Ironically, I don’t place much stock in beer lists. Besides the larger regional breweries, much of the best craft beer brewed today is only available in small pockets of the country. It’s typically only sold from the taproom of the same brewery where it was canned, and in limited quantities. So unless you’re chatting with a neighbor, there won’t be many similarities between the beer on your dining room table and the beer on dining room tables across the country.
Our readers are not our neighbors. So in order to produce a beer list worth your time, I’ve catalogued the beers I packed away in my beaten-to-death duffle and lugged to Baltimore, where my family convenes each year around this time.
My packing list is below; expect an east coast emphasis, with a few far flung gems thrown in, because I collect beer like my waistline collects inches.
Odell is one of those regional breweries that doesn’t disappoint. You might know them from their flagship, Shilling 90, but this year they decided to bottle their Friek in 12-ounce bottles, instead of bombers. It’s acidic and sour and perfect as an after dinner palate cleanser, or to cut through the fat in most meat dishes.
Style: Barrel-aged kriek lambic
ABV: 6.5 percent
Pairs with: Duck, rare steaks, and anything fatty
Rodenbach Vintage 2015
Anyone familiar with bourbon knows about the “honey barrels” — those barrels that, due to circumstance and a little luck, taste better than the rest. These are selected for single barrel releases. (Grab a bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel if you want to see what I mean.)
Rodenbach Vintage is this same concept applied to beer. The 2015 vintage, available for sale this year, is bottled from one of the “casks of the year” that housed 2-year-aged Grand Cru. Vintage will be similar in taste to Friek, but this one comes all the way from Belgium.
Style: Flanders red
ABV: 7 percent
Pairs with: Ties and button downs, lamb, and oil covered vegetables
Union Barrel-Aged Chessie
I’m from Baltimore, so Union Craft Brewing has a special spot in my heart, right next to crabs and telling people that “Yes, I’ve seen The Wire.” Hop heads might know Union for Double Duckpin, but they are far from a trend chasing brewery.
Chessie is their barleywine, named for the machines that clean the Chesapeake Bay. It’s big with vanilla, oak, raisins, and booze. This should be popped for dessert, and drunk slowly. Also see: Old Ruffian Barley Wine from Great Divide or Brewer’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Barleywine from Central Waters if you’re looking for great regionally distributed barleywines.
Style: Barrel-aged barleywine
ABV: 9.8 percent
Pairs with: Dessert, flannels, and hangovers
Trillium Secret Stairs
I say Trillium, you say hops. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the DIPA hype machine — everything else gets the volume turned down. Secret Stairs is a “Boston stout,” which I took to mean trending closely to Guinness — a favorite of Boston’s Irish drinkers — in its dry drinkability. Don’t sleep on Trillium’s non-hoppy offerings.
Style: Dry stout
ABV: 6.5 percent
Pairs with: Grilled veggies, chocolate, and drinking songs
I could have also packed a Saison Dupont or Creature Comforts’ new Table Beer. The idea behind this selection was to bring a beer that’s meant to be consumed in quantity, and paired with a good meal. Saisons and farmhouse ales focus on the nuanced flavors that come from yeast, and while they might be funky to some, they won’t overpower a meal.
Style: Belgian-style saison
ABV: 6.8 percent
Pairs with: Shellfish, light meats, and sophistication
District 96 Amerikanisch
It’s a shame that I went into District 96 knowing what to expect. I’m jealous of the unassuming patron who plops down at the BURGER loft, which adjoins John Potenza’s latest Hudson Valley creation, unaware that they’re about to order off of one of the best beer lists in the region. As is usually the case, their hop-forward beers — M.O.A.B. comes to mind — are the most coveted, but don’t neglect their clean and easy-drinking kölsch.
ABV: 4.8 percent
Pairs with: Breaking the ice, bread-based appetizers, and lightweights