On tap for spring: fruitier beers

April 04, 2001|By Rob Kasper

NEW LOCAL beers are popping up faster than spring onions.

The cold dark days of winter are behind us, and, so it seems, are the heavy, dark brews. As warm sunshine and friendly winds arrive in Baltimore, so do crisper, fruitier beers. That is the impression I got recently after surveying local brewers on what they have on tap for this spring.

Among the new arrivals on the sipping scene is McHenry, a lager that Clipper City Brewing founder Hugh Sisson describes as having a "lighter flavor profile" than some of the highly hopped, complex beers that his brewery makes.

Made with 100 percent malted barley and a touch of hops, McHenry is aimed, Sisson said, at beer drinkers who prefer mild, amber lagers such as Yuengling, Michelob and Killian's. This simple style also emulates the style of beer brewed in Baltimore before Prohibition, Sisson said.

On another historical note, Sisson noted that the new beer takes its name from Fort McHenry, whose troops repelled British invaders in the War of 1812. Just like its namesake, this beer presents a line of defense against the invasion of other lagers made by out-of-town brewers, he said.

At the Brewer's Art on North Charles Street, Volker Stewart and crew were getting ready for spring by rolling out the sour cherries. The cherries are a key ingredient in Charm City Sour Cherry, a Flanders brown ale, one of the Belgian-style beers that the Mount Vernon brewpub specializes in making. The cherries are added late in the brewing process, giving the ale "a nice tartness," Stewart said.

But he added that because the beer is not filtered, the added fruit could make the beer look "mucky." Because Baltimore is often mucky this time of year, this beer seems like a good match for the season.

Cherries were also in the kettles of Steve Jones, who makes beers at Oliver's Brewery inside the Wharf Rat restaurant on West Pratt Street. Jones put 210 pounds of sweet, dark cherries into the batches of Cherry Blossom, a cherry wheat beer.

Traditionally, Jones times the release of his spring brew to coincide with the date federal and state income taxes are due. "I release it on April 15," Jones told me, "to lighten the load" for folks on what could otherwise be a dark day.

On the fruity front, Capitol City Brewing in Harborplace is serving a spring offering called Grand Cru, a brown ale. In Bel Air, Jim Wagoner, brewmaster of DuClaw Brewing Co., will be serving "Sawtooth," a Belgian beer with flavors of orange and coriander. And at the Red Brick Station brewery and restaurant in White Marsh, brewer Mike McDonald reports that this May, for the fourth straight year, he will add blueberries to an ale. The beer, which will be on tap next month, is called "They-Made-Me-Do-It-Blueberry Ale."

At Frederick Brewing Co., brewmaster Andy Tveekrem is greeting spring with two wheat beers. In April, he said, the mild-mannered, "straightforward" Wild Goose Spring Wheat is released. Then in June comes the Blue Ridge Wheat, a type of beer that at times, he said, can be "cloudy," just like a spring day. At Brewer's Alley, a restaurant and brewery in Frederick, brewer Jennifer Tonkin is making another batch of Owen's Ale, an English bitter. She named it after her nephew, who was born four months ago, when she made the first batch.

A number of local breweries are celebrating spring by making Maibock, a crisp, golden lager. Baltimore Brewing Co., maker of DeGroen's beers, plans to pay tribute to the spring the way it does every year, with the release of Maibock. Down in Annapolis, Jim Sobczak, brewmaster of the Fordham Brewing Co. inside the Ram's Head tavern, will also honor the season by following the German tradition of making Maibock. He will release it May 3. "Everything about the beer is pure German, except the water and me; I am part Polish," said Sobczak. Additionally, Johannson's in Westminster is brewing a Maibock for release in May.

This spring in Howard County, Ellicott Mills brewmaster Justin Robertson has made an alt, a hybrid brew that uses ale yeast but is chilled, like lager, in refrigerated tanks.

Finally in South Baltimore, Sisson's, the state's first brewpub, has reopened after undergoing several weeks of renovation and a change of ownership. Last week Thomas Cizauskas, the new brewmaster and general manager, gave me a tour of the restaurant and brewery and poured me some Sisson's India Pale Ale, which, along with Sisson's Stockade and Marble Gold, will be brewed on the premises.

It will take a few weeks to get the brewing operation in high gear, Cizauskas said. But right now he, like other local brewers, is happy to shake off winter, open up the doors and welcome spring.

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