Tipping ‘em back and taking notes on the Maryland craft-beverage beat
Two Beers, One Glass
By Brennen Jensen
Mixed drinks at a brewery taproom? No, I’m not talking Harvey Wallbangers or fuzzy navels. I’m referring to beer-on-beer action. I was at Waverly Brewing (my local) recently and overheard a woman ask for a fifty-fifty mix of golden sombrero (their golden ale, named as a sad nod to Chris Davis?) and a pineapple sour. “I find sours too strong for me, so this cuts it down,” she said when questioned about the order. Pretty clever, really. I also find many sours and goses too puckery to drink by the pint. But a hint of tart? A tease of fruit? That could work. And Waverly beertender Charlie later confirmed that such half-sour requests are not uncommon.
We’re all familiar with one classic mixed-mug–the Guinness and Bass Ale (or Harp Lager) combo called a black & tan. (Not to be ordered by this name in Ireland; Google it for a bit of a history lesson). Beer “blending” has long been employed when creating certain Belgian sours, and livening up a tired cask with something bubblier out of a bottle was once common practice at British pubs. To see where beer mixing stands in the craft age, I headed to Union Craft Brewing (my other local), where jovial taproom manager J Mooy told me he’s all for it. One popular combo–Double Pants—is half Double Duckpin and half Snow Pants oatmeal stout. Another is his namesake take on popular cafe drink, the Mooychiato, mixing coffee flavored AM Gold with Snow Pants “Beer is such an open, fun beverage why wouldn’t you mess with it?,” J said.
The Pub Dog chain of pizza and beer outlets (the house beers are brewed at their Westminster brewery) would have to agree. They have a whole menu of Mixed Breeds representing combos of their dog-named beers. I called in at their Federal Hill branch and Rachael behind the bar said the Dirty Dog (a mix of light and dark English-style ales) and the Reservoir Dog, a stout on top of a hoppy IPA where the most popular.
To see what was pouring together beyond my hometown, I tapped into my limitless expense account and ordered up a limo through Uber Black for a chauffeured journey across the state. (Uh, make that I hit up a bunch of breweries through Facebook messenger). The popularity of mixing beer is somewhat mixed. Upper Marlboro’s Calvert Brewing was perhaps the least enthusiastic about the concept, replying that they “never encourage it.”
“Our brewers work to craft a beer with certain flavor profiles, aromas, and physical attributes so mixing it just messes up their art,” they added. “Now, if a beer is made to mix–have at it! We haven’t done that at this point though.”
Are made-to-mix beers a thing? Yes, they are. And Cambridge’s RAR Brewing made two in collaboration with Delaware’s Dewey Beer Company. “We wanted the blended product to taste like an orange crush,” they responded. “We did a heavily fruited sour with tangerines, and a citrus hopped pale ale. The outcome may be the best beer we’ve ever produced, and its driven people to blend other combos in our taproom. Our staff promotes it and our brewers enjoy it. At the end of the day they’re both products we produced, so why fight what tastes good.”
You can also put Frederick’s Flying Dog in the mix-it-up camp. “We are not one of those breweries that believes our beers should always stand alone,” wrote communications director Erin West. “Our most popular one is True Blood, a half-and-half blend of The Truth Imperial IPA and Bloodline Blood Orange Ale.”
But for some, beer mixes warrant a rousing “meh.” Requests for beer combos are “rare” at the Brookville Beer Farm in Montgomery County, though they will “gladly oblige” any customer seeking one. AleCraft Brewery in Bel Air said it wasn’t much of a thing out their way either. “We have blended our house pale ale and IPA before with a good outcome, but that was a onetime thing that we don’t plan on doing regularly,” they added.
What are your thoughts on mixing beers? Any combos you enjoy? Is it just a fun way to tweak flavor profiles, or a “sin” damning folks to “Beer Hell,” as a crotchety bartender in Oregon put it in an online screed?
Brennen Jensen has been imbibing (and scribing about) craft beer since it was called “microbrew” and you could count the state’s beermakers on one hand. He’s likewise been out in front of craft-distilling’s emergence. (Maryland rye is back!) A former senior writer at the late-lamented City Paper he has done drinks writing for Garden & Gun and The Local Palate. Is he an expert? Heavens, no. More like an experienced enthusiast who knows enough to know there’s so much more to know. (Or something like that.) Does he have opinions? He’s for ESBs, rauchbiers, cask ale, 53-gallon barrels, whiskey without ice, gin martinis, lower ABVs, and fewer breakfast cereal beers. What’s not up for debate is how many good friends he’s made in tasting rooms, and how the men and women who make and serve Maryland craft beverages are some of the nicest folks around. Brennen’s glass does runneth over.