My alter ego, TheHopLocal, is a name that is supposed to represent supporting local beers. That doesn’t mean I won’t venture out of market, because I do quite often. But it does mean that success of local brands in paramount to the goal of national craft beer success.
In this Best of Maryland Beer I have setup a few loose guidelines. Any brewery could only have one beer per category, and the beer had to be available. What I mean by that is, it should be available in bottles, or widely distributed on draft. Which is why beers like Flying Dog’s Barrel Aged Horn Dog did not make the list. While it was bottled, it was only available at the brewery. This is also the reason some of the newer farm brewers like Frey’s Brewing and Milkhouse Brewery are not on the list. Please feel free to comment on any that you think I should have included. I love the feedback.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
The most popular style in the United States right now, and a style that seems to have something for everyone. My top choice for a Maryland IPA is:
Evolution Lot No. 3 - This beer is a west coast IPA living on Maryland’s eastern shore. Hopped with over 2lbs per barrel of piney, citrusy hops. It’s a big clean IPA bursting with flavor.
Honorable Mention goes to Raven Beer Tell Tale Heart - Strong malt backbone with just enough hops to balance this IPA. Nothing over the top, but a rock solid IPA.
Other notables -
- Heavy Seas Loose Cannon – Hopped, then ran through the Hopback, then Dry Hopped. Let’s say they added some hops.
- DuClaw HellRazer – New Zealand’s Motueka hops take center stage to deliver a crisp and fruity IPA.
- Flying Dog Raging Bitch – A big slap (some might say bitch slapped) of Flying Dog’s Diablo yeast followed by a big slap of hops, but with enough malt backbone to keep you standing. At least until the 8% ABV gets to you.
- Burley Oak Aboriginal Gangster – IPA featuring Southern Hemisphere hops for a tropical hop bite.
- Oliver Ales The Big D – On the cusp of a DIPA, this IPA brewed with Orange Blossom Honey and Citrus Peel. It is refreshing yet big. Dry yet full bodied.
- Stillwater Why Can’t IBU – Crisp hoppiness delivering citrus, fruit, and classic Stillwater dry mustiness.
Double / Imperial IPA
The big brother of the IPA. They have more hops, more malt, lets just say they live in the world of more. My top Maryland Imperial IPA is:
Flying Dog The Truth – Big classic Imperial IPA. Unreasonably drinkable – A hop bomb is rarely this forgiving especially at 120IBU. The result of the Flying Dog’s research assignment with their single hop series of Imperial IPAs. This IPA features Warrior, Summit, CTZ, Citra, and Amarillo hops to achieve the lofty 120 IBUs.
Honorable Mention is Union Craft Double Duckpin – Don’t know if this beer will come back, but Union scored a 300 with this brew. Made for Baltimore Beer Week, but hoping they will figure out this needs to be year round.
Other notables -
- DuClaw Serum xxIPA – An impressively balanced DIPA – While the hops bite, the true Serum is the malt backbone creating a joyful experience.
- Evolution Lot #6 – The big brother to Lot No. 3, #6 adds balance to the hops. Malty sweetness makes the hops flow rather than bite.
- Heavy Seas Big DIPA – This Big DIPA has been buried and resurrected. This time it sits on oak spirals to give it some of that sweet oak flavor without dragging down the hops.
This includes all sorts of stouts. Sweet stouts, Oatmeal Stouts, Dry Stouts, Foreign stouts, and more. If there’s a style of stout, it’s brewed in Maryland. My standout for the best stout from Maryland is:
Stillwater Artisanal Folklore – The Dr. Pepper of Stouts – While it contains no fruit there is plenty of dark stone fruit flavors in this big stout. Still plenty of roast, chocolate, and vanilla to provide the proper stout experience. One of the best stouts you are likely find.
Honorable Mention is Full Tilt Berger Cookie Chocolate Stout – Made with Baltimore’s legendary fudge cookies, this sweet stout does not disappoint. After brewing it sits on Cacao Nibs then is given a shot of vanilla for balance. Pair with a Berger Cookie for the ultimate pairing.
- Flying Dog Pearl Necklace – Made with local Rappahannock River Oysters this Dry Stout is a go to Session Stout. Easy drinking with just the right amount of roast.
- DuClaw Black Jack Stout – Big but not too big. Just what you need to do to get Black Jack. Lots of roast and espresso flavors. Aged to help mellow and balance. No standing here. Hit me.
- Evolution Rise Up – A Caribbean Stout infused with cold brewed coffee. Lots of coffee flavors and a big roasted malt flavor make this huge for a 6.7% ABV stout.
- Heavy Seas Peg Leg – Lots of coffee and chocolate make this 8% stout big and smooth (I hate that word to describe beer by the way). It drinks easy for being this rich and sweet.
- Oliver Ales Bishop’s Breakfast – A sessionable Oatmeal Stout that is incredibly drinkable and delicious. For the best experience head to Pratt Street Alehouse or the Alehouse Columbia to grab a few on Nitro for an extra level of awesome. One of my all time favorites.
Some consider Porters the baby brother to the Stout. But really the Porter is the father of Stout. Originally I was going to lump Porter and Stout into one category, but as I researched I found Maryland really had quite a good number of quality porters. My current top Porter is one that has been around for a while now.
Flying Dog Gonzo – A big porter. Really big. Did I mention it’s big? Lots of malt and roast flavors make this one of the best porters out there. Hide one in a cool dark spot for a few years for a real treat.
Honorable Mention is DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus – What has become the flagship for DuClaw, Sweet Baby Jesus has what it takes. A cute name that is put on a darn good beer. This porter actually delivers on the promise of Chocolate and Peanut Butter. While it’s a little disappointing the Peanut Butter flavor is artificial, that is the only way you can do it.
- Evolution Lucky 7 – An easy drinking classic porter. Don’t expect to blown away, but a solid performer nonetheless.
- Heavy Seas Smoke on the Water – Porter has become one of the best styles to add smoked malts too. The roast of the porter stands up to the smoke yet doesn’t overwhelm it. Grab a bottle of this and some brisket, you’ll thank me.
- Oliver Ales Modern Life Is Rubbish – Like many of Steve Jones’ creations, there is a tie in to his favorite music. In this case Blur’s mid-nineties album of the same name. All the flavors come across pleasing and present without being overwhelming, much like Alternative British music of the 1990s. Hey Steve – want to make a Stone Roses homage? A Fools Gold Saison – brewed with Styrian Goldings hops and Rose Hips?
A style of beer that first opened my eyes to hops in the early 90s with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Today, the (hoppy) pale ale is a staple in any breweries lineup. My reigning top Pale is:
Full Tilt Baltimore Pale Ale – Weighing in at 6.3% with 55 IBU Full Tilt’s Baltimore Pale Ale seems more like an IPA, but regardless of style it’s a solid beer. Often served too cold which makes the bitterness of the Nugget and Columbus stand out too much. Let this one warm up, and you’ll be in for a treat.
Honorable Mention is Monocacy Riot Rye – Didn’t know where to put this one, but wanted it featured. This brew features locally grown ingredients to create a well-executed Rye Pale Ale.
- DuClaw Venom – Excellent example of the American Pale Ale. Crisp, critrusy, and highly sessionable.
- Flying Dog Doggie Style – The first Flying Dog I ever tried, back when they were still a Colorado brewery. Good session ale with a big hop bite. While good, it could use an overhaul.
- Heavy Seas Powder Monkey – East Coast style for sure. Big bitterness from the hop back on top of a classically British Pale Ale recipe. Coming in a 4.75% it’s certainly the most sessionable of the bunch.
- Union Craft Brewing Duckpin Pale Ale – A multi-hemispheric pale ale, it’s more complex than your garden variety pale. Sessionable and conveniently packaged in cans. A go to beer for the pack in – pack out crowd.
This includes any beer produced using a Belgian style. This is a pretty broad term so it can include a lot of styles. It was a shame I made the rule of only one beer per brewery per category because the brewer of my top Belgian would have dominated this category.
Stillwater Artisanal Cellar Door – The phrase cellar door has been cited as the most beautiful phrase in the English language. The beer takes these large shoes and fills them many times over. From first glance, even the bottle tells you this is going to be beautiful. Tasting this beer is a roller coaster of subtlety. It doesn’t smack you with any flavors like most beers. Instead it makes you look. Luckily there is a lot to find. Stillwater Artisanal founder Brian Strumke likes to paint his beers from an image in his head. If you do the same while tasting this you can attempt to recreate the original vision. (hint: imagine a root cellar)
Honorable Mention is The Brewers Art Ozzy – This devilish Belgian Strong is a sizable 7.25%, but like any devil beer it’s easy going spirit can get you in trouble. This is a beer that has fueled some of my life’s most embarrassing moments.
- Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night – A traditional spicy saison. With clove, bubblegum, and tropical esters. Could be a little drier, but it’s a solid rendition of a Belgian style that largely has no definition.
- DuClaw Mysterium – This Belgium Ale is light, yet full of flavor. With Belgian candied sugar, chamomile, grains of paradise, and cardamom it makes for a great alternative to the now ubiquitous Belgian White.
Barrel Aged Beers
I think I saved the best for last. While writing this I certainly had some issues not opening one of these while I wrote. While it’s like picking a favorite child, my current favorite barrel aged beer is:
Evolution Fall Migration – This is a special treat. Fall Migration is a Belgian Style Pale Ale aged in Chardonnay barrels and inoculated with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis. Those are a lot of words that mean awesome. Chardonnay barrels seem to perform magic on golden hued Belgian style beers. They add a buttery vanilla flavor, a more coating mouth feel, and a sweet/sour acidity. Then throw in a little Brettanomyces for yet another layer of funk and complexity. This beer is one that I seek out each release and can never seem to get enough of.
Honorable Mention is DuClaw Retribution – Sometimes you want a beer, sometimes you want dessert. Grab a bottle of this, and you can do both. It’s a big rich glass of kick ass. Right up there with some of the best barrel aged stouts on the market. Gobs of bourbon soaked stout hit all the pleasure buttons. Keep an eye out for some of the variants for interesting twists on this decadent theme.
- Flying Dog Barrel-Aged Gonzo – As I noted above, this is a big porter. And what do you do with a big beer? Make it bigger. Just throw it some Stranahan Whiskey barrels for 3 months and pull out a beer with more booze, vanilla, and caramel. Pours like motor oil, but tastes quite a bit better. If you want this to be even bigger check out the 3-liter version signed by artist Ralph Steadman.
- Heavy Seas Cabernet Barrel Aged Below Decks – Barleywines are always good, but they aren’t really complete until they have spent some time in a barrel. And they like lots of different barrels. Below Decks is available in both Cabernet and Bourbon barrel aged varieties, but I find the Cabernet barrel complements the barleywine better and gives it a complexity that is far greater than what the bourbon barrel does. You can check out my full review of this and a few other Maryland Barrel Aged Barleywines here.
- Stillwater Barrel Aged Series – Stateside Saison – This is a Saison aged in Chardonnay Barrels. It may have been the winner if not for the extremely limited availability of it. This beer is not dissimilar to the Evolution Fall Migration. However, it is quite unique as well. A little drier it has a much different mouthfeel and is more refreshing. It seems to pull more of the tartness from the Chardonnay barrels than Evolution does. In some ways I am lucky this isn’t readily available. I’d be broke.