurant headed by chef Redzepi, who worked at El Bulli and The French Laundry before returning to Demark to open his own restaurant. Redzepi's menu is a reflection of his resume. A few of the dishes on the seven course tasting menu showed off the tricks he picked up in Spain, including a snowman made of meringue, carrot sorbet and a berry cream, smoked quail eggs and, of course, the potted carrots. However, Redzepi's dishes aren't all trickery. Like his other former boss, Thomas Keller, Redzepi's dishes also celebrate local ingredients and products.
If there's a middle ground between Noma and Ida, it's Søren K, an upscale restaurant inside the Black Diamond. Named for Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the restaurant is a study in warmth and elegance. The restaurant's exterior wall is floor-to-ceiling glass, offering one of the best canal-side views in the city. During the day, students and boats bustle by. In the evening, city lights flicker through the glass. For all of it's modern design, the restaurant's menu leans traditional with a decidedly French influence. Dinner began with fresh oysters and a bracingly cold dram of aquavit. I also had a creamy bowl of sweet lobster bisque, while my wife saved herself for an entree of pork loin and roasted hazelnuts. I opted for lamb brazed in what the waiter could only describe as "a very old traditional beer." The meal was excellent, but the view was spectacular.
Of course you could skip the restaurant scene entirely and picnic in one of the city's many parks and gardens. Small groceries dot the city and there are a few butchers, cheese shops and produce vendors that can easily fill a picnic basket or backpack with house-smoked sausages, pâtés, and other porky, beefy delicious things. If you're a fan of stinky cheeses, skip the blue and give gamle ole a try. It's just as Danish, but way more funky. The man at the cheese shop, Osten ved Kultorvet, said Danes have an expression for the cheese: "If you eat the cheese, smell your fingers before you go to the bathroom."
Copenhagen is the St. Louis of Denmark. The only thing more common in Copenhagen bars than Carlsberg beers is Danish drinkers. This isn't a bad thing. The mega brewer produces a pretty good selection of beers, including its flagship pilsner, and the brewery tour is worth your time. On the other hand, why fly half-way around the world for a beer you can buy down the street? What's the point in that?
Hey, is that Flying Dog on draft?! Hot shit, I'll take one of those!
Yeah, yeah, I'm a hypocrite. Still, I was excited to see one of our local beers on draft in the Scandinavian kingdom. Den Tatoverede Enke, the bar pouring Flying Dog, was one of a handful of joints I planned to visit while in town. After doing some homework on one of my favorite Web sites, beermapping.com, I tracked down a few bars that might give me a first-hand look at Denmark's craft beer scene.
Though tiny compared to the craft beer movement here, the bar owners and beer enthusiasts in Copenhagen who have eschewed Carlsberg for its smaller Danish competitors, Belgian ales and other European and American micros are every bit as committed to supporting craft beer as we are. And with more limited availability, the Danes have to work a little harder to wet their beaks in craft brews.
Den Tatoverede Enke was the first stop I made. The bar and restaurant is just off the King's Square and Nyhavn, the city's bustling bar and restaurant strip. Hidden from the street behind a few small shops and the Wall Street bar, Den Tatoverede Enke is worth the hunt. The pub was opened in 2001 by a jocular New Zealander, Jeremy Popa, and his Swedish wife at the urging of his father in law. Although the economy has taken a toll on Popa's business, he maintains a regular rotation of a dozen regional and American drafts that keep his regulars coming back. The day I showed up, the U.S. offering was Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA. When that runs out, Great Divide will replace it. The beer theme continues upstairs in the restaurant, both as an ingredient in most dishes and as a pairing with the food.
Bryggerier and the Apollo Brewery are different. Located along a busy street at the front gates of Tivoli Gardens, the glass-enclosed brewpub has the polished look of a chain restaurant. And given the amusement park rides just on the other side of Tivoli's gates, I can be forgiven for thinking I stumbled into the Disney Village. That said, the house beers -- a bock and hibiscus blond ale -- were decent. Combine the beers with the warm service and a decent lunch of herring, cheese and roast beef (the Holy Trinity of Danish cuisine) and maybe I should keep my Disney observations to myself.
A tip from Popa led me to my third pub, Charlie's Bar. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I'm a sucker for British bitters. Well, Charlie's is a traditional British pub a couple twists and turns off the main pedestrian mall, Østergade, with more than a few bitters on tap, six of which are hooked up to beer engines. Add in the fact that the bar had free wi-fi and I was a very happy man.
Last on my list was Ørsted Ølbar. Situated near one of Copenhagen University's many campuses, the bar draws a mixed crowd of students, business folks and locals. Of the four bars I visited, Ørsted Ølbar easily had the largest selection of craft beers on draft and on hand. Soren, the bartender on duty, was happy to chat about the lengths the bar goes though to track down American beers (Great Divide's Yeti was on draft) and show off Danish micros, including Mikkeller's Drikkeriget (a double IPA) and Festival IPA, a curiously flavorful beer that didn't taste much like an IPA. (That may be due to the rice, kinin and peach Amager Bryghus adds to its beer.) If the economy was hurting Den Tatoverede Enke, you wouldn't know it at Ørsted Ølbar. When I walked in, Soren was alone at the bar as Depeche Mode played quietly in the background. Within 20 minutes the 4 o'clock Friday crowd was released from their offices and the place jammed with cheery suits eager for a few pints. A quiet bar no more.
There are way too many travel guides to bother much with this (For what it's worth, I like Rick Steves). If I were to recommend anything, I would tell you to see the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, a 30 minute train trip outside Copenhagen. A quick stroll north through town will bring you to the harbor, museum and the capital of Viking era Denmark. The museum is dedicated to five Viking ships discovered a half century ago in the waters off shore. The boats were dredged from the sea floor and meticulously reconstructed over the course of 25 years. Sure there's a bunch to see in Copenhagen, but how can you go to Denmark and not visit the Vikings?
Store Kongensgade 70
Søren Kierkegaards Plads 1
Osten ved Kultorvet (cheese shop)
Slagteren ved Kultorvet (butcher)
Den Tatoverede Enke
Gothersgade 8 C
Bryggerier and the Apollo Brewery
Nørre Farimagsgade 13
Viking Ship Museum