Showing posts with label Maryland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Maryland. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Maryland's Rich Beer Scene

When traveling, one should always try the local beers.  That's my philosophy, and it has served me well during the craft beer years.  Places like Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, hell, just about anywhere, have local beers scenes making suds worth sampling.  Maryland is no exception.

Heavy Seas Beer is produced by Clipper City Brewing Company in the heart of Baltimore.  It was pointed to by several articles and locals as the best B'more brewer.  Hugh Sisson first started brewing it in 1995 and gave B'more its first brewpub.  Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA is their flagship brew.  Simcoe, Palisade, and Centennial hops make for a wonderful nose.  Deep amber, the light head dissipates quickly, but who cares.  It's the taste you want.  Those beautiful hops meet British-style bitterness, which lingers on the finish.

RaR Brewing is an Eastern shore brewer in Cambridge, MD.  The brewery’s home is on the east side of Chesapeake Bay, on the Delmarva Peninsula, which also contains Delaware and, for some reason, a spit of land belonging to Virginia.  I would love to have sat in on the planning session that resulting in that division of property.

RaR is "local boys brewing local beers," and they’re doing a fine job.  As if the beer isn't good enough on its own, their labeling includes a mysterious little dinosaur swimming in water.  It's Chessie, I'm told, a sea creature legend in Chesapeake Bay.

Rar Nanticoke Nectar IPA has alcohol up at 7.4% abv.  It was available in handy six-pack cans where I bought it, and I shared it with my pals at the hotel in Fells Point.  A beautiful, floral nose gives way to a slightly bitter taste and finish. Citrus plays a heavily and makes for a refreshing drink.

D.C. Brau  is brewed, of course, in the nation's capital.  Their IPA, The Corruption, is a copper-colored northwest-style IPA at 6.5% abv.  And, what better name for a D.C. beer that The Corruption?  Especially now.  It's good whether you’re watching the Nationals or the Orioles.  They make it with Honey Malt and Victory Malt, and a big ladle full of Columbus hops.  It's a very nice brew, with more barley to accompany the hops. The beefy flavor is nothing short of hearty.

I ordered a pint of Terrapin HI-5 IPA after seeing only the tap handle, figuring the name gave away some Maryland roots.  I was wrong.  It's made in Athens, Georgia.  It is good, however, with five hops giving a lovely aroma and flavor.  Juicy and refreshing, the California-style IPA has a light bitter edge on the finish.

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Octopus And Spanish Wine At José Andrés' Place

A Baltimore vacation needs a bit of variety sometimes, and there are only so many crab cakes one can eat.  There are only so many snowballs one can enjoy from Bmore Licks, only so many water taxi rides one can take.  So, there's a casino in Maryland, down by the nation's capital?  Why not?  I figured I might run into a Trump administration official I could be rude to in public.

While Denise was playing the slots at the MGM National Harbor, and after I had "finished up" at the blackjack tables, I ambled over to the shopping and dining area.  I had some beers at a sports bar called "Tap," but let's save that for later.  Let me tell you about one of the best snacks I ever had, one that only cost about half what I won at blackjack.

I was tempted to visit the bar at the Voltaggio Brothers' Steakhouse, but I'm really glad I opted for a Spanish wine with octopus at "Fish," by José Andrés.  If there are tentacles on a menu, I'm there.  The octopus appetizer was a double down opportunity if there ever was one.  It came in a marinara salsa, with peanut crunch mixed into it.  Really.  It was the best octopus dish I've ever had, and I've a few really good ones.

When in a Spanish restaurant, get the Spanish wine, I always say.  The wine I chose was made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape variety of the Basque region.  It's called Txakoli, or Txakolin, or Txakolina if you're really nice to it.  Pronounce the "Tx" like a "Ch."  I dined in my favorite solo way, at the bar.

The 2014 Txomin Extaniz colors up pale gold in the glass and features a nose big with minerals, salinity first.  The palate is savory, salty and citrusy.  There are beautiful nutty notes - all the better to pair with that peanut crunch - with grapefruit and orange peel on the finish. 

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Maryland Wine: Boordy Vineyards

This "Wild Ponies" wine from Boordy Vineyards, just northeast of Baltimore, is named after the wild ponies that reportedly came ashore at Assateague Island from a Spanish shipwreck in the 17th century.  It's a Syrah, and a pretty good one, too. It's a bit different from French or California Syrahs I've had, in that it has a deceptively simple approach and relies less on wood aging.

The labels of the Chesapeake Icons line are fantastic, each highlighting a different facet of Maryland wildlife.

The Boordy Vineyards Chesapeake Icon No. 7 Syrah 2015 is aged for 14 months in a mix of stainless steel, American and Hungarian oak barrels.  Alcohol hits a reasonable 13.5% abv and it retails for $15.

This Maryland wine is a deep, rich purple in the glass.  The nose is earthy and brawny, full of black and blue berries.  It is somewhat reminiscent, when chilled, of a good Lambrusco.  The flavors are as dark as the aromas.  Oak is not overly pronounced and the finish leans more toward blackberry than blue.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Maryland IPAs

Maryland has some pretty good brewers in the state these days.  As in many of the 50, craft beer has found its legs in the Free State.  Here are two from Frederick, Maryland.

Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA

Flying Dog is reportedly Maryland's largest brewer. It was founded in 1990 by
George Stranahan and Richard McIntyre.  The original brewery was located near Denver, with Frederick serving as a second outpost, but the Colorado brewery was abandoned in favor of the Maryland locale.  

For Snake Dog, the hops are Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Columbus and Warrior.

The fresh hops aroma gives the IPA a more floral than fruity nose.  It's easy drinking at 7.1% abv, with a nice bitterness that melds with the sweeter aspects.  Snakedog paired very nicely with smoked fish.

Flying Dog Double Dog Double IPA

Flying Dog's Double Dog Double IPA was envisioned as a tenth anniversary creation for the brewery, and got so popular it stuck around. Using Columbus, Warrior and Cascade hops, this IPA offers both bark and bite.

A bit more robust at 11.5% abv, this one can take you by surprise if you gulp.  Its creators recommend taming the slight alcohol burn with strong cheese or earthy carrot cake. Hearty and bold, this double IPA has enough flowery nose and earthy palate notes for at least two.

Note the artwork on both is by Ralph Steadman, who was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson's illustrator. Thompson was reportedly good friends with co-founder Stranahan.

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Friday, August 25, 2017

Wine Country: Maryland

Black Ankle owners Sarah O'Herron and Ed Boyce credit - or blame - their entry into winemaking on "one taste-test too many." The winery is named after the road on which the vineyard sits in Frederick County, Maryland, in the North Central Piedmont region. It may have originated from the muddy boots walkers got when traversing the road that was a dirt trail long after other roads had been improved. It also may date back to Native American lore. They like the "wine stomping" images that spring to mind.

Sustainability is a watchword at Black Ankle. They even built their winery and tasting room from "straw, clay, stone and wood that we found on the farm." Sounds like a structure on which all three "little pigs" could have collaborated.

The 2015 Black Ankle Viognier was purchased at a local wine shop in Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood, where we stayed on a recent vacation. It blends 75% Viognier and 25% Grüner Veltliner in a mix that I don't think I've encountered before. The vines grown in what the winery calls "decomposing slate with quartzite veins." It retails for $32, although I got mine several dollars cheaper. Alcohol is at 13.5% abv.

Pale yellow in the glass, this Maryland Viognier has a delightful nose of peaches and lemons. The palate shows a savory sense with both wonderful acidity and a full mouthfeel. White wines are enjoyable enough when the weather is perfect, but when things are hot and humid there’s an even higher appreciation achieved.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Wine Country: Delaware - Harvest Ridge Winery

Delaware's history with wine goes back a long way.  Historically, the first Swedish settlers in Delaware planted grapes and made wine as early as 1638.  Definitely a small production state, Delaware's wine output is lumped in with that of 13 other states collectively known as "other," totaling a minuscule amount of wine production.  There are only a handful of wineries in The First State, so nicknamed because it was the first to ratify the United States constitution.  It is sometimes referred to as the Diamond State, thanks to noted wine lover Thomas Jefferson.  He compared Delaware to a diamond, "small but valuable."

As a colony, Delaware was claimed not only by England, but Sweden and Holland as well.  The Dutch were the first to colonize the area.  Who knew Delaware was in such demand at that time?  By the way, Delaware is still in high demand.  Their corporation-friendly laws make it a very popular place to do business.  More than half of the publicly traded companies in America are incorporated in Delaware.

Harvest Ridge Winery consists of a 120-acre plot in Kent County - one of only three counties in the state.  The property actually straddles the Delaware border with Maryland. For this reason, the wines are labeled with the "American" AVA, not "Delaware."  Their unique location - on the Mason-Dixon Line - also allows them to claim as their own one of the original Mason-Dixon markers - number 47, if you're keeping score at home.

Owner Chuck Nunan was a home winemaker who got the bug to start a winery after visiting one in South Carolina.  Land was purchased in 2005, vines were planted in 2011 and the wine was poured in 2013 when they opened the doors as Delaware's fourth winery.  The farm was originally called Harvest Ridge, which Nunan thought had a nice ring to it for the name of the winery.

The Nunan family photo looks like a crowd scene.  I count fourteen Nunans, but several of them look a bit young to be much help working in the vineyard.  They probably like testing the grapes, though.  Winemaker Milan Mladjan lists Merlot as his favorite wine grape, and insists that he is not ashamed to admit it.

Harvest Ridge Winery revels in their East Coast terroir, proudly using only grapes grown on the estate or fruit sourced from other local growers.  They make wine not only from grapes, but also from apples, pumpkins and honey.  They were kind enough to supply me with three of their grape wines for the purpose of this article.

2013 Chambourcin  $17.00

The Chambourcin grape is a French-American hybrid that is resistant to fungus and does well in places where the winter climate is on the cold side.  Delaware comes to mind.

Medium dark purple, the rich nose offers notes of coffee grounds, earth and a grapy blackberry aroma.  On the palate, flavors reminiscent of Pinot Noir come forward - black tea, dark wild berries, pomegranate - but in a bigger, bolder setting than is usually found in Pinot.  Alcohol is quite restrained, at just 12.6% abv.  Great acidity makes it a refreshing sip and an easy wine to pair with food.  The tannins are subdued, but quite functional.  This is a very fruity - and complex - wine that feels big in the mouth and will pair wonderfully with grilled pork chops.  It's also amazing with fruit and nut bread.

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon  $22.50

The Harvest Ridge Cab has a tint and fragrance which remind me of Pinot Noir as well, at first.  The medium hue leads to a nose with cranberry and black raspberry apparent, but there is more to come in this complex set of aromas.  Plums and cassis seem to be trying to hide behind a screen of cigar tobacco, smoke, spice and herb.  The oak is well played - noticeable, but not overbearing.

In the mouth, this wine is big and juicy.  Fans of California Cabs may even be fooled by the 13% abv number - it tastes bigger than that.  The acidity is absolutely alive, while the tannins are forceful enough to take on a rib eye with their bare hands.  I don't know that I would guess it to be a Cabernet had I tasted blind; perhaps I would have blurted out "Zweigelt" before the unmasking showed my error.  The wine's cold-climate qualities are the story here - acidity, spice, tartness, low alcohol - but, as with any Cab worth its grape leaves, it is a real mouthful.

2013 Chardonnay  $18.50

This wine looks faintly straw colored and smells of tropical fruit and oak spice.  It is billed as an unoaked wine, a claim that the winery stood by in a series of messages with me on Twitter.  I still think it smells - and tastes - of oak, but they swear to the contrary.  It is one of the biggest, fullest unoaked white wines I have ever tasted.

There is the mark of oak on the palate, too - or, so say I - with apple and pineapple flavors abetted by a serious mineral streak that connotes wet stones and citrus fruit.  The finish takes quite a while, and that lovely touch of lime peel lasts all the way through it.

 All in all, the terroir of Delaware is well represented in the wines of Harvest Ridge.

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Friday, March 7, 2014

Wine Country: Maryland - Elk Run Vineyards And Winery

The first recorded account of Maryland winemaking is said to date back to 1648, although it would be three centuries before an official winery appeared.  Boordy Winery was the state's first in 1945.  So, unlike many states in which wine production suffered terribly after Prohibition, Maryland began its bounceback in relatively short order.  Thing is, it really was more of a startup than a bounceback.

In the 2012 numbers, Maryland comes in 17th in wine production by state with over 337,000 gallons.
There are four wine regions in the Old Line State, a name bestowed by George Washington in honors the state's troops.  The Maryland Line fought often in the Revolutionary War.

The Piedmont Plateau stretches from the foothills to the Chesapeake Bay.  The Eastern Shore has a climate held temperate by the the bay and is divided into the Upper, Mid and Lower Shores.  The Southern Plain is hot most of the summer, day and night.  Here, Italian grape varieties are grown with great success.  In the Western Mountain region grapes suitable for cold climates thrive.

Elk Run Vineyards and Winery is in the Piedmont region, where the largest number of Maryland wineries are.  If you look closely, you'll see Elk Run wine featured in the Netflix series, "House of Cards."  Those politicians may be evil, but they don't need a train to run over them to recognize a good wine.  At least they drink local.

The winery at Elk Run is named after a creek, while the vineyard's name has deeper roots.  "The deed name to the property is the 'Resurvey of Cold Friday,'" says their website.  "It was a land grant from the King of England to Lord Baltimore.  The winemaker’s home is circa 1756."  The website continues, "Soils of schist and shale allow for deep roots and good drainage.  Seven to eight hundred foot elevations help keep the vineyard safe from frost danger."

The Elk Run Syrah, Cold Friday Vineyard 2011 is extremely dark, deep indigo - so dark it's almost black, with barely any light getting through.  A wonderful whiff of spices hits the nose first, with lovely red currant aromas following immediately.  There is a savory aspect, too, which is very light - it doesn't really smell like meat, but it makes me want some.  On the palate, things are just great.  Beautiful flavors of raspberry, cherry and cranberry converge in a wash of fruit riding on a peppery wave of fresh acididy.

This wine does not lay it on heavy; rather, it tries to slip past without attracting too much attention.  That is the only thing it fails to do, though.  Sipping this wine absent-mindedly would be as easy as mistaking winemaker Fred Wilson's colonial digs for the Washington Monument.  He did a great job on this single-vineyard Syrah.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011


Wild Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter

I dropped in to Boneyard Bistro in Southern California's San Fernando Valley recently to find they had taken over a neighboring storefront on Ventura Boulevard and created a bar there to go along with their tiny dining area.

Boneyard Bistro has some killer barbecue, and the bar features a chalkboard on the wall with an ever-changing list of beers which go great with that cuisine.  I sampled a couple of them, with several small plates of some serious barbecued chow.

Strand Brewing Atticua IPAWild Dog Barrel Aged Gonzo Imperial Porter comes from Flying Dog Brewery in Maryland.  Black in the glass with a dark brown head, this porter looks, smells and tastes great.  A burnt, nutty nose has some citrus notes, bourbon, and a sweetness that creeps in from the side.  It tastes of burnt hops and molasses.  Delightful.  It's a fairly stout porter at 9.5% abv.

Strand Brewing Company in Torrance, California produces the Atticus India Pale Ale.  It looks great in the glass, a dark amber color that shows a lot of red.  The tall, bone-colored head seems to be the visual definition of the word "frothy."  A floral nose is accompanied by a light body and lemony edge.  Lots of hops and malt show up on the palate with a slightly bitter taste that's beautiful with bbq.

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Sunday, February 20, 2011


Wine News: Laws On Wine

Checking for some wine-related news stories recently, a few from three different areas of the country caught my eye.

In El Cajon, California there's an ordinance under consideration which would place a ban on beers and wines with a high alcohol content.  If passed, the city ordinance would mean fans of Porto and Port-style fortified wines would have to leave town in order to buy them.  City fathers hope the ban would cut down on El Cajon's problem with drunken transients - but, while keeping fortified wine off the store shelves, the ban would not affect the sale of a two-dollar hip flask of vodka.  And what about a 15.5% Cabernet. Is that considered a high alcohol wine?

In Kansas, state lawmakers are holding hearings on the possibility of allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine, which presently is not permitted in the Jayhawk State.  State officials are probably thirsty for the $72-million increase in state and local taxes the sale of beer and wine in grocery stores would bring.

Maryland's state legislature is considering raising the wholesale alcohol tax.  The bill would add $215-million to the state's coffers by increasing the wine tax from 40 cents to three dollars, the beer tax from nine cents to $1.16 and an even greater jump for taxes on distilled spirits.  One Maryland brewery claims their excise tax would rise from $20,000 per year to $270,000.