Ale House in Columbia

The new Ale House in Columbia. Picture linked from the Pratt Street Ale House blog.

If you haven’t heard, there is a new pub opening in Columbia in the next week – the Ale House in Columbia. It is brought to you by the same fine folks at the Pratt Street Ale House in downtown¬†Baltimore. Like the location in Baltimore, the Ale House in Columbia will carry a full range of Oliver Ales, which are some of my very favorite. They tend to combine the lovely maltiness and smoothness of a nice English Bitter with the hops and forward tastes that have come to characterize American brewing. The new pub will also carry great guest beers as well.

According to their blog, the soft opening is tonight, the public opening is on Tuesday the 11th, and the Grand Opening is this coming Friday the 14th. Here is a great blog post from Pratt Street Ale House that talks about the new pub’s lineup and equipment. See you there!

Frisco Taphouse to Brew Beer

Great news. Baltimore Beer Guy says that Frisco Taphouse is finally going to start brewing its own beer. They already arguably have the best beer selection in the area, and this will only make it better. Can’t wait.

The Oxford Companion to Beer

My thoughtful wife got me this beery tome for Christmas this year. Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery edited the book, but it includes input from over 165 beer experts from around the globe. If you like beer, history, are into home-brewing, or just like learning, this is book is for you. It covers topics from specific brewers and their histories, beer styles, and beer history to ingredients, fermentation details, and technical brewing descriptions and everything in between. I’ve enjoyed just picking a topic at random and learning – it’s like an entire instance of Wikipedia dedicated to beer!

Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout by Flying Dog

Not only am I a beer geek, but I’m also a bit of a coffee fan (go figure). So, when I got my hands on this beer, I was anticipating something nice. But what I got was totally unexpected! The Flying Dog Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout is brewed with locally roasted coffee from Black Dog Coffee Company in Summit Point, WV. I’ve had several “coffee stouts” in the past, but none with the authentic coffee flavor imbued by this brew.

So far, I’ve had this gem in two different forms: 12oz bottle and on Nitro tap at Frisco Taphouse in Columbia.

The bottled version was fantastic – I’m not used to such a smooth, delightful beer coming in a bottle. The coffee was ever present in each sip, and the stout side of the beer added just the right balance to the java.

The version on Nitro at Frisco was decadent. The pour was thickly perfect as with many nitro-tapped beers – any slight (and I mean slight) hint of harsh carbonation present in the bottled version was completely nonexistent here. One of the smoothest beers I’ve had, it almost had a sweetness like you would expect from a really excellent espresso.

From Flying Dog’s site: “Is that coffee he smells on your breath? Or fear?”

Great Divide Oak Aged Yeti

Mrs. BWFD and I went to Victoria Gastro Pub the other night for a quick bite, and while I was there I tried the Oak Aged Yeti from Great Divide Brewing Co. What a beer! At 9.5% ABV, it’s certainly not a guzzler, but it has all the characteristics that make a good stout – smooth, dark, thick head, rich smell, and a lovely oaked flavor.¬† There was more than a hint of chocolate in this beer – I would almost qualify it as a dessert beer. However, it was still quite drinkable. One of the best stouts I’ve had this year.


Birch and Barley

My wife and I went out to celebrate our anniversary not too long ago, and we decided to check out a restaurant in DC called Birch and Barley for a couple of reasons. First of all, they are affiliated (and co-located) with the Church Key, a top notch beer establishment. When the Church Key first opened a couple years ago, I stopped by to check it out and have a beer with a friend, and I was blown away by the beer selection which includes 50 draught beers and 5 cask conditioned ales. Greg Engert is the beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which includes Birch and Barley and Church Key, and I think he does a phenomenal job.

Which brings me to reason number two: Rustico – a restaurant that is also part of the same group, which we had the privilege of eating at about a month ago. It was hands-down one of the best restaurant experiences I’ve ever had. The food was great, the beer was outstanding, and the service was top notch. (Next time I go back, I’ll write up a review). So, since I was impressed by Church Key and enthralled by Rustico, I figured Birch and Barley would be a good bet….and I was right.

The restaurant is located on 14th St. in DC near Logan Circle; it’s not super close to any metro stops, so I would recommend hopping a cab if the weather isn’t nice. I made reservations almost a month out, and the time slots had already started to fill up. It’s not a large restaurant – if I had to guess, they only have about 20 tables and a small bar area (the main bar area being upstairs at Church Key). My only complaint from the evening was that something about the acoustics of the dining room made it seem very loud to us. It’s a small enough place that you wouldn’t expect it, but we had a harder time talking that I would have preferred.

While we were looking over the menus, our waiter brought out probably the best bread board I’ve ever had. Ours had three types of bread: a whole-grain variety, rolls (sourdough maybe), and warm pretzel bread. We also started off with some Shrimp and Chorizo Flatbread, which was spicy, warm, and a nice way to whet our appetites.

While my wife and I opted to order from the a la carte menu, the table also has the option of ordering a full dinner offering from the Tasting Menu. It’s a fixed menu going from appetizer to dessert, giving patrons the chance to taste several dishes along the way. For an extra $25, they will also pair beer with each course. Not knowing this option was available, we hadn’t adequately prepared (i.e. we ate lunch), so we just split an appetizer and ordered entrees.

We both wound up ordering the Grilled Wagyu Skirt Steak, and then we split a side of the Truffled Herbed Mac & Cheese. I found the steak to be perfectly cooked (medium) with loads of flavor and juices. The Mac & Cheese was creamy and rich, which paired quite nicely with the steak. This was my first time every having Wagyu steak, but hopefully it won’t be the last.

Throughout the meal, I partook in the small 4oz pours of various beers from the Church Key draught list – they offer larger glasses, but I wanted to try more variety. They beers were extraordinary and included some hard-to-find brews from both local and imported breweries.

For dessert, we decided to split a sampler platter of House-Made Cookies and Confections. On the reservation, I had indicated that it was our anniversary, so our waiter surprised us with an extra dessert and beer pairing. I have to say his choice was better than ours. He brought out a slice of the Maple Mousse which has pumpkin ice cream, glazed cranberries, and pumpkin paper; he paired it perfectly with a Belgian beer, Scaldis Noel. The combination was amazing and even my wife who doesn’t love beer the way I do couldn’t believe how good the two went together.

So, in the end, Birch and Barley lived up to my expectations and has put the Neighborhood Restaurant Group at the top of my list when I want a fantastic meal paired with the remarkable beer.  We will definitely jump at the chance to go back to Birch and Barley, Rustico, or Church Key as soon as we can.