Suspended Brewing Company, Mobtown Brewing Company, Monument City Brewing Company, Brewer’s Cask (bar), Union Craft Brewing, Waverly Brewing Company, Nepenthe Brewing Co, Heavy Seas Beer, Guinness Open Gate Brewery
We arrived into Baltimore at about 9pm on a Thursday evening, and were a little disappointed to discover that most of the city’s breweries had already closed. This took us back to our visit to Little Rock, Arkansas, which is the only other large city we’ve visited who have deemed it necessary to take such draconian measures, and so we remained beer-less (or at least brewery-less) until the following afternoon. Baltimore surprised me in quite a few ways. We stayed in the gorgeous (if decidedly chi-chi) Fell’s Point, full of beautiful old rebrick houses and cute windy streets leading straight to the water. Downtown too has a clean, spacious feel to it and has plenty of noteworthy architecture, and we visited plenty of other cool, artsy, hipster neighbourhoods including Pigtown (Suspended Brewing), Federal Hill (Brewer’s Cask), and Hampden (Union, Waverly, and Nepenthe Brewing). While I’m in no doubt that, as with many cities in the US and worldwide, municipal authorities have endeavoured to keep tourist-friendly areas as sanitised as possible, the Baltimore we saw was hip, beautiful and bursting with regeneration. If it hadn’t been so expensive we’d have fallen completely in love.
Over our two-day sojourn we managed to pack in an impressive (even if I say so myself) eight brewery taprooms and a particularly awesome craft beer bar. I can assure you that we did other things too (obviously shopping for vinyl!). Our first stop was at Pigtown’s Suspended Brewing, a socially and ecologically conscious taproom that also happens to brew some darn tasty beer. The Suspended taproom has a cool, airy, modern aesthetic with lots of polished wood, stylish chandeliers and local artwork, with the tanks on display at the back. The bar, unusually, sits in the centre of the space forming a little boozy island, which is rather neat. Service at Suspended was exceptional, and our bartender was really knowledgeable, chatty and enthusiastic and even provided us with some dinner recommendations. Of the nine beers Suspended had on tap during our visit we tried seven and were impressed by the high standard of quality as well as the exciting and unusual flavour components of many of the brews.
The Universal Gravitation Dark Lager with local coffee was beautifully rich and punchy and the Moon Shot Imperial Black IPA was deliciously deep and licqoricey – more Black IPAs please everyone, especially Imperials! I was also especially excited by the Cognac and Rye Whiskey BA Brandy Alexander English Mild. Contrary to what you might imagine, this beer was just 4.6% but with all the full, warm, boozy, woody BA flavours on top of a smooth, malty Mild – delicious stuff. The Sour Persian Ale conditioned on Iranian barberries also deserves a special mention – super-puckering-tart with a dry, bilberry-like barberry finish that I really enjoyed, and their IPAs were all very nice too. Suspended’s strong environmental and social ethos gives them yet more kudos – they operate at close to zero carbon emissions and operate a practice of ‘suspended’ beer purchases so you can buy a beer for someone who may not be able to afford one. All in all, this is an awesome taproom – one of my top Baltimore picks for sure. http://suspendedbrewing.com/
After a lovely seafood dinner at Fell’s Point’s Broadway Market we visited brand-shiny-new Mobtown Brewing, the first brewery in 41 years to brew on Baltimore’s Brewer’s Hill! Mobtown, which opened in April, is a trendy, industrial space with a huge mural featuring a delightful orange octopus across one wall. The former factory is high-ceiling with exposed brickwork and 13 beers on tap, as well as local mead, cider, kombucha and cold brew. Our flight of five came to a not-insubstantial $15 but this does seem to be the local average – like pretty much everything else, beer in Baltimore is pricey. Mobtown are ambitious in their design – choices included a Priceless Advice black cherry and ginger Gose, Chado Saison with matcha, green peppercorns and lemongrass, Blacksmith juniper rye Porter and Space Octopus triple dry-hopped milkshake DIPA – not too shabby for a brewery less than six months old. My favourite was the aforementioned Saison – more peppercorn, less matcha but a nice spicy kick to it. The Gose and Porter were also good, and I enjoyed the Octopus Prime IPA which had a nice honey-citrus quality. Mobtown beers are primarily taproom-only, and I would have liked to linger and try more but the hour was late and we just made it to nearby Monument City Brewing in time for last orders. https://www.mobtownbrewing.com/
Monument is an established part of the Baltimore beer scene and their taproom opened in March 2017. Their beers are also available on draft and in cans around the city. Housed in another redbrick former factory, Monument has more of a focus on traditional styles based round a solid core range and a small gravelled beer garden at the front. The American Brown Ale was well-delivered with the requisite nutty warmth, and the two fruited Goses I tried (mango and passionfruit and lime and lemon) were bright and zesty without being synthetic. I found the 51 Rye unpleasantly heavy, but really enjoyed the Smoked Sour with peaches, which was properly smoky – excellent stuff. http://www.monumentcitybrewing.com/
After Monument turfed us out, we headed to the Brewer’s Cask craft beer bar on Federal Hill where we were treated to great live music, a welcoming, friendly local vibe and an outstanding selection of local and regional beers including Troegs, Flying Dog, Full Tilt, Harpoon, Dogfish Head and Hysteria. As well as being a tonne of fun, these guys take their beer seriously – service is excellent and this is a great place to go for a bit of beer-nerding – my top pick was the absolutely luscious Troegs Nimble Giant IIPA. They’re also open til 1am on the weekends so there’s absolutely no excuse not to go. http://www.brewerscask.com/
Of course, we didn’t let a little thing like staying out til 1am deter us from resuming our beer-adventures the following day and we headed out to visit Union Brewing in their newish space in the Union Collective hub, a former Sears warehouse that’s been converted into a shared space for independent local businesses in artsy Hampden. Union’s taproom has a huge sundrenched beer garden facing a vibrantly muralled wall and bright, airy interior mixing simple bar tables and mismatched mid-century furniture – very, very cool indeed. Union have been brewing since 2011 and are a well-known and respected local staple but this hasn’t made them sloppy.
Union had 16 beers on tap during our visit including their five core beers, small-batch brews and a beer on cask. I particularly enjoyed the Yonder Cities collab with DC Brau, a Farmhouse IPA brewed with Kviek yeast that hit all the right floral-citrus notes. The Old Pro Pimms Cup, which we had on cask, was a fun beer-cocktail and their Festbier (first of the season in August!) was really nicely balanced. Their core range is also strong and both the Divine IPA and Blackwing Schwarzbier are solidly easy-drinking and widely available. If you get out to the Union Collective, make sure you stop by the Baltimore Spirits Company who have a great range of all sorts of spirits – we may have been a little unsteady on our feet by the time we left! https://www.unioncraftbrewing.com/
Hampden is a cool boho area to wander around, and we managed to wander to both Waverly and Nepenthe Brewing while we were there. Waverly is just a few minutes away from Union and has an intriguingly eclectic taproom with fairy lights, taxidermy and a small shaded patio. I couldn’t resist trying their Abolitionist Ale Works collab the Mama Cask, a huge 13%er brewed with (more) Kviek (I do like the Kviek) and aged with cherries in Chardonnay casks. Yep, it was as good as it sounds. The Double Blackberry G’oat Fruited Sour was also a winner – super chewy juicy yum. The Local Oyster Stout was also delicious – they really went full oyster and the tangy saline mineral flavour is just great. Waverly’s specials are taproom-only, so it is definitely worth paying a visit. http://waverlybrewingcompany.com/
Nepenthe is located at the western end of West 36th Street, Hampden’s main thoroughfare. It’s a bustling modern brewpub with a strong IPA/NEIPA focus – they are big on the fruit flavours, lactose and juice (there was a milkshake IPA with raspberry and marshmallow – I did not have it) so if you don’t like em sweet n hazy, this won’t be the place for you. The Rhythmn Gymnastics Sour IPA was my pick of the bunch – a complex kettle-soured IPA with hibiscus and lactose balancing out the sweet juice with just enough floral tartness. The Space Jellyfish is an enjoyable classic hazy NEIPA while the Queen Jellyfish IIPA was unapologetically OJ and mango. One for the juice-lovers. https://www.nepenthebrewingco.com/
We trekked slightly out of town to visit the Heavy Seas taproom after several happy encounters with their excellent Loose Cannon IPA which would be my go-to West Coast if I were a local. The nautically themed taproom wasn’t the most atmospheric and was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday night, albeit a rather brisk one. The Blackbeard’s Breakfast Imperial Porter was the highlight of our visit with all the sweet, rich boozy coffee, but most of the other beers available are easy to get hold of around the city, including the lovely, bright Ameri-Cannon and over-grapefruity Tropi-Cannon. While I still adore that Loose Cannon, we didn’t feel the visit was worth the journey. http://hsbeer.com/
Because there’s no time like a Sunday morning to quaff super-boozy limited-edition beers we got up early to squeeze in a visit to the Guinness US taproom on our way out of the city. While we wouldn’t have necessarily thought to go there, not being so big on the macros, so many folks we met recommended it to us that we thought it must be worth a gander, and oh yes, it is indeed extremely impressive. Aside from being tremendously grand (think bar-in-a-five-star-hotel grand) and super-shiny and new, the beer list (experimental, as we had been promised) was mouthwatering to say the least. Service was excellent, which you would expect when paying an eyewatering (there was a lot of watering!) $23 for a flight, but it was, if not exactly well-spent then certainly not wasted.
The First Anniversary BA Grand Cru was the best beer I had in Baltimore. I almost hate to say it, but it really was spectacular. The combined flavours of the rum and bourbon barrels was absolutely genius. I really wish I could have this all the time. My other top pick was the Imperial Golden Pineapple. I feel like I had a lot of good pineapple beers on the East Coast – I think this is a thing that needs to come to Texas. The Red Wine Barrel Saison was also great, sweet and oakey. The food menu looked tasty and we were sorry not to be able to set up camp for the afternoon, although to be fair we couldn’t have afforded to. This is one to shelve any scepticism and enjoy for what it is – great beers in a swanky af location where you will be parted from large wads of cash. Just go with it. https://www.guinnessbrewerybaltimore.com/
So that was our boozy Baltimore sojourn – so many breweries we didn’t make it to, but eight in two days is not too shabby methinks, and it was in a happily boozy post-Guinness state that we headed to our final destination – Washington DC.