The Judge's Bench
Taps: 17 / Bottles:
Cask: Y / Beer-to-Go: N
Ratings: 24 | Reviews: 17 | Display Reviews Only:
4.35/5 rDev +2.4%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3.5 | $$
Here's a great gem in the greater Baltimore area that people in the city might be unaware of. Located in the "historic" section of Ellicott City this bar looks diveish on the outside, but once you see the tap-list you will be happy you came in. Has 18 great taps without one dud in the bunch. The owner does a great job of having an equal mix between lighter and heavier beers. On a recent visit I was able to start off with Duvel Green, have a Double Bag while eating, and finish with St. Bernardus 12 for my nightcap. Also seemed to have a nice bottle selection, but I found the tap options to be plenty so I didn't look too closely. Food is standard in my opinion. Burgers, wings, cheesesteaks, etc. Did notice a few vegetarian options if you are so inclined. I really liked the atmosphere, no obnoxious college jock vibe, mix of regulars and newbies. The bar guy was great, and even as the crowd picked up he kept everyone's glass filled with no noticeable waits. Definitely a place worthy of repeat business.
01-15-2011 16:34:10 | More by smokeypeat
3.95/5 rDev -7.1%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4 | $$
Amosphere- The atmosphere is hit-or-miss here. On a night with live music it get's unbearably loud. On a night without live music, this place can be fantastic for catching-up with friends over a pint.
Quality- The quality is overall good here. Clean draft lines. Clean plates and utensils (for a diveish bar). The staff clearly try to respect beer and serve in appropriate glassware.
Service- The service is hit-or-miss too. I have had great service some nights... and other nights where is takes over an hour to get a cold burger. It is worth noting that on my night with the hour-long cold burger, the food was complimentary for the delay and poor quality. The staff is knowledgeable about beer too.
Selection- Fantastic selection. Almost purely craft beer with an impressive range of taps and an extensive bottle list. One of the best selections outside of Baltimore for sure.
Food- Food is good. Slightly upscale barfood with good vegetarian options.
06-15-2010 00:03:13 | More by jgasparine
3.95/5 rDev -7.1%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5 | $
visited on 8 mar 2010:
Drove up here from Columbia whilest out for a conference. I was impressed. The entire downtown of Ellicott is very nice: lots of old buildings, winding streets, brick sidewalks -- my kind of place. The Judge's Bench was no exception. It's an old building, stone and brick, including the bat and a great old fireplace. Lots of architectural nuances that really made me like the place, almost European. The only things I didn't like were the TVs (four in the not overly large downstairs main bar and another, altar-like layout upstairs) and the drop ceiling, which I'm sure probably concealed some wonderful beams that would have really gone well with the rest of the interior.
But the look can easily be forgiven, especially considering the selection. Lots of great beers: Allagash, and Avery's Czar were on tap, and a rauchbier was sampled as well. A very good selection both on tap and in the bottle. The food was decent, and the service was great. If I lived in the area, I'd all but certainly be a regular.
03-09-2010 03:15:27 | More by ocmpoma
4.3/5 rDev +1.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | $$
An unassuming building at the west end of Ellicott City's historic district belies what is perhaps the preeminent taphouse in Howard County. Neon BMC signs in the windows add to the misrepresentation, but each of the seventeen rotating draft beers on offer is a quality microbrew, and the bottled selection is equally impressive, despite a smattering of Coors Light and the like among its ranks.
The vibe here is as unassuming and unpretentious as the architecture; it's really just a nondescript bar that, aside from its stellar craft selection, is indistinguishable from any number of taverns in the Baltimore area: cozy/casual ambiance, TVs broadcasting the game, a mix of blue- and white-collar patrons ranging in age from their early twenties to post-retirement. If it weren't for its relatively large size and nineteenth-century mill town location, the Bench could easily be mistaken for a corner bar in some tight-knit South or Southeast Baltimore neighborhood--a very come-as-you-are, mellow, "What canna getcha, hon?" kind of place (to native Baltimoreans, this may not even be worth pointing out--George W. Bush refers to his West Texas strut as "walking", after all--but from a suburban DC perspective, it's a very foreign, or should I say, four...one-O, phenomenon). In fact, this relaxed feel is probably the single greatest factor in explaining the pub's broad appeal--bona fide beer geeks seem to be but a small minority among its clientele.
The taps are pretty varied as far as style and region/country; I've encountered plenty of Belgians here (Tripel Karmeliet seems to be a de facto fixture) as well as elusive barleywines (Uinta XV among others) and highly anticipated seasonal (Life and Limb) and regional (Hop Pocket Ale) releases. There's definitely some local representation among the taps but, unlike a lot of spots in the area, it doesn't seem that they're slavishly compelled to have a Loose Cannon or a Resurrection Ale on all the time (I don't think I've ever even seen the latter here), which, to my mind, is refreshing. Rotation, dynamism, keeping it fresh is the name of the game here. I've not once been handed an American IPA in a Guinness glass here, nor are they shy about using snifters and tulips when called for.
Beer knowledge on the part of the staff can vary from adequate to competent to guru-esque, and they're quick to make recommendations or offer tastes; in general the service is at once attentive, friendly, professional, and laid-back. Prepare to do a little extra conversing, and a lot of extra listening, if you run into the proprietor--he's one loquacious dude.
The JB seems like it has yet to be discovered as a beer destination or even, more basically, as a popular social venue; foot traffic on Main Street thins out considerably this far west. I've only ever visited mid-week evenings or weekend afternoons, but it never seems too busy; for someone who endured the maelstrom of the opening weeks/baptism by fire of DC's ChurchKey, this should seem like blessed relief, but there are times when I think its location amidst quaint shops on what is essentially an antique row is an incongruous one. For craft beer enthusiasts who don't mind the excursion, the Bench makes for a nice respite from the crowds at Max', Mahaffey's, & al. If you're already in Howard County, there's no reason you shouldn't be supporting this local bastion of craft beer, even if it means imbibing a haunted hefeweizen or a ghoulish gueuze (Ellicott City is notoriously haunted, if you haven't heard; the JB is no exception.). 8 [
...if you believe in that sort of thing = )
02-14-2010 06:02:00 | More by MaltistLupulist
4.55/5 rDev +7.1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 4 | selection: 5 | food: 3.5 | $$$
This is definitely my favorite place to grab a brew in the area. I cannot praise this place enough.... Kegs are rotated on 17 taps, and the selection is superior to most/ if not all in the area. Every time I return I get excited over trying something knew. The bartenders are also very willing to help you select a beer, even when they are busy. I must have tried 4 or 5 samples before I chose my first beer. The selection of bottles is also something to drool over. One of my favorite things about this bar is private room upstairs, which is equipped with a big screen TV, a few leather chairs to sit, and a foosball table. The atmosphere, along with an incredible selection of beer, brings me back every chance I get.
And if you get a chance to talk to the owner, I highly suggest it. Definitely a cool dude, who's very knowledgeable and passionate about his beer business.
01-28-2010 00:49:09 | More by Jrut224
4.44/5 rDev +4.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | $$
Visited the Judge's Bench on a Sunday night for preseason football and a few beers. It is a relatively small, but cozy bar with two large flat panel TVs. Could get quite crowded on a more popular evening. More importantly, there are 16 craft beers on tap. There was ample diversity in styles and brewers including Weyerbacher Insanity, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, Drakes Hopocalypse, Clipper City Heavy Seas Big DIPA, and North Coast Brother Thelonious to name a few. Mike, the owner, had an excellent knowledge of his offerings and gladly provided samples of each beer to aid in our choices. Beers were then served in the proper glassware and seemed quite fresh. I was told that they purchase their beer in small quantities than some other bars (half kegs), which increases their turnover and may help maintain quality. Pints were in the area of 5 dollars and there was a dollar off all drafts, so pricing was quite reasonable. There is also a nice selection of bottles available including some of the highest rated beers that can be found in Maryland, such as Rochfort 10. Food is served, but not after 10 PM on Sunday so I was not able to evaluate the menu. Overall, a very enjoyable experience at a reasonable cost.
08-11-2009 17:49:21 | More by slk22
4.71/5 rDev +10.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | $$
:) This is one of my favorite places. The taps rotate frequently and there is always something that I LOVE (Heavy Seas, Southern Tier) or something that I've been wanting to try. I advise to try a Sun or Mon night with reduced prices and not a huge crowd so you can take your time and explore what all the taps have to offer. There's also a nice bottle selection but I get so happily distracted by what's on tap i've never paid that close attention to the cooler.
Bartenders know their beers and are willing to pour you a taste if you are afraid of committment. The owner is usually around and is also a homebrewer so he knows what he's putting on tap.
Haven't tried much of the food due to lack of veggie love on the menu, but everything looks good.
05-12-2009 18:54:12 | More by ScarletLady
4.43/5 rDev +4.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3 | $$
A mistaken exit of 95, a bisection of downtown Balti. and finally I find myself at JB. Its 3:30P -- I missed lunch -- and then find out JB opens at 4PM. D'oh! No prob. Mike the owner was opening and welcomed me anyway. I spent the next couple of hours+ sampling the 16 (I counted them 3 times) taps. Hmmm..What to drink when I still got 200 miles to go? I prioritized, got the last glass of a kicked keg (Weyerbacher SlamDunkel) and was introduced to the SouthernT Unearthly IPA (I'm more of a Malthead). Whoa! Anybody that can turn my "head" like that deserves high accolades.
Final note? Married? SigO doesn't groove on suds? Tell them you'll be at the bar -- let them go shopping -- Ellicott City is a very attractive, easily walkable historic area. Use the JB as a base of ops...
04-05-2009 02:56:08 | More by rokosz
4.3/5 rDev +1.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | $$$
Finally got to Judge's Bench after hearing good things from folks. It turned out to be quite a comfy place to have a couple of excellent beers. Less than 20 taps, but I have no doubt that there would always be something good on. I had the new Southern Tier IBA, which I wasn't even aware of before that evening. The service was pretty friendly and offered recommendations to patrons. When kegs kicked, they were replaced quickly, and I imagine it would be fun to see what pops up on a busy evening. For a Friday, it wasn't a complete zoo, which I prefer. The live music was fun without a pesky cover charge and not ridiculously loud. Prices were a little high, so I'd love to return during happy hour, but I suppose one could do worse. Regardless, I will be back
03-29-2009 02:31:21 | More by qchic
4.68/5 rDev +10.1%
vibe: 4 | quality: 5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5 | food: 4 | $$
Moved to Ellicott City last year and was lucky enough to find this place early on. It is now my "go to" bar.
The beer is always exceptional and the taps are constantly on rotation. This place introduced me to Nugget Nectar, Oaked Yeti, World Wide Stout, Maharaja, and countless other amazing beers. I go there almost weekly and never have a clue what I will find on tap.
Mike, the owner, can talk your ear off about anything, but has a passion for good beer. He homebrewed for years and sometimes brings in his own for us to try. He is also incredibly generous with sampling any beers. One time we were talking about strong beers and he mentioned world wide stout and i said i knew it was strong, but had never tried it. He immediately left and came back 2 minutes later for a bottle for us to try.
When I first went there they had maybe 10 taps, half were standard crap, but Mike has almost erased the light beers from the bar, besides a few bottles here and there.
The food is pretty tasty, especially the Reuben.
If you're anywhere near Baltimore, make a detour to the Judge's Bench.
03-17-2009 00:00:20 | More by aladnamedwill
The Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, MD
93 out of 100 based on 24 ratings.