Baltimore

Destinations by | Jun 2010 | Issue #41

Thanks to the miracle that is cable television, we’re pretty much obligated to open any travel story about Baltimore with the disclaimer that you should forget pretty much everything HBO has taught you about Baltimore. It’s a great, friendly city with a strange but refreshing mix of Southern attitudes and blue-collar, Northern atmosphere. It’s compact, walkable and full of stellar places to enjoy a drink. These are the best—the top beer destinations in Baltimore, as ranked by the BeerFly users on BeerAdvocate.com.

Tourists are prone to flocking to the Inner Harbor, an area of town famous for its gorgeous baseball stadium, as well as for its overpriced hamburgers and flocks of tourists. If you’re in the area, by all means, swing by the Pratt Street Ale House, a fine brewpub serving up fresh pints of Oliver Ales. For a better view of the city, though, take a 20-minute walk down the street to Fells Point. The historic port neighborhood, which is full of brick warehouses and Federalist residences, serves much the same function now as it did 200 years ago. That is to say, it’s a fine place to buy and sell stuff, and afterward, to have a drink. Restaurants and boutiques line the cobblestone streets, and the place is packed with an inordinate number of fine pubs. Chief among them are Max’s Taphouse, home of Baltimore’s biggest beer selection; The Wharf Rat, the friendly, ancient-feeling home of Oliver’s; and John Steven, Ltd., a worthy party spot for parched pirates of all stripes.

Though the mid-Atlantic brewing scene tends to be dominated by a brewery on the Delaware coast, and though Baltimore’s signature beer is a label controlled by Pabst, Baltimore brewers boast a nice pedigree. They’re led by Hugh Sisson, godfather of Baltimore craft beer. Sisson ran Baltimore’s first beer bar, and then its first brewpub, before founding the Clipper City Brewing Company in 1994. These days, Clipper City’s output is tilted toward big, thoroughly modern ales.

The city also boasts two new brewing outfits: Stillwater Artisanal Ales, a Belgian-leaning line of beers from decorated local homebrewer Brian Strumke, and Bawlmer Craft Beers, a small outfit that just started cranking out American ales on a Peter Austin-designed open fermentation system that its founder plunked down in an old Highlandtown bottle cap factory. Both ventures are still in their infancy, so recipes and distribution points—not to mention visiting hours—remained up in the air at press time. It suffices to say that their launches, and the kind words they’ve received thus far in the local beer rags, can only bode well for the city’s drinking scene.

Clipper City Brewing Company
Baltimore’s longtime brewing icon now produces a line of brawling, flavor-forward, imperialized styles. There will be no mercy from this gang of beer pirates—just multiple refills.

Red Brick Station
Fresh beers served up in this brewpub the middle of a suburban strip mall. Generally, the bigger and darker the beers are here, the kinder they are on a beer geek’s palate.

DuClaw Brewing Company
DuClaw’s small brewing empire spans from Fells Point to the suburbs. Solid pub grub pairs well with Black Jack Imperial Stout and Venom American Pale Ale.

The Wharf Rat
A well-worn seaside shanty serving up traditional English-style ales. Look out for their Bitter and ESB—especially when they’re on cask.

Pratt Street Ale House
The most touristy of Baltimore’s breweries, thanks to its location in the shadow of the city’s harbor and convention center, and two stadiums. But what’s wrong with pumping tourists full of fine, freshly brewed English ales?

The Brewer’s Art
Baltimore’s best-trafficked brewpub marries Belgian-leaning house beers with an adventurous menu. Don’t miss Ozzy, their Belgian Pale, and Resurrection, a Dubbel.

Mahaffey’s Pub
Mahaffey’s is one of Baltimore’s warmest corner pubs. And with 19 taps, a hand pump and 100-odd quality bottles, it also has one of the city’s most formidable beer lineups.

Metropolitan Coffee House
The focus at the Metropolitan is on food and coffee and wine. Given their quietly stellar tap lineup, one wonders how great this place could be if they got halfway geeky about their beer.

John Steven, Ltd. [closed]
An ancient waterfront pub pairing super-fresh seafood with a dozen worthy taps. One BeerFly user credits John Steven with “superb service and a wonderful ambiance.” What’s not to like?

Ellicott Mills Brewing Company
Ellicott Mills serves finer meats, seafood and German fare in its upstairs dining room, and slings pints of European-leaning ales and lagers in a raucous drinking hall down below. Both incarnations deserve some attention.

Ale Mary’s
Close enough to Baltimore’s boldfaced drinking establishments, but off the path enough to be littered with locals, Ale Mary’s offers up a worthy bottled beer list and plenty of good company.

The Judge’s Bench
BeerFly users rave about this unassuming little place, where bartenders know their stuff, taps frequently rotate among adventurous selections and both the food and the company are always top-notch.

Victoria Gastro Pub
Victoria aims to strike a blow for great beer in the hinterlands between Baltimore and DC. The food, which is the nominal draw here, ranges from nice to out of sight (poutine and lobster grilled cheese fall into the latter category), while the beer list is the best you’ll find for miles around.

Max’s Taphouse
Baltimore’s most gigantic beer lineup features quality selections from nearby, as well as rarities from across the globe (at last check, several taps from Mikkeller and Le Trou De Diable). With over 100 taps and a couple hundred bottles, the only way to go wrong is by closing out your tab.

The Owl Bar
A former speakeasy in the Belvedere Hotel, the Owl is brimming with history. And booze.