You can’t talk about food in Baltimore without talking about the city’s booming beer scene. There are small mom-and-pop breweries concocting beers from foraged berries, there’s a brewer who calls Baltimore his home but travels the world brewing, there are people experimenting with aging beers in wood varieties, there’s a sour beer brewed with salt and coriander, there are devil beers and abbey ales coming out of a dark Belgian brewpub’s basement. Whatever you’re into, chances are, Baltimore’s brewing community has you covered.
You can’t talk Baltimore beer without starting with Heavy Seas. Founder Hugh Sisson started brewing out of his brewpub Sisson’s in 1989 (Maryland’s first, which has since closed) and in 1994 he opened Clipper City Brewing, which later was renamed Heavy Seas and has expanded exponentially ever since. It’s hard to find a bar in the city without a tap of its flagship (puns!) beer Loose Cannon—a crisp, citrusy IPA that’s as quaffable as it is sturdy. But dig deeper and you’ll find it is one of the few breweries experimenting with infusing beer with exotic wood flavors in its Plank series. Heavy Seas has also recently expanded its tap room, which is worth a quick 20-minute drive to sample some of its more rare stuff and cask options. But if that’s too far, just pop over to the Heavy Seas Alehouse near Little Italy (see page 72) and grab a pint of its super-drinkable Cross Bones session IPA.
Oliver Brewing Co. wasn’t far behind Sisson’s, opening The Wharf Rat brewpub (now Pratt Street Ale House, see page 41) downtown in 1993, where the company focuses on brewing English-style ales. You can still get its beers at the Alehouse but Oliver Brewing recently moved its brewing operation into a much larger space just off Clifton Park, which means more beer. It also means a taproom that’s open Saturday afternoons, where we recommend you grab a pint of Oliver’s Draft Punk, a malty British take on an American IPA that’s our go-to beer before and after Orioles games.
Another of Baltimore’s brewing trailblazers is The Brewer’s Art (see page 79), which opened its Belgian-inspired brewpub in 1996 and has been brewing some of the city’s best beer for two decades now. Esquire magazine even named it Best Bar in 2008, and for good reason. Take a trip to historic Mount Vernon and descend into Brewer’s catacomb-esque subterranean bar. Equal parts dark, sexy, and (eventually) blurry, grab a stool and start guzzling chalices full of its city-famous Beazly and Resurrection beers (“devil-beer” and Abbey in style), order a plate of its famous rosemary garlic fries, and hang on for the ride. If you’re not feeling like going down that rabbit hole, you can go upstairs, where the brighter Victorian-style bar (grandiose chandelier and all) acts as the nicer Jekyll to downstairs’ Hyde.
Fifteen years after that first wave of brewing came a second wave—led by Union Craft Brewing (1700 Union Ave.,  467-0290, unioncraftbrewing.com)—which has no signs of reaching its high-water mark anytime soon. Taking up shop in a refurbished warehouse in Woodberry, Union was the first non-brewpub brewery to open in Baltimore City proper in 30 years. And it didn’t waste any time proving its worth, taking home gold from the Great American Beer Festival (the most highly regarded beer competition in the country) for its Balt Alt in 2012, its very first year. Union has since expanded its selection into a full-blown list that includes Old Pro Gose—a tart summer seasonal with hints of salt and coriander—and Schmoke, a crisp rauchbier lager with just a hint of smoke with each sip (rauchbier translates to smoked beer in German). But don’t sleep on its year-round offerings like the Duckpin pale ale and Anthem golden ale, available at most bars or at one of the many festivals they have at the brewery. You can also head to its taproom (replete with growler chandelier and outdoor beer garden seating) and either grab a sampler flight or a couple pints of Union’s casked offerings, which are essentially its normal beers that are then kegged with special ingredients such as cocoa nibs or grapefruit zest for experimentation.
Around the same time, Peabody Heights Brewery (401 E. 30th St.,  467-7837, peabodyheightsbrewery.com) was creating a new concept over in Abell. As a way to help smaller up-and-coming brewers get up and running, Peabody created a co-op brewery where all of the equipment is shared among the in-house, independently owned brewers, the number of which have grown steadily. Old Oriole Park Beer, Baltimore Brewing Company, and Public Works are owned by Peabody itself, while Full Tilt, Fin City, Antietam Brewery, Raven Beer, and Monument City Brewing Company are all independently brewed out of the facility.
Because of this, the taproom, which sits near where third base would have been at Old Oriole Park, has the unique ability to serve beers from numerous brands. We recommend flipping between Monument City’s citra dry-hopped 51 Rye and Old Oriole Park—which won 2015’s Best in Show for the Maryland Comptroller’s Cup, the most recognized beer competition for Maryland breweries—as you enjoy a couple of games of corn hole and an Orioles history lesson by Peabody Heights president Richard O’Keefe.
Another unique brewing venture in Charm City is Stillwater Artisanal. Lead by brewing nomad Brian Strumke, Stillwater brews his suds at well-known breweries throughout the country and world, specializing in some of the best Belgian-inspired beers we’ve ever tasted, Baltimore or otherwise. And while Strumke doesn’t have an actual brewery in Baltimore, Stillwater’s headquarters is Of Love & Regret (see page 23), a pub/restaurant he started in, appropriately, Brewers Hill. Grab a seat at its gorgeous wood-accented bar, start with a citrusy Cellar Door or Stateside Saison (the brews that put him on the map), and then let the staff lead you on a journey through Strumke’s artistic take on what beer can be.
If those weren’t enough, in the past year alone we’ve seen Waverly Brewing Co., Key Brewing Co., and Brew House No. 16 open their doors. Waverly (1625 Union Ave.,  438-5765, waverlybrewingcompany.com) sits just a hop (get it?) away from Union in Woodberry, where it has created a fully realized bar for its taproom. It’s the perfect place to throw down some Golden Sombreros—a low-ABV blonde ale brewed with agave nectar—and enjoy some grub from the food trucks and local chefs that rotate through. Co-owner John Marsh said the brewery has plans to start collaborating with local homebrew clubs on experimental batches.
If you want killer food while exploring the newest breweries then check out Brew House No. 16 (see page 77), where they’ve built a brewpub inside an old firehouse, fire poles and all. The chef is top-notch, but the beer’s just as good. We recently enjoyed an IPA brewed with locally foraged pawpaw fruit, but brewer Ian Hummel is constantly keeping things fresh, so grab a seat at the bar and know that what you’re drinking likely just came out of the fermenters right behind you.
And rounding it out, there’s newcomer Key Brewing Company (2500 Grays Road, Dundalk,  477-2337, keybrewing.com). Located in Dundalk, a neighborhood co-owner Spike Owen told us they’re extremely proud to call home, Key has started with four extremely drinkable beers with its Rye Porter taking the cake. There are plans for a taproom—pool tables and all—this spring, but until then you can find Key’s taps at local bars, nestled among the rest of Baltimore’s burgeoning brewing scene, a scene that’s quickly getting recognition as one of the best in the country.