Beer, bids and fine fare: all part of local scene

April 23, 2003|By ROB KASPER

IT IS NOT often you get to drink a beer on its birthday or feast on gourmet fare while you're in the middle of an auction for a motor scooter. Recently, while surveying the local gustatory scene, I did both.

I sipped a bottle of Budweiser that had been "born" that very day at a Williamsburg, Va., brewery. I compared it with a 41-day-old Budweiser I had pulled from the top shelf of a cooler in a Baltimore market.

Then, a few days later, I dined on Parmigiano-Reggiano custard and other fine fare as diners dropped their forks to bid on a Vespa motor scooter at the Great Chefs' Dinner, a benefit for the Family Tree at the Grand Lodge in Hunt Valley.

The newly arrived Budweiser had been spirited to Baltimore in a long black bus filled with cases of beer and a clutch of personnel from the Anheuser-Busch brewery. The beer left the brewery at 2 o'clock in the morning and was being poured in a handsome bar set up in the bus at 10:30 a.m. in Baltimore.

The Budweiser-laden bus, or B-Lounge, was in Baltimore as part of a marketing campaign stressing the beer's "born-on date," which appears in the lower left-hand corner of the label on the bottle. Generally speaking, beer, like bread, tastes best when it is fresh from the factory.

So bottles of Budweiser bearing the born-on date of April 10 arrived in Baltimore that Thursday morning and appeared around town. The first stops were at media outlets, where people like me could get away with drinking beer on the job without getting canned.

Later in the day, the bus journeyed to the more respectable crowd of restaurant owners and tavern owners. A similar visit to Boston is planned, I was told, for this month.

Being a dutiful employee I, of course, alerted company security that a bus full of beer was going to be pulling into the back parking lot. When I walked out the back door to get on the bus, Danny Williams, a carpenter at The Sun, was already there, eyeing the craft.

You can't slip much past a carpenter, especially a 45-foot-long black bus emblazoned with "the king of beers" emblem. The interior of the bus had black leather seats, a table for the tasting, a refrigerator, several cases of fresh beer and a couple of taps. As a degenerate friend of mine said later, it looked like "the bus from heaven."

On my way to work that morning, I had purchased a 22-ounce bottle of Budweiser at Bolton Hill Package Liquors & Food Center, an establishment in the 1100 block of Park Ave. that I frequent, although usually not at 9 a.m.

Dan Westmoreland, assistant brewmaster at the Williamsburg brewery, greeted me as I stepped on the bus. He took it in stride that I was carrying a 22-ounce screw-top Budweiser in a brown bag.

We sat down in the black leather seats and compared and contrasted a glass of the Bud that had been "born" at the brewery that morning with one from the brown bag, which had a born-on date of Feb. 28 - still within the 110-day window from bottling to imbibing that the brewery recommends.

Both the birthday Bud and the older Bud had the characteristic pale yellow color, a reasonable head and a slightly citrus aroma.

They tasted, well, like Budweiser - a light lager that is clean, smooth and has, as Westmoreland said with some pride, "no attributes that stick out."

Westmoreland said he liked the fresh "ester" notes of the newborn beer. I preferred the older, brown-bag Bud, which had a more settled flavor, and a slightly bigger head. Westmoreland said the larger head might have been caused by the way he poured the beer. But he said that, overall, the older Bud tasted as if it had been treated well since it left the brewery.

Later in the day, I passed along another bottle of the newborn Bud to a newspaper colleague who is well acquainted with the world of beer. That night, he and a friend, a college librarian and beer enthusiast, compared the newborn with a bottle of a month-old Budweiser they had bought at Jennings Cafe on Frederick Road. They liked the older Bud better because it was less carbonated or, in other words, it tasted less like a Coke.

Since the bus rolled away, I haven't had any more beer at breakfast, nor have I stopped on my way to work to buy any 22-ounce brews.

But I do confess that, from time to time, I check the parking lot at work to see if, just by chance, the beer bus has returned.

Up in Hunt Valley, there was more wine than beer poured at the Great Chefs' Dinner. But the main draw was the cooking of Dena Marino, executive chef of the Ajax Tavern in Aspen, Colo.

Marino flew in to Baltimore a few days before the dinner. She brought along her crew of Pamela McLain, Ubaldo Gomez and Randy Placers, and her husband, Marcus Wade. She also brought along some lamb and veal from a farm outside Denver and Scharffen Berger chocolate from San Francisco.

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