Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bier Baron, Washington DC

On Monday night we visited the Bier Baron in Washington DC, which is a homely cellar bar beneath the Baron Hotel (on 22nd NW between P & Q). It's a nice, grungy, English-style pub, with lots of niches and corners to make it feel more private—although it's a pretty large venue—wooden chairs and age scarred tables, uneven floor and mismatched chairs. In some ways it's more like a club, with id checked at the door and regular music and other events (there's a burleque night lined up next month, which I think I'm more glad than sorry to be missing), but on a regular night it's pleasant, not too noisy, with good service and, most importantly, hundred of bottled beers on offer. (A small selection of draft ales too, as usual I think all from keg.)

We only stayed a couple hours on this visit—it was a friend's birthday and at the high point there were five of us present at once—but I suspect that the DC locals (and probably some of the out-of-towners) will be going there again, perhaps even regularly. I wasn't planning to be a beer geek, but there were so many interesting beers on offer that I just couldn't resist taking a few notes. Here's what I can decipher...

We started the evening with a Stone DDH IPA (in honour of the "DDH" at King's where some of us used to work and some of us still do!): This Double Dropped Hop beer is bright and clear to look at, with a lovely hit of citrus and very intense bitterness early on; the smooth and deep hoppy brew is enhanced by some hops that hasn't mellowed at all, as is usual with this style. There's lime or green-grapefruit zest in the mouth, easy to swallow but then leaving a brutal aftertaste, like chewing on an orange pit and wincing at the bitter kernel spitting into your mouth. This is not really a session ale, but I could certainly drink two or three pints of this were I inclined, and I'll remember the name and try it again if ever I see it.

Having recently learned that Grand Rapids MI is the best city in the USA for beer brewing (the last two years running!) I just had to try two of the three Founders beers on offer (I don't know why I didn't get to the porter they had on; probably the night just ran out on me).
  • The first of these I had was the Dirty Bastard, a so-called "Scottish ale" (a style which I'm starting to realize is all American and has little or nothing to do with actual Scottish brewing habits... certainly nothing with that label has ever lived up to what Caledonian or Inveralmond, much less Cairngorm or Orkney can do on even an average night). This red-brown ale had no appreciable head but smelt strongly of sweet, malty bread, and tasted a little like Ovaltine; it was tangy, a little too sweet, and quite musty, more malt-loaf than chocolate, I think, but a bit of a nonentity back in the mouth—a little bit sickly, but not perceptibly bitter. To be fair there is a little lingering pithy hop, but that's overwhelmed by the malty, cloying blandness. It really didn't work for me.
  • I did rather better with the Centennial IPA, a chirpy amber IPA with a good head and sparkly aroma reminiscent of chewy fruit sweets (maybe that sounds a bit artificial, but it's more the intensity I'm trying to get across). The first taste is of tart orange, with both zest and pith in there, and a slightly sweetened, poppy main flavour, but it's much less intense in the swallow, a bit more watery sweetness drowning the aftertaste. It's certainly a suppable beer, but the disappointing finish meant I wasn't interested enough to keep drinking it all night. (By the end of the pint I was a bit more impressed than the rest of this review suggests, as the sweet bitterness was lingering a bit more by then. It's not a bad ale by any means.)

We also tried the charmingly named Onnegang Hennepin, an archetypal Belgian blonde with that powdery, dusty wheat and hop aroma, fresh and crisp, gently sweet leading to a dry, well-rounded finish, but not much lingering aftertaste at all. Also the Laughing Dog Rocket Dog, a very dark orange-brown ale with just a skin of foam and a creamy, peppery aroma, malty on the tip of the tongue without being sweet. It's tangy and hoppy in the mouth, with pine and fruit; a bit yeasty on the swallow, then lingering real-lemonade bitterness. Rocket Dog didn't really have a coarse enough aftertaste to be memorable or interesting, but it was perfectly pleasant.

That's five down. Couple hundred and 95 to go. I'd like to try this pub again.

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