While half the team sample the various bourbons at the 2nd Annual Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival, the other half focused on the large array of craft and imported beers being served. There were almost 60 different brands to choose from, so we started at an unusual booth that was serving local favorite National Bohemian along side German Warsteiner Dunkle and Belgium Chimay. The latter is rather pricey, so anytime the opportunity presents itself for a free tasting, take advantage. Chimay is also one of only 6 beers able to carry the title 'Trappist" - since it is brewed within a Trappist monastery, completely under the monastery's control. What a beer - powerful but with subdued bitterness.
Since we were planning to attend Hugh Sisson's presentation on "Brews and Barbeques" we heading over to Clipper City's booth where Mr. Sisson is the founder and general partner. The Maryland beer renaissance quickened in 1989 when Hugh Sisson opened Sisson's Pub in the Inner Harbor Baltimore. After a few years he left the brewpub to establish a larger brewery, Clipper City and in 1998 he acquired the Oxford Brewing Company, Maryland's first craft brewery. Before today, this brewery produced two lines of beer, the Clipper City brand - made in classic styles focusing on Maryland traditions (McHeny and BaltoMärzHon) and Heavy Seas, a more robust and heavier style of beer. But, today saw the introduction of a third brand, the Oxford Organic Ales: Oxford Class Organic and Oxford Organic Raspberry Wheat Beer. The amber styled ale Oxford Class Organic was available for tasting and this is a great beer - possible the best we tasted all day. It has caramel flavors with a slight "hoppy" finish - but very refreshing - great for summer. Also on hand was the BaltoMärzHon a Marzen styled beer that is light and smooth with little hops in the finish. In contrast, their Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale is produced using three pounds of hops per barrel and where hops are added in three ways - in the kettle, in the hop back, and dry hopped. The final beer was the Peg Leg Stout, a dry Imperial stout made in the English tradition. In other words, the tail is smooth and milky instead of bitter. Even during the daytime, this is a refreshing dark beer.
Next to Clipper City was another Baltimore brewery, The Baltimore-Washington Beer Works, makers of Raven Lager. This beer is rather unique in that it was first brewed in Germany and competed in the European market before being produced locally. The Raven Lager is another example of a good locally produced beer. The same could be said for Backfin Pale Ale a balanced and refreshing ale made by the Clay Pipe Brewing Company in Westminster. Rounding out the Maryland contingent was Frederick based Wild Goose Brewery and Flying Dog Brewery. Wild Goose beers are well known, from their Cambridge days up to their move the the Frederick facility. Their Wild Goose IPA is a favorite. Flying Dog Brewery originated in Denver, but recently purchased the brewing facility from defunct Frederick Brewing Company, where Wild Goose beers were also brewed. Although we didn't spend too much time at Flying Dog's booth, the Flying Dog Snake Dog, an India Pale Ale was good. I can envision a future trip to Frederick in order to learn more about the Flying Dog beers.
By this time Mr. Sisson's presentation was ready to commence so we headed over to hear why beer is the best choice to pair with BBQ. Besides running Clipper City, Mr. Sisson is extremely interested in the wine industry and hosts a local radio show which focuses on wine. From this background he has immediate credibility in contrasting beer and wine pairings. He started the session by stating the obvious - although not obvious to all - that if you like a pairing then you are right. Eat and drink what you like. But he wanted to introduce us to the three C's to help us choose: Compliment, Contrast (say, a stout with oysters), and Cut - to refresh the palate. For example he served the group a crab quesadilla paired with the BaltoMärzHon in order to compliment the dish. The pairing was scale to scale in that the beer did not over power the quesadilla that would have happened with a hoppier beer. Also, when eating summertime crabs, who wants to drink a bitter beer in 90 degree humidity? He then served the more hoppier - that's an understatement - Loose Cannon Hop3 Ale with a North Carolina styled barbecue where the bitterness stood up to the vinegar flavored sauce. Scale to Scale. Finally he served the Peg Leg Stout with a beef brisket. This was awesome - much better than a Zinfandel or other red wine. The stout both complimented the beef, but also refreshed the palette. Hugh Sisson provided a very strong argument why to choose beer over wine for ant style of BBQ.
After the session we decided to hit three out of state craft brewers starting with the king: Sierra Nevada Brewing. Located in Chico, California, Sierra Nevada are available most everywhere and their Pale Ale is almost becoming a brand name. Besides this beer they had Sierra Nevada Summerfest and the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot available for tasting. The Summerfest is a pilsner-style lager, very light in color - but packed with flavor. This is a refreshing beer. The Bigfoot is even more flavorful - think chewy malt - with a hoppy finish. Sierra Nevada is at the top of their game. We also learned how the current hop crisis is not necessarily harming larger brewers such as Sierra Nevada. Instead, the rising coast of diesel is having a tremendous affect on their transportation costs, moving their produce from one coast to another. San Diego based Stone Brewing Company has the same problem. They were pouring three beers: the IPA, Arrogant Bastard, and Smoked Porter. The latter was really good - you don't find many porters these days and this one had a nice chocolate flavor.
The final brewery we will discuss was very impressive: Erie Brewing Company. This Pennsylvanian brewery had a constant crowd surrounding their booth despite being tucked away in the corner. Out of their beers, the two that stood out, at least to use, were the Pilsner and Railbender Ale. These beers were very similar to Sierra Nevada's; the Erie Brewing Pilsner, light and refreshing like the Sierra Nevada Summerfest and the Erie Brewing Railbender Ale, malty and bitter like the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot. I'd say they're in good company.
There were still dozens of good beers that we tried but didn't take sufficient notes to describe each beer. These omitted beers are from quality producers such as Widmer, Redhook, Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, and Wolaver to name a few. Our suggestion: attend other beer festivals to sample a wide array of beer styles, find your favorite, and pair with the appropriate style of BBQ. This should guarantee a great summer.