For the first time ever, RavenBeer is coming to a Shore Craft Beer Festival. On Feb. 23, the Baltimore-based brewery will be bringing with them an oyster stout and one of the world’s few dark Kölsch beers to Shore Craft Beer Fest: Love on Tap at Seacrets, making them the first brewery located west of the Chesapeake Bay to attend the four-year-old annual beer fest.
Brewed in the honor of Edgar Allan Poe, RavenBeer’s traditionally German brews are imbued with a unique Gothic flair. They’ve been awarded distinctions in Case Box Design and Tap Handle Creativity by Tastings.com and were named one of the U.S.’ Top 23 Craft Beer Tap Handles by Thrillist in 2013.
Known throughout the U.S. — especially but not exclusively to 19th century-literature lovers — for its Baltimore-centric Poe theme, RavenBeer actually got its start in Germany in 1997, hence the brewery’s proclivity to producing mostly German-style beers like pilsners, lagers and Kölschs.
“We started making The Raven in Germany because we wanted to market something with an American theme,” the brewery’s founder Stephen Demczuk said. “I found out that everyone knows Poe in Europe. We’ve expanded to eight or nine brands now, all based on Poe.”
All of the beers in the Poe series are named after the iconic Baltimore writer’s most memorable short stories and poems, including Annabel Lee White (a witbier named for 1849 poem “Annabel Lee”), The Cask (a Bavarian-style double bock named after “The Cask of Amontillado”) Dark Usher (a dark Kölsch named after “Fall of the House of Usher”), the Pendulum Pilsner (wherein the beer tastes far less tormenting than Poe’s slowly swinging pendulum), The Raven Special Lager (The Taste is Poetic), and the Tell Tale Heart IPA.
The Poe series beers are instantly recognizable and easy to pick out of a crowded liquor store in any of the Midatlantic states or in Chicago, where they distribute. Each bottle features the caricatured face of Poe on backdrops of blue, gray, red, purple, yellow and green, drawn by Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher, an artist known best for his political cartoons in the Economist and the Baltimore Sun. Kallaugher joined RavenBeer and redesigned their labels in 2012.
The story of how Kallaugher was brought on to the RavenBeer team involves another popular Baltimore brewery: When Demczuk was researching beer labels and artists for the RavenBeer redesign, he came across an image of Flying Dog’s famous artwork by illustrator Ralph Steadman. (Another artist well-known for his political cartoons, Steadman’s work was most famously immortalized alongside the writings of Hunter S. Thompson.)
“I said, ‘I wish I knew someone famous like Ralph Steadman to do our labels,'” Demczuk recalled. “Then I thought, oh, I do! Kevin Kallagher… So I emailed him after a couple days and I said come on Kal, this is a Baltimore thing, come on. You’re a local artist and all that. Ralph Steadman does the Flying Dog labels.”
It was an election season and Kallaugher was busy drawing political cartoons, but the mention of Steadman’s name was all it took for him to sign on to the project.
“He said, ‘Ralph Steadman does the Flying Dog labels? I’ve known Ralph for 30 years. If he’s doing beer labels, I’m doing beer labels!'”
Now all of RavenBeer’s labels feature an image of Poe created by Kallaugher, including the Dark Usher and the Madhouse Oyster Stout, two beers that will be on tap at Love on Tap on Feb. 23.
The 6% ABV Madhouse Oyster Stout is brewed with Chesapeake Bay oysters from Madhouse Oysters of Fishing Creek, Maryland, which impart a bit flavor and saltiness to the beer. The newest addition to the Edgar Allan Poe series, Madhouse is pleasantly drinkable — not dry like a Guinness but also not as sweet as a Young’s Chocolate Stout, Demczuk says — and the usual astringent roast flavor found in many stouts is not as prevalent in this beer.
The Dark Usher, meanwhile, is named after Poe’s “Fall of the House of Usher.” The short story, written before the onset of modern psychological science, describes its character Roderick Usher as suffering from sensory hyperesthesia or sensory overload (hyper-sensitivity to textures, light, sounds, smells and tastes), hypochondria and acute anxiety. (Spoiler alert…) After entombing alive his twin sister, a storm rocks the Usher estate. The mansion splits in two and is swallowed into the ground below as the narrator flees and watches the Fall of the House of Usher.
“After reading that story I thought, I wish a Kölsch could be dark,” Demczuk said. “So we may have here the world’s first dark Kölsch.”
RavenBeer can be found in Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Chicago, and at Love on Tap this February. Loving the works of Edgar Allan Poe is appreciated, but not mandatory to enjoy the beer. Tickets to Love on Tap can be purchased here.