Winter gains a warm glow thanks to the brewer's art

February 17, 2005|By KEVIN COWHERD

FEBRUARY IS a dreary month, cold and dark and endless, and one way to deal with the whole thing is to drink a lot of beer.

This can be done in a variety of ways, of course.

One is to stay home and sit at the kitchen table and slam a six-pack of the same old domestic beer, Bud Light or Miller or whatever.

But this can often lead to brooding and the kind of unhealthy fixation on your surroundings - is that a scratch on that cabinet? WOULD IT KILL SOMEONE TO DUST UNDER THE FRIDGE?! - you don't need in the dead of winter.

Another way is to go someplace lively where they serve unique beers, which is why I ended up last weekend at The Brewer's Art, the Mount Vernon restaurant and brewpub known for its rich and malty Belgian-style ales.

To be honest, this search for a different winter beer experience got off to a rocky start when my wife ordered an Amstel Light.

See, going to Brewer's Art and ordering an Amstel Light is like going to Harvard and taking a gym class.

It's like going to the Louvre and electing to stay in the gift shop the whole time.

After all, Brewer's Art offers six of its home-brewed beers on tap, as well as another 105 bottled beers from around the world.

So when somebody orders an Amstel Light, you half expect a TV commercial: all conversation ceasing and everyone turning to stare at the beer hick.

Luckily, that didn't happen.

But if it had, I was fully prepared to stand and point a finger at my wife and shout: "Don't look at me! It was her! How did she get past security?!"

Our table was in a cozy alcove off the downstairs bar, where I started with a sampler of the six house-brewed beers, each served in a 3-oz. glass.

Between the dim lighting, spare decor and hushed voices around us, it was like having a drink in wartime London.

If you closed your eyes, you could imagine air-raid sirens going off, and the bartender scrambling to close the blackout drapes and everyone being herded into the cellar until the "all-clear" sounded.

Not that any of it bothered me, because I became immediately immersed in the "tasting" phase of this beer odyssey.

Look, I am not going to say that each of these beers was the most wonderful beer I ever had.

The Proletary, a dark beer the color of a stout, didn't do much for me. Neither did the Ozzy, a light-colored beer with a dry finish that Tom Creegan, one of the brewpub's owners, said was named after nutcase rocker Ozzy Osbourne.

And the Cerberus Tripel, a strong beer (10 percent alcohol by volume, twice as strong as most American beers) that was the color of chardonnay, also had a "wine-y" aftertaste.

But the House Pale Ale, a mild amber beer, was tasty. And Le Canard, a sweet copper-colored ale brewed "with lots of Belgian candi sugar and slowly fermented for a month," was tasty multiplied by 10.

But my favorite was the Resurrection ale, the brewpub's signature abbey-style Dubbel, which Creegan said dwarfed all the other Brewer's Art beers in popularity.

Resurrection is sold on tap in 45 bars and restaurants around Baltimore. Another Brewer's Art owner, Volker Stewart, told me Resurrection is such a hit with customers that it often provokes this response: "I don't usually like beer, but I like this!"

"That's music to a brewer's ears," Stewart said with a smile.

Of course, there is also this: Resurrection is relatively potent, so if you drink too much, you may not be resurrecting again for quite some time, if you catch my drift.

But the rich flavor and "hoppiness" of the Brewer's Art beers underscores the notion that most Americans are satisfied drinking the same bland, pale-yellow brews churned out by the big beer companies.

"Of the traditional brewing countries, Belgian beers are the most adventurous," Stewart told me a couple of days later.

On the other hand, the mass-market U.S. beers, such as Budweiser and Miller and Coors, are basically brewed to be as mild and inoffensive as possible, in order to appeal to the widest customer base possible.

And mass-produced beers, he said, are "like mass-produced anything else. You're going to lose a little something."

Which is why a trip to a place like The Brewer's Art, especially on a frozen night in the dead of winter, can be so uplifting - and stirring to the taste buds.

Fearing I might not be able to resurrect myself from the table if we remained too long, my wife and I ordered one more Amstel Light and Resurrection before leaving.

This, as it happens, is fully in keeping with the Brewer's Art philosophy of beer-drinking.

"What we're about is quality over quantity," Stewart said. "What I'd like to see is people have one beer here instead of six Budweisers somewhere else."

I did not ask how he feels about Amstel Light.

Some things you're better off not knowing.

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