Earlier this summer, one of those top 10 lists hit social media, this one an article from Zymurgy Magazine, the official publication of the American Homebrewer’s Association. In it, Pliny the Elder was no longer considered the country’s top beer. The magazine’s readers named Bell’s Two Hearted Ale the country’s top beer.
On the face of it, it’s a silly exercise. It’s admirable that they put the question to the public, but it’s interesting to note (if you go and look at the original article) that the majority of the brews that are in the top 10 list are beers that are in fairly wide distribution.
With this list fresh in mind, I decided I wanted to figure out what are the top beers made in Maryland.
I asked the people in the industry to list three, in order of preference. Then I assigned a point value to each ranking.
I received responses from about a quarter of the state’s breweries, with answers from brewers, assistant brewers, founders and salespeople. The answers were educational. Maryland brewers, when not drinking their own beer, but still reaching for something from the Old Line State, reach for any one of 21 styles.
The single most popular style among our state’s brewing industry appears to be American Pale Ale, followed by IPA, and then Berliner Weisse.
The most represented brewery on the list is Burley Oak, with Union next.
As for the brews, the top beers, based on what those in the brewing industry drink:
1. Burley Oak Sorry Chicky Berliner Weisse
2. RaR Nanticoke Nectar IPA
4. Union Blackwing Schwarzbier/black lager
5. Heavy Seas Crossbones Session IPA
6. Four beers tied — EVO Lot 6 DIPA, Flying Dog Easy (Session) IPA, Manor Hill Grisette, Union Old Pro Gose
10. 12 beers tied for 10th place: Attaboy Golden Fields Saison, Burley Oak JREAM American Wild Ale, Diamondback Green Machine NEIPA, Jailbreak Poor Righteous IPA, Jailbreak Welcome to Scoville IPA, Jailbreak White Russian Cream Ale, Manor Hill Pilsner, Milkhouse Red Eye Porter, Monocacy Brewtus, Monocacy Riot Rye, Peabody Heights Thirstay APA, RaR Pulpsicle IPA.
Even if the sub-styles of IPA are all lumped together as one, there are 10 distinct styles represented in this top 10 list, and 19 were represented in the answers of the respondents.
As for the brews themselves, Burley Oak’s Sorry Chicky, topped the list. The tart Berliner Weisse is one of the favorites of Alex Galbreath, the co-founder of Falling Branch Brewery in Street. Galbreath cites the beer’s uniqueness in the marketplace and added, “great sour with an incredible aroma.”
Several of the respondents cited the complex flavors of certain brews, and many dwelled on the concept of balance in their beers. Michael Borum, director of marketing at Red Shedman in Mount Airy, waxed poetic about the flavors in his favorite. “I find myself reaching for Union’s Blackwing Black Lager, a full-bodied rich flavored lager with roasted malt, coffee and a small bit of chocolate. Smooth and not too heavy.”
Down in Silver Spring, Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewing broke it down in detail. “If I am in the mood for something hop forward, I always grab a RaR Nanticoke Nectar. It is exactly what I like in an IPA: big aroma up front, malt sweetness in the middle, and a slight hop bitterness to wash it away. It is super balanced and delicious. If I want to drink all day, I am grabbing the Grisette by Manor Hill. It is such an easy drinking beer and being low ABV [alcohol by volume], it isn’t going to get you tanked after a couple.”
Eric Christensen, founder/brewer at recently opened Gypsy Brewing in Huntingtown puts heavy stress on balance. “When I am not drinking my own beer, I am drinking Flying Dog’s Easy IPA or Heavy Seas Crossbones Session IPA. I have not put out an IPA just yet, but that time will come. In the meantime, I am not a fan of big, overblown IPAs, so the Session IPAs are a great go-to beer. The citrus and pine notes are well balanced and add layers of flavor … . I can also have more than one or two … . If I am in a dark-beer mood, Mully’s makes a nice Hazelnut Coffee Stout. Another well-balanced beer. It is not about slapping customers in the face with the latest trend; it’s about balanced, flavorful beers.”
At the recently opened Hysteria Brewing in Columbia, assistant brewer Zachary Michel raved about Union’s Duckpin. “I love Duckpin, it’s low ABV, super hoppy, and a lot of fun to drink,” he said.
Until next month, be well and drink good beer.