It was late last summer that I first tried a Bull Durham Beer Co. brew at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Immediately drawn in by the novel approach of actually having a brewery in the small stadium, I looked forward to seeing how their lineup would grow. Now that they are entering their second season, with expanded offerings, the excitement and buzz around this new company is really growing. I took in a game during the teams opening weekend, and decided it would be prudent to stick to one type of beer from Bull Durham Beer Co. per game, stretching the adventure out through the season a little.
The brewery being located in the stadium is impressive enough, but then you factor in the fact that they utilize those super futuristic bottom-filling cups, and the whole experience begins with a wow-factor of 11 before you even have a sip. Now I know this filling method isn’t new, but it’s still novel to me, every. single. time. You can even keep the little magnet on the bottom as a souvenir, my fridge has several.
Here’s a quick video if you’ve never seen magic beer filling stations in action:
For this game I went with the “Lollygagger Kolsch”, a light, crisp brew that evokes sunny afternoons spent leisurely enjoying one’s self at the ballpark. It’s got little to no head, but plenty of carbonation, a clean taste, and it truly may be the perfect baseball beer. It’s got an ABV of 4.7%, so you can have a few without worrying. It’s got the perfect balance of malts and hops, and really is just exactly what I think a beer should be. I only wish I could have it at home, but then again, maybe what makes it special is knowing you can only have one at the game.
I’ll be revisiting more of Bull Durham’s offerings later in the summer, and look forward to watching Mike V of The Everymen break his personal hot dog eating record on one the many Thursday night dollar dog nights this year. Speaking of The Everymen, they’ve got a new album available now (https://theeverymen.bandcamp.com/) and are about to embark on a tour that will likely land them in a town near you.
That’s all for now, tune in next time for a tale of two Irish whiskey’s.
Today I will be combining both whiskey and beer, in a discussion built surrounding the venerable National Bohemian.
Natty-Boh is something of a cultural phenomenon in the mid-Atlantic, specifically Baltimore. With a long and storied past that has been covered at great length elsewhere on the web, this once brewed in Baltimore beer was at a time distributed nationally. After falling out of national favor, it lingered as a budget beer in Maryland for decades, eventually ceasing local production after the brand was sold, moving out of state, at some point spawning the awful “boh-ice”, and generally being relegated to a place alongside Narragansett and Lone star as a local oddity/novelty brand. After a resurgence of interest in the brand starting in the late 90’s into the early 2000’s, its iconic imagery spread throughout the city (great old marketing campaign posters, and a snappy cartoon mascot helped), and the brand relaunched in full – though it is still made out of state. Now it has become un-escapable, with expanding distribution, and availability on draught after a number of down years of existing bottles and cans only. I’m pretty sure that in some parts of Maryland they’re even tattooing children with Mr. Boh’s face at this point. It’s an inevitability that they’ll get one someday themselves anyways.
Speaking of children, I have a coming-of-age tale brought to you by Natty Boh that seems appropriate to tell at this point in our examination. It was the late 90’s, I was 15 years old, approaching 16, and needed to log some forgotten number of hours driving with an adult to qualify for a driver’s license. My father, being a generous man came to me one afternoon and said “drive me to the liquor store, and I’ll sign off on an hour.” You must understand, this was a 10-minute trip, so his offer of getting a full hour signed off on was a sweet deal, and of course I agreed. So we got into the car, drove to the store, and while in line he gestured at the cooler next to the register filled with single loose cans of Natty Boh “why don’t you get one for yourself”, feeling like a total badass I said “ok!” and handed one to him to purchase for my own. While on the brief drive home, windows down, summer sun shining, he handed me my single beer while rifling through his own bag of freshly acquired brews and said “here ya go.” I was floored, I had made it, I was all grown up! I could do whatever I wanted! I cracked it open, took a sip and ::SLAP:: beer gone, dad now has it, and is saying “pull over.” I did, confused, as he informed me “you were just drinking and driving dumbass.” I drove home thinking it was a dirty trick, but it worked to enforce the notion that just because someone says to do something doesn’t make it a good idea…this magic moment was brought to you by Natty Boh.
Boh comes in bottles, cans, tallboys, 40’s, and draught, and will consistently, without fail, give you a hangover that will make you wish for death if overly consumed. It will also give you the absolute rankest farts this side of rotten eggs. With a flavor ranging from corn when ice-cold, to yeasty when less than ice cold, one thing that can’t be said about this lager is that its lacking in flavor. It’s unique (although Trader Joe’s “Simpler Times” Lager tastes very close), and not without charm, but there’s better cheap beer options. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I might have one here or there, but after however many gallons consumed over the years, the affair is over and it’s no longer a staple in my fridge but rather a throw back enjoyed with friends before moving on to some other drink.
At this point if you’re still with me, you’ve got to be wondering, where does the whiskey come in to play here? Well, I was recently privy to sample some home distilled National Bohemian whiskey (which is totally illegal and I do not officially condone in any capacity as the proprietor of www.biscuitswhiskeyandbeer.com). What’s that? Liquor made from triple distilled Natty Boh, oak aged for mellowing and flavor? That doesn’t even make sense! You’re right, it doesn’t, and that’s why I get such a huge kick out of the secretive TBM Distiller’s Boh-Shine. It’s technically a whiskey based on the ingredients used to make the beer from which it is distilled….don’t argue this, I looked it up. Coming in at 45-50% ABV (I’ve been told the bottling is less than an exact science…TBM being bootleggers and all), if you take a whiff out of the bottle, there’s a slight familiar smell, with oaky-char overtones. This is a loud, brash shine. It’s got a very slight beer taste, but is surprisingly sweet, mostly oak in flavor (must’ve been a heavy char on the barrel), and while stiff, not un-enjoyable for sipping over ice. For a novelty item of dubious legality, this was a fun one. I’m sure it took a TON of crappy beer to make one little bottle of this stuff, but I think it’s better that way, a true labor of love, and a gesture towards an old familiar friend, Mr. Boh.
Here’s to you Mr. Boh, we’ll meet again…and again, and again.
Steel String is a small brewery located in Carrboro NC that makes adventurous, but grounded beers, and rotates their offerings with amazing regularity. They don’t distribute their beer in bottle or can, so it’s all draught, and only available within a small geographical range. Their staff is amazingly nice, and not in a weird cheesy way. One time after a few too many of their beers, I left a stack of records on the corner of their bar, and the next day I went back to behold that the bartender actually saved them for me! Another time, I was flying solo at their trivia night, killing time until a show later in the evening, and I got absorbed into the staff’s team sitting at the bar. Seriously, really awesome people making amazing beer. It’s always exciting to walk in, gaze upwards at the offerings of the day, and check the “coming soon” board because you know an old favorite might be coming back, or something unknown might be coming the pipe. They really do a great job of keeping it interesting, which is why I hate to say that Dad Fuel didn’t knock my socks off and won’t be a revisit for me.
Weighing in at 5.1%, and pouring from the growler with a golden color, I was looking forward to seeing what a Steel String Lager would be like. It was light, with mild, but present hop profile, kind of yeasty…reminds me of cheap beer, you know – Dad fuel. I get it, I really do, they wanted to do a version of an easy drinking, every day beer. Thing is, there’s a ton of those on the market for way less money. I love Steel String, and I’ll continue going and trying new things, but this wont be a staple of my visits like say their “Big Mon” and “Rubber Room” offerings…or this one mysterious dark one that I recall from two winters ago whose name escapes me, but it was so good that here I am still talking about it.
Feeling bad about saying anything less than “I loved it!” in the case of this amazing brewery, I made it a point as a postscript, to go in and try something else I hadn’t had before from Steel String before posting. They are as of this writing offering a really cool Coffee Saison that I thought was great…see? There’s something to suit all tastes at Steel String Brewery.
Brewer’s Alley was established in 1996 and is marketed as the first brewpub in Maryland’s Frederick County. On a chilly March afternoon, I decided to grab some friends and take a stroll through some of their beers. They don’t give the majority of their beers funky names as has been the trend for a while now in the beer scene, instead just telling you what kind of beer it is. At first I liked this, until it lulled me in to a false sense of security…
IPA – 5.8% – Not a lot of head on the pour, pretty standard IPA hop profile, nothing too notable. In color it’s darker than a golden, and almost a little red. It’s ok, I’d do it again
Oatmeal Stout – 6.7% – This unfiltered stout came with no head, and had really big roasted malt flavors. Almost coffee and chocolate flavored, but not overly strong, it was deep deep brown to black, and I loved it. I would come back to this regularly.
Nut Brown Ale – 5.5% – Medium bodied and lighter in color than expected (but definitely still brown), crisp and session drinkable, its most notable attribute is that its not overly caramel flavored. It’s ok.
1634 Ale – 5.1% – THIS BEER IS AWFUL. Lulled into a false sense of security I wandered to the beer that had a fun name instead of sticking with their standard offerings. This weird, overly sweet, flat beer was so bad I had to pull my phone out and look up on the web wtf it was about. It’s based on a recipe from 1634, and uses ingredients that would have been available then…neat, but if I wanted weird experimental ancient molasses brews I’d call up one of those Ren-Fest types that makes sub-par basement mead and gone that way. It smells awful, it’s got a fennel/licorice flavor that overpowers every sip, it sucks, and I’m sad.
Monocacy Brewing Co. – HL rex – 3.8% – This was a guest brew spot on the Brewer’s Alley beer board, and that 1634 Ale was so bad I just let it sit and moved on. I’m not a cry baby so I didn’t ask for them to take it back, I made a poor choice, I’ll own it. I just used the experience as impetus for abandoning their side of the board, and moved into guest territory. Unfortunately, this light beer was akin to a Coors Light, and when you’re paying brewery prices…that’s not gonna fly. This place is dead to me, ITS ALL BEEN A RUSE! A RUUUUUUSE! THE JIG IS UP! I’M OUTTA HERE!
Having pulled out of the tailspin that was those last two choices, our jolly band of reveler’s went to JoJo’s, also in Frederick MD and had a final round of their fine in-house IPA to wash the sorrows of leaving a damn near full pint of 1634 Ale away. I don’t think I’ll be buying their beers in the store anytime soon, but the food was good, some of the beers were alright (the oatmeal stout ruled), and the staff was nice, so I’d revisit the bar if someone wanted a drinking buddy.
What fresh hell is this?! Guinness, simultaneous purveyors of great stout, and renowned keepers of world records, have chosen to dabble in not one but two new angles of departure from the expected on this beer offering. The nitro thing has been cruising along, gaining momentum in recent years, and I can see why. Nitro beers are exactly as the ad-men say, smooth, somehow creamy in texture (not in a gross way), and they come with a great sense of novelty because you know, it’s different. Addressing the other curveball (for Guinness), it goes without saying that IPA-mania, while still going strong, has likely already reached its zenith. We’re now seeing small breweries becoming more adventurous, and offering up more than just hop-forward choices that taste the way weed smells, so the introduction of another IPA to the market now is odd. The lingering thought I still can’t wrap my head around is the “why” on this product. I mean, maybe if they were looking to diversify their beer portfolio beyond what’s already there, Guinness could have created a sub-label or something, but no, this is GUINNESS Nitro IPA. Premium brand, unexpected variety. I would like to have been in the room for that pitch. I imagine a dozen Irish folks dressed like characters from Boardwalk Empire yelling at each other, because in my mind, that’s the way the things would be done at the ol’ Guinness factory. Old timey fancy clothes, thick accents, and yelling, lots of yelling. Kind of like human-adult sized leprechauns.
Inspection of the sixer reveals instructions for the user, really goofy instructions to pour at a 45 degree angle. If you need to be told not to dump your beer into a glass at a 90 degree angle, you should probably go somewhere else, because truly, there is nothing here for you. Go, now….
Ok, now that we’ve rid ourselves of that guy, lets open a can. Upon opening one up, you’ll hear the little widget starting kicking out its precious nitrogen to give the beer its “creamy” texture. While pouring your beer within the limits of the aforementioned guidelines you’ll notice it does a really cool settling thing (just like it was draught!) I know this isn’t anything new, and widget cans have been around a long time, but I still think they’re neat. Need a quick explanation of how they work? Here’s a diagram I stole:
The important part is not the packaging, marketing, or any of that, but really whether or not this beer is worth drinking. So I cautiously raised my glass, took in a mild hoppy aroma and took a swig. Through the thick Guinness-esque head came EXACTLY what was marketed, a smooth nitro IPA. This may be one of the few times a product has been spot on perfect to its marketing description, and you know what, it’s a good beer! It’s not scorchingly hopped, but the IPA flavor is definitely there, almost citrus and floral like with a dry finish. It’s not particularly heavy, so it doesn’t leave you feeling like you can’t have a few. The nitro element is definitely at the forefront of the experience, with the expected creamy smoothness. The only real drawback is that for a few bucks more than the price ($9 a six pack), I can get plenty of mixed twelve pack options and explore a bit more.
If I had to guess, I would say this is likely a limited time release. I doubt that the Guinness Nitro IPA will be around a few years from now, and I doubt I’ll revisit it more than once or twice due to the cost (there’s really just better values out there), but I have to admit that at the end of this beer, I’m going for another.
Join me Friday when I discuss my favorite cheap bourbon!