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Beyond The Pale (Ale): Best Local Beer Bars

(Credit: KClinger's Tavern)(Credit: KClinger's Tavern)

As is the case with many holidays the original intent of St. Patrick’s Day has probably been lost to us in the celebration of beer drinking that it has become.  I’ll not enter the fray on that topic; however, I will posit the need for a celebration of the art of beer that has nothing to do with drunkenness or loosened inhibitions.  Beer is a remarkably old thing and its brewing and appreciation both esoteric and nuanced.  However, in seeking to celebrate this, the over-21 student crowd will be forced to reckon with a glaring Carroll county problem:  the lack of quality beer bars in the immediate area.  Not to fear.  As we did with Valentine’s Day, and at Christmas, The-Quill is here to help you with your holiday by providing you with a plethora of local bars where you can celebrate St. Patrick’s Day surrounded by craft beers, decent food, and people who enjoy both:  but only if you’re going to do it responsibly.

 

KClinger’s Tavern

(Credit:  KClinger's Tavern)

(Credit: KClinger's Tavern)

KClinger’s takes an altogether traditional approach to the beer bar:  variety and lots of it.  This comes in the form of 41 constantly rotating taps and an enormous bottle selection.  They have a penchant for barleywines here that underscores their dedication and they currently have a lambic.  On tap.  Call me sheltered, but I’ve never heard of that anywhere – let alone in Hanover, PA.

One of the best features of KClinger’s is that their beer list carefully documents where each beer comes from and what type of beer it is.  These things matter:  the difference between an American Light Lager and a Euro Strong Lager can be a difference of over 8% alcohol by volume.  More to the point, an American Light Lager is meant to have very specific characteristics and to be brewed in a certain way.  The knowledge of these things can help you to appreciate what the particular brewmaster has done in their creation.  The location helps in this, too.  Are there regional notes in here?  Does this taste suggest something of what it’s like to live in this area?  Does it honor the traditions of brewing in this place?  Knowing that a painting is Dutch suggests a great many things about it – the same goes for knowing that a beer is Belgian.  KClinger’s understands that.

The bar is very likely to be crowded when you go, especially when there’s a band, as there often is.  Musicians here are up close and loud, even away from the stage, so be prepared to speak up to your bartender.  They post their events list on their website well in advance, so it’s easy to make plans:  for their “St. Patrick’s Day frolic” the Beaver Street Band, a “hard hitting, soul-soaked groove outfit” will be playing.

The food selection is good with plenty of fried and comfort foods available, including chili over pasta (with vegetarian chili available!).  Chili?  Pasta?  Nothing to complain about there; however, execution could be somewhat better in general.  This is clearly a beer bar first and a restaurant second.

If you really like the place, join their beer club.  While this feature isn’t unique to KClinger’s, they’ve taken it to an extreme.  Try 1,000 different beers there and you’ll get a mug that magically subtracts money from your bill each time you fill it.

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Name: KClinger’s Tavern

Location: Hanover, PA

Distance from Campus: 21.6mi

Website: http://www.kclingers.com

What You Should Try There: KClinger’s own Brown Ale (Brewed by Otto’s in State College, PA).
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The Phoenix Emporium

(Credit:  The Phoenix Emporium)

(Credit: The Phoenix Emporium)

Should there be a St. Patrick’s Day rush to get to The Phoenix Emporium?  Probably not.  If you miss that day, there are still 364 days available to you.  This place doesn’t close down at all – not even on Christmas – and because of their location they’re able to stay open until 2AM.  They serve food until 1AM.  (And it’s actually, like, food.  Brie en Croute?  At 1AM?  Yes, please.)  They have over 160 beers available and are very willing to mix on request.  Probably the only thing really wrong with Phoenix is that it’s nearly 30 miles away and the parking is horrible.  But, if you’re willing to endure the drive, you will also be greeted by beautiful downtown Ellicott City and the feeling of national pride that only a well preserved historic district can engender – plus, you’ll be in the vicinity of some other great bars, too.  A unique feature on this list.

The first mixed beer I ever had was here:  a Lindemann’s raspberry lambic mixed with Young’s Double Chocolate Stout.  A friend ordered it and reported that the pouring process was intense – a remarkably slow event centered around a spoon, a glass, and two bottles, designed to maintain as much carbonation as possible.  The end result was scrumptious, masking the cloying sweetness of the lambic with the full and complex flavor of the stout, creating a taste not unlike… well, raspberry flavored chocolate.  This creation has some benefits:  I would never order a Young’s Double Chocolate Stout while Lancaster’s Milk Stout exists in the world, but I nevertheless enjoy it.  Conversely, once I’ve consumed a lambic my tastebuds are done for the night – everything else is going to taste like an over-hopped Flying Dog Ale.  Together, though, you’ve got a tasty-if-expensive session beer.  And because the combination of two beers creates an offspring that is too large for a single glass, your bartender will happily store away the remainder for you.

Also of note, the above mixing story happened on a night when it took substantial planning to even get to the bar.  The mixing took a reported five minutes.  The logistics of this boggle the mind.  In five minutes the bartender could have poured or opened many, many beers.  Yet they were happy to stop what they were doing to whip up this blend.  That’s a level of service that has died out in the world but The Phoenix Emporium is paying fine homage to it.  I suggest you reward them for it – if not on St. Patrick’s day, then some other day.

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Name: The Phoenix Emporium

Location: Ellicott City, MD

Distance from Campus: 27.4mi

Website: http://ellicottcity.net/restaurants/historic_ellicott_city/phoenix_emporium/

What You Should Try There: If it’s not the aforementioned blend, then it’s The Brewer’s Art Green Peppercorn Tripel
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Greenmount Station – Best Choice

(Credit:  Greenmount Station)

(Credit: Greenmount Station)

Located just 8.4 miles from the Carroll Community College campus, Greenmount Station is a great choice for locals.  It may not have the largest beer selection on this list, but with 130 claimed labels it’s certainly no slouch.  Of these most are bottles, running the gambit from American lagers to barleywines, local to Asian with large swathes of Europe accounted for as well.  Some beers are permanent and others come and go, so there’s always something new to augment that old favorite that might be . . . getting old.

If you’re a craft beer drinker, or just want to expand your drinking horizons, consider joining their International Beer Club.  Drink 75 different beers (there’s no timetable – they encourage you to take your time and enjoy) and you’ll get a free dinner along with your name on the Beer Club wall.  Yearning for more?  Do it again and they’ll mark your name with a star.  The current record holder has 5 stars by their name:  that’s 450 beers and the mark of a place that’s entirely returnable to.  Like any good beer bar, the servers won’t blink an eye if you ask for a clean glass after every bottle and are perfectly fine with you moseying up to the beer case and pondering your choice at length.  The bartenders know both their stock and what it tastes like, and like every staff member at Greenmount Station they’ll come to know your name and tastes over time, so follow their suggestions.  They won’t steer you wrong.

Importantly, though, this isn’t just a beer bar.  You can have a Dogfish Head Burton Baton while your date enjoys a raspberry vodka and cran or their awesome chocolate martini – and no one will judge you for it.  The International Beer Club case sits unassumingly in the corner of the bar, and if you’ve come to sip on a diet soda and play trivia all night long you’ll never know it’s there.

Greenmount is clearly the best food of the bunch – with an extensive menu including some vegetarian options and an array of choices from burgers to pasta – and the kitchen is open late.  While this isn’t quite in line with the gourmet gastro-pub scene (and I’m not sure how such an establishment would do in Hampstead), it’s not just pub food either.  Greenmount is well known for its crabcakes – they ship them nationwide – but if their caesar salad isn’t the best in the area, I’m not sure where you’re eating.

The combination of location, atmosphere, food, and decent beer selection make Greenmount Station the place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year.

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Name: Greenmount Station

Location: Hampstead, MD

Distance from Campus: 8.4mi

Website: http://www.greenmountstation.com/

What You Should Try There: Flying Dog Ale’s Garde Dog
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2 Comments on "Beyond The Pale (Ale): Best Local Beer Bars"

  1. Michelle Parke | March 13, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply

    As a craft beer geek, I feel compelled (that’s right…compelled) to add to this great list. Nicely done, Sean and fellow contributors. I’ve never been to Greenmount Station but want to go after reading this article.

    Judge’s Bench in Ellicott City is my favorite. It has a Cheers feel to it, and Mike, the owner, is a fan of hoppy beers, so you can expect to always see beers like Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, Firestone Walker Double Jack, or Southern Tier 2XIPA on tap. The bar is rather small but is friendly. They have live music, a small food menu, and a mug club. They are also great about updating their tap list on their website (judgesbenchpub.com).

    Max’s in Fells Point. This bar has been voted one of the best beer bars in the country. They have over 100 taps, ranging from local brews to hard-to-find international beers. They also have regular pint nights, host big beer events (last month they had their annual Belgian Beer Fest), and are a key participant in Baltimore’s Beer Week and American Craft Beer Week. They have a food menu, too.

    Some other places that I enjoy/frequent when I can: Frisco’s in Columbia (over 50 taps, great place to watch sports), Alonso’s in Roland Park (taps in both bars, $2 craft beer cans on Thursday nights along with trivia), and Victoria Gastropub in Columbia (pint nights, beer club, & beer dinners).

  2. Siobhan Wright | April 1, 2014 at 11:32 pm | Reply

    It’s a great time to be alive in America if you’re a beer connoisseur–and there are so many great breweries in the region because former Jimmy Carter abolished one law, which made it legal to be a home brewer in the 1970s. So many of the craft brewers started out with mail order kits 30 years ago or so. Amazing–one law.

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