Baltimore is blessed with its beers made here

November 01, 1998|By ROB KASPER

AS BEER TOWNS go, Baltimore is a good one. That is what a fellow in a pub told me recently. The fellow wasn't just any pub-crawler. He was Michael Jackson, one of the world's foremost authorities on beer.

The son of a Yorkshire trucker, Jackson, 56, has been writing about beer for more than 20 years. Starting with a newspaper series called "This Is Your Pub," he has written a stack of books, including his latest, "Ultimate Beer" (DK Publishing, 1998).

In his new book, Jackson cites two Baltimore-area brews, the Extra Special Bitter made by the Oliver family at their Wharf Rat pub near Camden Yards, and the wheat beer, Wise Guy Weissbier, served at Sisson's bar and restaurant in South Baltimore, as superior brews. These beers, he said, are examples of the variety of well-made local beers found in the Baltimore area.

In an interview, Jackson offered this quick overview of America's top beer burgs: Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, he said, vie for the title of the nation's most beer-friendly city. Next in his rankings come Denver and Austin, Texas. On the East Coast the three best beer towns, he said, are Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

"In Baltimore there is a much better range of locally made beers than you find in New York," Jackson said.

I found it hard to argue with the man - for several reasons. First of all, he knew his suds. He has tasted more than 10,000 beers and has, over the years, made several working visits to Baltimore. Secondly, everyone likes to hear that he has picked a good place to live. In my view, Jackson's rankings of the nation's good beer towns were more important than other quality-of-life assessments. Thirdly, I was not in an arguing mood.

When I was talking to Jackson I was sitting in Sisson's enjoying a five-course meal that matched the dishes prepared by chef Bill Rothwell with beers by brewer Rolfe Saunders.

I also did not quarrel with Jackson's view of the first course. He said the "gamy flavors of the oysters" were perfectly matched with the "toasted, stinging notes of the porter." Gourmands have been matching oysters and porter for centuries, and I was happy to join their ranks.

And a little later in the evening we sipped Pigtown Brown Ale as we feasted on a pan-roasted breast of duck salad, topped with a vinaigrette made with Kriek Lambric beer. I listened to Jackson's review of what had just happened in our mouths. The flavor of the brown ale, he said, perfectly matched the fruitiness of the salad. That goes for me too, I said.

Somewhere in the evening - it might have been when the corn chowder and rabbit dumplings were served with the Octoberfest beer, or it could have been when the seared filet of beef showed up with the Stockade Amber Ale - Jackson pointed out that when you drink any beer, there is a "play between the sweetness of the malt and the herbal flavors of the hops." That sounded good to me.

On such a night, who could argue that beer was a gift of the gods and that Baltimore was one of the gods' favorite hangouts.

A few days after the dinner, more evidence came in to support Jackson's view that this region is blessed in a beery kind of way. Two Maryland-made beers won medals at the recent Great American Beer Festival. Blue Ridge Subliminator Dopplebock won a silver medal in the bock category, and Brimstone Brewing Co.'s Stone Beer won a bronze beer in the experimental beer category. Both are made by Frederick Brewing Co.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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